Why do readers pick up a particular book? The overwhelming majority do it because someone recommends it to them. The closer that relationship, the better. So if I recommend a book to my Mom, she reads it, especially if Oprah recommended it, too, because, hey, Oprah is almost like family. The next most common reason is because an author recommends it. The third, reviews.

All of this pre-supposes the book is “visible” to the reader somehow. But visibility is a discussion for other blog posts. I’m talking today about why a reader chooses a book amongst many they are aware of, when they have all the shiny options arrayed before them.

Outside the loop of “big pub,” we are in control of a lot of things (and not others), but don’t have unlimited resources. I can work, work, work to make my book and its cover the best it can be so that people will want to recommend it, and I can work, work, work to go out and get reader reviews on my books to give it credibility.

What I have trouble with is getting big name author blurbs on my little ole books, right? If I were with a big, traditional publisher, this would be no big deal. Pretty much the publisher would figure out the right authors to blurb each other’s books and make it happen within their special world. (Yep, you’re reading that in green for a reason. I’m jealous of this!) But in my non-special world, I have quality access only to the authors I know personally, and, even then, authors can and should be very, very careful about blurbing books. I expect to get “no.” I give “no” when asked, much more often than not.

It’s a big deal to associate your name with someone else’s book. Choose wisely. You can’t take it back easily once you allow them to put your name on it. (I know this painfully and accidentally)

So here I am, seven years into this novelist gig, with big awards and big bestseller lists, and I’ve had lovely and accomplished authors blurb my books for a few years, but I’ve never had A BIG FISH. I decided a year ago it was time to go after BIG FISH, in many different ways: lures, bait, flies, nets, whatever it took.

Here’s what I learned once I put my hook in the water.

ONE: Every Yes Counts

A few years ago, I was invited to make a trip to Alaska to speak at the Alaska Writers Guild Conference. I was featured, but not keynote. The honorarium covered most of my costs, but not all, and I certainly didn’t make money by going. But, hey, I got to go to Alaska for a long weekend! And I also shared a podium with a writer more successful than me, the keynote speaker Robert Dugoni, author of the mega bestselling Tracy Crosswhite mystery series, published by Thomas & Mercer of Amazon. They’d stolen him out of Big Pub, where he was a New York Times bestseller already.

I almost said no to the Alaska gig. It was a lot of work for no immediate, direct financial reward. Hold that thought.


Come see me!

LIVE WIRE reading, A Celebration of Women’s Words, Black Lab Pub, Houston, TX, 4 pm

LIVE WIRE Release—with wine and cheese, The Book Nook, Brenham, TX, March 16, 1-3 pm

SICK PUPPY Release at Murder by the Book, Houston, TX, April 27, 4:30 pm

Writing and Reading Mysteries and Thrillers, Comicpalooza, Houston, TX, May 12, 3:00 pm

DEAD PILE Release—with wine and cheese,  Budding Art by Kerry, Amarillo, TX, May 17, 5-7 pm

DEAD PILE Release—with coffee and dessert, Sheridan Stationery & Books, Sheridan, WY, May 25, 1-3 pm


TWO: Establish Social Proof

In the meantime, I kept publishing novels. I used to make a lot of money publishing fiction. Then suddenly, I didn’t. Why? Kindle Unlimited. But we chose a strategy (wide distribution) and decided that we would ride the downturn and get smarter while continuing to build the library of my books available to readers, making them the best we possibly could.

I would STAY.THE.COURSE.

I entered contests and in 2017 I won the Silver Falchion for Best Mystery, up against, amongst others, the top Thomas & Mercer and Big Pub authors. (It did cross my mind to shout, “Y’all can all suck it!” when I accepted my award, but I opted not to. Ahem.) One of the finalists for thriller was … Robert Dugoni. He didn’t win. J.A. Jance did. But I took note.  So did another attendee…of me. Judith Lucci invited me to contribute a novella to a box set that was making a run at the USA Today bestsellers list.

I did. We made the list. (Yay!)

Suddenly, I had a lot more social proof behind me: USA Today and Silver Falchion, in addition to very respectable rankings (no one had to know I wasn’t making money anymore—I was still selling a lot of books) and thousands of wonderful online reader reviews.

THREE: Be Smart-Choosy

We have choices every day on how we spend our time. In 2018, I was invited to spend mine doing an author-to-author podcast under the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network umbrella. This is not something I am paid to do. In fact, in addition to spending a LOT of time doing this gratis, I spend money on it, too. But it’s super fun, and I get to pick my own guests, with the goal that it’s an opportunity to have something interesting and in-my-field to post to social media, blogs, etc., while I build my network.

