What are blurbs?
Before we get started, let’s clarify our terms, since I’ve occasionally seen confusion on this issue. A blurb is not the back-jacket description of a book; it’s not the inside-flap description of a book. It is a quote from an established author, the purpose of which is to help promote the book at hand.
Why get blurbs?
I don’t think the average consumer buys a book strictly on the basis of a blurb. Do you?
Yes, there are degrees of blurbs. For example, if Stephen King says, “This book is good,” that’s a nice thing to have on your jacket. On the other hand, if Stephen King says, “This is the best book I’ve read in the last five years,” now, there’s a blurb that might actually get people to sit up and take notice.
But generally speaking, the average person who walks into a bookstore is picking up a book based on catchy cover, catchy title, a review they’ve read, a recommendation from a friend. The blurb, for consumers, is usually the last line of influence.
So who does care about blurbs? Reviewers, in particular the reviewers for the major prepublication trade magazines, and buyers for bookstores.
Do blurbs guarantee a good review or increase orders? Not directly, no. But they are part of the package that guides perception of the work before reading or buying. They can also help attract attention if you’re still at the stage of trying to acquire an agent and, if you’ve already sold the book to a publisher, they can help create in-house enthusiasm among the editorial department and the sales force.
Then, too, if you receive a number of glittering blurbs from a wide array of successful authors, it can even help you expand the market for your book, getting people to think outside that box we all seem to get stuck in. So let’s get started on…
Who to ask
1. Don’t Go Public
I’ve seen novice writers put out general requests for blurbs on lists that are populated by hundreds of people: “If anyone here would like to blurb my book, I’d be very grateful!” Please don’t do this. What are you going to do if you get fifty blurbs this way? Will you be able to use them all? Further, not to knock self-publishing, but if your book is slated for publication from Random House and one of the list members who jumps at the opportunity to give you five to ten hours of their valuable time to blurb your book, and then it turns out that person’s own book is published by iUniverse, are you still going to use their blurb? And if not, how are you going to tell them?
2. Not Tit for Tat
I’ve also seen novices offer publicly, “Hey, if anyone wants to blurb my book, I’ll blurb theirs!” Again, please don’t do this. It’s unprofessional in so many ways. For starters, there’s already an unpleasant impression in some circles that blurbing is a corrupt process involving log-rolling and political back-scratching and every other awful name you can think up for it.
Don’t help perpetuate that negative perception. Further, let’s say Ian McEwan or Nora Roberts – or why not both? – are the sort of authors you’re going after. No offense, but do you really think it’s going to influence their decision, the promise that you’ll gladly blurb them in return?
3. Aim Higher
This relates to 1 and 2. You don’t want blurbs from people no one has ever heard of, particularly if no one has ever heard of you…yet. You want blurbs that will increase your visibility. You want blurbs from people who are as famous as you can get. Huh. In light of what I just wrote, it makes me wonder why anyone ever seeks me out to blurb their books. And yet they do.
Some established authors advise sticking to authors in your own genre. But I say, wherever possible, diversify! When my debut novel came out – The Thin Pink Line, a dark comedy about a woman who fakes an entire pregnancy – I knew that the uberpink packaging of the book would limit the audience and I wanted to expand that market as wide as I could. So I sought out and received blurbs from: Jane Heller and Carly Phillips (both noted for their success in comedy); Carole Matthews (who’s hugely successful in England, where the book was also being published); Adriana Trigiani (because she writes such incredibly sweet books and I thought her endorsement might take some of the sting out of the fact that my book opens with the acerbic line, “Have you become a fuckwit, Jane?”); Karen Karbo, whose books are regarded as more literary and who occasionally reviews for the New York Times); and two men, Nick Earls (“the Aussie Nick Hornby,” since the book was going to be published in Australia) and Nelson DeMille (because Mr. DeMille has more testosterone than any man needs in a lifetime, so I figured women could push the book on their menfolk with the line, “Nelson DeMille has more testosterone than any man needs in a lifetime, and he loved this book…”).
