The word “blurbs” is marketing speak for quotes from people about your book. Most “How to Get Published” books that I’ve read mention getting great blurbs as a sort of “Duh” and quickly move on to the next point. But I think that top-notch blurbs are critical and there’s an art to acquiring them. They’re particularly critical for those of us who don’t have great platforms, since they allow us to leverage the platforms of others.
If you’re Albert Einstein, you don’t need a quote from the head of the Physics Department at KSU saying you’re smart. But if you’re the head of the Physics Department, you could have used a quote by Einstein. But I should revise that statement. Even Einstein needs quotes of others to say that his book’s relevant, helpful, readable, impactful, etc.
I'm currently reading a Chicken Soup book for writers. With over 30 books to the series and worldwide sales of 50 million copies in 30 languages, it’s nothing less than a publishing phenomenon. You'd think they'd be beyond needing blurbs. Yet, a full third of the back cover is devoted to blurbs. Open the cover and you’ll find two full pages of blurbs.
If Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (the Chicken Soup authors/compilers) still need blurbs, how much more do we? So let’s camp here for a minute.
When you’re considering a book by an author you don’t know, don't you look seriously at the blurbs? Let’s say you like Sue Grafton’s style and you’re looking for other novels of her type. You find a novel with a blurb by Sue Grafton saying, “I wish I’d written this book!” Does this endorsement help sway you? Of course! If you’re looking for a book on Amazon.com, do you typically read some of the reader reviews before purchasing? I do. I want to know what others are saying.
I hit a local library sale last weekend, particularly looking for books on “persuasion,” for some future research. I found one book that looked like it might fit the bill, but
1) I didn’t know the author.
2) I saw no bio telling me why this author was worth reading. I started thinking, “Come on! Convince me that I should read your book!”
3) There were no blurbs, either by experts in the field or even just general readers. She failed to establish her authority and I put it back, not even willing to pay $1.00 for it! One enthusiastic blurb might have sold me.
For the low- or no-profile writer, a blurb can grant you instant authority. It’s as if someone on a higher platform took you by the hand, lifted you up and allowed you to share her platform.
Getting Your Passion into Print is a wonderful book on getting published. The authors work for a New York publisher and understand the publishing industry intimately. Understanding the power of blurbs, they put them on the front cover and even the binding, so that browsers could see a blurb without even taking the book out of the rack. Brilliant!
Why are blurbs so critical? Praise yourself and you’re bragging; let another praise you and it’s authority.
As King Solomon put it,
"Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
someone else, and not your own lips."
Blurbs for Agents and Publishers
Don’t view blurbs as only for potential buyers. Think earlier in the process. I see them as huge for acquiring an agent and a publisher. Imagine the state of one of my early manuscripts as it sat on the desk of an acquisitions editor who has thirty manuscripts piled on her desk, of which she she can choose one. She’s looking for reasons to narrow down the list. So she sees this no-name author (me) with no publishing record and no platform. She’s ready to shove it into the return envelope with the standard rejection letter ("Doesn’t meet our present publishing needs.”) when she notices a blurb on my one page query from prolific author Josh McDowell saying that every mom dad and child needs to read it. So she reads further into the proposal and finds that Robertson McQuilkin, respected author and president of Columbia International University, calls it the best manuscript he’s read on a much-needed subject. Barry St. Clair, a noted authority on youth work and prolific author, says it’s critical for our times.
Now it’s one thing for an author to tout his manuscript as the start of the next Chicken Soup phenomenon. But when a respected authority in the field says it’s good, the acquisitions folks just have to take it seriously.
Blurbs as Platform
For Enjoy Your Money, I first got blurbs from those who gave me early input on the book. Those blurbs give me a platform from which I can pitch ideas to the media and to bigger reviewers. Example: As I write this, I've been e-mailing book reviewers to find some willing to review my book. One wrote me back today saying,
"I usually don't review books on finances, but your book has amazingly good reviews so far...."
