Monday, May 18, 2009

Endorse this!

In the latest issue of his Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, author Randy Ingermanson ("the Snowflake guy") discusses the pros and cons of endorsements. (And, frankly, how useless they often are.) Reprinted here by permission:
Marketing: Want Fries With That Endorsement?

One question I hear often from writers trying to break in to the publishing world is this: "How do I get a published novelist to endorse my work?"

That is a tough, tough question. Here's why.

Being a working novelist is hard work -- usually long hours at low pay, often wedged in to the few hours not consumed by a day job and family responsibilities. Reading a book for endorsement takes quite a bit of time, usually several hours. And it's completely unethical to accept money to endorse a novel.

So when you ask a novelist for an endorsement, you're asking for a gift of time, without being able to compensate for that time with money. That's a big, big favor to ask someone you don't know. It's a fairly big favor to ask someone you DO know.

Every published author I knows struggles with how to handle the flood of endorsement requests. Some authors never write endorsements. Others set a fixed quota -- so many per year, and then no more. Others do as many as time permits, and then just say no to the rest. A few seem to write endorsements faster than McDonalds flips out Big Macs.

One question we all ought to be asking is whether endorsements actually work. Think about these questions for a second:

* Have you EVER bought a book solely because of an endorsement?

* Have you EVER bought a book partly due to an endorsement?

* Have you ever NOT bought a book because it had no endorsements?

I did once buy a book for no other reason than the endorsement on the cover was over-the-top breathless about the book. I've never done that again, because I didn't think that book lived up to the hype.

I have occasionally opened a book when I saw an endorsement on the cover that gave me reason to think the book might be good. But if the book didn't interest me on its own merits, it went back on the shelf.

I can't remember ever deciding not to buy a book because of a lack of endorsements.

So in my mind, it's not obvious that endorsements are all that useful. But all the same, I don't think an endorsement can hurt (unless it were written by Jack the Ripper) so I usually do try to get endorsements for my books.

There is a right and a wrong way to go about that. The usual way I do it is to send e-mails to a group of writer friends, describing my book and ending with, "If you're interested in reading this for possible endorsement, then send me an email and I'll pass your name along to my marketing director."

This is a low pressure way to do things, because they all know that I'm e-mailing a bunch of them, and so if they don't have the time or desire to read my book, all they have to do is do nothing.

Most of the writers in this group do the same when they have a book coming out, so this behavior is not only expected, it's encouraged. It's a way for each of us to get free copies of books we probably would have read anyway.

That method works great for getting endorsements from your friends. But what about from people you don't know?

I generally hate asking someone I don't know for an endorsement. It takes a LOT of time to read a book, and so asking for an endorsement is asking for a favor. I'd rather ask favors from my friends than from strangers.

Time is the main reason I almost always say no when I get an e-mail from someone I don't know asking me to read their book for endorsement. If I said yes to all of these requests, I'd end up spending every waking moment reading books for endorsement.

This is doubly true when I get a request from someone who has not yet sold their novel, but wants my endorsement so as to make a good impression on the publisher.

I don't know of any novelist who would say yes to this kind of a request, because it's completely unnecessary. Publishers already HAVE employees to read manuscripts by unpublished writers and decide whether they're worth publishing. They don't need authors to do that task too.

It's hard, grueling work to sort through the many unsuitable manuscripts to find the rare gem. But a publisher's employees do it because they're paid to.

An author, however, is not paid to do that. Authors simply can't afford to do hard, grueling work for no pay. Neither can you. (If you can, then there's a ditch in my back yard just screaming for you to come dig it.)

What if you don't know anybody? Is it hopeless for you to try to get endorsements?

No, there are still ways. The key thing is that you need to EARN the right to ask someone to read your manuscript for possible endorsement. You do that by first writing something that's truly excellent and then building relationships with possible endorsers.

Let's assume you've got a manuscript that's excellent. You want to get an endorsement, but you don't know anybody whose endorsement you'd want. How do you establish a relationship with a writer without being horribly, sickeningly, weaselishly tacky? Here are a couple of suggestions that illustrate the basic principles.

Idea #1: Go to a writing conference and get your work critiqued by a published novelist. This is not as hard as it sounds. Plenty of novelists teach at writing conferences, and often part of their duty is to critique manuscripts. (Yes, they are paid to do this.)

I love conferences, so I do this all the time. On the rare occasion when I find something I really like, I'll offer to read it for endorsement. I don't do this often, because I don't often find something that's really excellent.

My one rule here is that the endorsement has to be my idea. If someone asks me to endorse it, then that puts pressure on me that I don't want, so my answer is no.

A lot of novelists feel the same way I do, although some of them are more hard-nosed than I am. I don't know anyone who is significantly softer-nosed than me.

You may be thinking that this sounds like a long-shot. Yes, of course, if your manuscript isn't ready yet, then this is a long, long, long-shot. But if your manuscript is terrific, then this is actually a pretty easy shot.

Idea #2: I got this idea from my friend, best-selling novelist Brandilyn Collins, who got a couple of stellar endorsements for her very first book when she was completely unknown. I have Brandilyn's permission to share this with you.

Brandilyn sez: My first book was A QUESTION OF INNOCENCE, a true crime. I was learning to write fiction at the time. I'd learned a LOT about the craft from reading novels by an NYT bestselling novelist -- a criminal-lawyer-turned-writer of legal suspense. I really respected this guy and vowed to get his endorsement. I sent him a request. The letter was targeted to him and mentioned his books that I'd read.

This author had a signing scheduled in San Francisco. His 6th novel had just been pubbed. I'd already read 4 & 5. I read, dissected 1-3. At the signing the author heard the ubiquitous "Where do you get your ideas?" kinds of questions. I had mine formulated and memorized. I asked him to speak to the evolution of his author's voice (which had changed dramatically). Then I named every novel he'd written in order, describing his voice in each book. By the time I got to book 6, his mouth was open. "Wow," he said. "If I had to describe the change in my author voice over time it would be just like that!"

How could he not agree to read my book? I GOT him. I clearly understood the craft of writing. And I'd taken the time to study all of his works. His name and endorsement ended up on my book's front cover: "Captures the twists and turns, legal and psychological, of one of California's most compelling recent murder cases in a lively and arresting style."


Randy sez: What Brandilyn did was to take the time to study the work of a particular author and then build a crash relationship with him at a book-signing. This was smart. She stood out from the crowd like a Great Dane in a pack of poodles.

As my way of thanking Brandilyn for that idea, let me refer you to her web site and blog:
http://www.BrandilynCollins.com
http://www.ForensicsAndFaith.blogspot.com

Brandilyn writes suspense (the kind with lots of dead people) and she knows quite a bit about the CSI type of criminal forensics. If you're squeamish, then her Web site may make you squeam, but if you're not, it won't.

Getting an endorsement is a ticklish process, no doubt about it. If you want to get them for your book, first try to imagine you're a working novelist trying to drill out your quota of words every day to earn your loaf. How would you want to be treated by an
endorsement-seeker?

I'll just bet you'd want to be treated with respect. I'll bet you'd be annoyed by anyone with an entitlement mentality demanding that you read their work. I'll bet
you'd give preference to the writers who took the time to build a relationship with you.

Treat those pesky working novelists that way, and see what happens.
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 16,000 readers, every month. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit http://www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

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