Saturday, November 13, 2010

THE VALUE OF PRE-PUBLICATION BLURBS


Hi folks,

I’d like to bring up a topic I don’t see addressed on the writer’s and agent’s blogs I visit—the potential value of pre-pub blurbs.

First, because I know there are different levels of writers who visit this site—from very new and beginning writers to established pros—for the benefit of the new writers, a blurb is an endorsement of someone respected and who has name cachet. It’s those little paragraphs you see on the covers or books by someone whose name you recognize who vows that the book you hold in your hands is the best thing since sliced bread.

Also included in the category of blurbs are the reviews from various publications that also grace the covers of books. I won’t be talking about those here, since those are obtained after the book has found a publisher, and what I want to address here are the blurbs solicited before the book has found a publishing home. What I’ll be talking about here will be what I’ll call “pre-pub” blurbs, i.e., endorsements of the book before it has been sold to a publisher.

There are differing thoughts on the value of blurbs. Some think they help sales and others think… they don’t. Personally, I think that simply from the fact that they exist, and are found on the vast majority of book jackets, is proof that at least the publisher feels they have value.

And, this is usually how most of us view blurbs. As something that’s solicited after the book has found a publisher. However, there are a few agents and authors who feel that gathering endorsements before the manuscript has even been sent out to editors has value.

I’m in that camp.

And, so is my own agent.

We both see endorsements from the right folks as being beneficial in not only selling a manuscript, but also in sometimes raising the amount of the advance and attention paid to the manuscript with the marketing departments of publishers.

Tell me—which of two otherwise equally good manuscripts in the horror novel genre will get taken more seriously by publishers—one accompanied by a couple of paragraphs from Stephen King, saying this book is one of the scariest books he’s ever read? Or, the manuscript who doesn’t have a couple of paragraphs from Stephen King?

Okay. That’s my argument for pre-pub blurbs…

Until a few years ago, I didn’t realize there was even such a thing as a pre-pub blurb. I assumed, like probably most of us, that blurbs were only solicited after a publisher had purchased the book. An agent (whom I won’t name) showed me how he sold sports books, using this technique. He graciously sent me sample proposals for a number of sports books and always included in the proposals were pre-pub blurbs by renowned and respected sports figures. In fact, the blurbs were always the first thing the editor saw in the proposal. This guy sells just about all of his clients’ manuscripts and proposals and he’s quick to give a lot of credit to those blurbs. After all, if Curry Fitzpatrick and Bo Jackson give hosannas to a proposed book on baseball, who is going to resist at least giving that proposal a close read?

The answer to that is as clear as the fact that Roseanne has kicked anorexia’s ass.

Can everybody get pre-pub blurbs? Well… no. But, a lot of writers can—even previously unpublished authors. Don’t assume that just because you don’t have your first book out that you can’t.

Psychology of endorsements

Let’s look at the psychology behind pre-pub blurbs first. Almost all of us—including seasoned editors and agents—have at least vestiges of uncertainty residing in our DNA. In other words, like all of us as human beings, we’re at least sometimes a bit unsure of our decisions. It’s why Michael Jordan made millions of dollars shilling for tennis shoes and cereal. It wasn’t because Fortune 500 CEO’s liked Mikey so much, they just wanted to shower him with dollar bills—it was because they’re well aware that the average citizen doesn’t really know what’s good and what isn’t. When a prominent person says they like something—even though we know he’s paid to say it—we take his word for it that it’s good and therefore we feel okay about plunking our money down.

The same psychology works in book sales to editors. If you’ve written a thriller and are shopping it around to publishers and included in your sales pitch are blurbs written on its behalf by Lee Child, Joe Finder and Linwood Barclay, with what frame of mind do you think most editors will be in when they pick up the manuscript and begin reading page one? It’s already half-sold! Besides respecting these bestselling authors, the editor also knows the book already has gained blurbs for the book that the thriller audience is familiar with and respects as well. That’s an editor who is going to feel extremely confident when he presents the manuscript to his board. He already knows how accounting is going to view this bit of information. (With high-fives and spraying each other with bottles of Crystal…). In fact, there are a great number of… how should I say this?... “flawed” books that have become published, simply because it was endorsed by a brand name. That’s life. And, is an aspect of publishing many won’t talk about, but which exists. We can declaim against it as being unfair… or, we can use it to our advantage.

