Tuesday, September 05, 2017

4 reasons asking for blurbs before you query is a BAD IDEA

Recently, a writer sending a requested full included a blurb from a successful author, one whose name I recognized.  After sending my "got this, will read" reply, the writer wrote back asking if I'd noticed the blurb.

Yes I had.
And because he asked, I had to tell him why this was not only not a positive, it was actually a negative.

Here's why:

Asking a writer to read your manuscript for a blurb is asking a major favor of that writer. Six hours to read, and whatever time it takes to write the blurb. It's a BIG ask. Which means you get to make that ask exactly once.

(1) Writers who ask for blurbs at the query stage have squandered their opportunity to ask for a blurb on the finished manuscript.

And in case you're wondering, most manuscripts go through at least two revisions: notes from me before submission, and the editorial process with the editor after acquisition.  It's entirely possible the book you send as your requested full is a very different version of what will be published. There arises a very knotty ethical problem. The book the author blurbed isn't the one being published. That bothers me.

And because you've already asked, we can't use whatever inside track you had to get the blurb in the first place, for this new revised version.

That's one reason not to ask for blurbs at the query stage.

(2) The second is because if your first book doesn't sell, and you write a second or third, you've squandered your chance to ask Good Connection for a blurb on the new book.  Remember this is a Big Ask. You don't get two bites here. (By way of info, at least five of my writers queried me on books that were NOT the first books published)

(3) And the third reason? Published writers hate it. Ask at the wrong part of the process, and your chance to ask at the right part is reduced.

And if you think I'm overstating how much writers don't like this, check out the thread at @RGay's twitter feed that started with this



And the fourth reason?
(4) It's cause I don't care what anyone else thinks right now.
My opinion about your work, and my ability to sell it is the only thing that matters to me.

Bottom line: Any agent who asks for blurbs from established writers at the query stage is asking you to do something that's not in your best interest. Proceed accordingly.

34 comments:

Theresa said...

I was heartened--and a bit shocked--when I saw Roxane Gay take on this issue on Twitter. (Her whole thread had lots of good advice.) I'd never heard of this for an unpublished manuscript. And like Janet pointed out, this is a big ask. Save it for when you really need it.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Another thing I didn't know I needed to worry about!

And if Roxane Gay doesn't like it in addition to our QOTKU along with all of her excellent logic about why it's a bad idea, that will not come on the hamster wheel with me.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OMG Lisa you are soooo brave "to" well, you know.

Anyway, if someone told me I had to find a famous writer to read my stuff and write a blurb about it, at the query stage, I'd take up knitting or woodworking or entomology.

It would be a honor to be asked to read and blurb for someone else though. But, because I'm the most famous person I know (and most humble) I'd have to turn down the request.

Amy Schaefer said...

I can understand wanting to give yourself every possible chance to be noticed, but this is too much. Write a solid query, write an excellent book. People get plucked out of the slush pile on the strength of their work alone, they really do.

Lennon Faris said...

When I first read the title I thought, OK well I would never do that anyway!

But reading through, I can understand the temptation to flaunt any & all connections. (Even though I know JANET goes on the story alone, it's human nature to pay attention to connections.)

BUT since Janet's arguments make sense... I will never do this.

Full circle in 3 minutes at 7 something in the morning!

Colin Smith said...

I guess (correct me if I'm wrong), you could look at different aspects of the query as serving different purposes:

1) The Salutation: Is this person professional, civil, or an a**hat?
2) The Body (the most important part): Is this a good premise for a novel? Something the agent can sell? Did the author write this in such a way that the agent wants to read the manuscript?
3) The Category: Does the author have at least a reasonable idea where this book fits in the publishing world?
4) The Word Count: Reasonable for the category, or does it look like the author doesn't know the category (e.g., a 40K word fantasy novel)?
5) The Author Bio (if required): Is this person an a**hat, or do they sound like a reasonably sane, rational person (at least for a writer)? Are they publishable?--i.e., do they have stories published in magazines? Does the author already have published novels that may be a bonus or a liability?
6) Pages: Can the author actually write? Does this look like it needs lots of editing (full of typos, grammatical errors, etc.)? Has the agent changed her mind about whether she can sell it? Is the agent left wanting more after five pages, or is she bored/grabbing for adult beverages after the first paragraph?
7) Synopsis (if required): Can the author tell a story in a way that will hold the reader's interest? Are there good plot twists? Does it end in a way that doesn't leave the reader feeling cheated?

As I see it, blurbs of recommendation have no place here. In all of the above, the only reader that matters is the agent. What she thinks of the novel is primary. And her opinion of the work is based on the work itself, not what someone else thinks of it. Because that famous writer person could be wrong. I don't like all the books JK Rowling likes, even if I like most of her own books. Being a published writer doesn't guarantee everyone will like what you like. Those blurbs help sell the published book to the general reader.