Really, it’s nice to have the usual suspects on board with you, but if you can get some of the unusual suspects… Like, say, if I could just get Gabriel Garcia Marquez to say, “Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the Dennis Lehane of Chick-Lit!” Oops, I forgot. Writer/cowboy Tom Groneberg did use that line in his blurb for How Nancy Drew Saved My Life, but my publisher, in their infinite conservative wisdom, cropped the blurb to, “Witty and wonderful…her best book yet.” They also cropped out Christopher Moore saying that A Little Change of Face was a book with “great breasts,” leaving me with two very nice but breastless lines that ended with “a whip-smart, funny voice.” Rats.
How to ask
1. The Intimidation Factor
I frequently hear novices say they’re intimidated at the thought of writing to established authors to ask for a blurb. Well, don’t be. The overwhelming majority of writers have once been where you are now – hoping to break in, hoping to have a good career – and we’re all big girls and boys. That means we can say no if we don’t have the time to help or aren’t inclined to. But you shouldn’t say no for us without giving us the opportunity to say yes.
2. Spell My Name Right
No. Really. Spell my name right. And address me formally, as Ms. Baratz-Logsted, however long it may take you to type that, until I write you back and sign with my first name, granting you the right to address me more informally.
3. Stroke My Ego
Tell me that you loved Vertigo, that you agree with the Boston Globe’s assessment that is stands on the same suspense shelf with the work of best-selling author Ruth Rendell. There. I’m feeling better toward you already. Of course, if you haven’t read any of my books, and you’re not an innate liar, then how about, “I’ve long been an admirer of your career and the way you handle yourself.” Really, anything to personalize the opening will do. At least then I’ll feel like you’re writing to me, not because you couldn’t hunt down Helen Fielding’s email address, but because maybe you actually know who I am.
4. Pitch Your Book
Don’t just ask me to blurb your book without telling me anything about it. Use the middle of your letter to put in the kind of pitch you’ve been using to approach agents or that your publisher is using for the flap copy, so I have some sense of what you’re asking me to read and why I should be excited about reading it.
5. Close Politely
Thank me for my time in reading your letter and tell me how much it would mean to you to have my endorsement. Time is the most valuable commodity we humans have and you should always be grateful when a stranger expends some of theirs on your behalf. Oh, and if you have a specific time frame – say, you have an absolute deadline of two weeks by which you need to have all your blurbs in – then tell me that up front. There’s no point in wasting both our time if it’s going to be impossible for me to accommodate you due to my own career and life obligations.
6. If I Say Yes
Ask how I prefer you send the manuscript, as an email attachment or snail. Some authors will gladly accept email attachments – and I’ve been known to do it if the situation is time sensitive – but many prefer snail. In the case of the latter, yes, you will be out the price of the paper to print it on, the drain on your print cartridge and the postage. But better you than the person you’re asking a favor from. If someone is doing you a favor, it shouldn’t put them in the hole.
Things not to do
1. Offer to Send Just the First 50 Pages
I’ve had people do this, write and say, “I don’t want to impose on your time by asking you to read the whole manuscript, so if you could just read the first 50 pages and offer me a blurb based on that sample…?” I know. You think you’re doing me a favor. You’re being sensitive about my precious time. In fact, you’re insulting my integrity. Not much in a writing career is permanent, but my good name should be one of those things. And it’s my good name you’re hoping to use as an endorsement on your books. So don’t expect me to donate that name based on a sample. Yes, your first 50 pages might be the most brilliant ever written…but what if the rest of the book sucks? I’d rather read the whole book, however long it might take me, than be part of something less than honest.
2. Don’t Boast in Public About Getting Blurbs for Your First 50 Pages
I’ve seen people do this. If you’re one of those people, please keep it to yourself. It doesn’t enhance anyone’s belief that your book will be good – quite the opposite – and it’s an offense to all those who are playing the game straight.
3. Small Print
I had a woman ask me to blurb a book once and when it arrived in the mail it had zero margins and was single-spaced in a smaller-than-usual type size. It also has a cover letter that joked, “I sent it this way because I wanted to save on my paper and postage!” Not funny. I’m still reading at the insane rate I set myself in 2005 of 365 books a year and I’ve written some 1200 manuscript pages since January 1. It’s amazing I can still read anything at all that isn’t written on the side of a barn. I shouldn’t have to go blind or get a blinding headache while helping you out. Sap that I am, I read the book anyway and I even blurbed it, because it was good. But when I sent the blurb to the author, I included a gently worded note saying that in future she should refrain from saving paper and postage expense or, at the very least, she shouldn’t tell people that’s what she’s doing. The reply I got was snippy. Again, not good.