Hmmm...so sometimes it takes good reviews to get more good reviews. My early reviews by friends and acquaintances made me look good enough to get the attention of higher level reviewers. The higher level reviewers will hopefully open up opportunities with even higher level reviewers.
On Getting Blurbs
How did I find Josh McDowell and get him to slow down enough to look at my manuscript? I knew he was traveling with the rock band Petra and would be speaking at Atlanta Fest at the Six Flags theme park. I also knew he was getting flack from traditional pastors for traveling with a rock band. So I volunteered to give him a ride from the airport to Six Flags. I picked him up, gave him my elevator speech, and put the manuscript in his lap. He started reading it on the way to Six Flags and was hooked.
Robertson McQuilkin? I graduated from the school where he served as president. Barry St. Clair? I would soon be working for his organization, training youth leaders in Eastern Europe just after the fall of Communism. I plopped it into Barry’s lap as we were flying to Europe. By the time we landed in Vienna, he’d finished it and written a blurb.
The author of a novel who spoke at Georgia Writers a couple of months ago met popular speaker and author Andy Stanley where their kids were playing baseball. He took an interest in her book and gave a great blurb that she says helped greatly in launching her book.
For my present book, here is a list of my blurbs. Blurbs are usually an afterthought to writers. But I put these together before I even had an agent or a publisher. Study these for a moment. Make a couple of notes. Circle something of interest. Note which is the most powerful to you personally. Which do you think would be the most powerful to a publisher? Note carefully the variety of takes on the book and how they might appeal to different people.
Advance Praise For
Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It, and Give It
Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It, and Give It
"A fast, fun read with practical and often remarkable insights. Should be required reading for every high school senior and every young adult who's landed his or her first full-time job. I'm incorporating parts of the book into my lectures." (Robert A. Martin, MBA, CPA, Lecturer of Accounting in the prestigious Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University, founder of a tax and consulting firm.)
“Had I read this book in my 20’s, I’d be financially independent today. It’s a remarkable blend of fabulous research with clear and lively writing. You’d pay an expert quite a sum for this caliber of counsel. That’s why I say that the best investment you make this year just might be this book. Your second best investment will be the copies you buy for your children.” (Dr. Dwight “Ike” Reighard, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer, HomeBanc – One of Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work, four years in a row.)
“As a practicing CPA and financial counselor for the past 35 years, I've read scores of books and periodicals on personal finance. Just when you think you've heard it all, something like this comes along. It's rare and refreshing to find a book so enjoyable, so accurate, and so life-changing. I’m purchasing hundreds of copies to give away to graduating seniors.” (Larry Winter, Winter & Scoggins CPA's ; Certified Valuation Analyst, Certified Fraud Examiner, Personal Financial Planning Specialist)
"Financial responsibility has reached a state of crisis. This book attacks the problem in a common sense, refreshing manner that anyone can understand and apply to real life. It should be required reading for all young people, before they find themselves broke, deeply in debt and miserable." (William C. Lusk, Jr., Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer, Retired, Shaw Industries, a Fortune 500 company and the world’s largest manufacturer of carpet.)
“A very entertaining, engaging book! The characters are appealing and aid the reader in interacting with the principles taught. Although especially geared to older teens and young adults, all ages will enjoy it and benefit. Meticulously researched and documented. Chock full of financial and lifestyle wisdom. I’ll keep plenty of copies in my office to hand out to clients.” (Dr. Ken Walker, Psychologist with the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice and Director of Dalton Counseling Service. Former regional credit manager.)
