Monday, April 27, 2009

Blurb Bartering

Question of the day: Can you talk about the best way to go about asking authors for blurbs? How do you approach them? When is the best time in the process to do so?

This is a timely question for me, as I'm sitting here typing this with a stack of ten or so to-be-read-for-potential-blurb manuscripts and galleys on my desk. Sigh. I feel soooo badly that I haven't had time to read them all, but given where I am with my manuscript, it hasn't been possible. BUT, now that I've been on both the asking and the being-asked end of this question, I do think I have some insights.

First, I can't and won't blurb a book that hasn't been sold. A lot of authors feel this way, and there are several reasons for it. To begin with, as noted above, I have a long pile of books that HAVE been sold, and truth told, I just don't have the time to read a manuscript that might not see the light of day. That sounds terrible, I know, but it's honest. And I think understandable. Second of all, agents and editors advise authors not to blurb anything that hasn't yet sold for legal reasons: if the manuscript never sells and the author THINKS he sees something similar in your next book, who's to say that said author won't raise a stink about plagiarism, stolen ideas, etc? Again, I know, very unlikely, but people can do very weird things when they don't fulfill their dream and see someone else doing it, and it's not a chance worth taking.

So, let's say your manuscript sells. Hurrah! Congrats to you! What now? Well, once you have a finished ms, you can certainly start sending out notes to your favorite authors. If you're not in the galley stage, however, this means one of two things: that the author, if she agrees to read, will receive a bound copy of the ms (sort of like a bound term-paper/thesis that you might have made at Kinko's in high school or college) or the author will receive a 300-page print out of your book, akin to a loose ream of paper. You can guess which ones get relegated to the bottom of the pile. I do my reading at night or on the subway or in hit or miss places where I might find a few spare minutes. I simply cannot carry around loose pieces of paper, not to mention that it feels much more like homework than pleasure reading when you're reading a literal print-out.

BUT, sometimes, you can't avoid that, and it is what it is. If you really want an author, it might be worth asking, even if she receives a 10-pound lug in the mail. Most often, however, I'd simply advise that you wait until the galley stage. Yes, it's soooo wonderful and joyous and perfect to have blurbs on your galley, but unless you personally know an author, I really wouldn't have an expectation that she'll read those 300 loose pages.

How do you ask? You send a very, very polite email to said author, explaining why you'd like HER to blurb, why you think the book might resonate, and of course, being very, very understanding if she can't. I'd also make note of the fact that blurbs aren't obligatory, and when I was asking for blurbs, I never, ever assumed that someone would like my book OR would have the time to read it. If one did, bingo! And if she didn't, there were no. hard. feelings. You should also leverage your agent and editor contacts: they might rep or work with authors who are good fits and with whom they have an in. Authors always feel more obligated to read a ms if there's a connection.

Finally, don't take it personally if you don't receive a coveted blurb from a particular author. I can honestly say, now that I'm on the other side, that I am so, so busy, and I am trying to bust my way through all of these, but a realistic voice in my head also knows that's not going to be possible. I used to think: how hard is it to read one lousy book? But it's never one lousy book; it's a lot of them, along with juggling my own work, my own life, and ideally, my own reading for pleasure.

I'm also trying to be judicious: there are authors who blurb just about anything, and I don't think that's fair to readers. I'd like to think that I'll be someone who readers can count on to be honest in my endorsements, so if I don't fall in love with something, I just don't feel right tacking my name on. It's not personal. Hell, plenty of people didn't blurb me. And I get that. It made the ones that we DID get all the more sweet. And that's not to say I wouldn't go back to these authors and ask again next time. But when and if I did, I'd keep in mind their own looming tower of to-be-read manuscripts, and I'd recognize that one blurb won't make or break my book. Really. You won't believe it now, but looking back on it, I promise you that it's true.


sarah pekkanen said...

This covered all the bases and was so well written. I agree on every point. My book will be in the galley stage next month, and although I've gotten a dream blurb from my favorite author, it was all through my editor. I'm going to do exactly what Allison suggests: Politely approach other authors I adore with a personal note and ask them to consider reading my galley. I actually feel a bit guilty about it, to be honest, because I know how busy bestselling authors are. And reading an entire book takes hours and hours. I feel like I'm asking people I don't even know for this enormous favor. But I certainly wouldn't expect them to agree. And I'll remain a fan of their work regardless of the answer.

Richard Mabry said...

Excellent points. I've just gone through the process of asking for blurbs for my own novel that will be out early next year. It's a ticklish business, no doubt about it. Thanks for your forthright and sensible advice.

LarramieG said...

IF ONLY there was a group of "respected readers" who could blurb.

Trish Ryan said...

Great points. And thanks (again) for lugging around what I suspect was 297 loose pages of my book when I first entered blurbland :)

Tish Cohen said...

Excellent advice, Allison. I'm approaching that stage myself for the new book. If I only had a title.

Loved Time of My Life, btw. Can totally see why Hollywood jumped on it!


Eileen said...

I think you nailed this. I've been very very very fortunate with blurbs. The key is to be polite and expect nothing. I do believe that most authors really WANT to give blurbs. They remember when they were at that stage- however they do have buckets of other commitments.

Ladyhihi said...

Excellent points. I've just gone through the process of asking for blurbs for my own novel that will be out early next year. It's a ticklish business, no doubt about it. Thanks for your forthright and sensible advice.

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