Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 20, 2020

Blurbing and Getting Blurbed

Barbara Linn Probst

Is there any writer who actually likes asking for blurbs?  I suppose there is, but most of us wish we didn’t have to do it. We understand that it’s necessary—and we all like praise—but we cringe at having to ask for it. The question is how to do that sensitively and intelligently.

Let’s start with a few truths.

Truth #1: Endorsements matter. If we trust the person who recommends a product, especially when there are countless other options that could meet the same need, we’re much more likely to choose that particular shoe or car or coffee maker—or novel—from among the alternatives competing for our attention.

Truth #2: All blurbs aren’t necessarily equal. The question is whether a fantastic blurb (Best book I ever read) by someone relatively unknown is more or less “valuable” than a generic blurb (A well-crafted exploration) by someone famous. To a degree, it depends on an author’s goals and comfort level; it may also be a matter of what’s realistically attainable. In general, the more authority the blurber is perceived to have, the more others are likely to be swayed by what she has to say.

Truth #3: Unless you’ve been pegged as a serious rising star by a major publisher who will get the blurbs for you, you have to ask—even if it’s terrifying.

Truth #4: Everyone agrees that it’s important to be polite, start early, make it easy for the person to say yes—and to thank the person afterward. Not just privately, but publicly. As Sonja Yoerg suggests in her 2017 essay: “When I have all my endorsements in hand, I publicly thank the author on Facebook. This post is not about the blurb (i.e., me and my book) but about the author and his or her generosity. As part of my thanks, I tout their most recent book.”

So far, so good.

I started to reflect on all the advice I’d read about securing blurbs and to wonder how well it mapped onto real experience. I thought about my own experience, and I asked other people.

Turning to myself first, I was reminded of what I discovered, years ago, when my then-husband and I set out to adopt our first child. My thinking, when we started out, went something like this: “You, pregnant person, have something I want. What do I have to do to convince you to give me this thing I want?”

It didn’t take long for me to feel the absolute wrongness of that attitude. Since we were going to be adopting privately, it meant (back then) that potential birth mothers would see our ads and call a special phone number we’d set up. Reality quickly smacked me in the face when I spoke with the first woman who called.

She was a person. This wasn’t about being clever enough to impress and persuade her. We were two women, each in a situation we hadn’t expected and hadn’t chosen. Could we connect, trust each other, find our common humanity?

I think asking for blurbs is like that. We need to put ourselves in the shoes of a potential blurber and ask ourselves:

  • Why would she want to this for me?
  • What might prevent her from saying yes?
  • What might inspire her to say yes?

Obviously it’s not a perfect analogy because, unlike a woman seeking an adoptive family for her child, a well-known author isn’t seeking manuscripts to endorse!  However, many of these authors do, in fact, want to help new authors, just as they were helped when they were starting out. So if a Famous Author says she wishes she could help but is truly swamped right now—believe her. Thank her and let it go. “Following up” (i.e., pestering her) won’t bring a different answer. Trust me. I’ve tried.

What works best—as with adoption—is to abandon the sense of oneself as a salesperson in favor of that sense of common humanity.

Three principles can help.

First, remember that you’re asking someone you don’t know for a huge favor. 

You have nothing to offer in return that would be an equivalent favor. Own that, without apologizing for it. Besides, the Famous Author already knows.

Acknowledge the favor you’re hoping for, without groveling. Let her know your time frame—and make sure you’re giving her a reasonable amount of time. Give her options: a PDF, a spiral-bound copy, an ARC, sample chapters plus a detailed synopsis. But do not suggest what she might write or say, “I’m sure you won’t have time to read the whole thing.” Let her decide.

Second, you’re asking a favor for you, specifically.

The Famous Author may have reasons for wanting to be generous—a wish to repay the help she received, a strong belief in giving new authors a boost—but why should your particular book be the focus of that generosity?

Do your homework. Explain what you love about her work (be specific) and why your believe yours might resonate with her. Follow her on social media, comment on her posts—long before you ask her to do something for you. Make her know that it’s her endorsement you would love, not just any endorsement by any Famous Author. As Sonja Yoerg points out, “Dare I say that if you are asking them to read your book, you should’ve read one of theirs? I’ve been approached for an endorsement by writers who didn’t appear to know my work at all!”

Third, you’re asking a favor of her, specifically, rather than some other Famous Author.

She needs to understand why you’re asking her and not someone else.

Find the fit. Find other books she’s blurbed. That way, you can explain why you think yours is “her kind of book.” Again, it shows that you’ve paid attention and demonstrates why her blurb, in particular, would be meaningful to you. It’s worth taking the time to craft a really good appeal, heartfelt and specific. As Katrin Schumann notes: “Even though I'm just a no-name person hitting him up for a favor he doesn't even owe me, he agreed to read because he said it was the best request he'd ever received.”

…which brings us to the relationship between getting and giving.

I was curious to talk with people who had been on both ends of the process—who had asked for blurbs and also been the one asked. I wondered if their experience as the asker affected their experience later, when they were in the other chair.

