Blurb Your Enthusiasm

December 18, 2020 § 18 Comments

By Lisa Kusel

A woman in one of my Facebook writing groups recently solicited advice on how best to approach a “rockstar” level person for a blurb, given that she’s a “nobody.” I laughed when I read the post, remembering a time long ago…

…It’s 2005 and my second book/first novel is soon to be released and my editor is all askew with worry that I don’t have any blurbs for its back cover. She’d sent off 30 galleys to A-list writers, but none had yet to respond. I suspected not one of those 30 authors were going to put out.

Why? Mostly because I wasn’t part of the in-crowd. Much like what goes on in Hollywood, it all comes down to who you know, and I knew no one in the literosphere. (If you look at some of the “highly praised” novels on your bookshelf there’s a good chance you’ll see a lot of the same authors passing blurbs back and forth amongst themselves like massages in a college dorm.)

While attempting to secure my own valuations, my editor asked me to blurb a book by one of her authors. I said, “Of course,” since that was the polite thing to do. Ultimately, I found the book—a memoir about growing up on an Indian ashram—a little too self-absorbed. (This, from a writer who would go on to publish a self-absorbed memoir about living in a bamboo hut in Bali). As I needed all the good blurb karma I could round up I opined that the book was “wonderfully entertaining and wholly original.”

Once I realized that said blurb karma wasn’t going to kick in, I emailed A-list author Jennifer Weiner directly. Her (many bestselling) books had little in common with mine other than that they were both pigeon-holed as “chick-lit.” Her reply to my ask was curt, polite, and utterly forgettable. Interestingly, in an essay she wrote nine years later, she decries blurbs but goes on to say how sympathetic she is to blurb-seekers:

It’s hard out there for a new writer. It’s especially hard for new women writers who, statistics tell us, are less likely to get published or reviewed. If you’re lucky enough to be in a position to help, why wouldn’t you? I believe in karma, in paying it forward, in using whatever influence I have for good.

Not having been in the path of Weiner’s forward-paying behavior, I began to look further afield. I read a news clip about the actress Emma Thompson who said she adored traveling to Zanzibar. Since my novel takes place almost entirely on the Tanzanian island, I felt it reasonable to ask a famous movie star to blurb a novel by an unknown writer.

A nobody.

As luck would have it, a writer friend of mine knew an agent who knew her agent who generously offered to send the book to her in London. Alas. She didn’t blurb it, but she did mail me a lovely handwritten note on personal stationery. She apologized that she couldn’t find the time to read my book as she was too “snowed under,” but she wished me all the very best.

By the time Emma’s (naturally we’re on a first-name basis) note arrived I’d received three good-enough blurbs: one from a local author whose reading I’d attended. The other two came from lesser-known writers enlisted by my editor. One called my book a “sexy triumph.” The other stated that my “ambitious debut novel brims with heart and heartache.” (My assumption is that they, too, were trying to garner their own blurb karma.)

Did sales of my novel suffer because I didn’t get any rockstar blurbs? Maybe. It also might have been because it’s not a very good novel (please don’t tell my agent I said that). It started out great but then the editor who bought it in the first place left the publishing house for the opportunity to edit Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. The new editor eviscerated my plot, wanted more sex, and, well, that part of the story is best left for another time…

So, I will tell that woman in my Facebook writing group that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to getting attention from A-listers. I will point out that it’s not going to be easy to extract blurbs from famous people, but I will encourage her to give it a try. I will remind her that even somebodies were once nobodies and maybe, just maybe, one of them will remember that and actually pay it forward.

Lisa Kusel is the author of Rash, a Memoir, as well as the short story collection Other Fish In The Sea and the well-blurbed novel Hat Trick. She is presently writing a young adult novel at her desk overlooking Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont. Read more of her essays on her blog and follow her on Instagram.

