Say your book is scheduled for publication and your editor sends you a note that it’s time to seek out blurbs. “Come up with your dream list,” she says.
How cool is this?! You start a list that begins with Oprah and goes on to include your literary heroes. You list bestselling authors whose books seem to tap the same themes, and hopefully the same audience, as yours. Then you pass the list back to your editor and cc your agent, feeling like a pampered celebrity.
In a little while, carefully-worded, enthusiasm-suppressing emails come back to clarify what is really meant by “dream list”. “Are you friends with Oprah?” “Do you have connections to this person and that person?” “Are you comfortable contacting them?”
Sometimes you are a slow learner, and what is only beginning to sink in is that the publishing house doesn’t actually get these blurbs for you. You’re expected to find Oprah’s email and ask her yourself. You: the writer who’s still a nobody, the person who hates to ask anyone for anything.
You look at the list again and cross off Oprah, Harper Lee, Ellen Gilchrist. And you build a new list consisting mostly of friends-of-friends—writers who are still stellar but not yet unlisted.
Staring at this new list is no less intimidating. You feel like a nuisance—a telemarketer about to make a call. And how do you even ask for a blurb?
You say something like this… “Um, hi. Sorry to bother you. You don’t even know who I am and I’m going to be asking you to do me a favor which will take up a lot of your time. It’s for my book, the one you’ve never heard of. If I’m bothering you, please just tell me to go away and I will do it this instant. In fact, I’m already going.”
Perhaps you asked so pathetically that you made it easy for the writers to say no. Still, you wait. You wait as you did in the center of the cafeteria, holding your lunch tray and hoping for a seat. You wait as you did at the edge of the gymnasium, hoping someone might walk over and invite you to dance. And in the world of begging for blurbs, rejections sound like this: “I’m sorry, I have a no-blurb policy.” “Hello, I am so-and-so’s assistant and while he’s flattered, he just can’t respond to these kinds of requests.” Sometimes a writer says he doesn’t have the time, though you see him horsing around all day long on Twitter and Facebook. And some say no with such guilt and so many reasons why they can’t do it that you realize even your question has burdened them, just as you feared.
But some people, bless them, will say yes. Quotes begin to trickle in from one author at a time, and it strikes you: This person read my book. She really got it. And she said this beautiful thing about it. How amazing is that? And this one somehow distilled the essence of my book into a single sentence. It’s a generosity that brings you to tears. You love these people! You feel an almost fierce desire to make sure something really good comes their way.
And then you learn another truth about blurbs. Some writers, particularly those extraordinarily talented writers from groundbreaking indie presses, aren’t always valued by your publisher, despite their glorious and generous words about your book. And the same is true for writers who have a track record of poor sales, even if those poor sales were not the fault of their writing. And these blurbs, these kind offerings, are simply cast aside. It’s a business decision, one you have no control over that leaves you feeling rotten.
Soon, many things will be out of your control—what reviewers think of your work, what bloggers post about it online, whether your book rises up the bestseller charts or falls away into obscurity. So you commit to things that will always be in your control—working hard on your craft, remaining grateful for those who came through for you, and keeping an eye out for opportunities to send good their way.
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