Okay, maybe Oprah won’t welcome you with open arms onto the pages of her magazine, but you’ll still want endorsements from influencers before your book hits the shelves. BookBub and others have shown book descriptions featuring blurbs by reputable authors receive 30% higher click rates on selling platforms, so it’s a definite plus, particularly for first-time novelists. So what exactly is an endorsement (or blurb) and how do you go about getting them?
Simply, a blurb is a short written statement of approval and support for your book from an influencer. Pull any book off your shelf and you’ll see them. Ideally this is someone in your genre whose word carries clout with your potential audience. An unknown reader sees the cover, thinks “Lee Child says this author is great. I’ll give him a chance” and buys your book. There are a host of places to feature your top blurbs: front and back cover, Amazon Editorial Review sections, social media posts, your author website, assorted swag like bookmarks, and giveaways or contests. So spend some time to get this step right.
Start with a list
Put down your dream “get.” (Hey, don’t take Oprah off the list just yet—give it a shot. Elizabeth Gilbert, too). These range from someone whose name is instantly recognizable out in the world to influencers in your particular genre—think Diane Chamberlain in women’s fiction or Tessa Dare in regency romance. Or consider the theme of your novel or the setting. My debut features a major character who’s a broadcast journalist. I could go for a home run with Leslie Stahl or Diane Sawyer but also might approach a morning talk show host in Chicago where the story takes place. Narrow your list to 10-12 people ranging from “no way will they do it” to mid-list authors to writers you know personally through RMFW and other writer’s groups who would likely say yes if you asked. Ideally you’ll want three to feature on the book itself—one on the cover, two on the back. Don’t forget positive reviews from well-respected sites like Kirkus, Booklist, and Publisher’s Weekly. If possible, begin compiling your list as soon as you have a pub date, but don’t contact anyone until you’ve got a proofed copy of your manuscript and ideally, a mock-up of the cover.
Do Your Research
The first step is non-negotiable—read their books! Not just the latest one but a few of their back list as well. You’re asking them to read your book but you haven’t read theirs? Don’t be that person.
Then, follow them on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TED talks) and comment. Don’t just add a “like” or a “heart” but actually share an engaging, fun, witty, or thoughtful comment (That’s what we do, isn’t it? Write?) Let them see you as a real person. Make a connection, whether it’s through your love of border collies or Broadway musicals or banana cream pie. Post about their books and tag them so they realize you’re supporting their career. Your goal is that when your email shows up in their inbox, they’ll recognize your name. This takes time, which is why you ideally start a good six months before the “ask.”
Now that you know them better, evaluate whether they’re still a good fit. Maybe you read their books and they aren’t the same audience as yours after all. Maybe their next book releases in six months, so they’ll be busy marketing their own book at the same time you need a blurb. Maybe you took a position in your novel they feel strongly against. Regardless of the reason, move on (one of the reasons to have more people on the list than you will need)
Make the request
Don’t freak out. Yes, it’s a bit like asking for a first date. But writers are generous souls. Most of them remember being in your position when they started out and are happy to pay it forward if they can. Don’t grovel but conversely, don’t demand. Yes, this is a favor you’re asking, but many of them are glad to do it.
- Personalize the email. You’ve spent time learning about them—what they write, what they post about, what they include in their newsletter. There’s a reason you selected them. In the first sentence or two, tell them WHY they are the ideal writer to recommend your book. Be honest and specific about why you think their readers will also enjoy yours (“In The Female Persuasion, you explore the differences between second-wave feminists and millenials in today’s workplace through the characters of Faith and Greer. My book also centers around that issue.”)
- Give them a brief (very brief!) overview of your book (“Truth & Other Lies is the story of a young reporter desperate to debunk a plagiarism charge leveled against her famous mentor, only to discover a long-buried secret that threatens her own family as well.”)
- If you already have a strong blurb from someone else, send that along (Notable Author says “I loved everything about this story. This is a writer to watch.”)
- Give them a time line to return the blurb and ask which format they would prefer (Mobi, PDF, print copy)—in business, we call this The Presumptive Close. Include the name of your publisher and your publicist if applicable. Some authors will not blurb self-published books.
- Include a copy of your cover. This will reinforce that you’re releasing a quality book.
- End with another personalized note. (“I’ll be thrilled if you agree to blurb my book but if life doesn’t allow, I totally understand. But I reserve the right to keep my fingers crossed until then.”)
- If you want, paste a more substantial synopsis at the tail end after your signature. A dirty little secret is that not every reviewer will read your entire manuscript. If they don’t have time, they may feel okay sending a blurb based on what they’ve read in this overview.
The Final Step
Even if the person turns you down, be gracious and send a follow-up email, thanking them for their consideration, acknowledging your disappointment, but wishing them well. And if they DO agree to write a blurb, once it’s out in the world, send them an autographed copy of the print book and also acknowledge their generosity through thank you posts on social media that feature their books, not yours.
Want a fun idea for your next critique group meeting? Have everyone share their “dream” blurb. Here’s mine:
“I couldn’t put it down. Everyone should read this book and tell their friends.”—Oprah Winfrey.
(Photo of Oprah Winfrey from the author’s Shutterstock subscription, authorized for editorial content.)