What Purpose Do Book Blurbs Serve?
There are over 400k books published each year, in the US alone. How is a potential reader supposed to know that yours is actually good? How are they supposed to know that you and your book are legit?
There are several ways to signal that your book is serious and professional. How to title your book and its description are two we have covered, but possibly the very best way to do this (other than a good book cover) is through the use of blurbs.
A “book blurb” is a quote from that you put on your book cover (or in some other form of media) that says something positive about you or your book, and come from someone else
Here are some blurbs from Mona Patel’s book, Reframe:
“Why not? What if? If those questions give you pause, it might be because you’ve been carrying around the wrong frame. In this personal book, Mona Patel wants to outfit you with a new way of seeing and working.”
—Seth Godin, Author of Your Turn
“Part business, part personal development, Reframe is full of practical ways to jumpstart innovation.”
—Adam Grant, Wharton Professor and New York Times bestselling Author of Give and Take
“This book, like its author, is innovative, clear, and able to open pathways to new ideas.”
—Nir Eyal, Author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products
Done properly, a good blurb will:
- assure a potential reader that the book is relevant to them
- give social proof that signals the importance of the book in the field
- give social proof to signal the importance of the author
- most importantly, convince a potential reader to buy the book
In the past, blurbs mattered in traditional publishing as a way to show book salespeople that the book was worth getting behind and pushing to bookstores.
Today, putting blurbs on the physical book doesn’t matter as much, because few books are sold in retail stores. But blurbs have become more important than ever because of Amazon, Goodreads, and other discovery platforms that highlight these sorts of social proof.
This means that blurbs are now the ultimate social proof for a book (and more importantly in many cases, social proof for an author) that helps a book stand out from the field.
What Is A Good Book Blurb?
Generally, a good blurb has some mix of these attributes:
- Comes from a high status, trusted, or credible person: This is key. You want your source to be one that signals properly to the audience of the book, that conveys the authority you want to achieve with your book.
- Helps the reader understand why they should read the book: It’s not easy to frame or directly sell your book to a reader, and a blurb can help you sell to readers without it feeling like you are the one selling.
- Reflects favorably on the author and book: This should be fairly obvious.
- But is not over the top: The worst thing you can do is get a great person to leave a gushing blurb that sounds paid for or ridiculous. Realistic is better than explosively optimistic, people tend to discount things that seem too good to be true.
Where Do Blurbs Come From And How Do You Get Them?
There are three basic types of blurbs you should focus on, and we’ll walk through each one in detail.
- Quotes From Famous or High Status People
- Press Mentions
- Reader & Customer Testimonials
1. Quotes From Famous or High Status People:
Most people do not pay attention to what the blurbs actually say since pretty much all blurbs are uniformly positive. Instead, people pay attention to who gave the blurb, and judge your book based on that.
The more weight and credibility and social status the endorser holds, the more powerful the blurb. You are using some of credibility and status of the person giving the blurb, and reflecting it back on your book.
An excellent example is a book you have probably heard about, Give And Take. When it was published, Adam Grant was fairly obscure academic, not well known outside of academic circles. But his work had been influential on many famous people, and he asked them to provide blurbs for his book. Look at the list of people who blurbed him:
- Susan Cain
- Dan Pink
- Tony Hsieh
- Seth Godin
- Dan Ariely
- Gretchen Rubin
- David Allen
- Dan Gilbert
- Robert Cialdini
Those people are all famous authors (at least to the type of reader Adam wanted to hit). That list forces his audience to not only give it a chance, but made the media take it very seriously as well.
But not all people know famous authors, and not all blurbs should come from famous authors. You can also get blurbs from people who have high status positions as well.
The point is that you are trying to borrow the credibility and authority of a person, and sometimes that can be conveyed by their position, even if they aren’t famous themselves.
For example, the blurbs for The Design Of Everyday Things are not from famous people, but they convey a lot of authority because the people giving them represent high status institutions in the world of design:
Patrick Whitney, Dean, Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology
Tim Brown, CEO, IDEO, and author of Change by Design
Cees de Bont, Dean, School of Design, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Who Should You Ask For Blurbs?
Blurbs are ideal to request from people in your network who are well known, important, or have important jobs.
The key thing here is to focus on asking people who will be known to the audience you are trying to reach.
Ideally, you will ask someone who has a strong connection with both your audience and the material; it’s much better to get a quote from a person that your audience knows well but is anonymous outside that niche, than someone who is very famous but has nothing to do with your book.
For example, if you write a book about pop-up retail, and you happen to be friends with a famous politician who has nothing to do with retail or any connection, a blurb from her won’t resonate with your audience. Whereas, if you can get the VP of Macy’s to blurb your book–even though no one outside of retail has any idea who she is–that quote will be a very powerful signal to the audience for your book (people who care about retail).
To decide who to reach out to, start with a big list—the more names, the more likely you are to get a yes. BUT–make sure the vast majority of those people are ones you have some connection to in your network.
Example of A Great, Directed Blurb List
Here is an excellent example of the appropriate use of blurbs, from Nir Eyal’s book, Hooked:
“A must-read for everyone who cares about driving customer engagement.”
—Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup
“The book everyone in Silicon Valley is talking about.”
—Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, founder of “The Next Web Conference”
“Hooked gives you the blueprint for the next generation of products. Read Hooked or the company that replaces you will.”
