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Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress: How to Get a Blurb for Your Book

I’m no Gary Shteyngart, but I’m not entirely without experience when it comes to “blurbing” other authors’ books. (“Blurbs,” as you likely know, are the brief endorsements that authors and publishers seek pre-publication to help garner interest in and enthusiasm for new books.)

Last week I had the great pleasure of attending a reading by Susan Kushner Resnick. Sue read from her latest book, You Saved Me, Too: What a Holocaust Survivor Taught Me About Living, Dying, Loving, Fighting and Swearing in Yiddish. I was eager to meet Sue and hear her read from the book, in part because we’d had some nice exchanges over email stemming from Sue’s request that I blurb it.

Sue has given me permission to share with you that initial request. So if you want to see how one author got someone (me) to blurb her book, please read on!

Subject: From [NAME OF COMMON ACQUAINTANCE REDACTED]

Hi Erika,

[COMMON ACQUAINTANCE] gave me your email address, but I’ve admired you for a while and had planned to write you this most uncomfortable email for weeks. I kept putting it off, until I noticed that you support Blue Card. So maybe, maybe, you’ll agree to support a book I’ve written about what happens when Blue Card isn’t around.

Ok, my memoir is about more than that, but a big chunk focuses on my struggle to get a mentally ill Holocaust survivor into a Jewish nursing home and my vast disappointment when the mainstream Jewish community in Boston refuses to help. It’s also about meeting a stranger and having him become a soul mate, making peace with feeling like a bad Jew, talking back to God and searching for kindness.

You Saved Me, Too: What a Holocaust Survivor Taught Me About Living, Dying, Loving, Fighting and Swearing in Yiddish will be published by Globe Pequot Press in November. Would you consider reading a galley and giving me a blurb if you like what you read? The galleys are available now and the blurb isn’t needed until July.

A little about me: This will be my third published book, second memoir. The first, Sleepless Days, was about my experience with postpartum depression. My narrative nonfiction book, Goodbye Wifes and Daughters, is the story of a 1943 coal mine disaster told from the women’s points of view.

Thanks in advance for considering. I’m happy to send you an excerpt if you want.

Take good care,
Susan Kushner Resnick
www.susankushnerresnick.com

So, what “worked” here?

  • A highly personalized approached. Sue caught my attention by letting me know that she was contacting me via our common acquaintance (someone I respect quite a lot). Then, she zeroed in on my support for The Blue Card and suggested why that support might make her book especially interesting to me.
  • Presentation. See how relatively brief this is? See how correct (yet lively) the writing is? See how Sue included a link to her website so I didn’t have to take the extra step of Googling her myself to find it?
  • Timing/scheduling. Sue sent me this email in April and told me the blurb wouldn’t be needed until July. That seemed entirely feasible when I received the request.
  • Flattery. It gets you places! But Sue didn’t overdo it. In fact, the tone throughout this email seemed refreshingly understated and honest. In other words: authentic.
  • Other intangibles: Sue likely didn’t know that I have an interest in the subject of her other memoir (postpartum depression), although it’s possible that our common acquaintance had mentioned it. And her other book appealed to the professional historian in me. In sum, I finished reading this email thinking that Sue was someone whose writing I’d likely appreciate, and from there, it was a pretty short step to accepting the request.
  • All these months later, you can find my blurb excerpted on the book’s Amazon page. (At the bookstore reading last week, I saw a finished copy, so I can tell you that far more illustrious blurbers, plus segments of the book’s starred Publishers Weekly and Kirkus reviews, appear on the jacket.)

    But if you’re curious, here’s the full text of the blurb I supplied.

    “This book will make you uncomfortable. It’s not simply the horror of what Aron Lieb, who died at 91 in 2011, endured during the Holocaust. That story, or some variation of it, you probably know already. But the struggle to ensure that Aron’s end-of-life days would be comfortable, dignified, and above all companioned–that’s a lesser-known tale of survivor experience. That is Susan Kushner Resnick’s key contribution–to the literature, and to Aron’s life.”

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    11 Responses »

    1. I love hearing about when this sort of thing happens. The world – especially the writing world – is so much more connected that we realize.

    2. Hello Erika,

      Thanks again for another useful and thought-provoking post. In recent months, I had the difficult and awkward experience of asking for blurbs for my first book. I made five requests and got four responses. Then one must deal with the decision on which blurbs to use and where to place them.
      Each blurb was quite unique in commentary, with no language redundancy. That surprised me.
      My favorite was the blurb that dealt with the specific content and context of the poetry, avoiding
      excessive praise that can sometimes sound canned.
      I dreaded the task, as I think most writers do, and found myself very relieved when it was over. Of course I read that many blurbs are not authentic, and that editors and publishers will conjure up something themselves if no blurb requests are answered. That surprised me. As MFA students we had been told that blurbs are very important, and I can’t imagine something that matters so much being “made up.” With the advent of digital publishing, and so many independents marketing their work directly, I wonder if the practice of requesting blurbs from accomplished writers will wane. Perhaps full book reviews will replace them.

      • Thank you for sharing your experience, Mihku, and congratulations on your book. I have to say I’m horrified (and yet, should I really be so surprised?) by the idea that some blurbs are just made up. Sigh.

    3. This is a rare glimpse into an area that I would not have gotten otherwise Erika. Thank you for both being willing to share so candidly the process and result. How fortunate you were able to follow up with a meeting/reading! Sounds like it’s going to be an emotional read.

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