First, I have a new review to share with you for UNHOLY GHOSTS, from LOCUS magazine:
“Chess is an intriguing character, a powerful Church witch with magic tattoos, but also a serious drug problem… She’s not your usual heroic protagonist, and this isn’t one of your humorous urban fantasies, but rather a lively thriller, full of action and ghostly encounters.”
Next, thanks to everyone who downloaded the 5-chapter sample of UNHOLY GHOSTS, and emailed me or contacted me on Facebook or Twitter to let me know how much you enjoyed it! For those of you who haven’t yet read it, why not? UNHOLY GHOSTS sample (2431) (The link is also permanently up on the UNHOLY GHOSTS page on the site, where the description and blurbs are.
Which brings me to today’s topic (see how neatly that was done?)
A while ago someone asked me in comments about blurbs, and last night I got an email asking about them again, which reminded me that I wanted to blog about them. Keep in mind this is my experience, and my thoughts, as always.
There’s a really cool post on the Reagan Arthur Books blog about blurbs, and the “karma” of them. And I believe there is a karma to them, yes.
I’ve seen a few times, in a few places, people expressing the idea that blurbs are given for money, or because the authors are friends, or whatever. I’ve never heard of blurbing for money, and I certainly can’t deny that friendship can lead to blurbs, but I have to be honest here; probably not as much as you think.
Take my blurb from Caitlin Kittredge for UG. Caitlin loved the book. Is Caitlin my friend? Absolutely; one of my closest friends (although we didn’t know each other very well when she first read UG). Does that mean Caitlin would have blurbed the book even if she hated it? I seriously doubt it.
The thing is, as writers we’re very aware of our “brand.” And what that means. We’re aware that if and when we recommend a book, our readers–who trust us–will see it. We don’t want to let our readers down, and we don’t want to disappoint them. We don’t want to mess with our own “brand” or our own reputations.
Are there writers out there who just blurb their friends willy-nilly? Oh, I imagine so. But to assume that’s the case with everyone strikes me as a bit unfair. To take Caitlin and myself again, we became friends because our tastes in and opinions on what constitutes good writing are so similar; we became friends because I loved her STREET MAGIC (and still do, with a passion) and she loved UNHOLY GHOSTS, both of which were in ms form at the time, pretty much. So of course she loves my work and I love hers; that’s how we got to know each other.
So I got a blurb from Caitlin by emailing her, and saying, basically, “Hey, you know my book that you told me you loved? Could you write a blurb for me to give to my editor?” And she replied with, “Yeah, of course! Here it is.”
I don’t try to hide my connection with Caitlin, or deny that she’s my friend. I guess if someone wants to believe her blurb means nothing because of that friendship, that’s their prerogative–just as it will be if you have a friend blurb your book, or blog about it, or whatever. But I don’t think that’s enough reason to keep from asking if your friends whose work you admire and feel is similar to yours will be willing to give you a blurb. Friends share interests and tastes; that’s one of the tenets of friendship, if you know what I mean. So it doesn’t bother me.
In a similar vein is my blurb from Ann Aguirre (which incidentally, is my favorite blurb ever in the world. I mean, “the ultimate bible of badassery?” Who wouldn’t love that?!) I knew Ann vaguely from around the internet, but not very well at all; we started following each other on Twitter, and exchanged a few comments here and there, but that was about it. But one night she said she was bored, and she was looking to read something with a different kind of love interest, someone who was rougher and not so handsome and dashing and all of that. I volunteered UNHOLY GHOSTS and sent it over to her, and she read it, and loved it. I told my editor she loved it, my editor told me to ask for a blurb, and I did. Ann is another one who I’ve become friends with because of writing; when you discover you enjoy someone else’s work, and that you have similar tastes, and even similar tones…friendships form, and it’s a fantastic thing. Because honestly, there’s nothing worse than reading a friend’s work and thinking it blows. It happened to me once, years ago, and it was really awful; I had no idea what to say.
I’m proud of my blurbs, and I’m proud to be friends with Caitlin and Ann. And as I say in the Acknowledgments of UNHOLY GHOSTS, the book is special to me for a lot of reasons, but especially because it was the book that brought some great people into my life.
So moving on. Those are my “friend” blurbs, although certainly in Ann’s case it was the book itself that really started our friendship. But I will say this one thing more, on the subject:
One of the most important things to me, as you guys who’ve been reading here for a while know, is politeness. Making other people feel comfortable, and welcome. I certainly don’t mean to sound like a braggarty braggart here or anything of that nature, but I will say–and this isn’t specifically about one of my blurbs, or even necessarily about blurbs in general–that it never hurts to be nice to people. There is simply no point in not being so.
And I don’t mean “nice” as in “If I’m nice to them they might do something for me.” I mean nice as in simply be a decent person. Treat other people with respect. Publishing is a small industry. We know who’s being a jerk to whom, or who stepped all over X or Y because they weren’t a big enough name. Well, guess what; if I’m friends with X or Y, and I get your ms mailed to me in hopes of a blurb, I’m going to say no. Why should I help someone who was rude to my friends? I don’t mean in a “not liking their work” way, and I don’t mean you need to be a kiss-ass; in fact, that’s just as bad.
