How to Get Great Quotes for the Cover of Your Novel
By Marilyn Henderson
Ever wondered how an author got that fabulous quote on her book jacket?
Ninety-five times out of one hundred, she asked for it. And that's exactly what you should do.
Glowing quotes, also called blurbs or puffs, help sell your book. If you're like most readers, you read the blurbs and cover copy on a novel before you buy it. They stir your interest and excite you enough to plunk down the money to take the book home so you can begin reading it.
The cover copy tells you enough about the story to tempt you to buy. A quote by an author you enjoy or whose name you see on best-seller lists and in bookstores convinces you it must be good or he or she wouldn't recommend it. The better known the author's name, the more the puff influences you.
I don't know any famous authors.
Wait! Don't quit reading because I'm going to tell you the secret you absolutely must know in order to get that puff.
The secret: Do your homework first.
Yes. Unless you know the writer personally, you need to learn all you can about her and her work. Read as many of the books she's published as possible, especially the most recent ones. If you have already read some, read them again.
This time, read as a writer, not as a reader. Notice how that author applies techniques, special ways she handles descriptions, the types of protagonists she creates, and the kinds of action the plot includes.
When an author gives another writer a blurb, it implies an endorsement or recommendation of the novel. Her fans may buy your book on the strength of her liking it enough to let her name be on it. It also implies her fans will like your book, so you must choose the author you ask carefully.
If her stories do not include on-stage murder, violence or profanity, for example, her fans don't expect any in a book she recommends. They assume a novel she "endorses" will be similar to hers. If it isn't, her publisher may get angry letters, and she may lose fans and sales.
Just as you must know the audience you write for, you must know the audience of the authors you ask for blurbs.
What are my chances of getting the quote?
Good if you lay a foundation ahead of time. Start planning long before the book goes to press. If you plan a career as a novelist, you should begin learning about marketing right from the start.
Attend writers' conventions and seminars.
If you attend a writers' convention or seminar, the promotional material announcing it usually features the names of prominent authors who will be there. If one of them writes in the same subgenre as you do, make it a point to read as many of his or her books as possible before you go to the meeting. Notice something specific that stands out as especially well handled. Then formulate a question you would like to ask the author about it.
This shouldn't be an idle question but one you'd really like answered. It should have depth but be easily answered in a few moments.
At the conference, join a group around the author and ask your question when an opportunity presents itself. If you show genuine interest in her work this way, she will remember you when you stand in line to have the book autographed or the next time she meets you.
Write a letter.
If you don't go to conventions yet, there's another way to accomplish the same thing
When I was a fledgling writer, three writing friends and I decided to meet and discuss ways to advance our efforts to get published. We brainstormed a while, and then one of the group members, who was also a teacher, suggested an assignment. Each of us should write a fan letter to a successful writer and comment on something we liked about his or her work and ask an intelligent, sincere question.
I thought it was a great idea. I chose two authors I liked and wrote letters the very next day to Phyllis A. Whitney and Ed McBain. There wasn't any doubt about either of them being successful. Their books made best-seller lists as soon as they came out.
Both of them answered my letters and question.
Harvest long-term results.
Years after the letter-writing episode, I met Phyllis Whitney at a mystery writers' seminar. She remembered answering my letter. A few years after that, when I had sold my first hardcover suspense novel, I wrote her again asking for a quote for the book. She graciously agreed to read the book and gave me one.
I also met Ed McBain years later, but I never asked him for a puff. I realized from his response to my early letter that I would never be able to do the in-depth research he had done, and I probably never would write a police procedural. That meant he was not a likely candidate for me to ask for a quote.
The point is, both authors were well-established, yet they responded to the friendly, intelligent letter and question from an unknown writer. This happens far more often than you might guess. Writers enjoy knowing their work is read and appreciated. Writers enjoy helping other writers as long as they don't impose and are sincere.
The question I asked both writers in my original letters? How did they research the settings that came across so authentically in their novels?
How do I find the author's address?
You don't. You should always write to the author in care of their publisher. Publishers send all mail on to authors. It's bad form to search out an author's address even if you can do so.
Get other blurbs.
As you progress in your career, your publisher may ask other authors to do puffs for your book. This doesn't usually happen until you have established a reputation. Other blurbs come from reviews when you begin collecting them.
Not only do writers and reviewers give quotes. If your novel's background is political, a political figure may give one, as may someone in law enforcement, business, law, medicine, journalism or other professions.
If you dream of someone one day asking, "How did you get that famous author to give you that fabulous quote?" begin now on that homework and laying the groundwork. And keep an eye on those writers who are definitely on their way up and establish contacts early whenever you can. They may pay off some day!
Marilyn Henderson, 42-year novelist, coach and manuscript critic. She helps writers master the advanced skills of novel writing so they become published authors. There's no substitute for experience. Let hers work for you: http://WritingANovelThatSells.com and http://mysterymentor.com. E-mail Marilyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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