Kyler said...

Oh jeez, I never thought of some of this logic before. My query already has 3 blurbs in it, and it's gotten requests. I guess I'll remove them from future queries. The praise has been fairly general, though, and would probably still hold up after future revisions. The title changed a while back and I asked one of the blurbers if it was OK to change the title in the blurb, and she said sure. Thanks for letting us know about this Janet.

Janet Reid said...

Kyler you don't have to take them out. It's not a deal breaker at all. It's just not a bonus. And since you got them, you've already
used your Ask for these writers.

Kyler said...

Hey thanks Janet! Now I can relax for the rest of the day!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

This one would never occurred to me to ever do until publication date secured, edits done, and then I would quivering under a rock with agent prodding me with a sharp object to ask authors for a blurb. Anyhow, yeah, this is a big ask, and I am certain the more popular an author, the more they are asked for this kind of thing all the time.

Sherry Howard said...

I always wondered about blurbs, but thought publishers usually secured those from other writers within their sphere. I try to avoid the rodent wheel whenever possible. I like the writing part, not the spinning.

Sherry Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AJ Blythe said...

I'm with Lisa on not knowing this was a thing to worry about. It would never occur to me to ask for a quote at the querying stage.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Sherry This is in reference to including or acquiring blurbs for querying an unsold ms. If you have a publisher, you're past all that and you're going to print. That's the time you and your publisher would seek blurbs for the jacket and marketing.

Colin Smith said...

Sherry: I don't believe these are intended as acts of worship. Retreating from a room without turning your back on the monarch is a sign of respect, and, perhaps, for the monarch's security--she has your eye the whole time you're in the room with her. The Prime Minister bowing and kissing the monarch's hand is a sign of fealty. As in many cultures, when you bow, you symbolically lower yourself to the other person. This is appropriate for the British Prime Minister, since the Queen is officially the head of state, and though she has no ruling power, the government serves at her pleasure. You have to be careful with this one, though, since bowing to a foreign head of state could be interpreted as an act of submission, though intended as showing respect and humility.

BJ Muntain said...

I would be decidedly uncomfortable asking a published writer (unless they were a VERY good friend or critique partner) for a blurb for a book that doesn't have a publishing contract behind it.

Kyler: One thing to remember, though. Even if the praise was pretty general (most blurbs are), it doesn't mean you can use the same blurb for a rewritten book. If the book isn't mostly the same (and I won't give a percentage, because it may be different for each blurber), using the blurb may be dishonest. If they loved it when they read it, then you changed something they loved, they might not love the current version.

Kyler said...

Good point, BJ, thanks. I'm in touch with my blurbers and would certainly make sure that everything remains honest if revisions are extensive.

Beth Carpenter said...

I suppose the next step up from asking for a blurb would be asking the famous writer to recommended Unpublished's manuscript to his agent. Would that be a plus?

However, if I were a famous writer, I could see this could get awkward, especially if he was just trying to encourage a fellow writer but really didn't LOVE the story.

Barbara Etlin said...

Good to know that we don't have to do this and probably shouldn't. I made this mistake, but it was on the advice of a well-respected writing conference. It took every crumb of chutzpah I had and I hated asking. (But if I'd waited until the book had a contract, I'd still be waiting. And the author died in the meantime...)

Sarah said...

Yes, Beth! I think asking people you don't know well to recommend you to their agent is also awkward- and not super effective.

When I was trying to find representaiton, a friend offered to tell her agent that I was submitting. (I think Adams Literary was getting +10,000 submissions/year then. They ask for the entire manuscript.) I was delighted! What was interesting, though, was that my friend's rec simply meant that my ms was plucked from the slushpile ... and given to an (amazing!) assistant. If the assistant hadn't liked it, and then if my agent hadn't liked it, the rec wouldn't have meant anything. The only thing it did was get my ms read faster, which is something, but not huge.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Regarding blurbs from "big name authors"... Unless they're a real life personal friend, you'll most likely be going through a gatekeeper such as their publicist and/or manager. If "you" are with a big house, if I'm not mistaken, then the powers that be would seek blurbs.

If you're with a small house, then both you and your editor might reach out to various people. I never asked a big name author to read the ARCs for my first three books... but I was super proud of the ones we did get.

Off topic, as it's a slow comment day (and I'm seeking sympathy): Our kids are all in FL, and all in the path of the hurricane. This one looks serious, so they're coming up to our house (middle GA) Thursday night till Irma blows on by. Mon? Tues? Here's the part where I need sympathy... or something... There will be a total of TEN kids under the age of twelve. Our family is a bit of yours, mine, and ours. But seriously. Ten. Help. Me.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

2Ns: it's not sooo much bravery as it was too early in the morning to have my wits about me yet!

