Friday, June 7, 2019

Getting Great Blurbs for Your Book--Three Published Authors and an Agent Weigh In on How, When, and Why

Blurbs are those snappy testimonials that line the front and back of published books, enticing readers to buy and read. Blurbs mean a lot to me as a reader--often I'll go for a new book because an author I respect has endorsed it.

Agents love when a writer approaches them with a few good blurbs in hand.  It's normal for blurbs to wait until your book gets closer to publishing, but it's also good to begin your list of blurb-worthy authors even as you approach final revision. 

When I was nearing final revision of Your Book Starts Here, I scouted for other authors who'd published writing-craft books I admired. I made a list of writing teachers I knew, even some I'd never met but we taught at the same schools. I sweated over my request emails and sent out 10.  To my surprise I got 8 yesses and only 2 no's--amazing results.  I thanked those who declined, and I sent a copy of the book, once published, to those who said yes.
Kate Racculia, whose third novel, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts, will be released in October from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, told me that asking for blurbs has gotten progressively less daunting as her writing career has progressed--she knows more writers she's comfortable reaching out to and she better understands the essential ecosystem of the blurb. "Blurbs help," Kate says, "and we all understand the game: writers ask other writers for them, or editors ask on a writer's behalf; sometimes those writers can give a blurb, sometimes they can't. It's not necessarily personal (though of course, like everything involved in book publishing and marketing, it feels personal). A blurb is a kindness! A gift writers can offer each another; a gift that one is always grateful to receive."
Her advice for soliciting blurbs:
  • request them from writers "your work is in conversation with"--both from writing heroes and contemporaries. Specify why you're asking the writer to blurb this book--what about their work resonates with your own?
  • be clear and matter of fact-"ifyou're interested and available, I'd be honored if you considered writing a blurb."
  • even if you feel intimidated, don't apologize for asking! Most of the time, it's flattering to the writer that they're being approached for a blurb. And it provides an opportunity for the writer "to pay it forward, to champion new works or authors they're passionate about that need a signal boost." 
But she reminds us that it's also a certain amount of work to read and contribute a blurb--so if a writer declines, or even accepts and ghosts, that's fine. "It can be disappointing, certainly; but again, it's not a personal slight,” Kate says. "It's part of the business of publishing and marketing."  

Maren Cooper, whose debut novel, A Better Next, has just been released from She Writes Press, started her blurb list with writers she knew from years of writing groups and classes and others publishing with SWP.  "Mine your memory and notes for the writers you learned with and network with them," she advises.  "Some are already published authors now who will be approachable, and you already have a bond." Maren also scoured websites for authors in her genre who offered contact information and she wasn't shy to cold call or email those she wanted to blurb her book, customizing her pitch. "You never know until you ask," she says. She was able to secure five blurbs, from a mix of authors with multiple books to those with just a debut novel to date. 

"All were so generous and kind," she says," and they made it easy to ask."
Rachel Moulton, whose debut novel, Tinfoil Butterfly, comes out from MCDxFSG in October, told me that her editor asked her to fill out an author questionnaire soon after her book was accepted. "It asked about influential people in my writing life and well-known writers and critics I might know. It was from this list that they would later get a sense of not only who I might know but who they might cultivate a relationship with in regards to my work," Rachel says.  

Her publisher was specifically looking for blurbs from authors who were "currently successful in terms of sales and also might make sense in terms of how/where they are trying to sell my book," she adds.
Most recently Rachel decided to read a handful of novels her editor gave her--authors to which her work could be compared. "There were two authors out of this group that I fell in love with," she said. "I'm currently preparing notes to both that can be included with the publisher's ask for blurbs."
Three authors, different takes, but all successful in getting blurbs.  Now for an agent's point of view:  an excellent article by Kristin Nelson about the process agents go through requesting blurbs for authors they sign.  (Thanks for the link, Kathleen West!)  Just in case you think it's only hard for authors.

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