Okay. So we’re aware that pre-pub blurbs can help sell a manuscript. Now. How do we get them?

There are many ways. My agent is currently marketing two of my books. One is a proposal for a new writer’s how-to and one is a new novel. We’re using pre-pub blurbs for each.

For those of you who’ve followed this blog for awhile, you already know how we’ve gotten pre-pub endorsements for my nonfiction book proposal, titled, A Fiction Writer’s Workshop at the Bijou. I asked for your blurbs on this site. And got a ton of ‘em. Thanks! I also asked others via email for the same and they’ve also been extremely generous in sending me blurbs. As of now, I have nearly thirty of them and you can bet they’re included in our sales pitch to publishers.

This is one way. Many of you have blogs of your own—blog readerships you can ask the same of that I have. For a book such as this—a writer’s book—I received endorsements from the targeted audience—writers. Some of you were well-known authors yourselves and others were beginning writers. Blurbs from both sources work very well in this particular case.

But, for my thriller manuscript, I couldn’t ask the same audience for endorsements. I had to go to other thriller writers. Fortunately, because I’ve been doing this for a long time (writing books), I’ve been on many panels at writer’s workshops and become friends with those appearing on the same panels. Years ago, for instance, I was on several such panels, made a presentation, and conducted a workshop at Henry Perez’ writer’s convention, the Midwest Literary Arts Festival in Aurora, Illinois. I sat on panels with such renowned names as James Rollins, Dennis Lehane, David Morrell, J.A.Konrath, Hallie Ephron, and many other well-known writers, too numerous to list here. (Best writer’s convention ever! Henry, if you’re reading this—make it happen again!) Because of that, I was able to solicit blurbs from Henry Perez and others for my thriller, The Bitch. Recently, I was asked to submit an article for John Schoenfelder’s website for his new imprint, Mulholland Books at Little, Brown. A week or so later, I read an article on the same website from author Joe Trigoboff. I wasn’t aware of Mr. Trigoboff or his work at the time, but what he said in the article led me to realize we shared many of the same views. I was able to track him down through his publicist and he was gracious enough to provide me with a blurb. (In return, I’m pre-blurbing his brilliant memoir, Rumble in Brooklyn).

I’ve received other pre-blurbs for The Bitch from other contacts I’ve made over the years. I was a presenter the summer before last for both of the Writer’s Retreat Workshops in Erlanger, Kentucky. During one of the two WRW events, I met a bestselling author in attendance—Bob Stewart—who’s written several true crime bestsellers (No Remorse, et al) and we became friends. Bob was extremely gracious in providing a kick-ass blurb. A few years ago, Cortright McMeel founded Murdaland, a noir magazine, and he’d solicited me for a short story which appeared in the first issue. Cort sold his first novel to St. Martin’s, Short, which is forthcoming next month. He liked my work and voice and so I approached him for a pre-pub blurb. It’s coming on Monday. (And, Cort is going to be interviewed here in a few weeks.)

Another of my blurbers is a close friend I went to school for my MFA with at Vermont College. He’s blurbed my work before and I’ve returned the favor. A great source for those of you who have writer friends from high school or college to solicit.

I’m providing my own experiences in how I gathered pre-pub blurbs for the few reading this who’ve formed similar relationships with other writers. I suspect at least a few of you can do the same.

Can everyone do this? Of course not. Some can, some can’t. Does that mean you have to be in the business forever and have a bunch of books out to get these kinds of endorsements? Again, the answer is, of course not. There are a variety of ways to garner endorsements from those whose words count with editors.

I work with writers coaching them as they write their novels. One of my clients is a complete unknown as a writer. However, the novel she’s written—besides being absolutely brilliant—has a subject matter that makes it easy to solicit blurbs from prominent people. She’s a Jewish writer who has written a novel that shows, in a moving way, the story of a Palestinian. I can’t talk about it more than that at this point, but trust me—this is a book that I feel certain will not only become a best-seller, but also garner significant literary awards. I see a potential movie in her future as well. Because of its subject matter, its originality, and her marvelous voice, she’s getting blurbs from former presidents, from extremely prominent people both in the Arab-American and Jewish communities, and from famous people who just recognize a wonderful story, brilliantly told. She’s an unknown writer now, but she won’t be for long.

