Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Blurbs for Your Book

There’s a lot of confusion out there about book blurbs: what they are, what makes a good one, how many you should have, and how to get them.

In theory, the term “blurb” has two meanings: a commendatory assessment of a book written by its publisher (aka jacket copy, flap copy, back cover copy), and a commendatory assessment of a book written by someone else (aka endorsement). In traditional publishing, “blurb” generally means the latter—an endorsement by someone else—with the other terms (jacket copy, flap copy, back cover copy) used to describe promotional material written by the publisher. Especially when they come from respected authors, blurbs (endorsements) are a means of discovery for readers, and they offer social proof.

If you publish traditionally, your publisher (and sometimes your agent) may contact respected authors with blurb requests, following up with Advance Reading Copies (arcs). But your publisher will also ask you to suggest authors who might blurb your book, and of course if you’re publishing your own work, the entire task will rest on your shoulders.

How to get blurbs for your book? Here, a few tips:

·         Readers are important, but reader reviews aren’t blurbs. A blurb should be an endorsement from a respected author of a similar book or, if the book is nonfiction, someone highly respected in the field.
·         Quality matters more than quantity. Years ago, I received a copy of a novel that had 27 blurbs, including endorsements by bookstores (no names given), pastors, institute directors, authors of nonfiction, and professors. Lost in the shuffle were a five-star review by Midwest Book Reviews and an endorsement by a well-known author. The overall effect of all these blurbs was that the author was reaching too hard to impress. The best blurbs come from respected authors of books that are similar to yours, authors with which you hope to share cross-readership, along with snippets of reviews from respected publications (well-known newspapers, Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Foreword Reviews).
·         When deciding whom to approach, think first about which books are most like yours. Then narrow the list to authors with whom you have meaningful relationships, either in real time (through conferences, workshops, writing groups) or online. There should be a good chance that these authors will like your book, and that your work is similar enough that they might benefit from crossover readership with your readers.  
·         Your request should be simple, straightforward, and personal. Say a little about the book, how and when the arc will be delivered, and how and when the blurb should be returned (generally, by email, to either the author or the publisher). If you sense hesitation, don’t press it. We’re all busy, and some authors have a no-blurb policy.
·         Use blurbs on your back cover (one or two), on the first page (“Praise for . . .), and on your website (I use my favorite excerpts on my home page and provide the full text on a separate “Praise”page.) Blurbs that don’t make the print deadline can always be added to the digital edition.
·         From a friend who writes mysteries, I learned that some authors in some genres don’t read the books they blurb; the blurbs are done as favors within the industry, with wording provided by the publishers. It’s different in literary fiction, which I write: authors read the books they blurb. One who blurbed my novel Cold Spell even took time to write after the fact, “Listen, I know there's a lot of tit for tat in the book world, but I just want to say that my admiration for your book is sincere and profound. I'm still thinking about it. It was such a delight--to open it and see your talent pooling all over each page.”
·         Besides helping readers find books, blurbs can be a wonderful “feel-good” for the author—plus they help us see our work in new ways. About my novel Cold Spell, author David Vann (whose work I hugely admire) wrote, Cold Spell is Greek tragedy.  From the very first pages, these lives are out of control.  You’ll care for Sylvie, and also her mother Ruth, and you’ll want them not to hurt each other, but of course they will.” I hadn’t thought of the story in quite that way, but he’s absolutely right. In her blurb, author Cindy Dyson spoke of the “tenderized realism” in Cold Spell, applied to both setting and characters. I like that term—along with other observations by blurbers, it helps refine my vision of my work.