Friday, April 5, 2013

Countdown to a Book 7: Five Tips for Getting Blurbs

This last month was a reminder that publishing is not for the faint of heart, the faint of spirit, or anyone who had trouble selling her assigned box of Girl Scout cookies.

photo credit: pam's pics- via photopin cc

Now…ahem…a few years later, I have once again donned the sash, it would seem—only this one says “Author”—and I find myself knocking on the digital doors of esteemed strangers, begging them to lavish their nonexistent spare time and goodwill upon an untested product, without even the promise of a sugar high in return.

And so began, this past month, the cringe-worthy task of begging for blurbs.

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the process.

1. Aim high.
How high? High enough to draw attention and bring you an audience (you’ll want a blurb worthy of your personal anguish in asking for it), but just below the mega-stars’ “no blurb” policies. Yet it can be a trick identifying authors in that sweet spot. Amazon rankings may offer some clue—in general, a rank of fifteen thousand in books is a heck of a lot better than seven million, for example—but the rankings are fickle, subject as they are to the latest giveaways and promotional trends. The only sure-fire way to know whether an author is “worth approaching” is to ask your publisher to check BookScan.

2. Use any interpersonal means available to you.
The more direct and personal the request, the harder it is to turn down. In order to dampen the influx of such demands, busier authors protect their time by making themselves notoriously difficult to contact. If an e-mail address or website contact form is not an option, many authors do have direct messaging enabled on their Facebook fan pages (although perhaps not after this post).

3. You are not alone.
My editors, my agent, and I divvied up the work according to our connections. But consider other lifelines as well, such as your friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend network; someone may be willing to forward your request to the author’s personal e-mail account. Asking the author’s agent or editor to forward the request may feel like a last resort, yet even these intermediaries may be allies, with their own marketing reasons to suggest that the author say yes.

4. Re-frame “blurb begging” in a way that will allow you to feel better about it.
My inner Girl Scout has been in such turmoil that I finally reframed this goddawful task in a way that made me love it. While asking for the blurb, I decided to use the request as an opportunity to pay homage to the authors who have influenced my life and my writing. Then, if I’m turned down (as happens most of the time), the note was still a major success.

5. Are you pre-book deal? Make connections in your genre now. 
I didn’t—and I regret it. As a generalist who enjoys cross-fertilization, I’ve networked with writers in a wide variety of organizations, conferences, forums, and loops (note the diversity of the Blood-Red Pencil contributors), and among them are several with bestselling titles—but almost none of them in the women’s fiction/book club fiction/"accessible literary" market I am targeting. Honestly? I knew one—and thank goodness she agreed to write a blurb! What I'd never stopped to consider is that blurbs must come from the writers who are most like you. This is a matter both of taste and marketing savvy. Not one of my readers will care if a bestselling YA or horror or crime writer likes my work. Even within my genre, not all women’s fiction is created equal—someone writing historicals, for instance, would confuse the heck out of their own readers by endorsing my contemporary work.

So here’s where we are: we’ve sent out our requests, I’ve paid homage, the ARC deadline of April 22 looms, and…we wait.

Ah well. Traditional publishing is one long lesson in “Control what you can and surrender the rest.”

Oh yeah, and waiting.

And second-guessing yourself: Could I have maximized my chances of getting a blurb by sending along a box of Girl Scout cookies?

How about you? Considering the type of story you write, if you could pay homage and obtain a blurb from any writer in the universe—who would be your heart’s desire? And which Girl Scout cookies would you send?

Just catching up? Here are links to the other posts in this series:
Countdown to a Book 1: Joining Hands
Countdown to a Book 2: Pitching
Countdown to a Book 3: Getting My Agent
Countdown to a Book 4: Developmental Editing
Countdown to a Book 5: All About Image
Countdown to a Book 6: From Writer to Author

Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her monthly series, "Countdown to a Book," details the traditional publication of her debut novel, The Art of Falling, by Sourcebooks in January 2014. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.