What I mean is just that it doesn’t hurt to be friendly. Not to decide you’re better or more important than other people, or that they’re not worth your time. That doesn’t mean you have to spend all day every day helping others, but neither do you have to be rude when you decline to help. In any industry, it helps not to be a dick.
So. Let’s talk about other ways blurbs are given and received. In general, here’s what happens when the blurber in question isn’t someone whose email address you have, or someone you feel comfortable emailing and saying, “Hey, why don’t you blurb me up, yo?”
You and your editor will probably have a talk about blurbs, and who you think would be a good blurber, and who your editor things would be a good blurber. You may talk to your agent about this as well. You will probably agree on at least a few names.
Now, I’m of the school that believes blurbs are something for your editor to handle. I’m not a fan of emailing other writers for blurbs unless you know them pretty well. Because the thing is, it’s a lot harder to say no to a friend, and by emailing said writer yourself you’re kind of exploiting that. It may get you the blurb, yes, but it’s more likely to get you marked, at least in that writer’s mind, as an annoyance.
Others may disagree, and that’s certainly fine. Like I said, these are just my feelings and opinions.
If your agent is involved, s/he may contact a few people s/he knows to ask them about blurbing you. S/he will then pass the request on to your editor, who will compose an enthusiastic little letter about why s/he is certain that the potential blurber is going to just love the book more than anything in the world and thanking them for agreeing to look at it, and mail it off.
Again, unless it’s a unique situation or a personal friend, you don’t normally handle this. For one thing, those bound proofs can be heavy, and thus expensive to mail. Why pay for that yourself when your publisher can do it, and probably at a discount they’ve worked out with the shipping company? For another thing, it’s extremely difficult to compose a “You’ll love this I just know it” email about your own work. Yes, I guess it’s kind of like a query, but you know all those things you’re not supposed to put in your query, like “potential to be huge,” “amazing,” “an incredible new talent,” “something really special?” Yeah. Those all belong in the blurb letter. So it’s weird, and extremely hard to do without sounding like a hideous megalomaniac. And nobody wants to blurb hideous megalomaniacs.
And then? You wait.
Your editor might send some follow-up emails; again, it’s best for him/her to do it. If the connection came through your agent, s/he might follow up. The reason you don’t generally do this is the same: if it’s someone you know, they may be embarrassed to have forgotten or, worse, they may be embarrassed because they didn’t like your book. If it’s someone you don’t know at all…well, see that “annoying” thing again.
You’ll probably have people say no. It happens. Just like agent or editor rejections, it probably isn’t personal (although, when you know who a proof is being sent to, it’s a good idea to do a quick search on your blog or website or forums you frequent to make sure that if the writer in question does a google search, it won’t turn up you proclaiming to all and sundry that their latest book blows, or you hate their MC, or whatever. Because if that’s the case, then yeah, their “no” just might be personal). Your book simply may not be to their taste, and that’s fine. It’s nothing to get upset about.
Of course, sometimes they say yes, too. My Karen Marie Moning quote came this way; I didn’t actually even know my editor had sent her the books, but she had. All three of them. Karen’s blurb is for the entire series, and it’s lovely to see. I’d never met or spoken to Karen before, but her enthusiasm is of course wonderful, and I’m very, very grateful for it.
The thing is, blurbs are wonderful to have. They’re fun, and exciting. But I’ve heard more than once readers say they don’t pay attention to them. Part of this is, I think, because of the fallacy that blurbs are just a tit-for-tat, that the blurbers in question don’t even read the books or they get paid to say nice things about them.
That always surprises me, frankly. Do you really think the writer in question has that little integrity? In some cases they’re talking about writers they read and enjoy, even.
But blurbs are fun, and they’re good to have. Blurbs are important to bookstore buyers–a good blurb from a big name can jump the order numbers–and they’re very helpful when it comes to selling foreign rights.
Plus they just make you feel good. For me, I like the sense of community that comes from blurbs. I like the reminder that deep down we really love books and reading, and that we’re in this together. I like that it’s an industry where people help each other out.
So here’s the ultimate point. Blurbs are great. You want them. But don’t beat yourself up over them. And it never hurts to be friendly, and to be kind. And of course to write a great book.
And I keep feeling like I’ve forgotten something important about the blurbs, but I don’t remember what it was (obviously).
On Tuesday I’m going to go into more detail about the giveaway I’m doing for the UNHOLY GHOSTS release, but just in case the book starts appearing on shelves this early… If you buy UG, you get a free sample of the first three chapters of the second book, UNHOLY MAGIC. You email me with a scan of your receipt (or forwarded from an online site), or a picture of you with the book in somewhere that’s obviously not a bookstore, or a picture of the book somewhere not a bookstore if you’re shy, or a picture of your ereader with the book on it, or even just telling me your favorite parts of the book so I know you did read it.
The rules aren’t strict because this isn’t really a contest. It’s just a giveaway; a thank you to everyone who buys UG. Yes, I will be doing a few small giveaways as well, but again, not huge things, and just as a thank you.
You do not have to buy the book after or by any specific date, or in any specific place, or in any specific format, to qualify. I’ll probably end the giveaway in the third or fourth week of June, but that’s it.
Like I said I’m going to discuss it more on Tuesday but I wanted to get the info out there now, just in case it starts getting shelves REALLY early.