Another client is in a writing group with prominent writers. He obtains great pre-pub blurbs from his fellow writers from the group.

The point is, nearly everyone who has a good book has a way to garner pre-pub blurbs. I can’t tell you how to accomplish this in every case, but there usually is a way if you simply practice the same creativity you employed in writing your book with your marketing efforts.

Nonfiction book proposals are, as a rule, infinitely easier to solicit such blurbs for. Depending on the subject matter, look at the “names” in that field and approach them. One of the reasons nonfiction proposals are easier to get people to blurb them are that the potential blurber only has to read a chapter or two and the chapter outline to see if it’s something they’d be comfortable in lending their name to. In other words, they don’t have to read that much!

With novels, it’s a bit different. The potential blurber will almost always need to read the entire manuscript. All 416 pages! And, that’s a lot to ask of anyone, especially if the request comes from an unknown writer. To get a good blurber for a novel usually requires that the author have some kind of relationship with the person solicited. For many as-yet-unpublished writers, that’s almost impossible. But… there are ways.

For example, if you’ve taken a class or workshop from someone known in the field, that’s perhaps a person you can approach. If—as in the case of my client—you’ve worked with that person on a professional level—you can probably ask them to provide a blurb.

Here are a few things to consider when approaching someone for a pre-pub blurb:

1. Only approach those who have genuine name-recognition in the genre or field you’re writing in—the kind of name that will attract buyers because of who they are and what they say.

2. Always approach in a professional manner—be polite and don’t ever put them on the spot. Let them know that if they simply don’t want to, you don’t expect them to furnish you a reason for refusing. That a simple, “No thanks—I’ll have to pass” is fine. Many (most?)  writers just don’t have the time. Don’t ever make them feel as if you expect them to or you won’t be their friend anymore or won’t ever buy their books again! To blurb someone’s manuscript or nonfiction book proposal—especially one that hasn’t yet found a publisher—is a huge favor to ask of anyone! Be extremely thankful of anyone who will… and extremely understanding when they can’t or won’t.

3. If they do agree to read your work, find out how they prefer to look at the work. For instance, one of my recent blurbers doesn’t work with computers. He prefers to read hard copy only. Since I’m the one asking the favor, I was delighted to spend almost fifty bucks to have a copy printed ($31.00), and mailed to him ($17.00). You should do the same. Make it comfortable and easy for them to read it and by no means ever expect them to pay for any part of the process. Don’t for just one example, send them something they have to sign for.

4. Make sure they understand that after they’ve read your mss or proposal, that if they’re uncomfortable in providing an endorsement, you want them to know you don’t expect them to, for any reason. Make sure you mean this and that they know you mean this in the very beginning.

5. Make sure you offer to return the favor if ever asked. And then, if asked, give them a good ‘un!

6. Don’t solicit the wrong people for your project. For instance, even if you know Stephen King personally, don’t ask him to blurb your nonfiction cookbook proposal or romance novel. Even if he provides a blurb in such a case (unlikely), the editor reviewing your proposal or mss is going to have a hernia laughing… as he slips a rejection slip inside the envelop…

7. If someone does agree to pre-blurb your mss or proposal, and furnishes a good one, ask him or her if they could recommend anyone else who might be willing to do the same. Networking works here as well. If they’re agreeable to furnish names for this, ask if they mind you using their name or will possibly furnish an introduction to that person.

8. Allow them their own timeframe to read and write the blurb in. Don’t ever put pressure on them to furnish their endorsement by a certain time. If they ask, simply say you’d prefer it by (whatever date) and hope that’s okay with them, but if it isn’t, that’s fine. If you don’t receive it from them in time for marketing it, you can still probably use it once it’s sold. In fact, one of the assumptions blurbers will have is that their endorsement will appear in the book once published. While you can’t guarantee that (that’s the publisher’s decision), it probably will happen, especially if you’ve solicited the kind of blurber you should have—one that readers will know or respect because of who they are or what position they hold. Who are the only kinds of blurbers you should solicit in the first place.

9. Always be gracious and professional in all of your dealings with potential endorsers.

10. If you already have an agent, make sure he or she agrees with you that it’s okay to solicit blurbers. Some won’t be behind the idea and they will most likely have sound reasons for their view. Listen to your agent. And, some may be delighted that you’re going to try, but will want to help guide you as to who you solicit.

