More than 300 titles are published each day. There is no way anyone can know and rank all of them. That is why the book industry relies so heavily on blurbs.
The word blurb, coined by Gelett Burgess, a Boston-born humorist and author (1866-1951), has come to mean a testimonial, endorsement, quotation, etc., used on covers and in ads and promotional materials. Blurbs sell books because word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful forces in marketing. Anything you say about your book is self-serving but words from another person seem believable. In fact, when readers see quotation marks, they shift their attitudes and become more receptive.
Harvey Mackay placed 44 testimonials in the front matter of Swim with the Sharks; he had endorsements from everyone from Billy Graham to Robert Redford. Did these luminaries buy a book and write unsolicited testimonials? Of course not. Mackay asked for the words of praise (see http://www.mackay.com).
Your mission is to get the highest-placed, most influential opinion-molders in your field talking about your book. You have more control than you think over who gives you quotations, what they say, and how you use their words.
In fact, testimonials are not difficult to get if you follow this three-step plan.
Send parts of your book out for peer review. Smart nonfiction authors take each chapter of a nearly completed manuscript and send it off to at least four experts on that chapter’s subject.
Approach your peer reviewers for a testimonial. Now the target is softened up. You are not surprising them by asking for a blurb for a book they haven’t even seen. In fact, since you matched each chapter to an individual’s interest, these people have already bought into the project and have become familiar with your work.
Draft a suggested testimonial yourself in order to get what you need and enclose a letter that says, in essence: I know you are a busy person. Considering your position and the direction this book takes, I need a testimonial something like this: . . .
Drafting a testimonial is a creative act; it takes time and careful thought. Editing a blurb that you provide is easier than creating one from scratch (your endorser may not even know how long the blurb should be) so provide help.
You can get Forewords for your books in the same manner. The only difference is that what you get back from the endorser will be longer.
Gather testimonials by putting words in their mouths.
Dan Poynter is the author of “The Self-Publishing Manual” and a past Vice-President of PMA. His company, Para Publishing, provides many guides to better book publishing; visit