Life in the blurbs

What do newly-published authors dread more than anything else? More than receiving 27 pages of editorial notes after they handed in the (supposedly) final draft? Yes, and even more than their first negative review?

Asking famous authors for blurbs!

If you’re lucky you can handball this to someone else, especially if your publisher has a suitable author on the books they don’t mind asking. But what if your publisher can’t or won’t seek cover blurbs? Then the duty falls to yours truly, with a wet meaty thud.

I suppose the best way to approach this is to put yourself in your victim’s shoes. There they are, relaxing aboard their private jet while … no wait, that’s publishing execs. Okay, there they are, hammering out their daily word count on a battered but serviceable laptop, when the post arrives. Two dozen book-sized parcels lob onto the doormat, and after wrestling with staples, sticky tape, cute glittery string and chewing gum, your victim has two dozen ARCs complete with assorted bookmarks, press releases and begging letters.

Now, if that were me I’d toss out anything unrelated to my genre, else they’d get a blurb along the lines of “The best romance novel since Aliens”. Of the rest, I’d separate out books which appealed to me, those by authors I’d heard good things about, and anything stuffed with nice crisp banknotes. (Correction – I’d pocket the banknotes and send the book back ‘RTS’)

Then I’d hit a snag. You see, alongside my bed there is a table with thirty books on top .. they completely surround the phone, and there’s even a bridge of books over the glass of water. Balanced on the back of the table is a whole ruddy bookcase with another 150-200 books on. And stacked on the floor is my overflow pile of forty to fifty books. These are all novels I’ve been intending to read ‘real soon now’, and I really will get to them one day.

So, if I carried these new ‘please blurb me’ books to my favourite reading spot, they’re going to be swallowed up amongst the rest. Pity about that. (This To Be Read tsunami is probably the same for most writers. We like to read, but we now spend our reading time … writing.)

So, asking a writer for a cover quote is actually quite an imposition. If your book is something they’ve been looking forward to, or sits squarely in their favourite genre, you have a much better chance of catching their eye. If they’ve never heard of you or your book, and it’s not something they have any interest in … tough.

Which leads me to the next point: careful selection of your victim. It’s not that hard … instead of scattering your ARCs like seed, ensure you send them to authors who write in a similar vein.

Lastly, the approach letter. I like to point out the cutoff date for a blurb, if one is to be given. That way, if they know it’s impossible they can set the book aside right away. I also like to point out that they won’t hear from me – no follow-ups, no ‘how did you like it’, nothing. I’m asking them to do me a huge favour, and pestering would be really bad form. And if they do write back to say they enjoyed the book, I ask politely whether I can pass a quote on to my publicist (either for pre-release publicity to bookstore buyers, or to be added to the book cover.)

I’ve used this approach with my three previous books, and each time I’ve been lucky enough to secure a cover quote or a brief line which could be added to the press release. (There’s a whole debate about whether blurbs do any good, but personally I’d rather the reps trying to get my books into stores had every possible weapon at their disposal.)

So, what about you? Have you had to ask an author for quotes, or been asked to give them? Have you been pestered by someone who wouldn’t take no for an answer, or are you still waiting for the postman to bring you those book-shaped parcels and nice crisp banknotes?

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  1. 1. Marie Brennan

    I actually just received my first ms asking for a blurb. Me! I’ve been asked to blurb something!

    I’m wondering at what point in my career that will stop being egoboo and start being a nuisance.

    In this case, the editorial assistant who sent it along is a friend of mine, and she did a good job positioning the book in the cover letter as something I’d be interested in. Plus — in the vein of “do blurbs do any good?” — I figure having my name potentially end up on someone else’s cover probably won’t hurt, right?

    Not done reading yet, but I’m enjoying it, so I will in fact probably blurb it.

  2. 2. Kelly McCullough

    I just got my first request to blurb as well. It was both ego-boo and something I feel I owe my community. After my editor sent him my first book I got an absolutely splendiferous blurb from Christopher Stasheff who didn’t know me in any way (Thank you, sir). I also got some very polite nos from BNAs (big name authors) who are mentors of mine and a couple of “send me the books”.

