(the blurb from the back cover of Farel Dalrymple’s The Wrenchies. It is an excellent example of its kind.)
As publishers, we frequently find blurbs to be a pretty contrived thing. I mean, we’re obtaining them either from people we know or people we (or our authors) are convincing into reading our books through our charisma and charm! And, obviously, if someone gives us a blurb that’s like, ‘THIS BOOK IS A TERRIBLE THING AND WILL DESTROY AMERICA,” we’re not going to put it on the book unless it’s from, like, Ultimate Evil (who we wouldn’t approach about a blurb anyways).
Blurbs don’t exactly work like this:
First Second: Art Spiegelman, will you give us a blurb?
Art Spiegelman: I will, but only on the condition that you sign this contract so that you’re legally obligated to print it even if I hate the book and no matter how long my blurb is and I can swear or use whatever language I’d like.
First Second: I can’t see what would be wrong with signing this contract!
Art Spiegelman: Here is my five-paragraph essay on the underlying symbolism issues with the video game culture.
First Second: Well, we seem to have gotten ourselves in a bit of a jam here.
They tend to work much more like this:
First Second: Craig Thompson, will you give us a blurb?
Craig Thompson: Let me read the book and see if I’d be up for it!
First Second: What did you think?
Craig Thompson: It’s wonderful! Here are some sentences about it.
First Second: Hm . . . do you mind if we change the word order . . . and we might need to abbreviate this second sentence so this fits in the space we have on the book cover . . . someone else used that same phrase in their blurb, so we’re going to take that out. Okay, what do you think?
Craig Thompson: Wait, let’s use this word instead. And I’m going to play around with the language a little more. I’m good!
First Second: Done!
It’s a collaborative process to make sure that the blurb works with the rest of the content on the book and at the same time accurately represents what the book is about.
But despite the fact that this is a contrived process, blurbs are awesome — because hypothetical!Craig Thompson wouldn’t have given that blurb if he didn’t actually really like the book a lot. And what that says (right on the book cover!) is, ‘dear readers who like Craig Thompson, Craig Thompson thinks this book is great.’ Secondarily, it also says, ‘dear readers who don’t know who Craig Thompson is, someone besides the author and the publisher thinks this book is amazing.’ And both of those statements are very valuable.
So if you’re an author, how do you go about obtaining blurbs for your book?
The first thing to do is to check in with your publisher. They may have cover design plans for your book that do not include a blurb. Or they may have already been talking to people about blurbs, so you don’t have to do anything! In which case, it is clearly time to go off and enjoy what remains of the summer.
If your publisher hasn’t already arranged for blurbs, you’re up! It is time to compile a list of people who you know or whose work you admire and get in touch with them to try to convince them to say good things about your book.
When you’re putting together this list, it’s good to think about who exactly you want to get to blurb your book. It’s wonderful if people you admire send you blurbs — but if H. P. Lovecraft sends you a blurb for your light, cheerful romantic comedy, it’ll probably give people the wrong idea about your book (besides having to involve necromancy — always messy). Your very best bet is to go for authors of recent, popular books who are in the same vein as your own novel. Obviously, you don’t have to one-to-one match your plot elements or anything, but you want to make sure that people who pick up your book based on that quote don’t put it down saying, ‘what in the world am I reading?’
Some crazy timing is also involved — you basically have to send people the book after it’s done, but before it goes to the printer. That tends not to be a huge window of time! We usually advise that authors send pdfs to people to blurb after the first pass of copy-edits has been input into the manuscript. That way there aren’t huge errors, but there probably will still be some. And blurbers will probably have a month at most to turn the book around. We’re lucky that graphic novels are so comparatively fast to read!
The next thing to do in this process is write a letter to the person you’d like your blurb from and ask them for a blurb. It is important to do this because people will not just psychically know that you need blurbs for your book.
Your letter might go like this:
Dear Best Ever Literary Friend,
You know that book I’ve been talking about for two years? It’s finally done! I’m so excited about it — I think it’s better than anything I’ve done before.
Would you consider providing a blurb for the book for us to use on the cover? I respect your work so much, and I think it’d be amazing to have your kind words on my new project.
Here are instructions about how to obtain a manuscript. I need the blurb by X date, which is soon.
Thanks so much for considering this.
Sincerely, the author
Two important features of this: it’s always good to provide a means for starting the book right away, and to explicitly explain how it works. (It’s up on this FTP; you can download it with this username/password.) The easier you can make it for people to obtain your manuscript, the more likely it is that they’ll at least read it. And it’s essential to clearly provide the date when you need the blurb by so that people can look at that and their schedules and figure out where to fit it in. You don’t want to be pouncing upon people to demand surprise blurbs, as that strategy tends to have mixed results.
If you don’t know the person you’re reaching out to for a blurb, you can still reach out to them! After all, you’re reaching out to them because you know and love their work. They might know yours already! Or they might be excited to have new things to read. The worst thing that can happen is that they say no.
Your letter might go like this:
Dear Respected Author -
I loved your book X; it really spoke to me in an important and significant way that possibly helped me save babies from a burning building and is also relevant to my exciting new novel.
That novel, UNTITLED, is being published by First Second next spring. Would you be willing to read it and consider giving it a blurb for the cover?
UNTITLED is about the following things that are undoubtedly interesting to you because I know at least the vague facts about your life and work that have been reported on Wikipedia and have read at least one of your books. I think it you will be especially intrigued by the way X thing and Y thing happen in the book that I know are particularly relevant to you.
I appreciate you considering this; your work means a lot to me personally.
Here is how to access a copy of my book to blurb, and I would need the blurb by date X.
Sincerely, the author
It’s always super-intimidating to e-mail strange people and ask them for things.
However! This is a good way to meet people. And it’s also a nice way to introduce yourself to your favorite author and give you an excuse for basically writing a fan letter. Things being intimidating is never a reason for not actually doing them!
Especially when — like blurbs — they can be extremely helpful to the success of your professional career.