"A comprehensive look at managing your money. For me, the genius of this book is that it gathers wisdom from top financial gurus and uses it to explain clearly and practically how average folks can apply it to everyday living." (Alan Buckler - Allstate Insurance)
"I loved the story and the characters! Read this book and you'll get the practical tools and wisdom to chart your own course toward financial freedom." (Jamie Maddox, former Senior Business Analyst, The Coca Cola Company, present Pastor of Stewardship, NorthStar Church)
"For me, the section on savings was worth the price of the book, detailing scores of hidden ways to save a fortune over a lifetime. Then, unlike many books, it goes beyond 'having more' to 'doing more with what you have.' (Bryan McIntosh, Ph.D., Dalyn Corporation)
"I really liked the format! The dramatic layout used a totally different part of my brain when I read it...it's like watching a movie or reading a novel. The story line kept my interest so that I got through it quickly. The content was very inspiring. "Living differently" and "starting a financial counterculture" hits home to me. And it was SO PRACTICAL! I think it will also appeal to most of my generation and the one coming up behind me." (Anthony Daniel, age 28, Chemist, Tiarco Chemical)
"Clever! The movie script format pulled me into the story and endeared me to the characters. Before I knew it, I found myself thinking about money strategies that I'd have never learned from traditional finance books. Teaching finance through people stories works for me. Rather than staring at obscure charts, I just followed the lives of successful people. Finally! A readable book on personal finance for people who don't want to read a book on personal finance...which of course is me and just about everybody else!" (Mark Hannah, Film Producer)
In my opinion, the Larry Winter quote should be the most persuasive to publishers. It’s guaranteed money. Also, here’s a person who believes in the book enough to put his money behind it. So I put his quote in my one page query and scattered others throughout my proposal.
Use Your Early Blurbs to Leverage More Blurbs
Once you’ve got a few people saying your book is great, even if it's just people in your writer's group, use those quotes to get other people’s attention. The book review guys at Money magazine probably get wheelbarrows full of financial books that authors want them to review. But if I send my one page proposal to them with a quote from the CFO of Shaw Industries, they might actually take it seriously.
I really like football running back Warrick Dunn. Off the field, he helps people get a home who could never afford one on their own. I think a blurb from him would help me to reach athletes with my book. Also, he could give copies to the people he helps. Armed with this set of blurbs. I think he would consider reading it and commenting.
Standing on the platform provided by early blurbs, you should be able to attract higher profile people to read your manuscript and provide more blurbs.
Consider Your Target Audiences and Acquire Blurbs Targeting Them
Brainstorm a variety of blurbers (is that a word?) who might appeal to different groups of potential purchasers. The 29-year-old chemist could appeal to the under 30 crowd. A public school principal appeals to educators. The CPA’s and financial advisers let the publisher know that this isn’t hokey advice; it’s got a stamp of approval from people who work in this field every day. The businessmen appeal to other businessmen and those who respect business successes.
Now you may assume that I’m unusually well connected. But I consider myself the opposite. After my tenure at Flat Creek Baptist as minister of youth, I continued to climb down the corporate ladder. I moved with my family to Slovakia where we served other youth workers. After my wife was diagnosed with cancer, we moved to Acworth, Georgia, where I cared for my wife and seldom ventured past the mailbox. After she died, I raised my boys and wrote from my home. Then I married Cherie, blending my four boys with her three, giving us seven boys. Now I care for my parents and 102-year-old grandmom.
The point is, I haven't been able to get out much in ten years and don't consider myself well-connected at all. To find blurbs, I simply started thinking about people I’ve known and my parents have known through the years, people Cherie knows at work, any people who might have an interest in the topic, and asked them politely if they were interested.
Begin by asking for help in the form of honest input
Many are honored to give input on a manuscript. After each of my readers gave me constructive criticism, I asked if they could tell me briefly what they liked about the book and how they might recommend it to others. I took notes, then asked if they’d mind if I tried to word them a quote from what they said. I promised to come back with the final wording to make sure they felt it accurately expressed their feelings.
Tip: don’t necessarily give out your entire book to a person at first. That can be daunting. Start with one chapter; then ask if they want more.
Write Your Own Blurbs as You’d Like People to Say Them
This sounds just plain weird, but hear me out. Most of your readers probably aren’t professional writers. Besides feeling self-conscious about their writing, they're busy. Even if they are writers, their writing is on the line with their blurb and they want it to look good. So why not offer your assistance?
