Dear Author Enablers,
My first novel was published recently by a very small house. I am working on another, due to come out in late spring. How does a neophyte obtain jacket endorsements from famous authors and trade publications?
We're going to reveal a big publishing secret—people buy those endorsements (or "blurbs") from a clearinghouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Say you want a Scott Turow blurb—you pay this clearinghouse, and Scott gets a cut.
We kid of course. There are several ways to go about getting endorsements from fellow authors, but it almost always helps if you have some kind of personal connection. Like most of us, authors get a kick out of reading their friends' books, and many are honored to be asked to provide endorsements for people—and work—that they love. So where does that put the first-timer with no fancy connections? You'll have to work harder, with longer lead time built in, to get the blurbs of your dreams.
Unless you, the author, have a Rolodex filled with personal friends who are best-selling writers, at most publishing companies it's the editor who gets endorsements. An editor usually starts with other authors in his or her stable, seeking endorsements from those whose books are similar to yours. For example, as exciting as it might be to get a quote from famous children's author Tomie dePaola, your editor wouldn't seek him out to endorse a psychological thriller about vampire dogs. By sticking solidly within your genre, the editor sees to it that the endorsements provide a helpful marketing tool meant to attract potential buyers.
If your publisher is unable to seek endorsements on your behalf, then it's up to you. This is where writers who make a point of becoming part of their local writing communities have an advantage. Is there an independent bookstore hosting regular events and book signings? Go. Meet people. Get to know the owners. Don't be a pest, but let people know you are about to have a book published. Is there a writers' conference nearby? Go. If you can't afford the tuition, volunteer to help out. Meet people. It won't happen overnight, but after a while you'll find that you are part of a thriving community of readers and writers—and you'll have met some established authors. Many cities have active chapters of organizations like the Women's National Book Association, groups that provide regular gatherings and networking opportunities. Go. Meet people.
You can also send out galleys with polite requests for endorsements. Write to the authors in care of their publishers and allow plenty of lead time. Don't take it hard if an author says no—many have a policy of not reading other people's work when they are writing—but it's possible that you'll catch someone at just the right time, and with just the right captivating manuscript, to get that endorsement.
Most publishers also send advance editions to industry magazines such as Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, a few months prior to publication. If your publisher doesn't offer in-house publicity support, then you'll have to do this part yourself, too.
Dear Author Enablers,
A publisher has requested I send my entire manuscript after having read the first three chapters. They will consider it "on speculation." Do I need an agent and would any agent really be interested in a writer in such an early career stage?
West Chester, Pennsylvania
That's weird. Is "on speculation" the publisher's wording, or yours? We think they mean, "we would like to consider publishing your book, assuming the whole story lives up to the promise of the first three chapters." They're not making any promises, and neither are you.
You'll want to have agent representation in place, if and when the time to negotiate a contract rolls around. The closer you get to an offer, the easier it will be to get an agent interested. Our two cents: don't sign anything without having a literary agent on board—but until then it seems like you're doing fine on your own. Start doing some homework now. Which agents represent the company's other successful authors? (A quick look at the acknowledgment pages will give you some clues.) If you don't have an agent in mind, start looking in Literary Market Place.
The Author Enablers are here to answer your questions about writing and publishing. Together, Kathi and Sam have more than 25 years of experience in book publishing. Kathi is an author, radio producer and former publicist; Sam is a marketing manager at a major publishing company and a freelance editor. They are also proud members of the Rock Bottom Remainders, the all-author rock band founded by Kathi in 1992. Email your questions
(along with your name and hometown), or visit their blog