On the Care and Feeding of Blurbs

I’ve had a couple people ask me about blurbs lately (like I’m some sort of expert – here’s a hint: I’m not), and figured I might as well blog about it.  For anyone who doesn’t know, blurbs are those quotes on the covers of books that say things like:

“This book cured my phobia of leprechauns!” – Smitty Van Helsing, Author of THE LEPRECHAUN MAFIA AND THE APPROACHING ARMAGEDDON.

So what’s the purpose of blurbs?  I’ve heard everything from “there isn’t any purpose” to “it makes the book more attractive to book buyers.”  Both of which are true.  And both of which are false.  Blurbs can make your book more appealing if the blurbs catch someone’s attention.  And a certain blurb CAN feasibly make your book look more attractive to a book buyer.  But at the same time, you can’t point to a blurb and say with any certainty “That blurb sold me fifty-five thousand copies.  Thanks, Smitty!”  I mean, unless the blurb comes from Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, which is a whole other situation altogether.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone buying a book because Smitty Van Helsing blurbed it.  Most people probably won’t even realize he did.

For the most part, blurbs are kind of like glowing recommendations from your fellow employees at work.  When it comes time for your review, those recommendations aren’t going to help you out all that much, but they’re nice to have either way.

So how do you get them?

The getting of blurbs is weird, and depends on your own house’s preference.  There are two (well actually three, but we’ll get there) avenues to blurb-getting.  In one, the publisher handles it all.  They extend the offer to established authors or their agents, and the author who wrote the book in question never really deals with any of it.  Plus side, this eliminates a lot of your stress.

Then there’s the other option, in which the author goes in search of their own blurbs.  This is usually with some level of editorial input (some houses are more particular about who they would want blurbing books than others, from what I’ve heard).  You write up emails, approach the author through the appropriate channels (some authors make it clear that blurb requests need to go through their agents, for example).  Sometimes it helps if you already have a friendship/relationship with the author.  That’s not always a guarantee, though.

Then there’s the third way to get blurbs, which is serendipity.  An author reads your book (either in ARC or final copy) and loves it so much they offer to blurb.  You didn’t seek it out, your editor didn’t seek it out, it just happens.  I think these are the best kinds of blurbs, personally.  I love when writer friends tell me that Random Author just offered to blurb their book.

So how do you ask?

First, find out how your publishing house wants to handle it.  Will they send ARCs?  Bound manuscripts?  Or would they prefer you send it in a Word file?  These things are important.

If you’ve checked the writer’s website and it says to just email her, then do that.  DO NOT send the book first.  Think of it a little like a query.  Introduce yourself, and then ask them if they would be interested in looking at an advanced copy of the book.  Some authors might not have time, or they might be swamped.  The bigger the author, also, the more requests like this they get.  Just like with querying, rejection IS a part of the game.

Make sure you tell them what your book is about, in case they don’t know already.  Also, find out from your editor what the deadline should be – when’s the absolute latest the author could send in a blurb to make it on the final copy of the book.  Let the author know when you’d need to hear by.  If the author doesn’t get back to you in time, all’s not lost.  A late blurb can always go on your website, on a later version of the book, in promo materials, etc.  And then ask them what they would prefer, from among the options above.  Word document, bound manuscript, ARC.

Then wait.  If they request it, great.  Do yourself a favor, and then decide to forget about it.  Just like being on submission, worrying about blurbs will only drive you insane.  I decided the whole thing was over once the book was out of my hands.  If people agreed to read, I let them read, but I don’t think about it.  I don’t expect blurbs, but if I get some, it’s like a Christmas bonus you didn’t expect.  It also helped that I picked up another project the minute I was done.

Blurbs are just another thing in publishing you can’t control.  And for some reason, they’re treated like they’re more important than they really are sometimes.  I’ve heard of authors getting seriously upset because their books didn’t have any, and then the book comes out and still does perfectly fine.  It’s really not worth the stress that many people put into it.

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