From an essay I wrote three years ago for a Sisters in Crime National collection of essays on advice for writers:
Most writers will tell you that seeking an endorsement or “blurb” from a fellow author is harder than writing the book itself. The truth is, the success or failure of a book—any book—can depend on obtaining honest endorsements to put on the cover. This is second only to reviews in helping to guarantee a successful book launch.
So why is it many authors either fail to seek endorsements or seek them in all the wrong ways and places? I will use my own experience here, since I’ve looked at blurbs from both sides now: as the debut author seeking blurbs and as the “blurbee”—the author of eleven books who is now frequently approached for endorsements.
First, let’s talk about common misconceptions made by authors new to the world of blurbs:
Misconception: I am traditionally published; therefore, my editor will take care of approaching other authors and editors for blurbs.
Reality: No. This almost never happens. Editors are busy editing, and most don’t see this as part of their job description. Besides, you are not their only writer. You are only one in a stable of writers.
Misconception: The publicist at my publishing house will take care of this. It’s a publicist’s job.
Reality: No. If it is anyone’s job, it is yours. Even if technically or theoretically it might be part of your editor’s job—see comment above. The marketing department will seek an endorsement for you if it fits in with their marketing plan for all their authors, but you are seldom going to be privy to that plan.
Bottom line: If you care about your writing career, blurbs are down to you.
Misconception: I’ve written a spy thriller filled with beheadings and foul language, but I bet that nice cozy writer I recently met at a conference will blurb my book anyway.
Reality: No. No matter how winning your personality or how close you perceive your tie to be to the potential endorser, all you are doing is putting him or her on the spot with your request and testing your supposed friendship.
Also, realize that an endorsement from someone working outside your genre is worthless. Worse, it can backfire. Even if you can convince this person to write an endorsement for your book, your potential reader won’t understand what sort of book you’ve written. A cozy thriller? A thrilling book about a knitting circle? Remember that your potential readers will devote approximately five nanoseconds to deciding whether or not to buy your book before they move on to the next great thing. The endorsement has to make perfect sense.
If the first rule of obtaining an endorsement is, “Never mislead the reader,” the second rule has to be, “Don’t confuse the reader.”
So, how do you win the cooperation of an established writer in giving you an endorsement? First, summarize your book in two or three sentences—no more. Then make up a short list of about ten authors who are writing books similar to yours. (Their emails should be available somewhere on their websites.) Better yet, these should be authors you admire who have inspired your own writing. It doesn’t matter if this list is, to your mind, completely outrageously optimistic. If you have written a good book and you have a little background to show for yourself (awards or writing credits), you may be surprised by the yeses you get. Authors like to help other authors—particularly debut authors. They know how much they owe the universe for their own careers, and if you give them a chance to pay it forward, they generally will love doing so.
If you are polite. If your book is in their genre. If they have the time.
You must be prepared for the eventuality that your email may hit them at the wrong time in their own busy careers. But, nothing ventured . . .
Moving on to the email that you (not your editor, your agent, your publicist, or your marketing person) will write. It is important that you compose a letter targeted specifically to each author on your list. This is not a one-size-fits-all operation. This will take time. When I sought endorsements for my own first book, it took me about three weeks to compose the emails. (And my hands were shaking each time I hit the “send” button.) They had to be honest, they had to be based on what I actually knew of the writer’s work, and they had to be polite and engaging. They were probably the toughest writing I’ve ever done.
If you don’t admire your “target” authors, and particular facets of their writing, then why are you wasting their time with your query?
Below is the email I wrote to the outstanding and generous Peter Lovesey ten years ago. His reply was yes.
Subject: request for Peter Lovesey
Mr. Lovesey - First, congratulations on your upcoming Lifetime Achievement Award at Malice Domestic. It is so well-deserved. I look forward to being in the audience to cheer you on.
In July, I will at last become a published mystery author when my first book, which won the Malice Domestic grant, comes out. My only other fiction credits are for short stories in Chesapeake Crimes II and now 3.
I am writing to ask if you would honor me by being willing to read the book with a view to writing a short blurb for it. The book (Death of a Cozy Writer) is published by Llewellyn/Midnight Ink. First in a series, it is, somewhat like the Bertie books, an homage to (and a bit of a send-up of) the mysteries of the Golden Age.
More information appears at http://GMMalliet.com.
I know you must be inundated with requests like this. I would not be so bold as to ask if you had not had such an influence on my writing career. If you are willing, just let me know what you need and I’ll get it to you quickly in whatever form is most agreeable to you.
Sincerest thanks and well wishes,
.Agatha Award-winning author of the DCI St. Just mysteries, Max Tudor mysteries, standalone suspense novel WEYCOMBE, Augusta Hawke mysteries, and dozens of short stories. Books offered in all formats, including large print, e-Book, and audio.