Thursday, July 17, 2014

Excuse Me, Will You Blurb My Self-Published Book?

Thriller Guy gets a lot of requests for blurbs and reviews from writers who are self publishing, either in Kindle, in paper or both. He used to get requests from publicists who were flacking their client’s regularly published books, but TG didn’t/doesn’t like doing it because of his Godlike position as a Big Time Book Reviewer. It just didn’t seem like the right thing to do, ethically, vis-à-vis his professional position. But this concern doesn’t apply so much when talking about the self-publishers, and TG is aware of and sympathetic to their publishing plight. This is becoming more and more a problem for TG and his published writer friends. (Problem is probably too strong a word, and will certainly garner no sympathy from the very folks TG is addressing.) This scramble for blurbs has come about because of the seismic shift in the publishing industry, where more and more writers are either eschewing legacy publishers from the beginning or resorting to ePublishing because of failure with the former. One of the ways to advertise self-published books after they’re up on Kindle is to get as many people to write a review as possible, hopefully a positive review. And when the writers are advertising the books on the web or elsewhere they love to have these short blurbs from successful writers with recognizable names. Hence, asking these published writer friends for blurbs.

But there are difficulties.

Friendship. Often these folks will come up to the published writer at parties, book signings, kids soccer games, anywhere, and play their friend or friend of a friend or friend of a relative card, and it is very difficult to turn them down. The published writer always feels like some grade of asshole for refusing to do it.

Time. Every hour TG spends reading your book means that Allen Appel is not working on his. Any hour any writer spends reading someone else’s book means an hour not working on his own book. Often, those writers asking for a short review or blurb will helpfully just prewrite what they want for TG or someone else to say and send it to him to approve. While this does solve the time problem, it does not solve the honesty problem. TG has never lent his imprimatur to any book that he has not first read. (For some reason TG is writing like an old man this morning. Imprimatur? Seismic? Eschewing? Where the hell are these words coming from? Thank God for spellcheck.) And most of TG’s writer friends feel the same way. Fortunately, TG can use his book reviewer excuse, but most writers just have to hem and haw and often allow themselves to be roped into something they really, really don’t want to do.

Money. TG actually does this sort of thing as part of his business. He doesn’t charge to write reviews and blurbs (some people do) but he does charge to read a book and offer comments and help. It’s not the writing the review or the blurb that burns up time, it’s reading the book. And as TG has already pointed out, he’ll have to read the book before he can do anything. So, essentially, when the hopeful writer asks for the blurb he’s actually asking TG to supply his service for free. And as any writer will tell you, time is his most precious commodity, so asking for it is just like asking for his wallet so you can have some of his money.

Honesty. What if the writer can’t weasel out of it and goes ahead and reads the book and it sucks? Take it from TG, this is often the case. In fact it is almost always the case. As anyone who has ever read this blog knows, writing is tough and very few people are actually good at it. So, is the favor seeker going to be happy with an honest assessment if it’s not positive? Of course not, he’s just looking for the great blurb or review, he’s not interested in honesty. So then the blurber/reviewer is just supposed to lie? Believe it or not, TG has always found that most writers are an above average lot when it comes to honesty, so they hate to be put in this position. So they either go ahead and lie, obfuscate in any number of writer ways, or piss off the favor seeker. A no-win situation.

This is not to say TG doesn’t review/blurb for a few of his writer pals. These are a few advisors who provide the same service for Allen Appel. So what happens when the favor seeker offers to return the favor? He’ll be glad to read your book and advise you if you’ll read his. More embarrassment. Frankly, TG and Allen Appel have all the help they need and, thanks, but no thanks, it’s just not going to happen. So what’s a self-published writer to do?

Here’s the way to go about asking for this. When you meet a published writer, he/she will generally be happy to meet you as well. As TG has written many times, writing is a sometimes unbearably lonely and difficult proposition and it’s always nice to meet a kindred soul. So go ahead and yak about the difficulties, complain about the business, talk a bit about your own book, but don’t ask for any favors. If the writer is interested in you or your book -- and you’d be surprised how often this might happen -- he’ll ask to see your book. Go ahead and give him a copy. If he looks at the book and decides to read it and likes it, he’ll probably offer to help you out. Without being asked. This will always take much longer than the writer of the book thinks it should take (please don’t call or write asking how the reading is going) and if there is a complete silence, please don’t ask the writer how he liked the book because you are not going to be happy with the answer. TG guarantees that.

All of the above has actually been a preamble to the original topic TG wanted to discuss: BookLife, a service from Publishers Weekly. As I said before, there are lots of services on the Internet that promise to get you reviews of your books, as long as you pay them their fees, which can be quite high. Kirkus, one of the chief names in the reviewing business, charges $425 for a review with a nine week turnaround time or $575 for a 4 to 6 weeks turnaround time. That’s a lot of money. Here’s a blog by an indie writer about his experience with Kirkus and some suggestions as to where you could better spend your money on reviews. 

Before doing any of this, I’d first check out BookLife.

I only recently became aware of this program. The BookLife site is still in beta, and it’s a bit difficult to navigate, but persistence will get you where you want to go. You have to create and account, but it’s all free. You then can submit your book for review and if it’s chosen it will be reviewed and the review will run in a supplement in the magazine. PW also has an advanced marketing service called PW Select that costs $149. TG doesn’t know much about this service and is neither recommending it or not recommending it. If anyone out there is part of PW Select, comment and let us know your experience. One thing TG does know is that a (good) PW review is the best piece of advertising you can have for your book, so signing up and sending your book for possible review is one of the first steps in having a successful book launch. Did TG mention that it’s for free?

And please stop asking published writers to review or blurb your ebooks. Unless you’re married to them, sleeping with them, used to sleep with them (and TG would be careful with that one) or are directly related by blood, there are better ways to go about this. As noted above. Good luck.

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