How to get book blurbs

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There’s a systematic way to get the best endorsements for your book. If you don’t prepare properly, your blurbs will fall flat. Here’s exactly how to do it.

1 Make your target list well in advance

Timing is crucial here. Don’t make your list on the day you need blurbs. Start making it while you’re completing the writing. Make a spreadsheet to keep track of your list.

Everyone on the list ranks on one of two qualities:

  • They are famous (for example, Malcolm Gladwell or Barack Obama).
  • You know them.

Regrettably, unless you are famous, these two are inversely related. Your sister’s dentist treats Malcolm Gladwell, while your best friend is director of marketing at a startup nobody has heard of.

If you’re actually fortunate enough to have a famous friend, add them to the list. But as you build your list, you should have four or five “sure things” (people with reasonably impressive titles who you know will help), a dozen or so “could reasonably be expected to help” (people with more impressive titles that you don’t know as well) and six or eight “reaches” (powerful people who you have some way to reach out to).

Don’t be shy about using personal connections. In one book I worked on, we got the famous author and thinker Clayton Christensen to endorse the book because the author went to the same temple as Christensen’s business partner. On another book, we got Forbes publisher Steve Forbes to endorse because he was friendly with the author’s wife.

Do the math and you’ll have a list of 25 or so targets. But your yield will not be 100%. This many targets may reasonably yield you the four or five great cover quotes you need.

2 Reach out and ask for endorsements

Timing is important here. The book should be “done” but you need to give the endorsers enough time to respond. People typically ask for blurbs around the time the manuscript is complete and ready to go to copyedit; you can send an electronic copy at that time. With traditional publishers, sometimes people send ARCs (advanced reader copies, which are pre-release versions designed for reviewers), but most reviewers will be happy with a digital version.

Write a personal email to each individual on the list. (A mass email for blurbs will yield absolutely nothing useful. If you received a “Dear generic friend” request to endorse, wouldn’t you be offended?) In the email, use language that refers to your connection to the potential reviewer, their qualifications, why the book is relevant, and how grateful you would be. Include a deadline. The deadline should be about three weeks before the actual deadline that the publisher gives you, to give you a little leeway to get the quote right or sneak it in at the last minute.

Don’t promise to put an endorsement on the back cover. Promise to use it. If you get too many, there may not be room for them all. Extra ones can go on the Amazon page and on an interior page in the book.

Some people send the book in the first email. I think it’s more respectful to ask first before sending a huge file to someone.

In the case of famous and powerful people, you may end up dealing with admins in their offices or PR people they work with. These folks are far more responsive. Treat them well and connect with them frequently.

The first email should come from the author, or whomever knows the target well. Followups can come from admins or other helpers.

3 As the deadline approaches, remind people

Send followup emails or make phone calls to admins as the putative deadline approaches. Be effusive, nice, and persistent. Don’t do more than two followups; if you get turned down, go away quietly.

If you get the endorsement, respond quickly and gratefully.

After the deadline passes, you’ll know what you have. But you may still have some big names who haven’t responded. Tell them the deadline has passed, but you can still sneak them in if you hear from them within the week. (This is what happened with the Christensen endorsement, which was well worth waiting for.)

4 Curate your cover quotes

Ideally your back cover includes quotes from famous people, people with big title for large companies, and quotes that are just perfect. Usually the ones from the best endorsers are not the best endorsements. So you want a mix.

A mix will include some terrific quotes and some from great people. And it will include some from fellow authors and some from business practitioners (assuming it’s a business book). It will include both men and women. You might want some startups and some big companies, or some US companies and some from outside the US. A person looking at the names and titles should see some variety.

5 Make the quotes more usable, if you can

Most endorsers provide quotes that are too long. Unless they have explicitly told you that you must use the entire quote, you can trim the quote down. It’s far better to have two great sentences than four sentences of which two are great and two are confusing and extraneous.

Sometimes you can negotiate. This is especially important with powerful endorsers who may not have provided the best quote. This is a delicate negotiation.

For example, in two books I worked on, we had a similar situation: the CEO of a huge technology company had agreed to write the quote, then supplied a quote that wasn’t quite usable as is. In both cases, I ended up negotiating with the PR contact at the company.

In one case, the PR guy and I went back and forth. He clearly knew why I needed to make the changes, and he also knew what his CEO would agree to. I didn’t ask for changes to make the quote more effusive, just to make it accurate. We negotiated the details and the endorsement appeared — and it was impressive.

In the second case, the quote supplied was unusable since it didn’t mention the authors or the book or apply to the book in any way. I tried to get the PR guy to add “As Book Title describes” to one sentence, but he said the CEO would not change a word. We didn’t use the quote at all, because we couldn’t.

I don’t recommend trying to beef up quotes to make them over-the-top. If they’re good, keep them. If they’re potentially good but too long or confusing or otherwise unusable, negotiate. People understand the need to make the quote fit, but won’t be very happy if you’re attempting to make them sound like gushing sycophants.

6 Verify the names and titles

In many cases (especially authors), the endorser requests a specific identification. For example, “Josh Bernoff, bestselling author of Writing Without Bullshit.” In others, you’ll have to see how they typically identify themselves.

You’ll want to carefully check the name and title for accuracy before submitting it to go on the cover. How do they spell Kristin? Do they use a middle initial? Do they go by “Charles” or “Chuck” professionally? How do they describe their title? Linked In can help guide you, but it’s best to send a note back saying “Is it okay if we list you this way?”

This is also a good time to get their address for the next step.

7 Follow up when the book is published

When the book is published, send your endorsers a signed copy with a personal note.

And go back to your list. Recontact every single person, whether they provided an endorsement or not. Ask them to contribute a quick Amazon review. I’ve seen books with six endorsements and only three Amazon reviews; that’s a missed opportunity.

Do endorsements matter?

People used to pick up books in bookstores and buy them based on endorsements. That happens less now.

But if a buyer is considering a book and notices that it’s endorsed by the CEO of Google and a famous author — or that somebody said “This is the single most important book on this subject, and a cracking good read” — that may make the difference in buying or not buying.

So it probably is worth it. And getting powerful friends to like the book is always a good investment, regardless of whether you actually got Barack Obama to say you were his favorite writer of the year.

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