Each author-guest I interview is someone I build a relationship with (or most of them, anyway), and someone for whom I am doing something nice. While it took me a long time to get up the courage to do so, it also gives me the chance to invite listeners to my giveaways and latest releases. And, if I’m smart-choosy, I invite the right guests. Those whose fans will also like my work. Those with readership bigger than mine. Those my own fans will tune in for.

And if I’m smart-choosy with my time, I go above and beyond for these authors. I really DO read and review their books everywhere, I give them a great interview, and I promote it so they get new readers.


      1. WINNING IN 2019 INTENSIVE: Publishing Success (April, TX)

     2. Enter to win! READER APPRECIATION WEEK (CONTEST), Free for WINNERS (June, WY)

     3. JUMPSTART THAT NOVEL (July, WY)

     4. CRIME FICTION INTENSIVE (October, TX)


FOUR: Pay It Forward First

Want to guess who was one of the first guests I invited on the show?

Yep. Robert Dugoni. Along with Christie Craig aka CC Hunter, Denise Grover Swank, Craig Johnson, and many, many other big time authors.

I stayed in touch. I said, “Let me know what I can do for you,” in every interaction.

I did not ask anything of them. Not yet, anyway. I made the relationship all about them, while still presenting myself with confidence and talking to them as a peer. I wished Bob Dugoni luck in the Silver Falchion that year, and told him I could root for him, because I didn’t enter it. He was in mystery. Dang it, he didn’t win, but all the books in the finals are fantastic, so don’t let that deter you (start with his MY SISTER’S GRAVE).

FIVE: Make It Easy To Say Yes

Then, I asked. As simple as that. I thought about who I had forged the best relationships with and who matched up with my writing best, and I asked. In an email with a signature line that contained my social proof, I gave them a generous deadline, and I asked them to blurb my new release.

I expected no’s. In fact, if I had gotten flat-out yeses, that would have been weird. They hadn’t read me. At a minimum, they needed a hole in their schedules to do the reading. Beyond that, they needed to open the book and like it. The biggest hurdle is them ever finding a hole and opening the dang file. But, if they found the hole, if they were just a little bit curious, I had once chance to wow them. With the right cover (yes, they will judge the book by it–I’m asking them to put their name on it, essentially), a great first chapter, and editing perfection.

Bob wrote back. “I enjoyed it.” He asked me to write his blurb and gave me a rough sample of his thoughts. I did a crazed happy dance. I sat on it for two days so I wouldn’t seem too eager 😉 I sent him a blurb, and he approved it.

And, just like that, I have a blurb from the one of the hottest selling authors in the world on the cover of my new release. {Be still my beating heart}

Except, it wasn’t just like that. It was years of work building my books, building my social proof, saying yes, paying it forward, being smart-choosy about my time and who I networked with, and then making it easy when I asked for something.

=>There are still four weeks left on my deadline. I have my fingers crossed I’ll get a few more yeses out of my ask-pool, too. (Update: Christie Craig, NYT Bestseller says about LIVE WIRE: “Murder has never been so much fun!”)

Now, you may think you want to ask me for a blurb. Put yourselves in my shoes (or Bob Dugoni’s). Imagine it’s me asking you instead.

You’d probably say “no” or “maybe” to level set expectations. And you won’t give a yes if our readers are not a close match (notice I didn’t ask Hugh Howey, sci fi writer extraordinaire, for a blurb). Or if you don’t like my cover. My writing. My editing. And probably not if I don’t already have a relationship with you. Let’s face it, if I’ve never done anything for you, you probably won’t do something for me either.

But just imagine the possibilities if I have…

p.s. Guess who I did a good turn for today? 😉

Pamela

Pamela Fagan HutchinsUSA Today bestseller and winner of the 2017 Silver Falchion
Best Mystery winner for her What Doesn’t Kill You series, writes hilarious nonfiction (What Kind of Loser Indie Publishes, and How Can I Be One, Too?), too. She teaches writing, publishing, and promotion at the SkipJack Publishing Online School (where you can take How to Sell a Ton of Books, FREE) and writes about it on the SkipJack Publishing blog.

Pamela resides deep in the heart of Nowheresville, Texas and in the frozen north of Snowheresville, Wyoming. She has a passion for great writing and smart authorpreneurship as well as long hikes and trail rides with her hunky husband, giant horses, and pack of rescue dogs, donkeys, and goats. She also leaps medium-tall buildings in a single bound (if she gets a good running start).

 

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2 Responses to Five Steps to Bestseller Book Blurbs

  1. R.J. Lafleur says:

    Very insightful article about how we can all as Indie author’s help each other make it to that next level. Very inspiring. Thank you for sharing!

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