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§ 18 Responses to Blurb Your Enthusiasm

  • juliemcgue says:

    This is an excellent commentary on the excruciating process of attaining blurbs from famous folks for unknown authors. I too succumbed to the fantasy that writers in my genre with themes similar to mine would help me out. None did, but… a big shout out to Lisa Wingate! While she felt unable to blurb my book due to her busy schedule, she offered to plug my memoir about the search for my birth relatives on social media around launch time. This is an appeal that debut author’s might use in addition to gaining the blurbs.

    • lisa_kusel says:

      Thank you, Julie. Let’s hear it for less excruciating forms of generosity. (That was nice of you to shout-out Lisa Wingate who, like Emma, was too snowed under. You get points for that. x)

  • This is actually very helpful. I am one of those trying to break into the Writer’s Universe, but I am constantly held by my own fear of being a forever nobody. I felt inspired to go ahead anyway haha 🙂

    • lisa_kusel says:

      This comment turned my gray snowy morning bright. Truly: it’s not what others say, right? It’s what you feel/think about your art that matter. Can you imagine Dostoevsky’s editors trying to round up blurbs? NO FEAR!!!! You can never be a NOBODY. You are you, beautiful individual you.

  • rachaelhanel says:

    One way to guarantee that a big name won’t blurb your book is to never ask! The odds increase when you actually send the request 🙂 Good for you in aiming high! That’s good advice to follow. Love that you got a personal note from Emma Thompson!

  • You were so brave to ask. You set a useful example, and your candor is much-appreciated.

    Even when I was closely associated with authors because of the local literary society for which I set up readings and later during my MFA program, I was too embarrassed to ask for a blurb.

    I told a well-published author I admire about the novella I was working on and she asked to read it. She offered many generous compliments. Even so, I have not asked for a blurb.

  • lisa_kusel says:

    Is it too late? If it’s not…um…

  • joellefraser says:

    I enjoyed this very much, though it brought back those painful, embarrassing memories of my own blurb-seeking (back in 2001)! My takeaway from that time is like your own–it doesn’t hurt to ask.

  • A hand-written note from Emma Thompson?! I’d treasure that forever, to hell with blurbs! Seriously, I love your humor in this essay and I thank you for sharing your experience. I always read blurbs and have noticed a clique-type quality to them. It can’t hurt to try A-listers but I suspect I’ll have to rely on my own clique for blurbs.

  • lisa_kusel says:

    Thank you Marie! I agree–hence why I still have the note. She’s divine. And no, it can never hurt to try. Never. xx

  • Polly Hansen says:

    Wow, you got a hand written note from Emma Thompson! If you had talked yourself out of asking, you wouldn’t have written to her, she wouldn’t have written back, and I wouldn’t have gotten to see her hand writing and know just how much more I love her because she is definitely so cool as to take time to personally write to you. Way to go Lisa! …It occurs to me though, that if I want blurbs from particular authors, I might regularly send them fan mail long before I ask. I shall have to consider that for the future if I ever get that far in the publishing world. Congrats on your being there. Now I’ll have to check out your work!

    • lisa_kusel says:

      Polly. Of course I would love ET to read THIS essay but she scorns all social media, apparently. Bummer that. Her handwriting is as illegible as she is charming, right? I think it’s probably less important to send fan mail than it is to read the work of authors you so admire before querying them. I should have thought through sending J. Weiner an ask since, um, I’d never even read her books (bad Lisa). And hey, thanks for checking me out. Let me know what you find. 🙂 Best to you always PH. lisa x

  • […] I will tell that Facebook writer that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to getting attention from A-listers. I will point out that it’s not going to be easy to extract blurbs from famous people, but I will encourage her to give it a try. I will remind her that even somebodies were once nobodies and maybe, just maybe, one of them will remember that and actually pay it forward.—————-This essay was also published in the 12/18/2020 edition of Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog.   […]

  • […]  A few weeks ago the Brevity Blog published a blog essay of mine about the time I asked the actress Emma Thompson to blurb one of my novels. As expected, […]

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