PUBLISHED OCTOBER 2013
by Linda Carlson, Staff Reporter, IBPA Independent
SEE ALSO: Part 1
How important are endorsements and testimonials for selling books? That question is hard to answer, but most book industry people believe that praise from credible sources has value in getting books reviewed, accepted by wholesalers and distributors, hand-sold by booksellers, and actually purchased by readers. Last month, Part 1 of this series described how IBPA members choose people to ask for pre-publication praise and forewords, and how they time their requests. What follows looks at how members get praise on different aspects of a title, how they use the positive feedback, how they get and use reader reviews, and the possible impact of endorsements on sales.
How to Approach Potential Endorsers
Obtaining pre-publication praise for a title can be as simple as writing an email. “For experts I didn’t have a connection with, I simply went to their Websites and found email addresses,” says Martine Ehrenclou of Lemon Grove Press in Santa Monica, CA. “I designed the email pitch based on the theme of each expert’s books,” Ehrenclou adds, explaining that if a chapter in her book The Take-Charge Patient directly related to something in a book by one of the experts she targeted, she used that angle in the opening of her email.
Remember that your first contact with a potential endorser is a sales pitch. Getting a blurb for fiction can require tailoring much like the kind Ehrenclou does for nonfiction. As Jacqueline ChurchSimonds at Beagle Bay Books in Reno recalls, “For The Witch from the Sea, a YA/mature historicaladventure, the author suggested I ask for an endorsement from Joan Druett, author of several books on the history of women and the sea. My email to her was short and provocative: I said the book read like ‘Jane Eyre goes to Treasure Island’” (and got a blurb).
Establishing your company or your author as a credible source is important when you’re cold-calling. Ehrenclou reports that she described her manuscript in her message; mentioned the awards her previous book on a related topic had received; and cited its reviews in Family Circle, Woman’s Day, and the American Medical Association newsletter. “I also mentioned a few of the physicians I had interviewed for information in the book,” she says. “Letting potential endorsers know that they were not the only doctors/experts to associate their names with the book helped with securing testimonials.”
“The very first book our company published was the Consumer Handbook on Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids, and it was within an industry we thoroughly understood,” says Richard Carmen of Auricle Ink in Sedona, AZ. “We went after big names for testimonials, handing out preliminary drafts one after the other and inviting prominent figures to offer comment. It’s no surprise how many people would love to see their name on the back cover of a book!”
At Bay Tree Publishing in Richmond, CA, many authors are so well connected that they can obtain forewords and testimonials from well-known experts in their fields. Occasionally, however, authors ask publisher David Cole for guidance in approaching people they know only slightly. “I always suggest starting with a phone call or letter asking if the person in question would be willing to look at the manuscript,” Cole says. “If an author is approaching a potential endorser through a friend or colleague, I suggest that the acquaintance make a formal introduction, just as in networking in a job search.”
When Bay Tree published The Case for Affirmative Action in University Admissions by Bob Laird, the publisher knew that endorsements by university administrators would carry weight among admissions professionals, but the author was relatively unknown outside his profession, and “we wanted the book to reach a wider audience,” Cole explains. “We asked ourselves whose name we would want to see on a foreword if we could have anyone in the country. The name Jesse Jackson came up.” The author had never met Jackson, but, being involved in civil rights issues, he did know people who knew him. “With a lot less than six degrees of separation, we made the connection and got the foreword,” Cole reports.
Getting a positive blurb can be even easier if authors are willing to ask family and close friends for help, he adds. “We’ve launched four noir mysteries by William C. Gordon, the husband of world-renowned Chilean writer Isabel Allende. Though all of us were concerned about trading on the Allende name, the author was not at all loath to call upon the many literary figures he counts as friends or acquaintances. He has received cover blurbs from Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, and Jean Shinoda Bolen. These in turn attract reviews, bookstore events, and sales.”
What you ask for can determine how willing an authority is to comment, Carmen points out. “People are often timid about offering endorsements. There can even be legal issues surrounding them.” (For information about such legal issues, see Steve Gillen’s The Legal Side of Endorsements and Testimonials.) Instead of asking for an “endorsement,” Carmen reports, “we request a review statement of two or three sentences.”
Regard colleagues’ reviews as a favor, and be willing to return favors, says Jim Misko of Northwest Ventures in Anchorage. “If I can help colleagues in any way, I do that. I invite them to talk at writers’ guild meetings or conferences and sell their books, and I give signed copies of their books to the customer relations managers at Barnes & Noble stores in my area.”
