Thursday, August 13, 2009

Obtaining Cover Blurbs

Any published writer knows that writing the book, querying, and finding an agent is the easy part of your publishing career. Once you find a publisher the real work begins, and part of that work is obtaining cover blurbs for your book—you know, those quotes from other authors praising your work and you as a new up-and-coming star author.

But whose job is it to get those quotes? Is it the author, the author’s agent, the publisher? One reader was recently told by her publisher that it’s best if she stay out of it and let the publisher handle the blurbs. This publisher felt that established authors don't always like blurb requests directly from the author (harder to turn down, criticize, etc.), but the author wanted to know if it was okay to go ahead and approach a few contacts anyway.

And this is why I can’t stress enough how attending conferences and being part of writing groups can pay off: it’s just as much about building those author relationships as it is about meeting editors and agents. If all goes well, your publisher, or your editor, will approach a select number of authors requesting blurbs on your behalf, but of course there is no guarantee that everything will go well. Certainly I’ve been in situations with publishers who have put 100% of the burden of obtaining blurbs on the author, and this is where all that networking comes in. Now it’s up to you to get in touch with those bestselling authors and request that they read your book.

Networking is important in this business, as it is in any business, but I know some of you are going to wonder what you can do in a situation like that if you have no opportunities to meet bestselling authors. Well, cold calling (or emailing) is certainly an option, but I would do it carefully and to only a few. I think your best bet, in a situation like that, is to discuss options and possibilities with your agent and see what she can come up with. Remember, agents have connections with authors far outside of just who we represent and might be able to help out more than you realize.

The important thing to remember in all of this is that no matter who you, your editor, or your agent approach, that author has every right to say no and that’s okay. An author’s schedule can be insane between writing the next book, revisions, edits, and yes, a large number of requests for blurbs. How that’s handled is up to the author. I know some who refuse to give blurbs, while others limit themselves to only a certain number a year. One thing that I stress to all my clients is that, no matter what, you should only blurb a book that you truly feel you can get behind. You don’t need to tell the author you didn’t like it, you can always just say you didn’t have time.

Jessica

25 comments:

Alan Orloff said...

Excellent advice.

I'm smack dab in the middle of this process now, and I'm glad I've been able to develop some relationships at conferences, on-line, at workshops, etc.

It's still a challenging task. Everybody is very, very busy and it's quite a time (and reputation) commitment you're asking for.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Thanks for another helpful post.

Keith Robinson said...

As a self-published author, I thought it would be useful if I could get a nice testimonial from a successful author. So I wrote to Piers Anthony via his website and asked if he wouldn't mind reading my book. (His website newsletter often mentions good books that he's read recently.)

Piers kindly agreed to read it, but said "I'll read enough to get its measure. If it's hopelessly amateur, I'll let you know." Having been a fan when I was younger, I knew the author didn't mince his words!

I sent the book off, and within a week or so Piers had read it -- and liked it! He sounded surprised in his email, saying he "doesn't normally like children's fantasy, but this was an exception." He said other things like "well written, interesting" and finished with "I love it!"

In the end I had a number of phrases to pick from out of emails and a short review in his website's July newsletter (see second paragraph at http://www.hipiers.com/09july.html). I was chuffed to bits and, being self-published, was able to alter my back cover to include a few sentences by the successful author.

Did it help my sales? Hmm. I'm not aware of ANY orders coming in as a direct result of the review on his website. However, I did get an email and phone call from a film and literary agent, who was also a Piers Anthony fan and had seen the review of my book (ISLAND OF FOG). I've now signed up with that agent and he has a movie producer looking at my novel as we speak!

Of course, nothing may come of it. But I thought I'd share this just out of interest. :-)

Mira said...

This is really helpful - thanks!

Alissa said...

I have only vaguely begun to think about this, but this is good food for thought.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I didn't realize authors actually read the books first. I just thought they were paid, wrote something vague yet wonderful, and that was it. That's why I never took much stock in what they had to say about a book when I made a decision, even if I was a big fan of their stuff. Glad to see I was wrong.

DebraLSchubert said...

I'm hoping to have an agent soon, and am taking this very seriously. I've gotten to "know" a few best-selling authors on Twitter, and am planning on requesting blurbs from them when the time is right. Networking and planning ahead are incredibly important. I look forward to the day I can help new writers in this fashion as well.

Dara said...

Very informative post! This was something that never really crossed my mind. Shows how much I still need to learn!

Nancy Coffelt said...

I'm finishing up a book TO blurb and I'm terrified about actually writing the darn thing.

Loved the book, by the way.

I've never done this before and have been poring over blurbs on the backs of other books to get a good idea of what they consist of - but I'm still stumped.

