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Endorsements, Part 1: Getting Comments to Spur Sales

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PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 2013

by Linda Carlson, Staff Reporter, IBPA Independent


Photo of Linda Carlson

Linda Carlson

SEE ALSO: Part 2

It may be not what your book says that sells it, but who says what about your book, to paraphrase that maxim about who you know being more important than what you know. And, not surprisingly, who you know helps you find authorities and celebrities to recommend or endorse a title. But IBPA members report that getting a brief positive review from the likes of Jack Canfield or Ellen DeGeneres is possible even if you don’t travel in their circles.

How important endorsements and testimonials are in selling books is hard to quantify. In general, publishers say they believe that favorable recommendations and comments are helpful in getting books reviewed, accepted by wholesalers and distributors, hand sold by booksellers, and actually purchased by readers. That’s why they almost always incorporate positive comments from pre-publication reviews and/or about an author’s previous titles in book cover design, and often use them in front or back matter too.

This is the first of two articles about what’s involved in getting the endorsements, recommendations, and testimonials often called blurbs—how you target people to ask, how and when you contact potential endorsers, how you get the book’s key points emphasized in comments, and how you can use positive comments in promotion. (See also: Part 2) This month I’m covering the who, when, and how of contacting people about endorsements. Next month’s article will discuss how to get praise on different aspects of a title, how to use the positive feedback, how to get and use reader reviews, and the possible impact on sales. For help with legalities see “The Legal Side of Endorsements and Testimonials,” in this issue.


Who

Having a book recommended by Oprah Winfrey is what many publishers consider the pinnacle of success, and it will produce an immediate spike in sales. But there are more important endorsers for nonfiction on specialized topics. As publishers of such books emphasize, recommendations and testimonials carry far more weight when they come from recognized authorities in a book’s specific field.

Librarians’ reviews can be powerful too, and libraries do often order because of reviews in Publishers Weekly or Library Journal. But IBPA members point out that these reviews may not include the strong language a sales pitch needs. “We never depend on such reviewers as Library Journal because unless you have a near-blockbuster, the reviews are usually too conservative and lack the positive punch that will sell a book,” says Richard Carmen, publisher at the Sedona, AZ, Auricle Ink.

If you believe a celebrity endorsement will help sell a title, go for those who appeal to your book’s market: the more famous, the better. Your request being declined or ignored is the worst that can happen. What many publishers have discovered is that some celebrities are glad to write brief testimonials—or sign their names to testimonials the publishers have drafted—as a means of marketing themselves and their own books.

“We’ve been getting endorsements for our books and for clients’ books for 15 years,” says Jacqueline Church Simonds at Beagle Bay Books in Reno, NV. “What always amazes me is how kind most ‘name’ authors are when asked by relative unknowns and small presses.”

In most cases, she explains, “the big-name authors have met my authors/clients at seminars and conventions. The value of personal interaction can’t be overstated. Ken Blanchard, the management consultant famous for The One Minute Manager, wrote an endorsement for our How to Love the Job You Have after sharing a stage with our author Jane Boucher at a speaking event. Iyania Vanzant, an inspirational speaker and frequent guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show, did the foreword for Jan Goff-LaFontaine’s award-winning Women in Shadow and Light after speaking with Goff-LaFontaine at her photo exhibition at a women’s issues seminar. Chris Rock, who produced a movie that author Betty K. Bynum was in, has written a stirring endorsement for her I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl.”

“For The Take-Charge Patient I found a bestselling health book author-doctor who had been on the Dr. Oz Show,” says Martine Ehrenclou, author/publisher at Lemon Grove Press in Santa Monica, CA. “He was very willing to write a great testimonial—I simply asked. My connection was through a friend on Facebook, someone I connect with on a regular basis there and via phone.”

After Ehrenclou identified other high-profile experts at such institutions as Johns Hopkins University and the World Health Organization, she found their contact information using LinkedIn. “I researched each expert and chose them based on their individual specialties so I had a good idea of what kind of endorsements I would get if they agreed,” she says.

To target endorsers for her 2008 title, Critical Conditions, Ehrenclou used organizations cited in the acknowledgments and index of Dr. Oz’s You: The Smart Patient. “I first targeted the president of each organization with a letter and the Advance Readers Copy, and then called,” she explains. “If I didn’t initially have success, I asked for the next executive in line. One organization put me in touch with a vice president who was very interested in my book because his specialty was hospital patient safety. I sent him an ARC and then called, emailed, and then called again. He finally wrote a spectacular testimonial for the book.”

Fashion historian Betty Shubert of Flashback Publishing in Mission Viejo, CA, advises authors and publishers to seek the permission of any possible endorser, especially celebrities, before sending a manuscript. “My Out of Style: A Modern Perspective of How, Why and When Vintage Fashions Evolved, has a chapter entitled ‘When Do Old Clothes Become Vintage?’ in which I write about how Barbra Streisand made vintage fashionable to wear. I sent it to her manager with a nice letter asking for a short endorsement; I was sure she would love my book.”
When Shubert followed up, she was told that an unsolicited book or script is never opened, “because down the road, someone may sue the celebrity for copying it.”

