My friend Shirley Showalter inspired me to write a bit more of a how-to on approaching fellow writers about book blurbs. I’m by no means an expert, but it turns out I have some opinions (go figure)!
1) Meet/ approach/ let those you admire know you admire them. This can be at an event, or on social media. Subscribe to their blogs. Send them an e-mail that tells them you appreciate their work, that it has made you think, that you are a better writer/ thinker/ reader because of the work they’ve put into the world. Don’t wait to do this! You don’t need permission or a book contract or anything else. Chances are, they’ll appreciate and even remember you, because it’s so rare in this world to have someone approach us to simply say “thank you.”
2) Again- this next one can start at any point, the sooner the better: read! Simple as that. Read the books of your contemporaries. Read the books you know (or want) your book to be compared to. Write down what, specifically, you loved about the book, what spoke to you, and, if you know your own project well, how your book and theirs intersect. This specificity is important, because you won’t just be writing a fan letter when you ask for a blurb. You’ll be saying, “we are colleagues, and here’s why.” It’s hard to say a blanket “no” to that kind of in-depth thinking.
3) Once your book is finished and revised, and your editor thinks it’s time to begin soliciting blurbs, you’ll already be prepared. Because you will have read and reflected and reached out, and you’ll be able to come to your editor and say “here are some solid possibilities of people who might really say yes.” Now keep in mind, just because you’ve emailed someone, or even had a personal exchange with them doesn’t mean they’ll remember you or feel moved to blurb your book. But if you’ve been humble and honest and appreciative, chances are they’ll at least give you the time of day.
4) We are nine months from the publication date of Bittersweet. We don’t have a galley yet (aka an ARC or an Advanced Reader’s Copy), but my editor has been super generous about creating bound copies of the manuscript . Kate Christensen’s blurb (and hopefully at least one more) will grace the galley, which will in turn (hopefully) encourage other writers who may have been on the fence about blurbing, as well as reviewers/ booksellers/ etc. It’s crazy how much time all of this takes, and how far in advance you must begin! I feel so lucky to have an editor who is eager enough to authorize printing of bound copies, and I’ve noticed that it really seems to be making a difference. It also means that we have an easy way to “nudge” folks we haven’t heard back from, by sending them the galley in a month or so- which feels much more natural than simply sending them email after email.
5) Some folks want to be contacted by an email listed on their website. Some folks will have a protective agent/editor who your editor will have to go through. Yes, these gatekeepers can seem ominous, but they can also be your allies. Especially if they like what they hear when they get a look at your…
6) …Fantastic letter. It all comes down to this (and if you can write it by hand on nice-looking stationery, all the better- just write a draft on your computer first). What should your fantastic letter say? Well, only you can decide that. But this is why you did all that work I mentioned in #1 and #2, because that genuine connection is what you’ll be referencing here. Here’s the general outline of how I craft a blurb request: I (re)introduce myself, and am upfront about what the fact that I’m asking a favor; then I write about what I deeply admire about their work, and how I believe that work connects to my own, with a clause-long synopsis about what the book is about, and then I get down to business (when we’ll need the blurb by, how to contact me, etc). It’s work, I’m not going to lie, because the goal here isn’t simply to ask someone to do you a favor, but to extend a favor to them, by speaking honestly about how their work has impacted your own. This is impossible to fake! No shortcuts! Just being warm and generous and hoping you get the same in return.
7) My last piece of advice is to try to have a good attitude about all of this. It’s a lot of work, I know. And most of us writers wish it was work we didn’t have to do. But it is- it just plain is. That’s the reality these days. I find when I’m feeling grumpy about this state of affairs, that I need to put down my fountain pen, take a walk, and remind myself how lucky I am to be soliciting blurbs for my book that someone is publishing. Also, not to sound ridiculously cheesy, but my attitude is definitely reflected in the letters I write. I want to present positively to those I’m asking to help me. No more bashfulness or grumbling. Just reading and writing and asking for help, with fingers crossed someone else will say “yes.”