4. Don’t Dis the Hand that Feeds You
One time, a woman on a public list was dissing a best-selling author when one of his books came under discussion. She spoke specifically about how she would have handled the same material differently and how much better the result would have been. The thing is, she’d previously boasted about the wonderfully generous blurb she’d received from this author and the debut novel the blurb was for had yet to come out. You know what? If you really believe you’re a better writer than someone who’s sold tens of millions of books and has gone out on a limb for you, fine, say it to yourself in the privacy of your own little megalomaniac head or say it to trusted friends. But don’t pull this kind of stuff in public. It only makes you look bad and it does nothing for making others want to help you. Ever.
Things to do
1. Say Thank You
We always come back to the question of manners, but it’s true: like I always tell my eight-year-old, you can get away with a lot in life if you have good manners. Besides which, it’s good for the soul to practice gratitude; much better than bitterness or envy, which are easy enough to come by in a writing career. So, if you’re lucky enough to get a blurb from Dream Author, say thank you. In the past, I’ve received handwritten notes, finished copies of the published books, even Godiva chocolates. But you want to know the truth? Those things are nice, but none of it’s necessary. A simple and sincerely worded “Thank you for your time” is all most of us need.
2. Buy the Author’s Book
If someone is nice enough to blurb your book and it turns out that the truth of the matter is you’ve never actually spent money on one of their books, do so now. It’s not required and no one will ever know if you don’t – I’ve never once stormed a blurbee’s house demanding to see their bookshelves – but it is good karma. Even seemingly established authors need to keep selling books in order to keep on having careers, and while the single copy you buy will hardly be a bulwark toward disaster, it just feels like the right thing to do.
And that’s it! Sounds easy, doesn’t it? I’m looking forward to what others have to say about any or all of the above. Keep in mind, these are just my opinions, albeit culled from a quarter century as an independent bookseller, PW reviewer, freelance editor and author of 14 published books.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my online classes (NEW!), my guide to writing a novel and my guide to publishing a book.
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Art: Pieter Angillis – The Vegetable Seller
I'm a definite blurb reader because you can tell based on a blurb if a) they really seemed to have read it (can be telling) b) they genuinely liked it (word choice is another good indicator) and c) it tells me the type of authors willing to take their time on "this book" and "this author".
At least that is what I like to believe. 😀
Marilyn Peake says
I just got back from running errands and hopped on my computer to look at your website. It looks great, and your books sound fascinating! I plan to go back and spend more time there. Congratulations on all your success!
Marla Warren says
Fascinating and extremely useful post! I'm not to the point of needing blurbs yet, but this is a post I will save to refer to when I do.
I work in a bookstore and see blurbs all the time while handling books. Now I'm going to pay more attention to them.
Kim Rossi Stagliano says
Meat and potatoes. Delicious! Thanks, Ms. Baratz-Logsted. 😉
(PS) I've made just monster-sized mistakes that simply make me cringe. I hope more established authors can try to separate rudeness with newbie wonder. Posts like this help immeasurably.
Lauren, you're really fantastic. As a complete novice in the publishing world (still writing my novel!) I often forget there are so many little details that create the whole.
I do have a question, if you'd be so kind. Or more than one actually. In your opinion, what is a good number of blurbs to have for a book? If you have more than you need, is there some sort of etiquette regarding putting the blurb in one's back pocket? I imagine that the idea is to not get more than you think you'll use, but I think I'd be disappointed if I was asked for a blurb and it didn't get used, or it got slimmed down.
I've starred this in my Google Reader for future reference. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise!
Sarah Skilton says
Thanks for the terrific, helpful advice! Funny that you mentioned Nora Roberts — One-Minute Book Reviews just had a post on Nora Roberts and Janet Evanovitch blurbing each other's books, and posed the question, "Why would they need to do this?"
Here's the link if anyone's curious: https://bit.ly/pzLpT
Thank you, Lauren! This was excellent, well-thought out and filed with truths for every-day life.
