• Garine B. Isassi
  • . . . that time a famous writer answered my email!: Getting Endorsements for Your Debut Novel
This blog was featured on 07/20/2016
. . . that time a famous writer answered my email!: Getting Endorsements for Your Debut Novel

I’m a whiz at getting rejected. It is in m blood, it seems. It began at a young age. I was the last picked for kickball teams, a perpetual member of the chorus in school plays, and a recession-age job hunter. Don’t even get me started on the subject of my love life! Then there were the bazillion rejections I got from literary agents and publishers for my novel. But I kept going! No matter how many times you get rejected and no matter the reason, it hurts. Even if you can learn to shake it off, it still makes you more nervous about putting yourself out there again.

Somehow, through this rejection-o-rama, I’ve managed to gain employment, a husband, and even a published novel (Start with the Backbeat, due out in April 2016). But, when it came to asking other authors for book endorsements, better known as ‘blurbs,’ my nervousness became the most intense I’ve felt in years. It’s hard enough to get an agent or a publisher to read your book, but that is their job. Asking other authors to read your book is asking a favor of them.

The first fear is that people will say, “No.” The worse fear is that people will say, “Yes!”

I called my publisher, Brooke Warner, for advice on who to approach and how. The talk became more of a therapy session than a strategic meeting. “You’ll be fine,” she assured me. She said something along the lines of, “Authors are people, too.”

So, I sucked it up and made my asks. Through this harrowing part of my publishing journey, here is what I learned:

1. Aim for fame, but not much – Your list of targeted endorsers should run the gambit of fame. The strategy should look a bit like college applications – safe bets, the likely-to-accept, and the one or two reaches. Unless you are already famous or are particularly popular in publishing circles, don’t make a blurb list of only top NYT best selling authors who don’t know you. If they respond at all, they will likely say no.

My first rejection: I decided to start with a ‘reach’ and went to Jodi Picoult’s website, got her email address and sent her a very humble letter (based on the SheWrites author handbook suggested text). When I saw her reply email in my inbox, my heart jumped. It was a generic rejection in which she politely explained that she does no blurbs for anybody as it cuts into her own writing time. I was still thrilled that she answered at all. Others did not.


2. Start with people you know – It is always easier to ask people for a favor if you already have some kind of relationship with them. That said, it does not mean you should expect them to do it.

My second rejection: I’m Armenian-American, so I decided to play the “Armenian Card” and ask my online Armenian-American acquaintance and best selling author, Chris Bohjalian. Again, using my polite text, I asked him via email. He sent the nicest rejection I’ve ever gotten from anybody about anything. He also had a reason – his publisher asked him not to endorse any books not published by a major publisher. That’s is not even a rejection of me. It’s part of the ongoing struggle of hybrid publishing.

My first acceptances: Sarah Pekkanen is a successful author of women’s fiction who has appeared almost every year at the Gaithersburg Book Festival since 2010, where I volunteer. I know her. She inspired me to ‘Go For It” when I told her I had begun writing a novel several years ago. She said that she could make no promises, but send her the book. Turns out that she liked it and gave me a blurb. It’s the first one on my Amazon page and on the back of my book jacket.

Kathleen Shoop is a self-published author who I’ve known, virtually, for a couple of years. She has sold over 100,000 copies of her four novels. As an author who knows the hard road, she was also very encouraging to me when I called her to talk about the marketing part of publishing. Her blurb is also on the back cover of my printed book.


3. Expect at least a 60% rejection rate – Assuming that most of the people you ask to do this are in the ”safety” or “likely-to-accept” categories, they will still not all say yes. People are busy. Maybe they feel weird about it for some personal reason. When you get those rejections, accept them with grace. Do not ask why or bother them about it again. Acknowledge their answer with, “Thanks for responding to my email. Have a great day,“ then scream into your pillow in privacy (or maybe do the screaming first as you should not write emails while upset).

My unexpected rejections: There were two authors that I was absolutely positive would write blurbs for me. One of them was my first story editor, who gushed praise about my funny, descriptive writing style and the insider story line of the 1980’s music industry. The other was an author who had been extremely encouraging all through my writing process. She even helped edit my pitch letter to agents. Both of these authors simply said, “No, I can’t do it. Sorry.” And that was it. I was miffed, to say the least, but did not give either of them a hard time about it.


4. Sometimes, things just don't work out - Just because someone says they will do a blurb does not mean you’ll get one from them. Things come up. People forget or are simply not good at following up. 

My drop outs: As Brooke told me in our therapy session, authors are human, too. Another acquaintance of mine who is an author of several successful novels said she would like to write me a blurb. A couple of weeks after sending her the book, she emailed me with profuse apologies, saying that with her job and other commitments, she was not going to be able to read my book or blurb it after all.

There was another author who said yes, but never replied to any other emails that I sent to her.


5. Take recommendations from your publisher and/or publicist – They have influence and know the authors whose audiences will probably like your book. They will encourage their other clients to blurb your book and that takes some of the stage fright off of you.

