Betting on Blurbs

January 28, 2020

By: Lee LeFever

I write books and run a company called Common Craft. I recently moved from Seattle to a rural island. Here, I write about online business, book publishing, modern home construction, and occasionally, dumb jokes.

If you pick up just about any modern book, you’ll find short quotes from influential people saying nice things about the book and/or author. These are called endorsements or blurbs and they provide a bit of social proof.

On the front cover of Jason Fried and DHH’s book, Rework, words from Seth Godin appear above the title:

On the back cover of Paul Jarvis’ book Company of One, there are multiple quotes under the title “Praise for Company of One.”

In publishing a book, these endorsements can be a way to differentiate and give potential readers a way to evaluate what the book is about and for whom it is intended. This is also the case with my book, Big Enough. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on a mission to contact influential people and ask them, in the parlance of authors, to “blurb my book.”

To be honest, I dreaded this part of the process, in part, because it’s such a big ask. I am requesting that they spend hours reading a draft of my book and then come up with a pithy remark that serves to market my book, all within a deadline of a few weeks. Of course, their name on the cover or on the book website is marketing for them, too, so it’s not as one-sided as it seems. But still, I recognize the size of the request.

Today, I sent an early version of Big Enough as a PDF to twelve kind people who had agreed to read it and potentially provide a blurb. With that complete, I’m reflecting on the experience and most of what I feel is gratitude. Anytime you ask someone for a favor, there is always a chance of rejection. Going into the process, I figured that I simply wouldn’t hear back from most. That wasn’t the case at all. Of the 20 people I contacted via email, only two didn’t respond and there is some chance that email algorithms played some role in that process.

The endorsement worked like this for me…

My publishing partner, Page Two, provided a spreadsheet with labeled columns for helping me manage the blurbs. Using that sheet, I started brainstorming influential people I know whose work or reputation fit the context of Big Enough. I looked through my email contacts, Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections and browsed the blurbs on related books. I listed a mix of people I knew directly and those who I planned to contact. With the names in place, I started reaching out one by one.

It starts with an email that explains the basics. For most connections, I would mention how we know each other, an event we attended or a personal connection we have in common. I remind them about Common Craft and explain that I have a book coming out. On a few occasions, I asked people in my network for an introduction to someone I didn’t know personally and that was productive, too.

Here’s a version of the message I sent to people aware of Common Craft:

I’m writing to ask for a favor. As you know, my wife Sachi and I have run Common Craft since the early 2000s. Our early videos helped established the explainer video genre, etc. Behind the scenes, we were always focused on entrepreneurship, technology, and business models. Over the last decade, we transformed Common Craft into a company that’s intentionally small, product-focused and designed to promote a healthy quality of life. 
The favor is this: I have a book coming out in May of this year. It’s called Big Enough and it tells our story. Today the book is being designed now and I’m reaching out to a handful of influential people to ask about reading the book and potentially providing a testimonial. I think you’d find it entertaining and relevant, especially in the context of technology’s impact on small businesses like ours. It’s relatively short (big enough?) and can be read in an afternoon.
If you’re interested, I’d like to send you an uncorrected proof as a PDF. If the book connects with you, it would be awesome if you could share a few words I can use on the book and/or website. I would need the blurb by XXXXX.

To my surprise, it worked. The majority of people I asked responded and said they were happy to take a look. This doesn’t mean the blurb will happen, but it’s a step in the right direction. I am also grateful to those who responded with a simple “no”.

The next challenge is working with the blurbers to get their quotes in-hand and ready for production. I’ll probably have to send reminder emails and warnings about deadlines, but that goes with the territory.

Over the last couple of weeks, my dread regarding this process turned to excitement. I realized I was learning a new skill and developing a strategy I could use in the future. More than that, I was excited by reconnecting with old friends and potentially making new connections. In a few cases, my emails led to phone calls and online meetings. It felt like my network was getting stronger.

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