Laura Martone says
Thanks, Lauren! I appreciate your answer re: the etiquette of passing on a blurb request. It makes sense to read the book BEFORE agreeing to provide the blurb. Incidentally, how can I check out the companion piece to this post, "The Fine Art of Giving Blurbs"?
This is a great post. How nice of Nathan to let you share it anew.
Terrific information and beautifully presented. Thanks Lauren for a stellar post.
When my sister had her first book published in the YA world, she was pleased and humbled to have two Newbery honored authors agree to blurb her book.
Lauren Baratz-Logsted says
Ms. Stagliano, stop cringing. You are emininently lovable.
Amber, there's no magic number for blurbs. As you can see from my discussion about The Thin Pink Line, I got a ton for that bok, each for different reasons. (Only a few were used on the jacket. The rest were on an inside page.) But other books I've only bothered getting one and someyimes even none. It all depends on the genre or age group. Publishers do crop blurbs at their discretion, and no, I'm afraid you can't pocket a blurb for later. You can however use it on your website or in your own promotions for the particular title. Hope this helps!
Laura, after some searching… https://www.redroom.com/blog/lauren-lise-baratz-logsted/blurbs-ii-giving
Sorry, but I didn't have time to read all the comments to see if someone already asked this question and if you answered it, but When should you request a blurb? Before you get an agent or after?
Wouldn't it be nice to have a blurb for a query letter, or is that not done?
Thank you for posting on blurbs.
Nick Earls says
Hey Lauren (I can open informally, since we've blurbed way back …),
This is a really valuable piece. Blurb etiquette is one of the many things that the industry keeps mysterious by accident, assuming everyone knows the ground rules already.
Re the first 50 pages: as an occasional blurber, I find 50 pages is usually more than enough if I'm NOT going to write a blurb. The first page is sometimes enough to let me know that, on occasions even the first paragraph. But if I'm seriously thinking of writing one, and putting my name on the book for (potentially) ever, I need to have read and felt good about the whole thing.
I agree that the direct author-to-author approach has advantages, if it's feasible. First, plenty of authors find it easier to say No to requests coming through their gate-keepers (agent, publicist, editor, etc), without even looking at them. Sometimes you simply have more incoming requests than one human can handle, and perhaps your own work needs your full attention.
Second, the well-written, appealing pitch of the kind you've described can often give the recipient the impression that (i) this person knows what they're doing and (ii) maybe they also know how to write.
My advice to blurbees is to be and look like a professional, sound like you'd be a good person to know, and write your pitch in a way that leaves the reader with a sense of your voice and an appetite for more, and you're well on the way.
Lauren, thanks for this. Precise and nicely put. I'm a long-time fan. I'll be looking for Crazy Beautiful in my bookstore in September.
Book Maven has important input for those publishing in the UK. I took it upon myself to get some great blurbs from authors I knew for my second book and the publisher wouldn't use them! Only wanted "puffs" from well-known Brits. One of the authors whose blurb was rejected got a nomination for a British Book award the following year.
Lauren, A million thanks for this awesome post! I hope to be utilizing this info soon. I'm looking forward to asking writers I love for blurbs, and I hope to return the favor one day soon…
Etiquette Bitch says
This is a great post, and I'm glad to see Lauren Baratz-Logsted as a guest blogger. Not only are her books hilarious, she's a genuinely kind, helpful person. (hmm, maybe i shouldn't post that, just in case she gets bombarded with requests for blurbs from people who don't say thank you.)when her first book came out, i wrote to her, and she was very kind and helpful — way helpful — in her response to a wannabe-writer.
Thanks, Nathan, for having Lauren here!
Solvang Sherrie says
What a great post! It honestly made me want to go out and buy one of Laura's books 🙂
Robert A Meacham says
Dear Ms. Baratz-Logsted,
Thanks for the information. I am putting the article in my " Hey stupid, read and understand this information" file.
Thanks for the response, Ms. Baratz-Logstead! 🙂
I was trying to find a better way to say "not use the blurb" but I don't think "back pocket" was the right choice, but nonetheless, my question was answered. 🙂
Lauren Baratz-Logsted says
Tricia, the answer is: it varies. Most people wait until the book's sold to a publisher and has a pub date before soliciting blurbs; some, already agented but unsold, get blurbs for the agent to use as part of the submission package; and some even do solicit blurbs to use while querying agents. It can be difficult to get some authors to blurb unsold/unagented submissions because they're concerned they'll be accused by a stranger later on of stealing their stuff. So you need to decide which path works best for you.