  1. Hi
    I'm a novelist, creative writing tutor and regular reader of Blood Red Pencil. I love the advice you give here - which is why I have included it my weekly blog post Safari Friday - searching the web for resources for writers and readers. You can see it at

    Thanks a lot for all your hard work. And I agree about getting a name for a blurb - if you don't ask, you don't get and writers are surprisingly nice, generous people. What's the worst that could happen: you have told them how great they are and they say they are too one is hurt.

  2. The analogy of selling Girl Scout cookies resonates in the pit of my introverted stomach. But with my writing there is a deeper connection to the product and a feeling of quality control that is purely "mine". Thus, I am already setting my sights on potential blurbers. "Come on be a good Scout" might just work. Thank you for your post.

  3. What a fantastic and fun piece to emphasize that so much more than getting words on paper is involved in making a book "happen"! Your sharing of your journey to book-in-hand is such a wonderful treasure, Kathryn, and so helpful to so many. While your work is being traditionally published, much of your information applies also to those who choose the self-publishing route. Thank-you!

    About your questions: twenty or thirty years ago, I would have loved a blurb from Barbara Delinski or Belva Plain. However, I now write in a different genre (at least some of the time), so I don't know. As for Girl Scout cookies, I haven't eaten one for so long that it's hard to remember. I recall a chocolate mint variety from decades past that was quite tasty. Creamy, smooth chocolate melted on the tongue while cool, refreshing mint kissed the taste buds and slid down the throat, leaving an invitation to consume another one. I think this could translate into a positive blurb, don't you?

  4. An alternative view: For me as a reader, the premise and synopsis sell me on the book, not blurbs. In fact,if I turn the book around and the back is covered with blurbs I get suspicious. Is their plot synopsis so weak they are relying on blurbs to sell the story? I usually put the book down in those instances. I'm not impressed by "names," but I'm in the minority. I can see where marketers think it is useful. I loved reading Belva Plain and Barbara Delinski. Even so, the story premise made a difference. If it didn't intrigue me, I passed on it.

  5. My first publisher was an e-publisher back in the day when e-books were brand new, and they didn't do blurbs. When I got my hard cover contract, I found myself in the knee-quaking, dry-mouth, sweaty-palms position of having to approach authors for blurbs. I absolutely hate the groveling. Some said ok, but then either didn't come through or backed out--did they hate my book? Or were they being honest when they said their agent/publisher said they could only review books they "approved" (meaning their own authors)?

    Then, I had an author friend who said, "Sure--write 3 choices and I'll cobble them together for a blurb." WTF -- you mean some of the blurbs out there aren't 'genuine.'

    After seeing things from both sides, I hate blurbs even more, and rarely use them to buy a book.

    But, I did get glowing blurbs from Cindy Gerard and Debra Webb for my 3rd Blackthorne, book. Did they help sell books? I doubt it, because the publisher targets the library market and the starred review from PW is the one that counts for them.

    For my indie book, Deadly Secrets, I did get a blurb, but I got it 'sideways' because I asked a writer friend if she'd read it to see if it was worth publishing. She said it was great. And said I could use her blurb.

    But, to answer your question, I'd love a blurb from Nora Roberts for my romantic suspense books, and maybe Robert Crais or Michael Connelly for my mysteries. (Yeah, right!)

    For indie books, it's reviews that make the difference, I think.

    (And when I sold Girl Scout cookies, they were 25 cents a box)

    Terry's Place

  6. Yes Bridget, that's how I saw it, too, in time. And thanks for publishing links to the Blood-Red Pencil on your blog! We're glad you find it useful.

  7. Kathy, I do know what you mean. I have owned my own service-orineted businesses for my entire work life, which sounds funny after my admission that I can't sell a dang thing. Except that selling my services is different: time and again, as my clients invest in the process, I'm able to lead them to solutions. It's gratifying, and builds confidence for the sale.

    And early feedback has already shown that when the right readers find my novel, they'll connect with it powerfully. So if I ask the right blurbers, I have to believe the same thing will come into play.

  8. So now I know why you didn't ask me to blurb your book, Kathryn. (smile)

    Seriously, you are so right about asking authors who write in your genre. A long time ago I corresponded with Evan Hunter, the mystery author who also wrote as Ed McBain, and he had agreed to read my first mystery for a possible blurb. Unfortunately there was a long time between the time I wrote it and the time it got published, and he died.

