I Have the Best Words: Getting Blurbs


My back cover blurbsOne of the trickiest parts of a successful book launch is getting endorsements, or blurbs. (Note: by the time you finish this blog post–if not by the time you are halfway through it– the word “blurb” is going to sound very silly.)

It’s tricky because the idea is to get someone who is better known than you are to vouch for your book and:

  • You may not know any well-known people.
  • You may know some well-known people but hesitate to approach them because well-known people are often very busy doing the things that they are well known for. I personally don’t know any lazy well-known people.

Creative Ways to Get Blurbs

My friend Anna Redsand, who just published a memoir, To Drink From the Silver Cup, had some excellent advice in her essay How About Those Blurbs?  You should read the whole post, but here are a couple of key points:

  • Go outside the obvious stars of your field. Professionals you’ve met over the years might have something valuable to say; so might emerging authors who are not quite as intimidating.
  • Be personal. Explain why you are writing to the people you are writing to. If they are going to take the time to read and blurb your book, you can take the time to personalize your note.

A Little Blurb From My Friends (and Former Colleagues)

I was under a time crunch and wanted blurbs for the back cover of my book. I was going to go for a couple of humorous quotes that I gathered about my book during my Kickstarter campaign, one involving camels and my peculiar fondness for them, the other involving making history at Frommer’s by being the first to include the word “penis” in a guidebook.

Not only did the camel blurber balk from being lumped in with the penis quote, but I decided that even a humorous book deserves blurbs based on actual readings. I took Anna’s advice and got creative as well as pushy, leaning on friendships in a couple of cases, and drawing on a former colleague that I had featured in my memoir in the third.

Let me introduce my blurbers in the order in which I met them….

Blurber #1: Lydia Davis

I first met Lydia in southern California in the late 1970s. She was a visiting writer at the University of California, San Diego, and I was working on my dissertation on Paul Blackburn, whose papers were at the university’s Archive for New Poetry. Since we both lived in New York in our other lives, we resumed our friendship when we returned to the East Coast.

The Blurb

I’ve known Edie for many years, and here at last is the book I always hoped she would write–the totally entertaining, often informative, and at times touching tale of her life behind the travel editor’s desk and on the road. This is what happens when a Brooklyn-born scholar of modern poetry goes west and becomes a dedicated and intrepid adventurer, one who never loses her sense of humor (or self-preservation). Funny, surprising, and highly recommended for the armchair traveler.

–Lydia Davis, fiction writer, translator, author of THE COLLECTED STORIES and CAN’T AND WON’T

Lydia also won the Man Booker International Prize but wouldn’t let me use that fact on my book cover because, she said, she preferred being known for her writing than for her awards. I understand, but if you can’t brag on a blurber in your blog, where can you?

Blurber #2: Phyllis Richman

Gault Millau guidesI was working for Prentice Hall Travel in New York in the mid-1980s and was tasked with editing a series of French dining guides, Gault Millau. The company had been sued  for one of its restaurant reviews and the editors were very careful to avoid further litigation. I included this passage in my memoir:

Some authors were better at following the rules than others. Among those who mastered the lawsuit-avoiding lingo was Phyllis Richman, the Washington Post’s restaurant columnist and the main dining contributor to Gault Millau’s Best of Washington, DC. Her reviews were clever and clean—that is, in need of virtually no editing—and they always arrived punctually. Phyllis herself was a delight to work with, down-to-earth and friendly. I didn’t think in those terms at the time, but Phyllis became my yardstick for the consummate professional writer, someone with a distinct voice and style who also understood the value of deadlines.

I never met Phyllis when I worked with her and more than two decades had passed since we’d had contact, but I was inspired by Anna to go outside my comfort zone; I found a mutual friend who knew how to get in touch with her. I sent Phyllis the above-quoted passage, which led to her willingness to read the book–but also to insist on being honest about my praise for her in my memoir, lest people think she had a conflict of interest.

The Blurb

Edie Jarolim’s tell-all on travel writing is great fun and illuminating. Her scorched-earth approach exposes the role of money in vacation prose, and offers a dismaying look at this under-appreciated career. Full disclosure: The author was once my editor and says very nice things about me in her book.

–Phyllis Richman, restaurant critic, author of THE BUTTER DID IT and other gastronomic mysteries.

Blurber #3: Judith Fein

I met Judie in person only twice, at travel writers’ conferences, but her career and mine are the most parallel, and not just because of travel writing. She also writes about Jewish genealogy, which was my focus in Freud’s Butcher.  I probably got my best quotes from her, including the one that I used on the front cover: “Funny, frank, frisky, fresh, and sometimes ferocious.”

The Blurb

It is a revelation to read about Edie Jarolim’s career in travel writing and editing for some of the biggest players in the business, her insider’s insights into the good, the bad, and the really ugly. Go with this nice Jewish girl around the globe as she strips at a nudist resort in Palm Springs, has sex on the job in Egypt and Mexico, takes a perilous ride down into the Copper Canyon, drinks, laughs, cries, and transforms from a woman who thought “arugula” was a mispronounced “rugelach” to a respected food writer. I had a hard time putting this book down. It’s engaging on all levels.

–Judith Fein, travel writer, speaker, and author of LIFE IS A TRIP: The Transformative Magic of Travel, and THE SPOON FROM MINKOWITZ: A Bittersweet Roots Journey to Ancestral Lands

Future blurbs and blurbers

But that’s just the start of trying to get people to say nice things about me.

All the marketing advice I read says that you have to focus on a niche, but I can’t pin one down. I think my book will appeal to women (especially singles), travelers, publishing insiders who like to read good dish about the industry… I guess I will have to try to find single female publishing insiders who like to travel.

I’ll keep you posted.

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About the Author

Edie Jarolim is a writer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. Sign up on this blog to get updates about her humorous tell-all/memoir, GETTING NAKED FOR MONEY: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All.

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