—Matt Mullenweg, Founder of WordPress
“Nir’s work is an essential crib sheet for any startup looking to understand user psychology.”
—Dave McClure, Founder 500 Startups
“When it comes to driving engagement and building habits, Hooked is an excellent guide into the mind of the user.”
—Andrew Chen, Technology Writer and Investor
Unless you are active in tech and start-up culture, probably few of these names mean anything to you, but this is a great list because they are extremely important to the audience this book is trying to appeal to.
Eric Ries is considered one of the primary thought leaders in start-ups, Matt Mullenweg is considered one of the great tech entrepreneurs of the past decade, Dave McClure is part of the PayPal Mafia and the founder of the second most successful start-up accelerator (500 Start-ups), Boris started the biggest tech news source in Europe, and Andrew Chen’s essays are read by every single person the tech and start-up space.
This list of blurbs signals exactly who this book is for–tech and start-up people who are involved with some sort of consumer software products–and converts those specific people at a very high rate from browsers into readers.
How Should You Ask Someone For A Blurb?
The process of asking for blurbs can be a bit uncomfortable for most authors. The best thing you can do when asking for a blurb is make it as easy as possible for people to give you one.
In that vein, we’re going to let you in on a dirty little secret: most people who give blurbs, don’t actually read the book.
In fact, most of them don’t even write the blurb, they just approve it.
Here is the email template we recommend using when asking someone for a blurb. Of course, you need to modify this with details relevant to the person you’re asking:
Hey [NAME], I’m writing to ask if you’d provide a blurb for my upcoming book, [INSERT TITLE].
It would mean a great deal to me if you gave an endorsement. [INSERT SPECIFIC REASON WHY BASED ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP].
I’ve attached a PDF to this email with the manuscript, and of course, I’d be happy to send you a physical copy if you like.
Obviously, I’d love it if you read the full book, but I value your time so highly, so I am providing 2-3 example blurbs for you. Feel free to approve any of these, or change them in any way you’d like that reflect your feelings:
[INSERT EXAMPLE BLURB #1]
[INSERT EXAMPLE BLURB #2]
[INSERT EXAMPLE BLURB #3]
Thanks in advance,[YOU]
Key To Blurbs: Blurb The Person, Not The Book
Most people don’t have the time to read your book and carefully consider a blurb, but they don’t feel comfortable blurbing something they haven’t read. That’s OK, there is a very simple solution to this: have them blurb you.
This is more than acceptable, and a very easy give for most people.
For example, I helped Kamal Ravikant do this for his second book, Live Your Truth. He is friends with Tim Ferriss, but Tim was too busy to read the book (at the time, he has since read and loved the book), so I got Tim to give Kamal this quote:
“Kamal is one of those people whose words are as powerful as his presence. When Kamal speaks, I listen.”
-Tim Ferriss, author of #1 New York Times bestseller, The 4-Hour Work Week
That quote is now on his Amazon page and the book, and is a very powerful piece of social proof for Kamal and his book.
2. You Can Also Use Press Mentions
A good place to start is with press or media attention you may have gotten from a media source. For example:
“Hilariously entertaining and thoroughly reprehensible.”
-New York Times
The above example was a quote about my first book I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell. The article itself was not resoundingly positive, but this was a positive mention, so I took it and put it on my book. Having the New York Times even mention my book was significant social proof.
Press from anywhere can make a difference. Even a relatively unknown blog like “317am” (now dead) can be very useful if the contents are compelling enough and fit into the message you are trying to present. Take this quote that Ryan put on his first book:
“Ryan Holiday is real. Not only real, but notorious for creating risque? ads online for American Apparel. How could a kid barely legal enough to buy a drink be the Don Draper of the Fast Company crowd?”
Any third party press adds credibility to you and your book regardless of whether the praise was directly for your book, or not.
3. Reader And Customer Testimonials Are Fair Game
It’s OK to also use Amazon customer reviews as testimonials. If you have written a book before, your old reviews may be a good place to search for an extra blurb or two. Or, early reviews that come in can be moved up on the Amazon page, to round out the blurbs.
For example, the book Predictable Revenue does this. The authors got blurbs from people who read the book and used them as “reviews” (and they made sure to list their job titles, to gain more social proof):
“I couldn’t put it down. It’s saved me so much time, and now revenue is ramping up. After reading the book, we closed major deals immediately with the strategies.”
-KURT DARADICS CEO, Freedom Speaks / CitySourced.com
“I just finished reading your book. Unbelievable! I now know what’s wrong with our sales process…”
-PAT SHAH, CEO, SurchSquad
“I have read Predictable Revenue and it’s Entrepreneurial Crack!”
-DAMIEN STEVENS, CEO, Servosity
You can even solicit testimonials from clients, actual clients (depending on what you do and how it relates to your book). The authors of Predictable Revenue did this as well:
“Working with Aaron Ross has been nothing short of amazing! His methods applied to our sales organization helped us produce a profitable and scalable new stream of predictable revenue. We saw at least 40+% new business growth. The best part is, we had a blast while doing it!”
-MICHAEL STONE, VP Sales and Strategy, WPromote (#1 ranked Search Marketing Firm on the Inc. 500)
Getting blurbs from readers is easy–just ask readers for them. You can even quote Amazon or Goodreads reviews.
The point is to solicit what people think, and then use that for social proof, to help people understand if the book is for them.