The Hermit Poet

June 16, 2008

Making the Most of Your First Book: Blurbs

Filed under: First Book Advice,Uncategorized — admin @ 3:40 pm

(Also long overdue — here’s my post on blurbs)

If you’re like me, when you’re working on your manuscript, book blurbs and author statements are usually the furthest things from your mind. Your attention is on the poems and rightly so.

Once the book has been accepted, suddenly there is a mad scramble to line up your blurbs — which can often be something of a crap shoot — you just don’t know how people are going to respond, what they’ll write, and when they’ll turn it in.

Some things you should consider in advance:

  1. Blurbs from people you know - In general, this is the route that is taken. Most blurbs come from former or current professors, close personal writer friends, or long-time professional acquaintances. The good thing about doing this is that generally these people know what you stand for, what your project was about, and are willing to devote time and energy to write something compelling. However, sometimes these blurbs can seem less than genuine or suspect if a potential reader feels that the writer’s connection to these individuals is too close or tainted in some other way. It’s impossible to satisfy everyone, so if you go this route, it’s in your interest to choose people that will appear above the board and whose opinions are widely respected.
  2. Blurbs from people you don’t know or who you respect, but have no personal connection with – This is a tougher way to go, but does mean you can hopefully count on a more unbiased response to your work. If you go this route, choose someone whose work has meant something to you in your development as a writer. This makes it easier to approach them — you can honestly tell them that you have admired their work for some time and that you feel that they might enjoy reading an advance copy of the book. Send a short selection of poems from the manuscript and ask if they would be willing to look at the book and if they enjoy it, possibly write something on its behalf. Do this early in the editing process. Even if you have to send a binder-clipped copy of manuscript, send it early enough that this person has time to reflect on it. After a few weeks, check in with them to see if they have received the manuscript and if they would be willing to write a blurb. The more well-known the author, the busier they are likely to busy — be prepared for them to turn down the invitation and thank them nonetheless. Have some backup plans in place. This is why you started early.
  3. Let your blurbers know their deadlines and follow up. This is key. If they know when you need the blurbs, they can plan for it. If there is no fixed deadline, then they may put it aside and not get to it. Regardless what the actual deadline is with your press / editor, you should build in a buffer and set an earlier date with your blurb writers. This way you can appear generous if they ask for a little more time :)
  4. Create a brief description or synopsis of the book (if possible, several). This can help a blurb writer (especially one unfamiliar with your work) a general sense of what your book is about and why it might interest them. You’ll need to be able to describe your book in a few sentences anyway — it’s part of the short sell that you’ll be giving whenever someone asks, “So what’s your book about anyway?”  Sometimes I tell people:  “My book moves between narrative and lyric in its exploration of loss, exile, and return as it pertains to the loss and recovery of countries, languages, and family.”  I might follow up with something more personal.  In a different audience, I might mention its strong elegiac turns or its preoccupation with travel. Or maybe its concern with memory and forgetting. Or maybe tell the story of how it became an unintended elegy of sorts for my father who was dying even as I was finishing and revising the book — and whose passing ultimately shaped the book into what it became. Or maybe how it’s a love story about loss. Depending on your audience, you should have a variety of ways to talk about your book.
  5. Keep your blurbs to a maximum of 3. Really. Sometimes less is more. Try to keep them at a reasonable size as well — if the blurb is too long, a potential buyer isn’t likely to read all of it. Keep the long version on the website — along with any extra unused blurbs and reviews.
  6. Consider what audiences each of your blurb writers will bring. Your blurb writers should help a reader triangulate where you and your writing fall. You are an unknown, but hopefully your blurb writers are known to your reader (or least their tastes can be surmised). If you write primarily narrative free verse poetry and have blurbs from avant garde language poets or new formalist poets, regardless of how good the blurbs are, you are creating confusion for a potential buyer. There’s a clear disconnect and the wrong audiences are being attracted — simultaneously, your best potential buyers are missing the connection. If there is a range of approaches in your book, then try to have blurbs from poets with a range of styles.

2 Responses to “Making the Most of Your First Book: Blurbs”

  1. Anne Says:

    Great post! I will admit, very quietly, that even as I start sending out my first book-length manuscript I have been daydreaming about blurbs. I was able to get two nice blurbs for my chapbook without much fuss, for which I’m very grateful, but I think they’re probably more important for the book and so I want to put some thought into it. I have some names in mind, so hopefully I’ll get the opportunity to ask them at some point. :)

    Your #4 is the one that will probably kill me though. Aiiieeeeee. Once I’m finished with this round of submissions, maybe I’ll sit down and start trying to write something up. It does sound like a worthwhile thing to do.

  2. Kate Says:

    Very helpful, Neil! I’m definitely going to use some of your tips.


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