With your niche audiences in mind, write out your dream blurbs. I usually come up with stuff like this while I’m driving. Carry around a recorder to avoid wrecks.
As early readers try to express what they feel about your book, you’ll see that parts of your pre-written blurbs express what they’re saying and make them look better in print.
After one person read the manuscript, I looked over my pre-worded blurbs and said, “Is this what you’re saying?” He saw what I was doing, looked over my list, pointed to his favorite blurb and said, “I want that one!”
You see, blurbs aren’t just about me. They’re about making the blurber look good as well. For some, it’s free marketing that gets their names in print. It’s free advertising. It helps them with their platform. No wonder it’s not too difficult to get people to offer blurbs for an informative, interesting book.
Where to Find People to Give You Blurbs
So I began to think through my connections and their connections. At this stage, I wanted honest input on making the manuscript better from a variety of people. Getting blurbs was secondary. They were honored that I would want their expertise.
Bill Lusk was a friend of my family when I was growing up on Dalton. Ike Reighard was at one time my pastor. Bryan McIntosh was in a small youth group I once led in Dalton, just after college.
Alan Buckler sells us car insurance. His wife Julie studied journalism. (With seven boys in our family and at least seven cars, do you think our insurance provider is willing to do us favors?)
How did the “Putting Your Passion into Print” folks land the blurb from the successful author of The Kite Runner? They were in the same writing group together before The Kite Runner was written. So network with authors wherever you are. You never know….
Friends of Friends
Do you have either a famous relative or decent connection to somebody famous? Do your friends have connections with someone famous, or someone important in the field you're writing? Ask around and you might be surprised.
Example: Wouldn’t it be cool if I could get a blurb from Warren Buffett, the wealthiest man in America and arguably the best investor to ever walk the face of the earth? Impossible? Maybe not. Warren Buffett bought Shaw Industries, of which William Lusk (the friend of the family who read my manuscript and gave me a nice blurb) was CFO when Buffett bought them. Mr. Lusk has a picture in his house of himself standing next to Warren Buffett, holding Buffett's wallet. Amazingly, I'm one step removed from Warren Buffett!
Activity for Your Next Writer's Meeting: If you got to know the thirty people at the next Georgia Writers Association meeting, your second level contacts could easily number in the tens of thousands. So make it a point to arrive early, stay late, and get to know as many as you can, exchanging business cards.
Here’s my challenge. Since it's often more who you know than what you know, make a habit of meeting new people wherever you are and finding out a little more about them every time you rub shoulders. A waitress I met at Waffle House had written two historical novels. The guy who changes your oil might have a brother who’s famous. A rocket builder in California told us at a social networking conference that although the welders in his organization work at the bottom rung of their business, he often gets his best contacts through them.
Listen: THERE ARE NO SMALL PEOPLE. Everyone is your intellectual superior in some way. Everyone has contacts that you don't have. Everyone is the gateway to someone else. So treat people with the importance they deserve. They’ve had experiences you’ve never had, gone places you’ve never been, know people you’ve never met.
Looking back to my high school classmates in early 1970’s, growing up in the little north Georgia town of Dalton, that hippie/counterculture kid now designs helicopters for NASA; the biggest goof-off now speaks four languages and serves the poor in Burkina Faso, the stereotypical nerd is a big-time lawyer and one of the flag twirlers in the marching band is Deborah Norville, two time EMMY award winner and host of INSIDE EDITION. Listen, there are no small people here today and you never know what your next door neighbor may become. So get to know them and treat them with respect.
People Who Owe You One
So much of success in publishing and marketing is about connecting. It’s about helping others, not in order to get something in return, but in order to simply serve. But as you serve, watch out as that good you’ve done boomerangs back to you
So don’t be afraid to ask those you've served to help you. Others benefit from the joy of sharing when you give them the opportunity.