Melanie Sue: Sympathy readily given. Ten? Under 12 years-old? holymoly. You're a brave woman! But we already knew that, with your sanctuary there.

Colin Smith said...

Melanie: You do, indeed, have my sympathies. But they'll need to get out of the way of Irma, so it's nice they have somewhere to go. More than just a horse sanctuary. :) Blessings to you and yours!

Craig F said...

I have a couple of pretty well known friends who promised to write me blurbs when I got the ducks lined up. That was when I thought I would start with thrillers. I didn't and now I have to find some sci-fi writers to befriend.

OT: The state where I live is in full panic mode. There is not a drop of bottled water to be bought and half the battery sizes are sold out too. I remember back in the eighties when getting off a half day to prepare for a hurricane was considered enough. Runs on food, water and sundries didn't happen until the winds picked up and feeder bands could be discerned.

I think I liked it better then.

kdjames.com said...

I've never bought a book on the strength of a cover blurb. In fact, as busy as most "well known" writers are, I'm more than a little skeptical about whether they read the entire book before blurbing. I'm not alone in this. So I find it disturbing that AGENTS and PUBLISHERS are asking for this at the query stage. An agent's opinion/pitch to an acquiring editor, or theirs to the marketing department, should hold far more weight. This smacks of a lack of confidence. Never mind the unfair/inappropriate burden it places on the querier. Thanks for holding forth on this topic, Janet.

Melanie, I'm glad your family is getting out of the way of the storm, but that's a LOT of kids. Maybe turn them all out into the pasture with the herd? Give them each a bale of hay? But honestly, if anyone can handle that much commotion, it's you. :) Hang in there.

Craig and Joseph and Karen and whoever else lives down that way (I know I'm forgetting someone)--- I'll be thinking of you in coming days. Please check in as you're able once the storm passes?

kdjames.com said...

And while we're at it--- those of you out West who live near the places on fire, please stay safe. Janice's fire story is still enough to send a shiver of fear up my spine. We don't need more to add to that.

BJ Muntain said...

Belated congrats to D Willadsen!

Melanie Sue: If you don't have a bunch of toys and games to pull out of somewhere, you might try giving the kids as many paper rolls (toilet paper, paper toweling, wrapping paper) etc. as you can get together, and maybe some crayons/markers/high-lighters, etc. and let the kids use their imagination. There may be art, sword duels, or any number of interesting things they can think of.

But I don't have kids, and that's the only thing I can think of to keep them busy and entertained. Movies may help at times, too.

Good luck. And prayers and thoughts go out to everyone in dangerous areas.

Lennon Faris said...

OT - thinking of all you in 'danger' zones. Melanie oh my. That's a hurricane inside!

Janet Reid said...

Ten kids under the age of twelve sounds like a damn good work crew to me. (oh lord, I am channelling my mum!)

Let me know if you need more books to keep 'em busy.

Panda in Chief said...

Yeah, I was thinking "put them to work" too.
But that's because I am evil. At least they will be safe.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

HA! Janet... While everyone keeps asking me how I'm going to keep them entertained, I respond: "Toys? Games? Movies? Pfft! Please. This is free labor! Even a four year old can fill water troughs and two year olds can pull weeds!"

I will add: When the babies are coming up, I always make an elaborate treasure hunt along the horse paths in the woods (although it's never been ten babies at a time). They have to find notes and clues in bottles and under rocks. The "prize" is simply a special tree where we hang glittering fairies from the branches. We adults gasp and point and express our awe... in the hopes the babies all believe in magic a little longer.

Beth Carpenter said...

Melanie, I love the treasure hunt and fairy tree idea. I'll bet their visits to you will be their favorite memories. Still, ten, wow. My thoughts are with you, and with everyone in danger from floods, fires, or wind.

John Davis Frain said...

Sorry I'm late for the festivities. I've had too much fun with other parties today. (By fun, I mean work. And by parties, I mean meetings. Otherwise, it's been a delightful day.)

It strikes me that, judging by your explanation here, seeking a blurb is similar to inquiring with a publisher about publication before seeking representation from an agent. Even if it feels like you've succeeded, you probably haven't.

Granted, blowing your inquiry with a publisher is probably akin to Irma and asking a writer for a blurb is closer to a tropical storm. But either way, you're all wet at the end of the day with little to show for it.

Alright, let's get our pens out. Now is a great time to write.

Lynne Main said...

The thought of getting blurbs at the query stage never crossed my mind. Hell, just getting a well-written query down is enough of a nerve-wracking endeavor.

Melanie, that's awesome you're taking everyone in from Irma. But ten young'uns under age twelve...hoo boy! The important thing is everyone is safe. And ol' Irma is looking to be on par with Harvey. So not good. Irma is hitting the US Virgin Islands as a Category 5 storm...yikes!

Prayers to all (hurricane and fire people) once again.