Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Blurbs and Quotes for a First Novel: Or, It's Not All Greek To Me

I'd thought, after my novel was sold and the fairy dust cleared and settled, that the process of finding authors to read my work and offer a blurb or quote I could use to promote the work would be a bit like attempting to get into a sorority.

I don't know how it's done elsewhere, but in the South when a sweet girl goes off to the big university and decides (or others decide for her) that she'd like to be in a sorority, friends of the family who are alums will often write letters for said girl. They send them to the powers-that-be in that sorority, encouraging the powers to take a good, hard look at the girl: that she'd be perfect for their group. (I always imagined perky 21 year-old college seniors sitting around a pink office with Greek letters embroidered on everything--the stationary, the backs of chairs, cross-stitched and hung in pink frames on the walls. But that's not fair, because really, those girls could easily be sitting in a pub having beers, a stack of letters on the table before them.) The point is: I thought it'd be harder than it really is.

The fact is, authors have to work more diligently than ever to promote their own work. The times they are a changin'. So while I've utilized my literary agent and my editor when seeking those quotes and blurbs, I'm doing the bulk of it myself. And what I've found is that most writers are incredibly generous, willing to take the time to help out a first-timer in need. That's not only awesome, it's a relief.

I haven't followed any format. I simply made a list of my favorite authors, whether or not I thought I'd have a chance of getting a quote or blurb from them. I concentrate on (but don't limit myself to) historical fiction authors, because that's the genre of my novel. And then I do my research--entirely online as it turns out--learning the best ways to contact them. Some are easier to reach than others: they've got direct email addresses on their websites. Others insist you go through their literary agents or publishers, and yet others have online forms you can fill out (these concern me the most, for some wierd reason... because I wonder where that information is actually ending up). I also look into their places of business, especially those who also teach for a living, and find email addresses that way.

When writing to these folks, I write from my heart. I give the necessary information--my name, my novel title, my writing background, my publisher/editor's info, the publication date, etc--but I also let them know how much I admire their work. That is, of course, the reason I choose them: I love their stuff. I'm not afraid to admit that I fawn (and yes, it is fawning when you're openly praising a writer whose work you've loved for years), and I'm honest about it. Email is tough: so much meaning can be misconstrued. It's important to be straight-forward. Be yourself. This is my theory.

Authors who offer direct email addresses, I've found, respond the quickest. And they'll tell you, right away and often with regret, that they simply don't have the time to devote to reading your novel. Others will write back immediately, surprising you, and agree. They give a mailing address, I pop a Special Format Review copy of my novel in a big, manilla envelope with a handwritten "thank you" note (because, good Lord am I thankful!), and off it goes.

The worst case scenario is that the author just doesn't respond. But persistence (in every aspect of life, whether you're learning to cook creamy grits, garden successfully, or trying to potty train your dog or your daughter) is key. I'd attempted to contact one of my favorite best-selling historical novelists in every way I could find--via her online form, through Goodreads, through Facebook, through her publisher--but hadn't had any luck. I decided I'd send her one more quick, private Facebook message, and that would be it. By the next day she'd sent me a direct email, apologizing for taking so long at getting back to me, and offering to read my novel. She was honest: She couldn't promise a blurb, but she'd read it.

And that's all any first-time author can ask for. It's a review copy, so it hasn't been edited yet. More than that, I know that my novel won't be every person's "cup of tea." And that's okay.

So far, I've had two wonderful writers read my novel and offer blurbs. One, Darci Hannah (author of The Exile of Sara Stevenson and The Angel of Blythe Hall, two novels I love) I emailed directly using an address she offers on her web site. Another, Philip Lee Williams (a prolific writer in several genres, and the author of The Flower Seeker, The Campfire Boys, etc) I met through a fan letter, me to him. I'd read an essay he'd written about the place where my novel is set, and the essay affected me so deeply I just had to write him. We began a correspondence, and I asked if he'd read my novel. Both of these authors not only agreed, they were gracious, generous, and kind, and I'll be forever thankful for their praise.

I've got other authors currently reading my novel, and it's difficult not to worry on that: to hope like all heck they'll like the story I tried to tell. Some of them will, and some of them won't.

But I'm finding, more and more, that writers are--overwhelmingly--an interesting, generous, quirky, wonderful bunch. When you're a writer, your daily life can be quite solitary. You sit at your desk, staring at a computer screen (or a legal pad, if you're old-school), and you invoke the mystery. You pray for it to visit its magic upon you. You work by yourself, because no one can do it but you. It's easy to forget that you're part of a community--that you can be, if you want to be. You've just got to reach out.

I'm big on tribes. My tribe of friends, especially, is comprised of the coolest cats I know. But it's nice to know that I may just be joining another tribe soon, a tribe of authors I already admire. And as long as the hazing doesn't include zit cream, funneling really bad beer, or eating mystery food while blindfolded, I am all in.

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