    There’s really nothing I can do for Stasheff or the other BNAs who have helped me out over the years, so I try to pay them back by passing on the lessons learned and favors proffered. That means that the book sent to me got bumped to the next slot on the to-read pile. I’m not sure how long that’ll be the case if I start getting ten a month or something, but for now, that’s where I felt it belonged.

    Oh, and I did blurb it. It was Anton Strout’s first novel and both fun and funny.

  3. 3. Kelly McCullough

    Quick P.S. The Strout book comes in March.
    And P.P.S. I don’t know how they’ll use my blurb and that’s okay. I am not a BNA, though I do hope to be one someday. If they find someone who is higher up the feeding chain to give the book a better quote, that will certainly help more than mine would and that’s what they should do.

  4. 4. CE Murphy

    Ironically, the thing that gets me about being asked to blurb books is that people ask me to blurb urban fantasy, ’cause I write it. Well, that makes sense. Except I don’t *read* urban fantasy, because it’s too much like work. So I’m mostly finding myself being asked to read one of the last genres I’d actually pick up of my own volition.

    OTOH, the handful of books I’ve been asked to blurb have ranged from charming to fantastic, so although I wouldn’t necessarily have bought them on my own, I’m actually pretty delighted to have had the opportunity to read them. I’ve been lucky so far, and I’m not a BNA, so I don’t have lots of pleas from lots of random people at this point.

    As for asking people for blurbs, I mostly think it’s terrifying unless I know them personally, in which case it’s merely an imposition that I’m not going to take wrong if I’m turned down. :)

    -Catie

  5. 5. Laura Reeve

    Thanks for addressing this subject. I’m a new author and I’m supposed to be getting a 3-book contract from Roc any day (month?) now and according to my agent, it’s a fairly reliable deal… [bite another nail and check email]

    So, to alleviate my worries about the contract going down the tubes, I’ve moved on to obsessing about blurbs. Hmm. I don’t personally know any BNAs or similar-genre authors. I have a hand-waving acquaintance with some published romance writers, but asking them to read or blurb military science fiction isn’t going to work. Short of sending out ARCs cold, I thought of asking authors of similar fiction whether they’re “open to solicitations” for blurbs — but the only place I can ask this is a convention or book signing, and I’m worried I’ll just come off as being rude. I also don’t know if blurbing authors are supposed to be within the same publishing company/family. Any advice out there? [Sigh, check email again....]

  6. 6. Kelly McCullough

    Hi Laura,

    Roc/Ace (Penguin) is my publisher and they’re really good about finding blurbs for their authors. The chances are excellent that they will do the necessary work on this. That’s how I got my Stasheff blurb and how I ended up Blurbing Anton Strout. You should be fine.

  7. 7. Jess Nevins

    The two times I was asked to blurb, I was happy to do so. The approach was polite and for things I liked and was happy to give a blurb for.

    I’ve been in the asking category as well, and that’s a lot worse. It’s so easy to get your feelings hurt–at least, it is for me–especially when you don’t hear back from the person you’re asking. How hard is it to simply write “Sorry, I’m much too busy right now” in an e-mail?

  8. 8. Laura Reeve

    Thanks, Kelly, for the input. It’s nice to know that the publisher may help out in this area.

  9. 9. David de Beer

    Question:

    what if you are asked to blurb a book and you don’t like it? obviously, this will not make it onto the book, but is there an etiquette or something that writers follow if it does happen? do you let the publisher/ writer know, or do you let it fade to silence?

  10. 10. Simon Haynes

    If it was me they were asking for a blurb, silence. If the author/publicist emailed to follow up, I’d say I’d been too busy (always true anyway). If they started pestering me … well, now they’re breaking the rules.

    However, if they followed up it would be much better if the email wasn’t “Where’s the blurb?” or “Why haven’t you sent us a blurb yet?” but rather “If you’re going to blurb this book, please be aware the deadline is X”.

Author Information

Simon Haynes

Simon is the author of the Hal Spacejock series, featuring intergalactic loser Hal and his junky sidekick, Clunk. His website contains a number of articles on writing and publishing, and he's also the programmer of several freeware apps including yBook, BookDB and yWriter. In his spare time(!) he helps to run Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. Visit site.

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