The ABCs of Authors and Blurbs

Today we continue our journey through the publishing process with a look at blurbs.

In publishing, the word “blurb” can mean both the short jacket-copy summaries that appear on the back of books and also the short-form author reviews and recommendations used to promote the book. Today, we’re talking about the second of those: other authors’ recommendations.

If you’ve picked up a book lately, you probably saw the complimentary comments from other authors (“blurbs”) on the cover. Blurbs also appear on a book’s website pages and online sales listings. Most readers, and authors, know what a blurb is, but many debut and unpublished authors don’t know where they come from.

The bad news is, there’s no “blurb fairy” who shows up in the night with compliments about your book from bestselling authors.

The good news is, there’s a process for obtaining blurbs, and it’s not as scary (or as difficult) as it may initially seem.

Authors obtain blurbs for their books in one of two ways–and most traditionally published authors use both avenues, to some extent.

1. Blurbs from publisher contacts or other authors on the publisher’s imprint(s). Publishers know authors (big surprise). Often, a publisher will ask popular authors on the publisher’s imprints to blurb other authors’ books. Sometimes editors also have contacts outside the publisher’s own imprints, and can request blurbs from those authors, too. A request is not a guarantee of a blurb, of course, but publishers often try to help an author obtain a blurb for his or her book.

2. Blurbs from author (and agent) contacts. Agents often know many authors (including some the agent may not represent). Agents will often help their authors obtain blurbs, by contacting authors they know and asking for a read. Also, many authors obtain blurbs themselves, by approaching fellow authors and asking (NICELY) for a read.

The etiquette of blurb requests is important, and the manner in which you ask (and respond) makes an enormous difference.

Debut authors may not know many published authors to ask about giving a blurb (and often panic at the thought).

Here are some tips on asking for blurbs (and they apply regardless of where you are in your publishing career):

1. BE POLITE. Let’s repeat that for emphasis: be polite, not pushy. When you ask an author for a blurb, you are asking for a favor. Since blurbs come from published (and often multi-published) authors, you are asking someone to take time from his or her schedule to read your work.

2. Ask the author to read “for a possible blurb” rather than demanding praise. Although most authors who agreed to read will probably give you a positive blurb, don’t demand it at the outset.

3. If you have a connection to the author, through social media or otherwise, mention that in your contact letter. Many authors will remember meeting other authors on social media, at signings, or otherwise. If we know you, we’re more likely to respond positively to a blurb request.

4. Approach authors who write in your genre, or whose audiences are similar to yours. I’m not likely to blurb erotica, or even romance, because I write historical/police procedural mystery. Other authors feel the same. Requesting blurbs from authors who write in similar styles and genres increases your chances of hearing “yes.”

Many authors find asking for blurbs even scarier than querying agents. Approaching someone you barely know (or don’t know at all) can be frightening–but remember, blurbs are part of the publishing process. Published authors expect to receive blurb requests from time to time (Note to published authors: yes, you should.) A polite, well-worded blurb query that piques an author’s interest is likely to receive a “yes” response–assuming the author isn’t on a deadline or overcommitted.

Which brings me to the final piece of blurb advice: no matter what, DO NOT EVER BE RUDE if the answer is no. An author may have to refuse a blurb request for many reasons. Among them: deadlines and “too many blurbs already this year.” Another reason for refusals: the book may not lie in the author’s genre, or within a genre the author knows well. Responding rudely to a “no” will hurt you down the road – authors, agents, and editors pay attention to the way an author behaves.

Also, if an author agrees to blurb you, please be patient–reading a manuscript and writing a good blurb does take time.

And, finally, if you’re a published author, remember to pay it forward. You don’t have to blurb every book that comes across your desk, but do take time to help other authors. Rising tides float all ships, and authors helping other authors benefits us all.

How did you get your blurbs? If you’re an author, do you blurb other authors’ books? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!


2 thoughts on “The ABCs of Authors and Blurbs

  • January 22, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    As always, Susan, good advice. I would add read the work of the author from whom you’re asking a favor.

    I contacted authors I knew through the Historical Novel Society and social media and a multi-published author in my former critique group.

    So, for the yet to be published, it is good to connect through social media and conferences. Above all, be polite, and don’t take a no personally.

    • January 26, 2014 at 6:07 pm

      Always a good idea, Kim – and thanks for including that tip. Reading the other author’s work is not only good from a PR standpoint (after all, everyone likes hearing that someone has read their book!) but also helps you judge which authors might like your work and be good candidates for a blurb.

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