A taxonomy of blurbers

If you’re seeking people to provide quote endorsements for your book — blurbs — the biggest mistake you can make is treating them all alike. Each type of blurber requires a different approach.

Before approaching these targets, you need to prepare a short description of the book as well as a PDF copy of the manuscript, but just flinging these out at all potential blurbers willy-nilly is a poor strategy. Be prepared to send just what each prospect needs, when they ask for it.

Here’s what to expect from each type of blurber.

The famous and powerful: Work with the publicist

Very prominent people — like Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, or the CEO of McDonalds — have handlers. Unless you’re already friends with somebody like this, your best approach is through their PR department or publicist.

The publicity folks understand the priorities of the folks they work for and will work with you, provided that blurbing your book will advance their client’s image in some way. They’ll tell you how long it may take to get a comment, where to send the PDF, and how the process is going.

You may even end up negotiating the quote with these folks. In one book I worked on, we obtained a quote from the CEO of one of the world’s largest technology companies. The PR person and I went back and forth on the wording, and it was implicit that the actual CEO would be likely to approve whatever he recommended.

Treat these publicity folks with respect. They control access and understand what you’re trying to do. If you’re nice to them, they’ll work with you; if not, you’ve alienated the people whose help you need.

Your fellow authors: Focus on the right words

Authors like to get their names on the back of other people’s books. In addition to the good feeling that comes from helping a fellow author, they like the way it reminds people that they, too, have written a book.

You’ll often be able to approach such authors directly, since they have web sites and contact links.

First, put together your pitch about how your book will help the other author’s reader community. An author on marketing topics will be far more likely to blurb a book on marketing, sales, or media than a book on politics or gardening.

Authors, myself included, are more likely to request a full copy of the manuscript. We want to make sure the book is of a level of quality with which we’d like to be associated — and we want to make sure our blurb quote reflects a witty take on the book.

But don’t assume all authors are alike. Some will just want a summary and one chapter. Ask first, then send exactly what they request.

And pay close attention to how the author wishes to be identified. Author priorities change. On one blurb, I might want to be called “Writing expert and blogger at withoutbullshit.com” (because that would generate leads), while on another, I might be “Bestselling author of Writing Without Bullshit” (because that would help sell books).

A final note: Do not change author quotes at all without checking, because we’re very proprietary when it comes to words. That’s true even if your copy editor wants to tinker with those words. If I put quotes around a term or use the Oxford comma, I did that on purpose. It’s never a good idea to mess with authors’ words without permission.

Your professional friends: customize your interactions based on the response

We all have broad networks. Maybe the head of marketing for Twitter is your college roommate. Or your friend takes vacations with Daniel Pink. You’ll likely find yourself reaching out to people who know you, or at least know of you.

This outreach is a multi-step process. First, remind the target who you are what your relationship is. Then give a rough idea of what you want and what your deadline is. Ask them what they would prefer: a full manuscript or a summary and a sample chapter. Be prepared to suggest a quote, but don’t send suggestions unless they ask for one.

And be alert for corporate permissions roadblocks. Some of these professional friends may provide a quote along with, “Oh, yeah, I need to run it by legal, or PR.” That tends to slow things way down. Just ask, “Do you need to get any approvals to give me a quote?” and follow their lead. (If the person “forgets” to contact legal or PR, it’s very rare that there’s a problem, but your contact will likely be aware of how sensitive these groups are at their company.)

Your actual friends: Craft a blurb together

The great thing about your friends is they want to help. The problem is, they’re probably not the kind of people whose endorsement makes an impact.

If your friend is junior VP at XYZ local accounting firm, just tell them to write an Amazon review. If they’re an author of books few people read, you might save the quote for a long list in the Amazon description, rather than actually putting it on or in the book.

But if your friend has a name, title, or reputation that can help you, you may as well take advantage of it.

In these cases, you can tell your friend just what you think would be most helpful (for example, a quote about your qualifications, or about your actual startlingly insightful content), and then offer to work together on the most effective quote that they’d feel comfortable with.

Generic pitches don’t work

As you can see, these pitches can’t be standardized. This is inefficient. But attempting to write a one-size fits all blurb solicitation is counterproductive — the pitch for Brené Brown has to be different from the one for Elon Musk, and that’s the point.

For further tips, see How to get book blurbs and Avoiding blurb disasters.

Understanding the taxonomy of potential blurbers will help you gain insights into their motivations, and from there, you can build a set of pitches that’s most likely to get you the blurbs you want. Do it right, and you won’t have to become a therapist — or go into therapy yourself.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.