Blurbing is considered a necessary evil in the industry. “Necessary” is debatable (most industry insiders say most blurbs don’t move the needle much… if at all) but the “evil” part is understandable, from both sides:
The author of the work in question basically has to approach her fellow authors—hat in hand—and beg for favors. And of course, the more desirable blurbs come from those higher on the food chain, so we’re generally asking more successful authors to spend some of their precious time reading our upcoming book—and then composing thoughtful-yet-hopefully-enticing commentary about it. All at no cost.
So it’s a tough ask. Which is why newer authors like to have others (read: editors and/or agents) do the asking for them. Another benefit of this is having a go-between insulates the asker from the askee, so the askee doesn’t feel quite so bad saying, “No, sorry, I’m too busy with my own career to read and gush over a stranger’s book at the moment. But thanks for asking!” And even worse is when the blurber reads said manuscript and thinks, “Holy heck! No way do I want my name associated with this burning pile of poop!” Much better to have editor #2 politely tell editor #1 that author #2 has decided that author #1’s project “…is wonderful, but isn’t quite right for her. But my author wishes your author all the success in the world.”
In a perfect world, the author’s editor will put out feelers to a number of potential blurb candidates and only tell her author about the ones who actually said yes, then actually read it and actually had something wonderful to say about it. With no mention of all the “Sorry, love to, but I’m too busy right now” (aka hell no!) responses. Less hurt feelings all the way around.
However, in the real world the author frequently has to at least draw up a list of people she might like to have blurb her book, avoiding the obvious no-go candidates. (Just like with comps: Your new book probably isn’t the next “Happy Potter meets The Hunger Games with a little Twilight thrown in,” nor should you ask your editor to try to bug JK or Suzanne or Stephenie for a blurb. Or Oprah.) But there are plenty of authors who write in the same general area as you and/or whose readers might like your work, and who are successful enough that their name will—in theory—add some cache to the back cover of your book. And you might be able to get your editor or publicist or agent to ask them, if it makes sense and if they have some sort of realistic connection to them.
But you may also end up doing some or all of this yourself, either because the others mentioned above don’t have any connection to your list of promising candidates, or because maybe you don’t have an editor/agent/publicist, because you’re an intrepid indie author.
So either way, hat-in-hand it is, for many of us. Which leads to the big question:
When do we query for a blurb?
You’d think this would be fairly obvious… when you have a complete manuscript, all ready to go (not just written but revised, rewritten, edited, copyedited, and polished… whether trad or indie) but before publication. In other words, basically at the ARC stage. But enough before pub date that your publisher can get those wonderful, gushy, blurby words onto the book’s jacket (or else why get them in the first place?) but hopefully late enough that the blurber will be reading something close to the final version.
All the above makes perfect sense, but then someone decided that if they got blurbs even earlier, they could put those words of praise on the jacket of the ARC itself. And then reviewers (and librarians and booksellers and other tastemakers of all stripes) might see it and think, “Well, so-and-so already loves this, so maybe I should, too.” Thus the “pre-blurb” was born. But—to its credit, I guess—it’s still editors/agents/authors asking other editors/agents/authors to have someone read and blurb an almost-ready-for-primetime, soon-to-be-published book.
And then some creative soul—who likely spends more time on ‘writer twitter’ than on actually writing—decided that if they got a famous (or at least well-published, or at least, well… published) author to read and blurb their un-agented, un-edited, un-contracted (maybe even unfinished) manuscript, then they, too, might be published soon.
Yup. They don’t want to use Mr. or Ms. Famous Author to tell the world how good they thought the book was. In reality they simply want to use his/her glowing words to try to land an agent. Who—in theory—will be so dazzled by this that they’ll sign said book right up and immediately start repping it to editors who will also fall into lockstep once they see the blurbiest blurb in the entire blurbdom attached to said manuscript… never mind whether the manuscript itself is great or good or even fair.
A few issues with the--ahem—“pre-pre-blurb”…
1. You’re asking a busy person (all people are busy) to spend a good chunk of their free time reading your manuscript and then composing comments intended for the back of a book which may never see the light of day. (Yes, blurbing authors are doing another—often newer—author a big favor by reading and blurbing their book, but there is also the intangible, theoretical perk for the blurber of getting their name on the back of every copy of the book they blurbed. Which—assuming the book is in fact really good and does really well—might actually be of some small benefit.)
2. You’re asking that busy person to read a manuscript which almost certainly hasn’t been through the editorial process published books go through. Yet they (in theory) are supposed to comment on it as though it were a fait accompli, already sitting on the shelves of their local bookstore next to all the published books it’s competing with.
3. You are attempting to leverage the good name of Mr. or Ms. Famous Author specifically to fuel the next step in your career by attracting the attention of an agent and/or editor. I realize all blurbing is about marketing to one degree or another, but this seems pretty blatantly one-sided, and de-centers the fundamental work of producing a strong, polished manuscript.
4. And finally, if the manuscript actually does get representation and then publication*, the book which finally gets published (complete with blurb on the back) will likely be a different book (sometimes wildly different) than the one which was originally blurbed. And Mr. or Ms. Famous Author’s name will be inextricably linked to something they may not have chosen to blurb in the first place, had they seen the final result. (Pig in a poke, anyone?)
[*Please note that none of this is to say you shouldn’t blurb an indie author. If the indie book is 95% polished and ready to go to pub (i.e. it’s at the ARC stage) and you read it and like it, then sure, why not? But if it’s as described above—basically an early draft that hasn’t been through the editorial process—then everything we said about a pre-pre-blurb still applies.]
So… when should an author ask for a blurb? IMO, when they’ve done all the hard work to get to the point where the book is ready to launch—writing, revising, polishing, querying, submitting, editing, copyediting—and ready to be read. (With the assumption that all that hard work has resulted in a work worthy of another author putting her stamp of approval on it.) But not before. Blurbing is supposed to be, “Would you mind reading this book which we’ve put so much time and energy into, and maybe give the public a sneak preview of what they can expect?” Not, “Would you attach your name to my early draft and launch* my book for me?”
[*See this post on the fallacy of thinking an author can help you fast-pass the line to publication.]
Happy blurb hunting!
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