My SheWrites acceptances: Crystal Lee Patriarche, my publicist, suggested a few authors that she also represents who have written novels about music or women’s literature. This is how I got three of my blurbs – the most yes’s per asks. Two of those authors wrote novels about music, Céline Keating, author of Layla and Play for Me! and Andee Reilly, author of Satisfaction. The third was Kamy Wicoff, author of Wishful Thinking and founder of SheWrites.com – that was a pretty big deal to me!


6. Find your audience via subject matter - Although it may seem counter intuitive, your list of people to approach for a blurb should be all over the place. You are looking for your audience. Whose audience would be interested in your book? It does not mean only other authors who wrote a book like yours. It might mean asking someone who is a expert on your subject matter. It is actually more likely you will get a response from a big name expert than a famous author.

My big blurb coup: My novel is about the diversity of the music scene in 1980’s New York City and about authenticity. I used to work in the music business and I’ve met some music journalists. I actually wrote a couple of them into my book (in cameo forms). One of them was Rolling Stone Magazine’s Anthony DeCurtis. This guy is like the Barbara Walters of the music industry. He has interviewed, quite literally, every major rock star from the past 35 years. He hangs out with Yoko Ono and Lou Reed. People who are into popular music definitely know who he is.

I sent him my polite email, with the added touch that I have actually been in the same room with him (some 25 years ago) and that he, himself, has a cameo in my story. That might have piqued his interest.

He said yes! – but it was not quite that easy . . .


7. The secret weapon is polite persistence – I think I’ve repeated this line here a few times – People are busy. Especially busy people, who have kids, a job, etc. If someone keeps saying they will get to it, but don’t, it means it is time to get out the big guns. Remind them. Repeatedly. With good humor.

My long road: My correspondence with Mr. DeCurtis began in July. He sent the blurb to me in December. Yes. Six Months. After he said yes, I mailed him a printed copy of the book (as many people ask for it in printed form). Then sent him an email asking if he got it. He responded yes and that he’s on it. Three weeks later, I sent a reply email with a polite reminder, “Hi, have you had a chance this month to take a look . . . “ Every three or four weeks, I sent him a one or two sentence reminder. Nothing long. He always replied in the affirmative. So I kept at it, making sure never to seem impatient or uptight. I think I caught him on some days off around Thanksgiving and he emailed the blurb to me on Dec. 4. I was so excited – I was jumping up and down in my office. This blurb will be on my back cover with Sarah’s and Kathleen’s and the pull quote, “Poignant and uplifting.” will be on the front cover. [The whole blurb is below, with my other blurbs.]


8. Final warning – Not everyone is nice - No matter how polite you might be, some people are just not very aware of how they come across. This is especially true via emails. They might think they are being matter-of-fact, but their bad attitude comes through as rude (note my advice above – do not write emails while feeling upset). Then again, some people don’t even try.

My bad vibes: I tried to combine the ‘someone I know’ and ‘subject matter expert’ with an author who is also very involved in promoting diversity. Since a huge part of my book is about what it means to be stereotyped because of your race, gender, or outward appearance, I thought this person might be interested. Not only did I get a rather curt response, where I was told in no uncertain terms that there was no way she would spend her time reading an unknown author’s book, this person also posted on social media about it. She did not name me, but referenced exact phrases from my email, specifically saying, “It’s nothing personal. Don’t ask me to read part of your book. I don’t do that.” I refrained from commenting on her post – it took all my inner strength, but I refrained.


Over all, the main thing that kept me going through this process was the fact that I never relied too much on any one email or any one connection. I asked about 20 people for blurbs and I got six.

~ ~ ~

“Start with the Backbeat is the touching story of one idealistic young woman's journey into the music industry when it was at its multiplatinum peak. Holding onto those ideals is a challenge, but Garine Isassi's clear, smart, good-hearted storytelling is itself a blow against easy cynicism. She reveals a sharp eye for how quickly greed and self-interest can displace a love of music—and an equally sharp understanding of how a dedicated person's daily principled decisions can make sure that doesn't happen. It's a tale that's both poignant and uplifting.”
—Anthony DeCurtis, Contributing Editor, Rolling Stone magazine

“Told with an insider's ear for dialogue and setting . . . Start with the Backbeat is a fresh, interesting look at a little-known slice of the music industry.”
—Sarah Pekkanen, best-selling author of The Opposite of Me and Catching Air

“Music, friends, family, love, and a career anyone would envy! It's 1989 and Jill Dodge is working her way up the ladder at a NYC music label. Her quirky friends and diverse co-workers saunter in and out of Jill's life as she attempts to create a world that's artistic but also pays the bills. Insight into the glamorous world of music as rap was coming on scene provides a backdrop that is unique and dynamic as we watch Jill move past post-college angst and insecurity. A fun read that brought a smile to my face and got my feet tapping as I went on Jill's journey to fulfillment.”
—Kathleen Shoop, bestselling author of Love and Other Subjects

