Five Tips On How To Get Blurbs

E.A. AymarE.A. Aymar’s debut thriller, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, is available now through Black Opal Books. He studied creative writing under some terrific professors at George Mason University (2006 Final Four!) and earned a Masters degree in Literature from some equally terrific professors at Marymount. He has lived throughout the United States and in Europe and was born in Panama, the country with the canal or bridge or something. In addition to writing, and his beloved GMU basketball team, he’s also into crafting third-person bios that run no longer than six sentences. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers and SinC, and he and his wife live with a relatively benign animal menagerie.

“This blog post is so good I want to sleep with the author.”

Here’s the thing about blurbs: they’re much more important to the writer than they are to the reader, especially for a novelist who’s just starting out. I had three goals when my debut thriller, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, was accepted for publication last year. The first was to celebrate wildly and maybe get embarrassingly drunk (check). The second and third goals were to establish myself in the prolific DC/MD/VA writing circles and the national thriller community (checks pending). One of the ways to do that was to get my book in the hands of established writers I admire.

I had a pretty lofty list of writers I wanted to approach and, happily, got the writers I wanted. I ended with blurbs from Michael Sears, Chris F. Holm, Lou Berney and Rafael Alvarez, all who read the book and provided blurbs, as well as encouragement. And I can’t tell you how important that encouragement was, especially in the nerve-wracking days prior to my book’s publication last November.

Anyway, all that said, here are five tips I learned about getting blurbs:

1.    Don’t Be Shy
I suck at meeting famous people, or even people I admire who aren’t famous but will/should be. I’m not shy, just awkward, the kind of guy who leaves a rambling fifteen minute voice mail after a first date. But I’ve found that people are generally nice, especially writers. You’re in the same field as they are and they’re familiar with the hardships. The worst that can happen is a polite rejection. Well, they could hunt you down and kill you. That would be the worst thing that could happen.  But it’s unlikely.

2.    Don’t Be An Ass
I can’t stress this enough. Writers are nice, but they’re also busy. So when someone tells you they’ll read your book, understand that this isn’t a promise for endorsement or a quick response. Give them a timetable in accordance with your publisher, but understand that this deadline may not be met. Send a polite reminder, but make it polite, and don’t bombard them. If it doesn’t happen, move on.

I'll Sleep When You're Dead3.    Cast a Wide, Researched Net
Don’t depend on just 2-3 writers to accept your request and blurb your book. They might be busy, or they might not like it. Conversely, don’t send a blanket e-mail to hundreds of writers. Contacting about ten is a fair number. On that note, don’t fake the funk. Writers can smell a fraud, and if you send blanket e-mails to people whose work you haven’t read, they’ll know it. Do your reading (you should be familiar with writers in your field anyway).

4.    Know Your Market
One of the writers I asked for a blurb was Donna Andrews, a terrific writer of mysteries in the DC-area. She was very polite but turned me down, and explained that her work isn’t a good match for the noir-ish elements of I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. I had known that but didn’t care, because I really just wanted to work with writers I like. But she was right. When my book came out, I realized that every element of a book frames the story. Your book is a painting, and every color in it has to work together.

5.    Be Creative
I don’t mean that you should be cute when you request the blurb; be professional. But you should consider targeting creatively. Michael Sears, Chris F. Holm and Lou Berney are celebrated mystery/thriller writers and appropriate matches for my work. Rafael Alvarez, on the other hand, writes beautiful short literary fiction and is a reporter for the Baltimore Sun (he also served as a writer/producer for The Wire). My thriller is heavily based in Baltimore, and I devoured Mr. Alvarez’s work when I first started studying the city years ago. It was incredibly intimidating to ask him to review my book for a blurb, but ultimately rewarding; he provided a lengthy and heartfelt recommendation that I’ll always treasure, and his connection to Baltimore was appropriate for the book. You may want to step even further out of that circle, and consider contacting a local celebrity who makes sense. Is your book a romance? Maybe a local advice columnist. Is it a political thriller? Try a local politician. I wouldn’t suggest getting blurbs entirely from people who aren’t writers, because the writing world is where you should concentrate your efforts, but cross-marketing can be an effective tool.

Blurbin’ gives you the opportunity to meet (or e-meet) some fantastic writers, someone to nervously say hi to when you attend conferences and panels. Readers may skip blurbs, writers may turn you down, but it’s an element of your book that is of invaluable importance. As a debut writer, it’s your connection to a larger world. It’s a welcome.

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15 thoughts on “Five Tips On How To Get Blurbs

  1. When I am looking for something new to read I often glance at who blurbed the book. If it’s someone whose work I like, I am more likely to consider reading it. Thanks for this very helpful info.

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  2. I think you’re off the mark in your statement “more important to the writer than the reader.” I purposely look at the blurbs, and not only that, but I take note of the books the blurber has written. This is one way of expanding my bookshelf.

    Another pointer is set the groundwork early by having big name authors “owe” you. I have done this by highlighting their work in reviews and blogs, setting up a dialog with the author. All authors love free publicity. When the time comes that you need a blurb, they are usually more than happy to pay the debt.

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    • Hey Sunny! Good to see you around these corners of the Internet.

      My comment wasn’t intended to mean that blurbs aren’t important to the reader; I’m sure plenty of readers have bought a book based on a recommendation on the back cover. My point is in reference to the last paragraph of my post. A fellow author, particularly a prominent one, who decides to champion your work is hugely important for a writer (particularly, as I wrote, for a debut writer). If they truly believe in you, then they can help open doors you couldn’t, or offer guidance through the puzzling world of publishing. It can lead to a fruitful relationship. In that sense, a blurb is much more important to a writer than a reader.

      I love your point about other writers “owing” you. You’re right. Always helpful to establish a network as you establish yourself.

      EA

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  3. As I am currently in the process of requesting blurbs for my book, Black Cat’s Legacy, your advice was well received and appreciated. Thanks for the clues as how to proceed. I had not dared ask a well-known author in my genre, but perhaps now, I will. thanks for the encouragement.

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    • That’s great to hear! I definitely recommend aiming high, albeit realistically. Along Sonny’s point, it’s also good to target people who are socially active. If they have actively tweet and post on FB, they might mention your book to their followers when it comes out.

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  4. Thanks for the post. I’m currently starting the blurb-requesting phase for my first novel. I like the points you make, and as anyone who is familiar with my comments will tell you, I like it when they’re applicable to every aspect of life, not just writing. “Don’t be an ass” will be helpful in almost any field. Like Sunny suggests, I have tried to feature other authors on my blog, and I do believe they appreciate the shout-out. It would be nice if some of them reciprocate when the time comes, but it’s also nice just to start a dialogue with them.

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    • Congrats on the novel, Amy! And best of luck. I agree with you – even when the blurbs didn’t work out, I still made friends (or e-friends) with writers I admire.

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  5. Pingback: Mind Sieve 1/20/14 | Gloria Oliver

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