Yesterday, I spent most of the day working. In the end, I wrote 40 words. And it was a successful working day, not a failed one; those 40 words will make someone very happy.
A poet, I suppose, might be able to make the same statement, but I haven’t written poetry in years; what I’m talking about here is writing a blurb for a less-established novelist. A lot of time goes into reading an entire book and thinking through how to phrase your praise. Though it’s time-consuming, it’s also one of my favorite things.
If you’re looking for wisdom on requesting a blurb, let me point you to Barbara Lynn Probst’s recent post on the subject: lots of great guidelines and thoughts here. I figured I’d focus instead on what to do once a blurb request comes in. Maybe it’s from an editor or agent through your e-mail; maybe it’s a Twitter or Facebook message from an unknown writer; maybe it’s a verbal request from an acquaintance or friend (remember when we used to see people at conferences? good times). There are four potential responses, each of which I use with different frequency. Let’s walk through them one by one:
- No – sometimes. There are plenty of good reasons to say no to a blurb request. First of all, it’s a favor, and a polite “no” to a request for a favor is a perfectly reasonable response. If I’m on a tight deadline crunch and it’s highly unlikely I’ll be able to turn it around in time, I politely let them know I’m too busy, wish the writer and the book well, and move on. Nothing wrong with that. Also, sometimes you can tell when the writer has just requested blurbs from anyone and everyone, with no consideration for whether your blurb makes sense on their book. If the book’s from a very different genre, or if the request is just a form letter with no acknowledgment of why the match makes sense, I gently decline.
- Maybe – often. This is the one I use whenever I can. As I said, I love giving blurbs — I get to read books way before they hit shelves, and if the blurb requestor has done their homework, the book has been sent to me because it has something in common with my work. For the book I just finished blurbing, it’s historical fiction, with a strong theme of women connecting and finding community with each other that helps them overcome other challenges. If I’m not in a busy time, especially if the novel’s a debut, I’m looking for reasons to say yes, not no. It always helps if the writer/agent/editor directly addresses why they think our readership will overlap, and if I’ve had any previous contact with them it helps to be reminded. Those are boosts in the yes direction. But no matter how exciting the book sounds, who wrote it, or how much lead time I’m granted, my initial response to the query is maybe. Because:
- Yes – never. No, I have never said yes to a blurb request. (And if you’ve read my previous posts, you know how much I generally hate “always/never” rules.) By that, I mean I say “Yes, please send it to me,” but never “Yes, I’ll give you a blurb.” Anything could happen along the way. First of all, there’s always a chance I won’t like the book, and I don’t believe in blurbing books I don’t like, no matter who the request is from. I might run out of time; I might have an unexpected emergency. An enthusiastic “Please send it to me, I’ll do my best!” doesn’t overpromise.
- Nothing – almost never. Now, I may have slipped up once or twice, but just not responding at all is not my style. And see #1 – there’s nothing wrong with a no. Just leaving it hanging out there isn’t terribly helpful. If you say no in a timely fashion, the writer can cross you off their list in plenty of time to send other requests. Now, I’ve read a few aspiring writers online trashing the more established writers who didn’t blurb them — And she didn’t even write me back! Can you believe the nerve!??! She’s not so great, anyway! — which, frankly, reflects more poorly on the complaining writer than the complained-about. No one owes you a blurb. If they don’t write back to you, shrug and move on. (If you take everything personally, might I gently suggest that publishing is probably not the career for you?)
Decide for yourself, obviously, what works for you. This is what has worked for me. Some writers don’t believe at all in the blurb ecosystem; some truly receive too many requests to consider them all. But as long as I can make time to read a few more books a year, it makes sense that some of these books will be not-yet-published novels I can write 40 kind words for. When I was an unknown author I benefitted from more established authors (and booksellers and librarians) taking the time to read my work and say nice things about it. I take great pleasure in paying that kindness forward.
Q: If you’re asked for a blurb, which of the four answers do you use?