It seemed to.  People told me:

I found the whole process of asking so nerve-wracking, I told myself that I’d agree to blurb for anyone who asked me.

It's been three years since I had to write my blurb requests for my debut novel, and I can still vividly recall how sick I felt over the process.

When I get blurb requests, I can't help but remember how vulnerable you feel when you're sending your work out like that, hoping for an endorsement, and how much you're hoping to land blurbs that will both pop on the cover and seem unique.

That didn’t mean they always said yes. But when they said no, it was for a reason and with respect.

I did also get a request I wasn’t able to help with. Originally I said okay, but then I realized that the book was much too steamy for my brand. I wound up saying that I unfortunately couldn’t help. But I wrote her back, because I’ve had authors agree to blurb and then disappear. I didn’t want to do that to someone else.

I replied frankly that I wasn't involved in that world anymore and giving my name to the poet's work would probably not have the clout any writer needs to impress prospective readers. I hated doing it, having just received my own blurbs, but thought honesty was the best policy.

I only talked with a few people, none of whom were the sort of Famous Authors who receive dozens of requests each week. But their thoughtful, sympathetic responses indicate that that there’s a common cycle of anxiety, gratitude, and the wish to give back.

That means: one day it will be your turn, and you will be the one being asked!  That time might come sooner than you think. After all, you don’t have to be an Famous Author to help someone else!

Have you ever asked for a blurb?  What was that like? Have you ever been asked?

About Barbara

Barbara Linn Probst is the author of Queen of the Owls, coming in April 2020 from the visionary, award-winning She Writes Press. Queen of the Owls has been chosen by Working Mother as one of the twenty most anticipated books for 2020 and will be the May 2020 selection of the Pulpwood Queens, a network of more than 780 book clubs throughout the U.S. To preorder or learn more, please visit http://www.barbaralinnprobst.com/.

Queen of the Owls by Barbara Linn Probst

A chance meeting with a charismatic photographer will forever change Elizabeth’s life. How much is Elizabeth willing to risk to be truly seen and known?

Click here to read more or to preorder the book.

10 comments on “Blurbing and Getting Blurbed”

  1. Your timing is perfect, Barbara- thanks for the insights. I'm currently querying my memoir, and have started the blurb-request process. Yuck. I reached out to authors of memoirs I had read to inform my own writing. I told them how my story related to theirs, and how grateful I was that they shared their journey, which helped lay the path for me to share mine. So far, I'm four for four!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Karen! I love that you told them how grateful you were—thanking them for what they had already given to the world, before asking them to do something for you! Well done! And good luck with your memoir!

  2. I think I'm done asking for blurbs. It was grueling. I got three in time to go on my ARC, one later. The biggest authors I asked said no. One sent a nice email, one never saw my request because her assistant handled it. One said yes and hasn't come through (yet, I'm still hoping), and two promised reviews. It gets easier to ask after you've had an acceptance or two, but it's not fun. Looking forward to reading your book!

  3. My opinion only. Take with a grain of salt.
    I had to grovel for blurbs for one of my books. I asked an author I knew, and she said, "Sure. Send me three samples and I'll cobble something together." She never asked to see the book. Another said her publisher would only let her blurb books they published.

    Frankly, I ignore blurbs because after looking behind the curtain, I regard them as meaningless. I've read too many books with Big Name Author blurbs that lead me to believe the authors are doing them because the "have" to, and the quotes can be clipped to make the any book sound fantastic.

    That being said, I had a recommendation from a NYT best-selling author and shortly before the book went to print, I got a starred review from PW. The publisher wanted to put that one on the front cover and move the author's blurb to the back. I said no, because a typical reader has no clue what a starred review from PW means, but they'd know the author's name.

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Terry. For sure, there are "insider" blurbs within a publishing house, when authors are required to do quid pro quo; my post was really directed at those of us who have to go out and seek our own endorsements!. And for sure, blurbs only take the potential reader so far. A blurb from an author whose work I know and love can make me pick up a book by an unknown author and give it a look (from among all the books on the table). The blurb alone won't make me buy it, but it can send a signal that this may be "my sort of novel." So it's a kind of "first filter." I do think that blurbs are expected, so we might as well be smart about it 🙂

  4. Thank you for a thoughtful post on a subject that is much on my mind with an August release in the pipeline. Asking for blurbs is sooooo hard and I have not done much of it. I am going to up my game, but I dread the time it will consume and being a bother to others. That said, I have always been generous with my time when asked. Why is it so blooming hard to ask for help!???!?

  5. Asking for blurbs is no fun. The first few times sent my stomach into a knot. Knowing how difficult this is to ask, whenever I am asked to write a blurb for someone else I do my best to help out as I am able.

  6. Thanks, Barbara, for these insights and advice! I asked people I knew, and it was still nerve-wracking - although it felt warm and wonderful when they wrote lovely praise. I asked three BIG NAME authors, and only one replied - but with a lovely, gracious no. That made me admire her even more!

  7. For me the anxiety was about my needing something so badly and my dependence on their response. Making the ask itself was easy, once I started into it and realized I was writing a series of letters thanking people for what they had already given me and the cause in their work.

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