  9. Linda, your sensory description made my mouth water. Thin mints! Best straight from the freezer!

    Many have idolized mega-seller Barbara Delinsky, so my guess is she'd be the type that is off-limits. Margaret Atwood was one of the authors who had a blanket no-blurb policy, and she wrote a great poem that she posts at her site to warn people off. I'll post the link here for your enjoyment!

  10. Diana. I see what you mean, of course. And certainly books come out all the time with stellar blurbs that fail, underscoring your sentiment. My agent and editor both told me not to freak out if nothing comes through; these people are busy, and you are asking a favor. Yet the established extending a helping to those trying to break in is a centuries-old tradition in the arts, and one I'd rather not hasten to end. Such selfless acts keep the arts world turning.

    In the end, of course, iIt is always about the story and the reader's personal connection to it.

  11. Terry, yes, the behind-the-scenes machinations have been eye-opening! I've heard of blurbs where the author didn't read the book—I'd have trouble with that, being a former scout and all. Luckily, so far, mine have all read it.

    There are other reasons for getting blurbs, though, than selling to the public. Some of my authors I contacted said they would personally recommend my book to book clubs they visit, and to their local bookstores, which is huge.

    And blurbs can be used either on the final book cover, or, perhaps better, on the ARC—this helps you gain notice by reviewers and helps build buzz.


  12. Maryann, too funny. My genre is also live authors, lol!! Great story. While my target authors haven't died, I did write this book for long enough that some of them who were in vogue when I started writing have not been heard from since, reducing the marketing value of their praise.

  13. Kathryn, Aim High! I think this is most inspirational.

    As a small press author I had a very short window of time to get blurbs with the ARC for the cover: 6-8 weeks. As you noted (pre-book deal)I had to plan ahead to ask for blurbs and let folks know I had a short window of time. Some people were very accommodating and others just couldn't based on their schedule, understandably!

    Also, even if an author can't come through on a blurb in time for the cover it is still worth receiving at a later time to be used for other promotional purposes.

    I say YES to aiming high. I see the glass as half full in thinking that seasoned authors were once debuts too and someone helped them when they were starting out. Like a Pay It Forward.

    And speaking of planning ahead, I think it benefits a debut author to become part of a large organization of authors in their genre as well. I joined International Thriller Writers (ITW) and was part of their debut program in 2012. The benefits? They want to help boost and promote their debuts and many provided me with blurbs. Joining a professional industry organization like this also provides opportunities for debuts to volunteer and meet other authors, hence building those bridges! I am part of the ITW social media team and has allowed me to work with many top authors.

    Good luck to you Kathryn! I cant wait to hold your lovely book in hand and relish it (and the blurbs!)

  14. Donna, you make a good point that the window is short, and not achievable for many. At Sourcebooks this was equally true for getting blurbs on the advance reader copies, but I have until October 1 to make the cover.

    Lack of professional organizations was one problem for my type of non-genre book. RWA (Romance Writers of America) had a women's fiction subset, but romance is so different from what I write, and the organization and its conferences were so expensive, I never joined.

    There is a new organization forming, though—Women's Fiction Writers Association—that is much better aligned with my kind of writing, and I'm thrilled to be getting in on the ground floor there. I have finally found a place where other writers like me can find one another! I can't emphasize enough how important that is, so thanks for bringing it up!

  15. I went big. I asked Alexander McCall Smith for a blurb for my short story collection, all stories set in Botswana. Initially the book was only an ebook. His PA said he'd do a blurb but then he was not keen on reading ebooks. Now I have a print publisher and I asked again (I am persistent) and the PA said yes. I've sent the book, I'm waiting....and waiting.... But you really do need to hold your breath and jump in at the deep end.

  16. Lauri thanks for sharing your experience! Persistence does pay off in this biz for sure, if you don't mind being the squeaky wheel.

    And yes: So... much... waiting...

