Before my first book (The Curious Misadventures of Feltus Ovalton) came out I sent a few letters to some children’s lit authors I admired. I chose Louis Sachar and Eva Ibbotson because they combined humor with fantasy, and Philip Pullman because he is one of the best writers alive.
I was almost obsessed with this quest to be blurbed by another author. I believed it would make a huge difference to the sales of my book. It might give me an introduction or a leg-up to vast colonies of readers. Or it might provide the edge I needed to lift my head a little bit above the crowd of middle-grade fantasy available in our post-Harry world.
I would opine (first time I’ve ever used that word in a sentence!) that the famed JK Rowling blurb for Darren Shan helped his sales; as did the Stephenie Meyer endorsement of Cassie Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series. But these are authors who have attained dizzying heights of success and have blurbed just when or after they explode into the sales stratosphere. Great timing and a certain amount of luck involved for the blurbee. And I believe, a bit of a push from the publisher, or agents.
This, next, is conjecture on my part, but it makes sense to me (and I’m not speaking in regards to the two examples mentioned above). Writers get on with other writers and often form supportive groups and networks, and then if one has a measure of success it’s only natural to want to help your friends out.
The question is: does the book deserve a glowing endorsement just because it was written by your buddy?
On the other hand, it is quite likely that your writing buddies are all gifted and deserving of praise. People like to hang out with other people who have stuff in common with themselves.

The publisher was hoping for good reviews (and indeed we got some) but the book was pushed (or should it be pulled?) forward to a fall release and we didn’t have much time between the ARCS (advanced reading copies) and the actual publication date.

Sachar and Pullman sent me very nice “No(s)”. Eva Ibbotson sent me a delightful letter and also declined because she is in her 80’s and needs to hoard her writing time for her own writing. I wrote her back and asked if I could send her the book anyway and she said yes.
And then shortly after it was released she sent me a congratulatory letter. She ended up saying some really great things about it (in perfect blurb-ready form) but asked that I not use them. She doesn’t want to be inundated with requests for blurbs. It took a lot of will-power not to, but I refrained.

Now we enjoy a lovely twice yearly correspondence and she has been nothing but supportive and encouraging. I have a major fan-girl crush on her and also Sachar and Pullman. Considering how busy they all are (being writers) they let me down with gentle candor.

Eventually I asked my writing teacher (in whose group I had begun the book) to jot something down. She is a best-selling memoirist, a novelist, and had even written some picture books in the past. She is also the grandmother of thirteen, so she knows what kids like. And I asked a friend, a successful and talented mystery writer, and a parent, if she would. And she did. Neither of them work inside my genre, but the publisher seemed pleased.

I was ecstatic to have two people I admire say nice things about my book but I don’t think it affected anything one way or the other.

I think that readers who picked up the book were far more likely to be convinced to buy it by the fact(noted on the back cover) that I used to be a boxer, or owned my own indie record label. And I think that time permitting there would have been more impact if the publisher had been able to include the very good review the Canadian School Journal gave it, or we’d used a blurb from the local librarian or elementary school teacher, someone who really knows kids and really knows books.

Author Gayle Forman just posted about this same topic. You can read it here. Her blog is pretty great and informative and talks about all manner of publishing topics, and I suggest you check it out.

6 thoughts on “Blurbed

  1. Great post! And timely for me – I'm an independent publisher just getting down to the real nitty-gritty on my first acquisition, and I've been thinking about how to get blurbs for this book. It's a mythic fantasy, a bit in line with "The Last Unicorn," and I've been dreaming wistfully about getting blurbs from people like Neil Gaiman. I know it'll never happen, though, so I've been trying to make lists of all the midlist fantasy authors I can think of, to go hat-in-hand and see if I can get a comment or two!

    Your experience gives me some hope that I can at least maybe get a nice conversation out of it!

    Congratulations on the lovely comments from Eva Ibbotson, and on the eventual blurbs. I'm sure they do help!

  2. Good luck with your blurbing. If you are able to get arcs out well in advance I think snippets of good reviews work equally well (or better!) unless you manage the Neil Gaiman blurb, of course!
    Is Peter Beagle still alive? If so you could try him.
    Sachar and Pullman were very nice about saying no, and I was just a lowly author fishing.
    Thanks for stopping by, Kate.

  3. Jo,

    Even a very nice "no" would make my day, coming from certain authors. I'm definitely going to look into whether Peter Beagle does blurbs…and at least give it a shot!

    Thanks for being so encouraging, and keep writing and blogging! I'm actually off to score a copy of your book for my nephew now. After, er, I'm done reading it. 😉

  4. Thanks for picking up Feltus, Kate! Hope your nephew enjoys it (and you too!).
    Jill, I find myself ambivalent about blurbs when I pick up a book randomly. I'll read them but far more swayed by reviews and even cover art. Bad cover art= no read for me. Yes, I know I'm being superficial here.

  5. Great post, Jo. I am with you on the Pullman worship!

    Blurbs do not tempt me at all, because as you hinted at in your post, for all I know they were written by a writer buddy who may not have even read the novel.

    Now a pretty cover…I am all over that!

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