How to Get Complementary Comments
“Fabulous read,” “Not to be missed,” “Comprehensive guide.” So often the testimonials authors and publishers receive are general, and even worse, almost identical to one another. What we need are comments that are specific, each one identifying something different that’s valuable in a book.
Several IBPA members have strategies for getting specific and complementary comments.
You provide potential endorsers with “early drafts of a manuscript for review so comments are based on fact,” says John Schmid of Project Roar in Winfield, IL. “You talk with them to get broad feedback and then help them condense that feedback into something that is impactful.” This has the additional advantage of allowing you to encourage brevity so comments will work well on the book cover and in promotional literature.
At the London-based Business & Careers Press, author Vaughan Evans uses a similar approach. He emails people he has identified as recognized authorities in the field covered by a manuscript. “I leave it to them to say what they will—although sometimes I will clarify or extend the quote a bit and email it back to them, asking for approval, which is never turned down!”
Mireille Liong of Going Natural in Brooklyn, NY, is more directive when she asks for testimonials. “When I send someone a copy of a manuscript, I ask that person what he or she thinks of a certain aspect of it.”
At the National Association of School Psychologists in Bethesda, MD, testimonials often result from peer reviews of a manuscript. Denise Ferrenz, publications director, says that her staff asks the association’s members or the author for names of people who specialize in the topic of a manuscript being considered. “These experts are asked to respond to the functionality of the book for our members and/or to make recommendations—with reviews that are blind to the author,” she notes. “If the responses are positive, we may ask permission to use the comments on the cover.”
The Cadence Group, which works with nonfiction authors and publishers to obtain blurbs and reader reviews, sometimes gives potential endorsers “a good place to start,” says Bethany Brown, its president. “Often individuals are happy to support or endorse a book but don’t know what to write,” she explains. “If that’s the case, the author or publisher may help by writing the blurb and sending it for review.”
How to Get and Use Customer Reviews
What “real people”—readers—have said is increasingly important in generating sales and library circulation of a title. To solicit readers’ comments, Mary Shafer at Word Forge Press in Ferndale, PA, says: “We enclose a printed slip with each order, explaining that we’re a very small publisher and that a positive review on Amazon would mean a lot to future book sales. When I make appearances and do signings, I tell attendees the same thing, and they’re more than happy to help. It’s my sense that it gives readers a welcome sense of empowerment to know that their comments could make a positive difference for books they believe in.”
Sandra Beckwith of Beckwith Communications in Fairport, NY, uses even more initiative with her e-book, Get Your Book in the News: How to Write a Press Release That Announces Your Book. “I released it as a PDF before releasing it in other electronic formats,” she says, “and when the Kindle version became available, I generated Amazon reviews by emailing people who had purchased the PDF. I offered a copy of an hour-long interview
that I had done on ‘What’s Your Hook’ in exchange for a review on the book’s Amazon sales page.” The initial response: 15 four- and five-star reviews from the 180 PDF buyers. “Eight percent is good enough for me!”
Shafer recommends reading unsolicited fan mail carefully. “I immediately reply with a thank you, and ask if we can use the comments on our Website. I also ask people if they’d mind repeating their comments on Amazon, and I include a direct link to the book’s Amazon page. This may sound like a pain, but it’s not at all. I enjoy knowing that the few moments I take to send this request may make a huge difference for someone deciding whether or not to buy the book on Amazon or elsewhere.”
Los Angeles-based Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the HowToDoItFrugally books published through CreateSpace, also mines fan mail. “People seem to be more effusive when they are writing emails or letters that they have no idea might be reprinted,” she says. “The idea of words being published seems to make people’s prose stiff and less readable or memorable!”
Like Shafer, Howard-Johnson checks with readers before publishing any portion of a comment. “I then copy the part I’d like to use and ask how they’d prefer to be credited,” she reports, noting, “That question is important because it lets them know that providing the quote can help with their exposure to the public, too.”
Careful attention to fan mail can also help publishers identify new markets for a title. After Seattle’s Parenting Press published The Way I Feel, detailed thank-you letters sent to author/illustrator Janan Cain alerted the company to the value of this children’s picture book to the special needs market, especially teachers and parents of autistic children. Publisher Carolyn Threadgill reports that the book is now sold through such therapeutic catalogs as Childtherapy Toys, Fun and Function, Special Needs Project, and Therapy Shoppe as well as through trade channels.