Nick Earls! Ooh, look, "the Aussie Nick Hornsby" is in the house! I trust you are still doing good works Down Under.
Ann, BookMaven absolutely made good points about UK etiquette. I hope no one thinks I was disparaging her by accusing her of wrong-sided driving!
And thanks again, EVERYBODY, for all the kind words. I hope that even though I didn't have time to address every commenter unless they had a question, I appreciated ALL the comments. It's my feeling that all you regular readers of Nathan's blog increase your chances of going farther than those who don't because Nathan is a constantly shiny presence in the publishing world, providing fabulous wisdom and insight.
Laura Martone says
Thanks, Lauren, for the link! I appreciate your expertise.
Donna Hole says
I don't buy books based on their blurbs either. I always thought the "famous author" that wrote the encouraging epitaph was paid for his opinion. One of the reasons behind this arguable opinion is that I've read a couple books that had excellent author reviews and the book was – shall we say less that satisfying and not even close to the expert author's judgement of what is quality work.
Thanks for the post about how blurbs really work, but at least I am better informed now.
And Thermocline: where's your word verif? Did you get a dud, like mine: perichea. What do you do with that?!?
Jen C says
Oh no she DIDN'T send back a snippy note after you blurbed her book! Un-freaking-believable! A little politeness goes a long way, doesn't it…
Richmond Writer says
365 books a year? You are my heroine. I can barely read 1 a week. I love reading, but, wow. How do you read so fast?
Donna Hole says
Why yes, Bane; I'd love to read/blurb your novel!
Oh, wait, you wanted someone published, with credentials behind their name. Ah, so sorry. But hey, I make a great beta reader, though the last novel I critiqued, he isn't speaking to me right now . . .
WV: discom: Discom to me as I was reading all these posts . . .
It’s late. I hope that I am not too late to comment and then ask a "quick" question.
Thank you for clarifying blurbs. I'm so new to the publishing process that I've never even heard of blurbs.
Since you broached the subject, I was wondering if I could ask you –
How do published authors feel about being asked to provide an un-agented author a blurb? Would it be rude to ask an author to read a manuscript?
If it’s even done, how would a writer know if they should or shouldn't approach a published author?
Don't worry, this is a rhetorical scenario. I won't be submitting my manuscript to all of the authors you've listed 😉
I'm just asking about the appropriate protocols.
Again, thank you for taking the time to help new writers learn.
Winter Hansen says
Thanks for a LOT of info on a topic I hadn't really considered yet. Also, I can't wait until my 7yr. old gets the 'good manners will get you far' approach to life. It drives me crazy that one would need to point this out to adults.
A misinterpreted wave says
Thanks so much for the info. I didn't know a whole lot of this, but there is one thing I did know – in fact it's common sense. Use manners. I can't believe people were so rude, and as for getting snippy – a big 'no, no'.
Stephanie Faris – I am not sure if you'll see this, but I tried to comment on your blog, but it just wouldn't work . If I can't get it to work, please take this as my most humble apology.
Book Maven – I'm with you. I am in Australia and we call blurbs the little speil on the back or inside front cover. We also drive on the correct side of the road ;P
Very helpful. Thank you.
I knew nothing about how to go about this. You lowered the intimidation factor for me.
Your novel sounds good as well. Fake preggos. Probably less morning sickness:)
Another awesome guest post – thanks Nathan!
And thank you Lauren for opening a window into another room in the pubbing world.
I see a lot of folks saying they hope to get to the point where they need to seek blurbs.
I've been taking some little babysteps toward that end and here's hoping I get to take advantage of them.
At a recent conference I met a couple of authors whose work I like. I write in their genre and they have the type of career I aspire to – in other words, someone I would approach for a blurb.
I bought their books, got autographs, attended their conference sessions, and made sure I got seats at their meal table more than once. After returning home, I sought out their blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and signed up as a follower. I've written and posted positive, but not gushing, reviews on their works for Amazon, LibraryThing, etc.