  17. The thought of blurb-begging makes me want to hide in a corner. 'Please sir/madam, can you say something nice about my work?' *shudder* I know it's part of the game, but...damn.

  18. Elspeth! I'm still gargling to get the horrid taste out of my mouth.

    But I have been softening the "beg" by asking them to "read," and if they are so moved, to "blurb"—sounds a teensy bit better.

    And this task has inspired me to do what I've never taken the time to do before—thank them for the impact their work has had on my growth as a writer and human being—and for that, I'm actually thankful.

  19. Hey all, I was just able to announce my second blurb for THE ART OF FALLING! You can check it out at :)

  20. Starting the social media connections early - if I had a dollar for every time I nagged about that, I'd be retired to a Swiss chalet drinking fine wine and eating even finer local cheeses. Another team approach is to have a group blog with authors who are more well-known than you are, but in a similar genre, then approach them for a blurb a year into blogging together. Ideally, you might get to know other house authors and engage them in this sort of venture. More work, but mutually beneficial down the road for everyone involved. I see this sort of mutual support on mystery blogs like Lipstick Chronicles and among Berkley Prime Crime authors.

  21. Dani didn't the Lipstick Chronicles close up shop? (I may have them confused.) Such a concept is just now possible on two fronts: the soon-to-be founded WFWA, allowing an assembly of similar writers, and Sourcebooks' new Landmark imprint for book club fiction. Until now, Sourcebooks hadn't really been putting out "my" kind of book, but last month the first wave hit. A time of great promise!

  22. I may be confused too - what's the other popular one that I'm REALLY thinking of? Dang. Um, um... Jungle Red Writers. Love the picture, btw!

  23. Oh, it's soooo difficult! And after a while you run out of authors who are similiar to you, so it only gets worse. Argh!

    I am not sure readers pay much attention to blurbs, but the people who get your books into stores really do--the sales staff, the distributors, the booksellers. Blurbs help them decide how many copies to buy (a blurb from Alexander McCall Smith, for example, would do you more good than a no-name mystery author) which is key to your career. A few small orders from booksellers will guarantee poor sales (you can't sell books that aren't in stores!) and that's what booksellers base their next order on. With the rise of e-books, this will surely change, but at the moment it's the way the system works. So keep knocking on doors!

  24. Hey Nancy Martin, thanks so much for stopping by and lending your considerable expertise!

    While I was aware the blurbs helped the project gain attention from reviewers for that all-important advance buzz, I had no clue that it made such a difference at the bookstore level—wow. Glad I've persevered!

  25. The pearls that fall from your mouth...well...fingers. Another stellar post, Kathryn.

  26. This is great--it's always a challenge to find that "sweet spot"--someone with name recognition who will consent to blurb your book.

  27. As always, I love reading your blog, Kathryn. I wish I could bring myself to ask for blurbs from writers I love, but so far, I haven't been able to, even if I laced the letters with chocolate-coated thank-yous. I suppose I'll have to hope readers will buy my books because they're curious, because they like the covers, because they enjoy women's fiction, or just because.

    My editor said she'd think about it...but so far nothing. I've hinted to friends and some have come on board with enthusiasm but not connections.


  28. Hey Normandie, believe me, I know! And all the reasons you list are solid reasons to pick up and buy a book. I think in my case I've wanted this so long I'm not going to blow my chance if it's in my power to avoid it. And if some people think blurbs help, then I'm going to go solicit some blurbs! Now to see what actually comes through... But I already have two up on the landing page at my website!

  29. I've been to many conferences, had my picture taken with well known authors, yet have hesitated to request blurbs from them. Now I use online connections for blurbs, usually with authors on my own level, still trying to make it.

  30. It's awkward, for me at least, to ask for blurbs or reviews. And I know I need to get past that, especially when you consider I do a lot of book reviews. Blurbs on your cover are important, but the asking is not easy.

  31. Morgan and Helen, I know, it is awkward. But the work of the authors I'm asking has resonated so with me, I have to hope mine might with them as well. I send them the first short chapter, the paragraph book pitch, and a paragraph bio. I figure they'll know by then if they're hooked and would like to read it.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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