Besides seeking endorsements from the likes of Betty White and Mary Tyler Moore, both known for animal advocacy, Mary Shafer of Word Forge Books in Ferndale, PA, sought comments from “high-profile pet industry” members for her Almost Perfect: Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them. “Two of the contributing authors put me in touch with high-visibility pet bloggers and animal behaviorists,” she says. “I knew that whether or not we got any celebrity juice, these industry people would give the book serious credibility.”

Shafer also joined online pet-owner forums, which yielded far more praise than she was told to expect for the title. “At that time, no other extant title focused on disabled pets, and I had been cautioned by fellow publishers that there was likely a reason for that. Once these potential blurbers read the book, I didn’t have to ask any more—they were all effusively enthusiastic about the book itself, and about the concept of the book. The praise was truly astounding and gratifying.”

When John Schmid, president of Project Roar Publishing in Winfield, IL, began seeking testimonials for histories of Lionel model trains, his prospects included people who had written well-respected Lionel histories. “I was looking for the affinity pull-through, that is, the ‘I liked the books they wrote, so I should like this one’ response.”

Because he knew that his audience included people who collect only from certain eras of Lionel trains, Schmid also sought comments from Lionel employees from each important era. “I wanted to go after the entire audience,” he says, adding: “I also used my father, the retired CEO of a manufacturing company, to reach the corporate history audience.”

Whether other authors published by a press should be asked to comment on forthcoming titles is a question raised by Jim Misko of Northwest Ventures Press in Anchorage. Misko, who writes literary fiction, says, “I’m not impressed with the blurbs given by authors of the same publishing house at the request of the editor. I doubt they even read the book.” Instead, says the novelist, “I look for honest expressions of opinion of my book from ordinary readers of this sort of fiction.”

Bethany Brown (whose Cadence Group in Forest Park, IL, works with nonfiction authors and publishers to obtain blurbs and reader reviews) reports that her experience has changed “dramatically” since the mid-2000s. Originally, the firm focused on celebrity and what she calls “high level” endorsements. “At that time, endorsements served two very specific goals: convincing bookstore buyers to put the book in their stores and impressing consumers. Then—and still today—we found high-level endorsements had more impact with bookstore buyers than with consumers.”

Brown echoes many other IBPA members when she says, “We still like celebrity endorsements, but we also know that they can be incredibly time intensive and very difficult, if not impossible, to secure.” So Cadence Group clients are encouraged to seek comments from individuals who are experienced and credentialed in a book’s field. These, she says, immediately give a book credibility with book reviewers and industry-specific bloggers. “Once an author/publisher has secured one or two endorsements from experienced and credentialed individuals, these can be used to approach more visible members in the field for comments, and endorsements can help with media pitches.”

Praise from someone popular with bookstore buyers is still an important consideration for serious nonfiction, says David Cole of Bay Tree Publishing in Richmond, CA. “Arthur Deikman, the author of Them and Us: Cult Thinking and the Terrorist Threat, asked if it would benefit from a foreword by Doris Lessing,” Cole recalls. “Though she had not yet won the Nobel Prize, there wasn’t a bookstore owner or reviewer for whom her name didn’t carry weight. I assured the author that not only would a foreword help, but that Doris Lessing’s name would appear on the front cover.”

With an endorsement from Lessing, the book “got reviews in Publishers WeeklyLibrary Journal, and Booklist. I can’t say for certain that the Lessing foreword made the difference,” Cole reports, “but this is a trifecta that we rarely if ever achieved” for a title before.

Another strategy can work especially well for people interested in speaking engagements in their region: Seek praise from bestselling authors whose visits to the area have been well publicized. Gutsy Publications author/publisher Sonia Marsh wasn’t able to attend the Newport Beach, CA, library presentation by Franz Wisner, who had been on Oprah and whose first book, Honeymoon with My Brother, made a New York Times paperback bestseller list, but via email she obtained a positive blurb from him. This, she reports, gave her the confidence to approach the same library about sponsoring an event with her.


When

Authors often need coaching on when to seek endorsements and testimonials, says Bay Tree’s Cole. “The most persistent misconception is that a manuscript can’t be shared,” that you have to wait for page proofs. “For pre-pub marketing, page proofs are too late,” he notes. “I emphasize to authors that we need endorsements, or at least a commitment to write a foreword or testimonial, well in advance of publication. This is critical to getting the most out of an endorsement.”

“These endorsements help sell books,” he adds, “and they also attract reviewers by adding a level of credibility beyond the influence of a powerful author bio and a list of professional accomplishments.”

Planning ahead—way ahead—can be important in securing testimonials. Mirielle Liong, publisher at Sabi Wiri Inc., in Brooklyn, NY, had participated in a 100,000-member forum on her topic long before writing her book. “So I asked the forum owner for a blurb, and received one, as well as praise from the influential people I had gotten to know through the forum,” she says.

Brown of the Cadence Group wants authors to start work on endorsements before a manuscript is finished. “Touch base early in the writing process with the individuals you know well to let them know that you are working on a book,” she advises. “When the book is completed in word processing or first set of pages, follow up and ask if they would be interested in taking a look.”

“I thought two months would be enough time for potential celebrity endorsers to respond,” reports Shafer at Word Forge Books, “but I’ve since heard that publishers should allow at least six months, since these requests usually end up going through agents and/or managers, and then the celebrities have to fit reading the book in between their other obligations—if indeed they even do read it—and then they have to get back to you.”


Linda Carlson writes for the Independent from Seattle.

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