There’s a part of being a published author that I really don’t enjoy… and that’s hitting my friends up for blurbs.
With every book, the publisher expects you to go out and hustle some positive reviews from well-known authors (aka "blurbs"). It’s a requirement — and the blurbs really affect how your book is perceived internally at the publishing house and among the sales reps (the blurbs from Janet Evanovich, Meg Cabot, SJ Rozan and Lee Child on my DIAGNOSIS MURDER novels have made a huge impact). I know there are some authors who have editors who will slog for blurbs… or who have agents who will hit up their other clients…but I have found that doesn’t work very well. You have the best luck when you have a personal relationship with the authors you are asking to rave about you.
On MY GUN HAS BULLETS, I didn’t know anybody outside of the TV biz who could give me blurbs (and I hit a few of them up, since it was a novel about TV). But those names didn’t mean a whole lot to St. Martins Press. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.
Before the book came out, I attended my first Bouchercon and was star-struck. So many of my favorite authors were there. Even more astonishing, they were nice people, approachable and very friendly. I remember sitting in the bar, talking to an author one night, when I finally worked up the guts to ask him if he’d blurb my book. I was ready for him to be offended, to be upset that I was attempting to trade on our very brief acquaintance… but to my shock, he smiled and said he’d be glad to read it. That emboldened me… and while I was at Bouchercon, I managed to get several authors to agree to read my book. Not all of them ended up giving my a blurb…but quite a few did.
Since then, I’ve become active in MWA and have been to many conventions, writers conferences and Edgar Award dinners. I’m lucky to have many good friends who also happen to be authors.
But it still hasn’t gotten any easier for me to ask for blurbs. In some ways, it’s harder, at least for me. I feel uncomfortable hitting up my friends –it puts them in an awkward position. What if they like me… but don’t like my book? Then they are worried about the impact not blurbing the book will have on our friendship. I know… because I’ve been in that position many times myself. I’ve blurbed lots of books… and there are just as many that I haven’t.
Now I’m out there doing it again… with two new books… DIAGNOSIS MURDER: THE PAST TENSE and THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE. I’ve been making calls and writing letters… and I usually start by saying I know how busy my friends are, and that I won’t be offended if they decide, for whatever reason, not to blurb the book. I give them an easy out… whether they decide to read the book or not. If they don’t like the book, they can always say they were too busy to get to it… and they know I will understand, that I won’t know whether they read the book or not, and that our friendship will remain intact.
With each book, I also try to contact a few authors I don’t know very well, if at all… authors with whom I might have spoken on a panel or who I met at a signing or, in some cases, who I’ve only read and have never met. One such bestselling author sent me a perfect reply:
Dear Lee: I’d be pleased to read your book. I should warn you, though. I only give blurbs if I really like a book, even if I like the person who wrote it. I also can’t guarantee how long it will take me to get to it…or that I will..I have a book due in a couple months and I’m rushing to complete it. Please send the book to…
If I get a blurb, I will be thrilled. If I don’t, I will understand and no harm will be done. So, all that said, I’m about to head out to the post office to send off some manuscripts to my friends… and a few total strangers.
13 thoughts on “Blurbs”
Lee, I feel your pain. Fortunately, I did a lot of networking before I started asking for blurbs, so the timing worked out well. Still, there were problems. For instance, one well-known author, who liked my first novel, refused a blurb for fear of offending her “little old lady” contingent of fans. That’s not her entire fanbase, but they’re the most offended by… well… stuff I write, which definitely would get an R rating slapped on it. I understood, esp. since I got some valuable feedback from it.
Now, ask me how well the blurbs worked when the book comes out in January.
“Lee’s post about asking for blurbs is a perfect encapsulation of the tensions inherent in the social life of writers, and a fine explanation of how those little quotes get on book jackets in the first place.” — Nathan Shumate, Tachyon-City.com
It’s funny that Lee brings this up today as I was just talking to a writer who’s currently soliciting blurbs for her fourth book. (She wanted my thoughts on whom I thought would be the most effective.)
It seems everyone is embarrassed to ask for these, even writers who are successful and have reason to think their chances of getting a good blurb are high.
It can be even harder, though, for the people who are asked for the blurbs. Most mystery folks are such nice people that it’s often hard, I think, for them to say no.
I would be happy to give your book a blurb. Since I don’t have a fan based to offend, what would it matter. On the other hand, maybe I will attract a fan base then I will have to consider the social consequences of my actions.
I hate blurbs. How often are they honest about the book? Or as you have pointed out, do some do it out of friendship? Wouldn’t a blurb be a like a positive review.
Hey don’t mind me, I haven’t had my coffee and I have a terrible headache, so there. Let me blurb the book Lee. LOL
Yeah, I have to say that I hate blurbs and don’t read them. Ever. I don’t give a crap what Famous Person Here thought about the book in a one-line shot (if they wrote a long review, I would care, but one line? Big deal), I care about (a) what the plot is, and (b) what I think about the book. I get really ticked off picking up a book and there’s nothing about the plot, just blurb after blurb after blurb.
Reading this post makes me glad I’m not published. I hated all that “please recommend me! please please!” begging stuff back when I had to do it in high school.
Why did you have to get blurbs… or the equivalent… in high school?
Lee, I think it’s because blurbs are the publishing equivalent of going up to teachers and asking them to write you a letter of reference so you can get into the college of your dreams. Or asking your former employers for a similar letter of reference for a job you’re applying for. Or, for that matter, asking someone you know and like if they want to go to the prom with you, except they need a few months to think about it and will get back to you but are happy to consider.
Anyway, point is–it’s all about the gut-wrenching, bone-crushing ambivalence that has to do with asking someone a favor.
Jen–the only reason I look at blurbs is because it tells me how much the publisher cares about the book. They aren’t pitched to regular joe reader or even seasoned veteran reader. It’s really, as Lee already said, about in-house support and how the sales reps can then turn around and pitch the book accordingly.
The Janet Evanovich blurb really made the sales reps take notice… otherwise, they would have written off the first DIAGNOSIS MURDER book as just another TV tie-in. Instead, they’ve treated the book like something special…(which I like to think it is).
And when I followed that up with blurbs from SJ Rozan, Meg Cabot, Lee Child, etc for sequels… they really got behind the books in a big way.
I have no evidence for this, but I suspect it may have helped sales, too. People who might otherwise have never picked up a book with Dick Van Dyke on the cover may have because they like Janet or Aimee & David Thurlo or Stuart Kaminsky or Eric Garcia (all of whom gave me blurbs).
I find most blurbs to be useless. I agree that I like the plot sumary better. Which means I find Harriet’s reviews better.
Unfortunately, Harriet’s reviews carry no weight with sales reps or bookstore owners/buyers.
No, but I know one writer for whom Harriett’s reviews were cited in 100 Amazon purchases, which is 1/5 the minimum number needed to attract big houses to small press books’ mass market rights.
But I NEVER put Harriett’s comments on any of my promotional materials. That’s what Amazon reviews are for.
I find blurbs to be useful, in a limited sense. If you pay attention to them over time and get to know a person’s blurb habits and tastes, they can often be a good indicator of a book’s potential for you as a reader.
Granted, it’s probably not worth most readers’ effort, but I see all the damn things anyway, so I might as well pay attention…
As for Harriet’s reviews — aw, forget it. 🙂
I don’t put a lot of stock in Harriet’s reviews either. She likes 99.99% of what she reads. But the plot summary does help.
I’ve had authors I love positively blurb books I hated. And authors I’m not fond of blurb books I love. It doesn’t mean a thing to me.