Authors are especially well-positioned to generate praise from readers via social media. Dick Wagner—the author of Not Only Women Bleed: Vignettes from the Heart of a Rock Musician, from Desert Dreams Books & Music in Scottsdale, AZ—uses Facebook, Twitter, and his Websites as sources of comments. “Sometimes he initiates conversations, such as, ‘What is your favorite story from the book?’ Or he tells a story from the book, and asks readers to respond. He gets a myriad of replies,” says his editor, Susan Michelson. “I believe we have more than 50 pages of comments.”
Where to Put Praise
“Foreword by . . . ” and “Recommended by . . . ” are powerful lines for front covers when these endorsements come from people well-respected by a title’s primary audience. Back covers usually feature carefully edited snippets from reviews of the author’s previous books or from pre-publication reviews. Later editions of a book, whether in English or in translation, can use excerpts from other reviews and comments from jurors for awards programs.
Many publishers also include blurbs in front or back matter, on Websites and Facebook pages, and in print and online media kits. Endorsements, quotes from reviews, and reader comments can be used in press releases and blogs and on Twitter.com as well.
For Parenting Press’s What About Me? 12 Ways to Get Your Parents’ Attention (Without Hitting Your Sister), author Eileen Kennedy-Moore obtained a testimonial from Deborah Carroll, then appearing on Fox Television’s Nanny 911. Kennedy-Moore’s online media kit and press releases took advantage of the popularity of reality television shows to showcase Nanny Deb’s praise. Some reviews of the book picked up the language of the press release almost verbatim with comments such as, “Recommended by pediatricians, parents and even Nanny 911!”
Besides creating a “What Readers Are Saying” page for each Word Forge title’s Website to showcase testimonials and fan mail, Shafer sometimes posts compliments to Facebook and blogs. “I’ve been known to tweet some unique blurbs with links back to the book’s site,” she says, adding: “We may also include the more effective comments on printed promo material like one-sheets, catalogs, postcards, and bookmarks.”
At Project Roar, Schmid tucks sellsheets into orders. “With every book I ship, I send an overview of my other books and their reviews.”
Publishers using print-on-demand are well positioned to take advantage of early praise from reviewers and readers. “Many of our clients upload a revised cover six months after publication,” says Brown of the Cadence Group. “We suggest contacting the book reviewer/media outlet/blogger/newsletter—whoever has written an impressive review—with the exact language that the publisher plans to use on the new cover, and asking the reviewer how the quote should be attributed.”
Does Praise = Sales?
Of course, praise can sell books—if book buyers are aware of it and trust the source. But it won’t matter whose name is signed to the blurb bannered across the front cover if a title isn’t carried in inventory.
Without a media feature on a book’s author, a favorable review in a respected, high-circulation publication, author appearances, and/or a high-visibility social media campaign, it’s unlikely that many potential readers will ask their local booksellers or librarians about a particular book or search online retailers for a copy. Translation: Praise is a tool, one of many that publishers need when making readers aware of titles.
Because endorsements constitute only one of several elements that must be used together, it’s seldom possible to isolate the effect on sales of a front-cover quote, a back-cover excerpt from a review, or a prominent person’s foreword.
That does not diminish the importance of seeking praise, as David Cole of Bay Tree points out in discussing Saving Energy, Growing Jobs, a book by physicist David V. Goldstein “that can realistically be described as very dense heavy reading.” Cole is convinced that a foreword by Maine Senator Olympia Snowe and pages of endorsements from the likes of California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., helped generate positive reviews for the book and sales of 6,000 copies.
Keys to Endorsements and Reader Reviews
To help you solicit forewords, testimonials, peer reviews, or reader comments well ahead of pub date, and be more effective in obtaining such praise, here’s a short to-do list from IBPA members:
- Plan ahead. Project Roar’s Schmid advises making these requests part of your marketing plan. “It takes time,” he reminds.
- Pursue comments only from authorities and celebrities who have a connection to a book’s topic.
- Craft your requests carefully. “The pitch is really important,” says Lemon Grove’s Ehrenclou.
- Use both the author’s and the publisher’s contacts to make introductions to potential endorsers.
- Be persistent. “Bestselling authors and experts are incredibly busy and receive so many emails, letters, and similar requests. My success with securing testimonials has not come just from the angle, the pitch, or the quality of the books, but from my persistence,” Ehrenclou emphasizes. “I kept calling and emailing, apologizing for the repeated nudging.”
Linda Carlson writes for the IBPA INDEPENDENT from Seattle. When she published job-search guides in the 1990s, the last page of each book offered a $10 discount on a copy of the next edition to those who answered such questions as, “What did you find most helpful about this book?”