Can everyone get pre-pub blurbs/endorsements? Not at all. But, some can and more can than may realize it.

Please understand that this is a strategy that will work for some and won’t work for others. I just want to present it as a possibility you may not have considered that may help you in selling your novel or nonfiction book proposal.

Did everyone I solicited give me a blurb? Nope. One thought The Bitch was too dark to lend his name to. A couple didn’t respond to my request. One would have, but has recently had a number of family issues he was dealing with and just didn’t have the time. One told me he was no longer giving blurbs to others. Some in my blanket solicitation of my book proposal for Bijou that I was hoping for didn’t respond.

Just the way it goes. Like they say in sales: Every no gets you closer to a yes. And then there’s that thing about kissing a lot of frogs…

Good luck!

Hope this was of some help!

Blue skies,
Les

P.S. It’s entirely possible that some disagree with this strategy and have good reasons for doing so. Hope to hear from you. Also, it’s entirely possible some agree with this strategy and have used it for their benefit. Hope to hear from you as well.

 One of my blurbers, Buddy...

11 comments:

Susan Fields said...

I can honestly say it never crossed my mind to try to get pre-pub blurbs. Like you say, I didn't even realize people did that. My first thought is that, not knowing any prominent YA fantasy/sci fi authors, I couldn't possibly, but I like your where you said: "some can and more can than may realize it." I'll definitely have to give it some thought!

Anne Gallagher said...

Thanks Les, as always, another thoughtful insight.

Les Edgerton said...

Thanks, folks. I had never heard of them either until the agent sent me his sports books proposals and then the little light in the refrigerator I call my brain went on. Turns out a few other agents were in on this tactic as well. It's just logical, once you think of it.

We perhaps overuse that cliche, "think outside the box," but we really need to. It's kind of odd that us authors, as creative types, employ originality in our manuscripts, but often, little outside of that, especially in marketing and selling ourselves and our work.

My first three published books were on hairstyling and the hair industry business (which I was--a haircutter--for 30+ years) and the same thing went on in that business. Very creative people when designing hairstyles... but generally prone to doing the same-o, same-o everyone else did in creating businesses. It seems to be a common element among creative types--we are wildly creative in our fields, but often not in selling what we're doing.

I think in writing, sometimes we're not as creative as we might be simply because we've read too many blogs and books by agents, editors and other gatekeepers who advise us not to come across as "unprofessional." Example: Don't send flowers or candy to an agent/editor" as that will be perceived as "unprofessional." That's true... but there are other ways to use our creativity in selling our work that I think we eschew out of fear our ideas fall into the same category as the "flower/candygram" mode. Sometimes, those ideas are good, as in this instance--gathering and using pre-pub blurbs.

It's really okay to be creative in marketing!

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

It HAS crossed my mind. I'm actually friends with many famous authors right in my own genre--the same way you are, we've been on panels and in professional writers groups together.

So, my question: How about getting a blurb for my agent search?

Les Edgerton said...

Hi Betsy. Not sure what you're asking. If you're asking me, I'd love to. But, I suspect you're asking a different question, right? If what you're wondering is if blurbs/endorsements from well-known authors in the genre you've got a book you're trying to get an agent for will help, then I'd say an almost unqualified YES!

Think about it. If you're trying to sell a horror novel and you know Stephen King and Dean Koontz and they agree to read your mss and either or both like it and then give you a blurb, and you send your query to Agent Z, informing them that you have these guys' endorsement, you bet they're going to pay attention! At the very least, they're going to ask for the mss and give it a good read, not to mention being predisposed to like it. I mean, who has to cojones or enough trust in their own judgment (no matter how renowned an agent they are) to turn down a mss that S.K. just said was great. No-brainer. (Of course, there will always be one contrarian who will delight in turning it down, but who wants them anyway?). So, if that's what you're asking, I'd wouldn't hesitate a second to see if I couldn't get them to give me an endorsement. It's what I'm doing right now, in fact.

(My answer here is longer, so I'm going to send this in two parts.)

Les Edgerton said...

Hi again, Betsy--here's the continuation of the prior post...

