By Alex Segura
In my Do Some Damage debut, I wrote about agents and some guidelines that might help you in your quest for representation. This week, I'm jumping ahead to a shinier, happier place. One that features you already having a book deal. We are now entering BLURB COUNTRY.
So, your book's coming out. Congrats. That's great news. Your editor has let you know it's time to think about blurbs. Don't freak out. It'll be OK.
I've read a few great essays debating the merits of blurbs - "Do they help sell your book?", etc. Over at There's a Dead Guy in the Room, Erin Mitchell wrote a pretty lengthy and insightful blog post on it recently. Your mileage may vary when it comes to whether blurbs matter or not. I think blurbs help. Especially if you're a new writer looking to get eyeballs on your work. That's where I'm at, and the only experience I can speak to.
I was pretty happy with the blurbs I got for my debut novel, SILENT CITY. The list of blurbers (what a gross-sounding word, huh?) ranged from NYT bestsellers to up-and-coming authors. I'd love to say that was my master plan all along, but I can't. That being said, I did learn a lot in the process - here are some lessons I think you'll find helpful.
Who should blurb your book? Like trying to find an agent via authors you admire, I think it helps to target authors you look up to when asking for blurbs. Which author's readers do you think your book would resonate with most? Written a cozy? Then you may not want a blurb from a gritty noir writer. Then again, maybe you want to expand your audience to attract edgier readers. That's cool, too. Just make sure your book delivers for those potential readers.
Do not SPAM people. OK, you've got your list of targets. You may even have email addresses for them. DO NOT SEND A MASS EMAIL. DO NOT SEND A BCC EMAIL. Write a unique, personalized and honest email to each person on your list. Let them know you've written your first book, why you're a fan of their material and ask them if they'd consider reading your book and maybe blurbing it. Be gracious. Be friendly. Be honest. Send.
Ask your friends. Networking! It's hard. Sometimes annoying. But essential. If you want to write crime novels, you should probably get to know other people that do. They're pretty nice people, I'd say. Before I first considered writing SILENT CITY, I was a crime fiction fan, and I'm extremely grateful to the writers that were friendly and welcoming to me when I had no book credits under my belt. Over time, you build relationships and friendships with people. Who better to have praising your work than someone that really knows you and the struggles you've been through to get to the finish line? By all means, go pie-in-the-sky with your blurb list, but don't forget your friends. They know you and want to help you. Let them.
Do not be a pest. You sent out your emails asking for blurbs, or maybe your editor did based on the list you provided them. A few weeks have passed. Some authors responded quickly and excitedly. Some declined. Some haven't responded at all. For declines - be gracious, thankful and understanding. Authors are busy - they're writing their own work. It's OK. And hey, maybe your book didn't click with them. Do not force them into saying that. If they cite their schedule, then be grateful they're letting you know and move on. If they're upfront and say it wasn't their cup of tea, do not get defensive. The crime fiction community is a small one, and you should be trying to make friends and advocates, not rivals and enemies. Plus, it's your first book. It might not be for everyone. Heck, your twelfth book might be for everyone. Like pinging agents, be judicious in your reminders. Two reminders and no response? Assume it's not going to happen. If it does, great. If not, that's OK. Do not treat potential blurbers like people that owe you something. They're doing you a huge favor - they're taking time out of their busy schedule to ostensibly read and blurb your book. If they don't have the time, let it go. If they do, treat it like a gift from Santa.
Don't burn people. "Burn them? How is that possible?" Simple - remember earlier when you put together that list of people you wanted to blurb your book? Keep in mind, you're promising these people a spot on your book if they deliver. So, if and when they do, you have to hold up your end of the bargain. Got too many blurbs to fit on the book? Not good. So, try to gauge space and keep in contact with your editor about how many you need, exactly. The last thing you want to do is apologize to someone who spent hours of their time reading your book and writing something nice because their blurb didn't make the cut. Actually, the last thing you ever want to do is not use a blurb and not tell the author. That's a quick way to burn a bridge.
Be understanding. "Alex, you said that already." Well, it bears repeating. Also, authors have different rules of the road when it comes to blurbing. Some do it all the time. Some are extremely selective. Some never blurb. Keep that in mind when researching your list and when reacting to a pass - you might be asking someone to do something they're not comfortable doing, per se. Do your best to preserve the friendship/relationship over the short-term gain of a blurb.
I know some of the above can sound harsh - but I share these tips because I've made some of the mistakes myself. I've been a pest. I've over-booked blurbs (though, thankfully, managed to fit them all in the book) and I've been emo about declines. These are normal things that happen. We're so close to our work and care deeply about the time we've put into creating it, that even the slightest hint of negativity can stir us up. It's all part of growing a thicker skin.
Speaking of thicker skin…next time we'll chat about REVIEWS.
I take blurbs with a grain of salt (nothing is worse than an unseasoned blurb) but they do influence me, and I can tell from experience that a good blurb does sell books. The more of them you read, you begin to see patterns, and what seems heartfelt and what seems like a sort of boilerplate. I agree that it is bad form to ask for a blurb and then not use it, so authors must take care in who they approach; they should have a readership who is sure to enjoy your book, they should know how to write a concise blurb from which taglines can be picked, and ideally, they should be familiar with you and your work beforehand. Not so you can impose on friendship, but so they can make a decision whether they want to invest the time in reading your book. It is not something to be asked lightly. Like choosing agents, keep a list and work down it. You don't want to ask 10 at once and then have to tell 7 writers their blurb won't be used, "but hey thanks for wasting your time for me."
And be prepared for No, and for no response, and for those who say yes and then never get around to it. With luck, you'll learn just how busy those writers are after your book sells a bundle and you have contracts and deadlines to contend with.
Great points, Thomas! Thanks for reading. I definitely agree that blurbing - or selecting blurb targets - is a lot like an agent hunt. You have to be mindful of how many people you reach out to and why you've chosen said people.
Great stuff, Segura. Only wish I had read this before I went out and asked for blurbs. (The agony!) Luckily, most writers are incredibly gracious about this horrible aspect of getting your book published. It has blown my mind how wonderful this mystery community is. So supportive and encouraging. Thanks Alex for being one of the most gracious ones out there! You are a class act.
Kristi - you're too kind! And I'm sure you handled yourself perfectly well when looking for blurbs! I wrote the above as a bit of a reminder for myself, heading into the same phase for DOWN THE DARKEST STREET. Like I said, I made some of the same mistakes - being too pushy, not taking the hint, etc. But live and learn!
I asked three people to blurb my book and only followed through on one. Why? Because I'm lame and shy and didn't want to bother anyone. I need to be a lot more outgoing with my next book.
Can't wait to read the new one, Holly! Glad this post helped somewhat.
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