12 Apr How to Sell A Book In America, Part III: Getting Blurbed

I’m lucky enough to be preparing my next book for publication — From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story — and it’s time for me to get blurbs. You can’t have a book without blurbs. It doesn’t matter that everybody knows that blurbs come from people who like you or, at the very least, people who are going to say something nice about your book, no matter what. Nevertheless, readers look for and read the blurbs. They are one of the first things I seek out (after the author’s photo). I guess we prospective readers want reassurance and there is, in the blurb, a sense of one writer putting his/her reputation on the line for another.

When my first book was published, I had been writing not only in obscurity but also in isolation for years — I was not a member of a writer’s group or any writerly organization and I knew no famous writers. So I asked a friend who knew a couple of accomplished writers and they, as a favor to my friend, gave me blurbs to get me started. Then I went cold-calling a couple of writers. It was a nerve-racking and somewhat embarrassing experience that made me wake up to the advantages of being more sociable. And networked.

“Networked” doesn’t have to be a bad word. It simply means that you’ve put yourself into the world — this is not always easy — and you’ve made an effort to know others in your field. This can be a good thing, a humbling thing, an experience that will make you grow. We all want to grow, don’t we? Nowadays, of course, we have Facebook and other avenues that make it easier to find and make the acquaintance of other writers.

Still, some writers find networking distasteful, as if artists should never dirty their hands with the “business” side of things. But commerce is the only way to get the books into readers’ hands — unless you want to give yours away. And blurbs are integral to the business of selling books. So, aspiring writers cultivate a wide variety of writerly friends and acquaintances not solely because they are ambitious but because knowing and mixing with writers is (generally speaking) a healthy thing to do. It makes you aware of the wider world that you would inhabit as an artist.

Having done that much, then, you will — eventually — cultivate a wide array of writers who might help you with blurbs when the time comes. Even so, there’s no easy way to ask for a blurb from a writer who is better known than you. It’s always a favor. It’s always fraught with complications and possible embarrassment. a) Sometimes the writer you approach is simply too busy. He/she may be blurbed out. Some writers are cautious about how many blurbs they hand out every year — they don’t want to get over-exposed. b) Other writers are known for giving blurbs to any- and everybody who asks. Bless these kind souls. c) Some writers only blurb their friends. They’ve set a limit (to protect their time and sanity) and that’s it. d) And then, on occasion, you will encounter a writer who is interested in blurbing only the books that will do his/her own career some good — that is, big books from big publishers. I was rejected by one such writer not long ago.

In addition to writers I know and admire, I’ve targeted, for blurbs, two big-name writers whose work I’ve followed for years but whom I’ve never met. I was delighted to find that they are easy to reach online. A word about that: I understand a writer’s need for privacy but I am mildly irritated whenever I seek out a writer and discover that I can reach him/her only through an agent. Even when I’m looking to pay a writer good money for coming to my university for a reading, I will not contact him/her if I have to go through an agent because, very likely, an agent is going to want more money than I can offer. Worse, I suspect that some agents won’t even tell the writer what offers have come in if those offers haven’t met the agent’s expectation$.

To the famous writer, I would say this: success comes with its responsibilities and one of those responsibilites is making yourself available to the public. That doesn’t mean you open your life up to the world and its stalkers; it simply means that if somebody wants to send you an email or a postcard, you should allow this. (You can open an email account just for such fan mail.) You don’t have to answer. Consider: there’s a famous writer whom you can reach through email but, when you do, an automatic reply warns you that he may not have time to read your missive and, in any case, he will definitely not have time to reply. That’s fair. That’s all I ask, that I can put something into the famous writer’s hands.

So there you are, cold-calling on a big-name writer. How can you get this luminary to take notice of you? A good book trailer helps. A well-made book trailer is a calling card that nearly everyone will open. Add a well-made website too and you’re on your way — because, let’s be honest, no writer wants to blurb a writer who has absolutely nothing going on. Actually, I don’t know any writers who have absolutely nothing going on. It seems everybody has a decent website these days. But you get my point. The famous writer has to have some assurance that the one requesting a blurb has his/her act together and won’t embarrass the blurber somehow: Hey, famous writer, I’m photocopying the journal of my life story and sending it to every library in the country–do you want to blurb it?

I guess I’m stating the obvious when I say that it’s a good idea to tell the famous writer why you are seeking a blurb from him/her. It’s not ONLY because the writer is famous, right? It’s because this writer is sympathetic to your theme or topic and you’re certain that this writer knows how to do IT because you’ve been reading this writer’s work with admiration and delight for years. Right?

I’m happy to say the my two cold-call queries were successful and these writers who had never heard of me have agreed to read and blurb my new book. Now it’s time for another worry: maybe the famous writer won’t like the book and then say, “Sorry, this just isn’t my thing. I can’t help you.” Or, worse, maybe the famous writer will offer a tepid endorsement that I will be obliged to print, even though it will clearly read as a hedged bet: “You can read this book straight through and never get tired!” Or “I didn’t know what to expect and I wasn’t disappointed.” Yikes.

How many blurbs is enough? The back cover of a book can hold four to six blurbs. That seems enough. But I have seen some writers who gather as many blurbs as they can and print the over-run on the opening pages of the book — or on the website. In any case, getting the blurbs is the writer’s job. Publishers won’t do it because they’re distracted by other concerns. If you have an agent, however, the agent can solicit blurbs from her other clients. I like to get my blurbs early. So I don’t wait for the galleys from the publisher. Waiting for the galleys might not give you enough lead time to gather your blurbs. Famous writers, mind you, may need 6 months or more. I simply photocopy my manuscript and spiral bind it, then send thisout well in advance of receiving the galley. You’re allowed to do things like that. It’s your book, after all.