And, there are often collateral benefits you might not even know about. For instance, a well-known thriller writer agreed to blurb my mss, The Bitch. Really a nice guy and he probably wouldn't mind if I gave his name out but since I haven't asked him for permission yet, I won't. Anyway, we hit it off during our communication, and he asked if I'd return the favor and look at his memoir mss and perhaps blurb it. I did; it was great (well... brilliant...), and I gave him one. Then, he found out I have a memoir going to market, asked to read it, and he's really helping me out here. As it turns out, he was mentored by Norman Mailer when he was an unknown, and during his career, became friends with Elmore Leonard. Turns out, Leonard gave him some structure tips on his memoir. And, now, this wonderfully-generous man is giving me the same structure tips on my own memoir. From Mailer to Leonard to my (unnamed) new writer friend... to moi! And, he's giving me a great blurb for the memoir as well, and I think he's going to introduce me and the mss to other of his writer friends (including, I hope, Elmore Leonard!). If so, I'll... well... (imagine my lil' ol' Southern voice)... I'll just curl up and die!

Just to illustrate the wild things that can happen once you start soliciting these kinds of blurbs. Also, I've heard from a NY writer friend who's fairly-well connected in literary circles that he's already hearing buzz about my thriller mss and all because this first guy agreed to read and blurb my mss. It's all connected. We're all connected. Take advantage of it. And... you can always call on me for a possible blurb!

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

I would love to have a blurb from you, Les! As soon as my book is ready (shortly, as the writing gods cooperate) I'll ask!

:D

I'm glad to have this instinct of mine confirmed. I mean, everyone asks these writer-friends of mine to critique their stuff. Well, I have a crit group I trust. I don't need that. I need a push on the marketing angle.

(Haha. I just accidentally typed angel. So yeah. I need a marketing angel too.)

T.M. Avery said...

Wow. I'd been doing that for people and didn't even realize it. Course, it's not like my opinion matters a huge ton since I'm still unpublished, but getting the author's name out there helps too. I'm forever telling people about what I've read. Who I've met. Friending friendly authors on Facebook. I just wanted like company. You know, people who talk about their process and stuff like that. I didn't think I could possibly get their help in something like this. O_o

Bri Clark said...

Les,

I totally support this. My publisher told me to pursue it. The bigger the better were his exat words. I already have one who committed to it.

Of course, he had a Chianti bottle in his hand, half empty...when he said that. Hey Les can half a bottle of Chianti get you drunk?

So here's my question to you about blurbs. There are so many novels that are cross genre--say you have a romantic fantasy action adventure suspense thriller and you get a blurb from someone who is more suspense thriller and not so much romance. Do you still think that it's a positive thing?

If you think about it and you get several different blurbs from successful authors of different genres you could show how it's cross marketable.
What's your idea?
Bri

Les Edgerton said...

Betsy, whenever you need a blurb, I'm your guy!

Tiffany, same goes for you. You knew that, right?

Bri, glad to get confirmation from another writer! And, no--just a half of a bottle of wine can't get a pro drunk, but it can an amateur... As to your question, I imagine it would only help one's case to get a blurb from a well-known writer, even if it's in another genre. These aren't for publication, necessarily (although some may end up as such), but to show that other writers think well of the book or project, and that alone makes them worthwhile to get. All of us--including editors--need to have our own judgment confirmed. If I wrote a mystery cozy and Stephen King wrote an endorsement, I think any editor would pay attention to his words, even if it wouldn't make the flap. And, that's a good strategy, I think, in using a quote from a recognized writer in another genre your book has elements of to sell it as a book that can cross-genre.

Thanks, all!

Pen and Ink said...

Alan Rinzler did a post about this and that sent me to you site. This is a totally new idea for me and I love it. Now I have to find out who to ask.
Kelly Armstrong critiqued the first 40 pages of my novel Second Chances.
This is what she said.
Susan,
Okay, finally, I got a chance to read this. First, the good stuff. I like the idea--time travel is always nice, and the idea of a middle-aged lonely woman returning to her youth for a second chance at something is very sweet. I like the women--Sherry is level-headed and wistful, Lorena is feisty. Your dialogue flows well, as does most of your writing. Your description is very good. This works. But I see some problems, too.
Her biggest problem was the time travel and I changes what did not work for her.
She replied
Susan,

It works much better now! The flow is faster and the virtual reality is more plausible. Good luck with it! I hope it goes well for you.

All the best,
Kelley
I am looking for an agent.
Any way I can turn that into a blurb? I am thinking I should probably start from the beginning and find an author to read the whole thing.