“A joy ride through the heyday of the eighties rap craze with a heroine you can’t help but root for, Start With the Backbeat is smart, stylish, and fun from beginning to end.”
—Kamy Wicoff, author of Wishful Thinking

“Fast-paced and entertaining, Start with the Backbeat is about a young woman's search for love and success in the exciting but sometimes cutthroat music industry. It’s a fun and heartwarming―a genuine pleasure to read. Like your favorite tune, you'll find yourself humming it for days.”
—Andee Reilly, author of Satisfaction

“Garinè B. Isassi’s funny, tender, and smart novel, Start with the Backbeat, is one of the few books that give us a woman’s point of view of the music industry and an ethnically diverse range of characters. Set in the late ’80s, it tells the story of Jill Dodge, who, after several years as a temp in the Admin Pit (think, ‘armpit’) of Mega Big Records, is promoted to a staff position. The brisk pace and breezy style keep the reader turning pages as Jill struggles to maintain authenticity in the face of clueless execs, romantic snafus, and a wannabe rapper. Isassi skewers the racism and sexism at the core of the industry with a light touch while evoking the deep love of music that drives each of her delightfully unique characters.”
—Céline Keating, author of Layla and Play for Me

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  • Dorit Sasson

    This is definitely a must read article and many of your points deeply resonate with me. Thank you!!

  • Karoline Barrett

    When my publisher (Penguin) asked me to find authors to read and then provide a blurb for my book, I had already become Facebook friends with a number of published authors, and I asked 3 to read and provide blurbs and they all agreed. It was nerve wracking because I kept thinking, "What if they hate my book?"  Luckily they did not. 

  • Good article and now I know not to take it so hard when authors I know will not give me a blurb and also how it feels when I am asked for a blurb and don't give one; ouch

  • Jude Walsh Whelley

    This was excellent, am reposting, thank you!

  • Michelle Cox

    Loved this, Garine!  And great blurbs!  Your hard work - and anxiety - paid off.  Hard to believe (well, not really) that people can be so rude!  Glad you got there in the end.  

  • Thanks for the comments everyone. It's all a work in progress, isn't it?

  • Irene Allison

    So very thoughtful and useful! Thank you, Garine!

    I had the same nervousness as you when I started to reach out for blurbs. I didn't know any of the people I was approaching but I spent time reviewing their work so that I could really personalize my requests. And I had a similar experience to you regarding no answers and boiler-plate declines.

    I had forced myself to reach wide and received two stellar endorsements from people I had hoped for, but wasn't expecting to hear from. And yet they sent me lovely endorsements. That just froze me with shock and joy. (Couldn't move for hours!)

    It really is scary reaching out like this but it is so wonderful too to see what comes back. And -- yeah -- we're all just people in this together! I'm so happy for you with your success! Bravo!  

  • Kamy Wicoff Brainstorming

    Great piece, Garine -- and great book!

  • Mary Jo Hetzel

    Wow, Garine. Thank you for being willing to tell your blurb hunt story. I'm right in the middle of that now and your experience and advice are priceless to me. I've been deeply, kindly, respectfully rejected by Gloria Steinem, and dismissed out of hand by a famous popular male writer we will not mention, but one of my first and only really good creative writing teachers at Grub Street Writers' Center in Boston, who is also a prize winning novelist, was thrilled for me and didn't skip a beat when I asked for her blurb. So thanks again as I continue my own blurb journey! Mary Jo Hetzel, SWP author of In a Silent Way.

  • Celine Keating

    Fantastic article!  I really wish you'd written before I'd had to reach out for blurbs -- this is a Must-Read piece every writer at this stage of their career.

  • Vivienne Diane Neal

    What a timely article. Recently, I have been getting requests from authors, through my reviews on Amazon, to review their books. Although reviewing books is not something I do for a living, but depending on the genre, I have honored their requests, because I know how important it is for the author to get his or her work noticed. Now when it comes to me asking for a blur for my work, I will have to work at that and follow your lead. Thanks for sharing your experience, which is challenging at best. Continued success in your endeavors. :)

  • Mardith Louisell

    Informative and helpful post, Garine. I'm saving it for when I have to scale that mountain. Thanks.

  • Mary Ann Clarke Scott

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with this daunting task Garine. It's on my to-do list with a big question mark beside it. Now I have an approach to guide me. And congrats on getting six fabulous blurbs! Very impressive. 

  • Donna Drew Sawyer

    Garine, you definitely have what it takes to be an author. Writing a book is hard, marketing a book is equally hard and at times, immensely harder! Your essay should be read by everyone trying to get a blurb, it shows textbook technique and persistence. Loved it! 

  • Laurel Davis Huber

    Persistence, persistence. That, plus you have learned to shrug off the negatives. Lots of lessons in this - thanks, and congratulations!