Neither is a blockbuster, but both have solid track records in publishing. I am hoping that when the time comes and I 'make the ask', my actions will trigger a positive connection and response.
I also agree with Rick, The Thin Pink Line sounds like a hoot and will go on my TBR list.
Thanks again and Happy Blurbing!
Lauren Baratz-Logsted says
Richmond, to answer the question of how I read so fast: well, let's just say that would involve yet another blog post. 😉
Anonymous 6:31p.m., I don't know if I'd call it rude to ask a writer you don't know to read an unagented ms, but if it's a writer you have absolutely no connection with, it is presumptuous. Imagine that you wanted to be a lawyer or somesuch and you contacted a lawyer you had absolutely no connection with and asked, "Could you give me ten hours of your time for free to show me the ropes?" So can you do this with a writer? Well, yeah. Just don't be surprised or offended if most writers say no. Of course if what you're really looking for is a blurb and you send a kickass letter, someone may say yes. Hope this helps!
Winter, keep working on that 7yo!
Author Guy says
An excellent post, although I'm constantly surprised that people need to be reminded to show basic civility. I would also suggest an additional technique: the pre-existing relationship.
I discovered Tanya Huff's work in my library, and I started writing to her to enthuse about her books. I figured I wanted that sort of thing from my readers (to be)(if any), so it would be a good idea to do so myself. When my first novel was coming out, I asked her if she would be interested, and she ultimately said yes, because she's a wonderful person and you all should read her books. The blurb I got was just stunning, comparing my book to ancient mythologies I'd never even heard of at the time of writing. If you're an aspiring writer and you have role-models, let them know now. Not only will they love to hear how great you think they are, but it makes asking for a blurb later more natural and personal.
Laura Cross says
Thanks for this informative post Lauren. I ghostwrite nonfiction books and, as the ghostwriter, have never contacted authors or experts to obtain the all-important blurbs. This information will be a great help for me in guiding my clients.
On that last WV (and this one)…
Yeah, I got nuthin.
Erin McGuire says
I have a pretty specific question about blurbs, maybe someone here can give me an opinion. I'm a children's book illustrator, and I've worked with a much more well known children's book writer/illustrator through a previous job. He's done 20+ books and 2 have been made into movies. I'm pretty certain he'd blurb the book I'm working on if I asked him. Am I, as the illustrator and not the writer, in a position to ask for a blurb? Or would this be impolite to my writer? Do children's books even need blurbs, given the audience? Any suggestions would be great! Thanks.
Cat Moleski says
Wow, what great information. And I learned a lot by reading others comments. Thanks, Lauren and Nathan.
Many thanks for your reply, Lauren!
Thanks so much for sharing your experience and wisdom with us! That was a part of the publishing business that felt like a black hole to me, and you've shed some serious light on it. Thanks!
Lauren Baratz-Logsted says
Erin, it's the writer, not the illustrator, that would typically seek out the blurb, although you could certainly ask your writing partner what she/he thinks of asking the person you have in mind. That said, the youngest age group I've ever thought about obtaining blurbs for is my YA work, meaning I've never thought about it for middle grade or The Sisters 8 series for young readers, which I co-write with my husband and daughter. Hope this helps!
Melanie Avila says
Great post! I especially like the word "blurbee."
Natasha Solomons says
I got my first blurb today! Paul Torday, author of the rather wonderful 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen' sent my publisher a gorgeous blurb. I'm so excited, as I'm a huge fan of his books.
Of course, Lauren, I sent him a thank you straight away.
I am at the stage of trying to find people to provide "blurbs" so your information was VERY helpful.
Lydia Sharp says
This is something that I, admittedly, hadn't thought about before. Thank you for opening my eyes. So many things I have yet to learn…
Gina R. says
I'm a bit late to the party here, but I wanted to say thanks for the great post. As a result, I just sent requests for endorsements to Rachel Pollack and Mary K. Greer for the tarot workbook I've just completed and am seeking an agent for. I would never have even thought of doing so before reading your post!
Thanks for this information. I have an amateur question: how do you do about getting contact information for writers you may want blurbs from? Is it all about networking? What's the etiquette on seeking contact information from writers you've never met?