Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Will Work for Blurb

What’s the part of the publishing process that makes me most feel like a book whore? Getting blurbs.

Blurbs are the quotes on the back of the book, those endorsements from other authors. Did you ever stop to think how those got there? I never did until I got my first book deal.

I remember (and blush) at my incredible naivety with that first novel. When I was presented with a questionnaire from my publisher asking if there were authors or people of influence to whom I’d like to present a galley in order to secure a blurb, I blithely listed: Amy Tan, Pat Conroy, John Irving, Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Cunningham, Jane Hamilton, and on and on...

Um. It doesn’t work that way.

The blurbs depend on who knows who. Does your agent have a connection to this person? Does the publisher? Have you made a connection with another writer at a conference or book festival? Because then someone must ask the person, essentially, "Are you willing to take time out of your already crazy busy life to read this manuscript and offer an opinion?"

I didn’t know anybody.

Asking for blurbs feels very reminiscent of those awful days of middle school gym when the teacher did that barbaric practice of selecting “team captains” who then took turns picking the popular, pretty, athletically skilled kids, leaving an obvious handful as the “always picked last.” You know—an exercise that makes you feel idiotically hopeful, then foolish, then makes you begin to doubt your own self worth? (Okay, so the blurb game isn't that bad, but you get the idea!)

Blurbs never make or break the success of a book, mind you, but they can help immensely. I know that if I see that an author I admire has given a wonderful endorsement to a book, I’m much more likely to give that book a chance.

Because I had such a hard time getting blurbs initially, I made a crazy vow to myself that I would never, ever say no to someone who might someday ask me for a blurb.

Ah, the naivety continues...

See, here’s the thing. The other authors I have now come to know and even call friends, never say no to doing blurbs because they’re mean or they think they’re too “big” to be bothered or they’ve forgotten where they’ve come from. Nope. Not at all.

It all comes down to time.

There is never enough time. Never enough hours in the day. For most of us, writing time is a precious commodity that must be defended ruthlessly. In addition to writing, there is marketing and promotion an author must do (that always takes huge amounts of time), and then there Families. Kids. Pets. Birthdays. Holidays. Laundry. Taxes. You know how that is.

So to say yes to reading a 300-500 page manuscript and then coming up with something to say about it takes a tremendous investment of time. Truly.

I know this, now that I am asked rather regularly to do blurbs. It killed me to say no the first time I had to do so. I really do want to help other writers—and I think all authors feel the same—but there have been times in my life where it’s just been impossible to add one more item to the heaping platter I was already trying to manage. It pained me. I worried, I apologized, I felt like a terrible person.

Going through that made me take it a lot less personally when another writer isn’t able to blurb me.

It’s gotten easier to get blurbs. Over the years, attending conferences, book fairs, and festivals, I’ve met a lot of writers with whom I now stay in touch. I’ve crossed paths with other authors at book signings and sometimes there’s an immediate connection.

I’m thrilled to say that I’ve already received two wonderful blurbs for The Blessings of the Animals from amazing writers (and now friends) Lesley Kagen (Whistling in the Dark) and Ellen Baker (Keeping the House). Three other authors I hugely admire have agreed to “try” to find time to read and blurb. I won’t mention names since I don’t want to jinx anything!

I jumped at the chance to blurb for another author while I wait for my own blurbs. When Katharine Davis, author of East Hope and Capturing Paris contacted me about reading her newest manuscript, A Slender Thread, it felt like a karmic intervention. Pay it forward, pay it forward. As writers help me, so I help others.

What really helps—and what I try to do—when approaching a writer I’ve never met, asking for such a favor, is to truly be familiar with their work and have a reason why an endorsement from them would mean something to my readers (something other than, “You’re a big name and you sell a bazillion books a year...” which is really crass), something such as a shared passion for certain social issues, an examination of similar themes, and—a biggie for me—animal characters developed as fully as the humans.

And since giving a blurb is the chance to bring attention to writing you admire, let me end by re-blurbing a book I first read last summer. Have you read Laura Kasischke’s In A Perfect World? Well, do yourself a favor and go buy a copy today! It was one of my very favorite books of 2009. As I visited book clubs all last summer, members would ask me for recommendations for future club selections. I took great pleasure in saying, “In October, there’s this great book that will be coming out that will be perfect for book club discussions.”

Here’s the blurb I gave Laura:
“From its haunting opening image to its riveting end, this is a tale of beauty, resilience, love, sacrifice, and even grace found in the most unlikely of places.”
Seriously, in a truly perfect world, every book would inspire me like this one. And you know my thing for animals—well, there’s a goose named Beatrice in it who will break your heart!


  1. You know Ellen Baker? That's pretty funny. She's from my neck of the woods, and we did her book as our store staff recommendation last summer. KEEPING THE HOUSE is on the same table as TWO TRUTHS, so I have this constant moral dilemma about which book I could recommend first...local author or TWO TRUTHS? Local author? Or TWO TRUTHS? Since most people in our store jump straight to Ellen, I don't feel too bad pushing yours.

  2. Yay, Lindsy, I love it! Small world, indeed. Yep, I met Ellen at the South Dakota Festival of the Books and we really hit it off. I cannot wait for her new novel, THE WORK OF A WOMAN.

  3. I love hearing about how these things are done. So today I learned how the blurbs get on the books and who writes the flap. Thank you for sharing :o)