That’s why a month ago I opened up a new file labeled “People Who Owe Me One”. I thought, “I’ve given away free advice and free resources to hundreds of people over the years. Some of them would love the opportunity to give back. Why aren’t I keeping up with those folks?” Now I am.
Give and it will be given to you!
Social Networking Via the Web
Some writers aren't comfortable getting to know new people face to face. Fortunately, we now have many excellent, free, Web-based social networking tools that writes can exploit. LinkedIn is a powerful networking tool. It’s basically a personal Web page where you invite your friends, associates and acquaintances to link to you. That’s level one. But once you link, you can also see your friends’ connections, which is level two. You can’t e-mail your friend’s friends without your level one friend’s okay, which protects everyone from spam.
I believe LinkedIn started among techies in Silicon Valley to connect with others in high tech. Now it’s everywhere. Journalists use it to get introductions to people they need to interview; job seekers find openings and insiders to find the real scoop on a business; you can use it to find people who might give you a blurb for your book.
So let’s say you need a blurb from somebody in PetSmart about your book on pets. There’s a good chance that somebody you know has a connection who's with PetSmart.
Example 1: Someone sent me an article showing that the Sprint Foundation was handing out grants for character education. I thought, “I wonder if any of my contacts work with Sprint?” I didn’t find any on the first or second level, but on the third level I found over 500!
Example 2: A week after I set up my LinkedIn account, a recent graduate of MIT asked me to connect, due to our mutual interest in youth ministry. He runs a site that’s a portal to inner city ministries. That’s perfect for getting the word out about my finance book and character materials, both of which work well in urban settings. Also, this guy has a contact who works at Fidelity, one of the largest investment firms. Do investment firms want to encourage young people to save and invest rather than spend. You bet! What a great contact! But I’d have never had an in to Fidelity without LinkedIn.
Members of Georgia Writers can join the Georgia Writers Group at Linkedin, giving you many ready-made connections. Check the Georgia Writers Website for more information.
Blogs, forums and other free social networking sites such as MySpace, Crowdvine, Ning, and FaceBook allow us to connect with many, many people who are already interested in the specific topics we’re writing about. Some of them may read an advance copy and give you a blurb.
Take a class on social networking or read a good book about it if you can. Or, just do what the young people do - play around with the tools until they start making sense to you. If you get lost, ask a neighborhood middle schooler.
Start connecting by going to www.gwa.crowdvine.com or finding it on the Georgia Writers Web site. Sign in. Then, throw caution to the wind! Be bold! Randomly invite people to be your friends. Ask questions. Put up a funny picture of yourself (or of your cat, if you don’t want to be identified). Suggest solutions to others’ questions. Make some mistakes by randomly clicking obscure buttons. Sit back and see what happens. We’re all new at this because the technology is so new. I just learned Crowdvine a month ago. It’s really fun and useful!
And it can make connections that lead to great relationships and blurbs and publicity for your books.
Once You've Acquired Some Blurbs, Use Them Everywhere!
1) In your query and proposal.
2) In your marketing plan.
3) Scattered throughout your Web sites. (Example: http://www.character-education.info)
4) Collected on a special page on your site. (Example: http://www.jstevemiller.com/aboutmoneybook.htm )
5) In Amazon reviews.
6) For targeted marketing.
To sum up the importance of blurbs to those without platforms. You’re at a bookstore looking for a book on personal finance. You first notice the high platform authors. “Ahhh…Dave Ramsay…I’ve heard him on the radio and seen his billboards. Hmmm…Suzie Orman…I’ve seen her on Oprah. “J. Steve Miller…who the heck is J. Steve Miller?…hmmm…these business leaders say it’s the most innovative, readable and accurate financial book on the market…that’s exactly what I’m looking for…I wonder what others are saying (as he flips to the first page to find ten other blurbs).
Your ideas or questions concerning blurbs? Post them below!