Any helpful hints on good blurb writing?

Malia Sutton said...

Great post.

Angie Fox said...

Great advice. My editor did talk to her contacts about blurbs, but she also asked me if I knew anyone I'd like to approach. Luckily, I'd been active in writing organizations and I knew a few authors.

Ironically, the two authors I most wanted to ask had already been contacted by my editor (great minds think alike) but I wonder if they were more agreeable because they knew me and had been excited when I sold.

There is this wonderful camaraderie with writers - we want to see each other succeed. And when you watch someone at conference or in a local RWA chapter working on their pitch, honing their craft, trying hard to sell, you want to help them any way you can - because we've all been there.

So yes, getting out there, meeting people, letting people in the industry know who you are and what you write is not only fun - it can be invaluable to your career.

Coral Press said...

@Keith: What a great story! It's good to know of authors who are willing to accept cold emails like that. Going at it blindly and contacting people who are just too busy (or too famous) could lead to a lot of frustration. But it's great that you've had some success.

I like what Debra said about using Twitter to befriend authors ahead of time. At Coral Press, we're really interested in that kind of grassroots online outreach. Hope it works out for you!

Brandi Guthrie said...

I had never thought about this process before. Thank you for bringing it to my attention, as well as your excellent advice on how to acquire blurbs through networking.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Like Alissa, I've only vaguely thought about this. (I'm still trying to write a book or two I feel is publishable--haven't even started querying yet.) Good thing to keep in mind, though. My main obstacle right now is that the few authors I do know somewhat work in vastly different genres. Sure, they might like it anyway, but it'd probably look weird for, say, a historical romance author to blurb SF.

Christina said...

This is great advice...but dang! If querying and landing an agent is the easy part of the job, God save us. O_o

Kate Douglas said...

LOL...I hate having to ask for cover blurbs, but I've learned to do it with the full knowledge that most best selling authors are busy and may not have time to read the book. I won't blurb a book I don't like, though I hate to refuse when asked. Luckily I'm busy enough that I don't always have the time to read something for an author--and I will not blurb a book I've not read.

Nancy--a suggestion on writing the blurb. I just had one to do and I was so busy I couldn't come up with anything witty to save my life. What I did was take the short blurb the editor had sent along with the book (essentially the back cover blurb) and pulled a few key words from that. I was able to come up with something that was satisfactory for the editor and the author.

Anonymous said...

I actually think LESS of an author who has blurbs from other authors on their books b/c I assume they got their friends to do it. I know a lot of people who agree.

Paige Bruce said...

@Nancy

I can't speak as a writer doing blurbs, but I can speak as a reader reading the blurbs! I always liked the ones that mentioned one or two specific parts of the book as what they really liked. In fact, the more specific, the better. Made me felt they'd actually read the book and it made me curious to find out just what it was about that particular character, scene, etc. that piqued their interest.

Just my opinion though! G'luck!

CharlieMac said...

I don't understand the importance of bestseller blurbs. I've read awful books with glowing cover blurbs and great books with nothing on the cover. As a reader, I pay more attention to the back cover than a bestsellers opinion. As a writer, I can't afford to attend expensive conferences so my chances of connecting with a bestselling author is minimal.

How did this get so important in the process? Just curious.

Dan Holloway said...

One thing it's impossible to stress too hard is that the newbie authors strugglnig to get blurbs from those higher up the tree, frustrated and intimidated by the rejections and seeming unapproachability, bottle that feeling. And when they're good and famous, and when someone comes to them during their busy schedule and asks them for a blurb: take out that bottle, unstopper it a little, and take a good sniff before you answer.

Sheila Deeth said...

I'd often wondered where the quotes come from. Thanks.

Wendy Qualls said...

Do the blurbs really sell more books? I guess I always assumed it was like some of the more explicit cover art - someone somewhere says it sells books, but if that's true, then why don't the established big authors use them?

Julie said...

It's still a challenging task. Everybody is very, very busy and it's quite a time.....
___________________
Julie

Increase your brand popularity overnight

kitty said...

Keith--What a nice story about Piers Anthony! Your book must be very good. I wish you luck with your new agent!

December/Stacia said...

Anonymous, the decision whether or not to solicit blurbs, or put them on the cover, isn't the author's. It's made by the editor and the house in general.

And if the authors doing the blurbing are friends...they're probably friends because they like each others's work. Friend or not, I don't know a single author who would agree to blurb a book they thought was terrible; we're aware that it's our name and reputation on the line (and on the cover).

I don't mean to sound snippy and hope I don't, but I did want to let you know it's not a matter of an author deciding to have a blurb on the cover of their book and then calling their friends to get them, and the friends giving those blurbs without even glancing at the book.