Success isn’t a solo accomplishment

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much I owe my career to other people.  Yes, it all starts with sitting alone at my desk, spinning a premise into a plot, and a plot into a novel.  That much I have to do all on my own, and it’s a solitary struggle that no one can really help me with.  But once I do my job and the manuscript is completed, I have to stand back and rely on the skills of other people.  If it weren’t for the hard work of editors, publicists, sales reps, cover artists and marketing folks, I would never have hit bestseller lists.  I could fill several weeks’ worth of blogs detailing all the ways publishing professionals have contributed mightily to my success.  But today I want to thank just one group of people, a group to which I belong: authors who blurb.

When I sold my first medical thriller, I was known only as an author of nine paperback romance novels. With HARVEST, my first hardcover, I was breaking into a genre where I was a complete unknown.  The launch of any new hardcover author is a risky proposition, and HARVEST could have bombed like so many other debut novels have.  Out of all the thrillers being published that year, why should booksellers order mine?  Why should readers risk twenty bucks on an unknown?  Why should reviewers even glance at the galley? The publisher loved the book, the marketing people loved it, but how could they convince the rest of the world that HARVEST was worth their time?  In hopes of getting some good advance buzz, they sent out galleys to a number of authors, soliciting blurbs.

And here’s where my first white knight, in the guise of Michael Palmer, came riding to the rescue.  “Nonstop and terrifying,” he wrote.  “Only a riveting storyteller who is also a physician could have written this book.”

A few weeks later, James Patterson chimed in with another slam-bang quote.  In a note to my editor, he said that he didn’t do blurbs anymore, but he was making an exception for mine.

Other terrific quotes soon followed, from Philip Margolin and John Nance.  

I had never met any of these people.  I knew their names of course, but to me they were rock stars, authors I never thought would ever pick up one of my books.  This is what amazed me, that these strangers, people who owed me nothing, would so generously take the time to help out a new author.  And I am absolutely certain that those blurbs were vital to the success of HARVEST.

As my career slowly built, other authors were equally kind: Iris Johansen. Tami Hoag.  Even Stephen King gave me a quote, and his enthusiastic, paragraph-long blurb for GRAVITY was used as the lone back-cover copy on the hardcover.  I didn’t even know they’d been sent the galleys.  I didn’t solicit any of these authors; they received the galleys directly from my editor, so these authors could easily have ignored the requests.  But they didn’t.  And I will always be grateful.

Over the years I, in turn, have been delighted to blurb other debut or emerging authors. I’ve watched those authors, including Lisa Gardner, Kathy Reichs, Harlan Coben, Karin Slaughter, and James Rollins ascend to bestsellers lists around the world.  I get a kick that I “discovered” them before most other readers did.  When I come across a truly compelling book, like C.J. Box’s BLUE HEAVEN or Linwood Barclay’s NO TIME TO SAY GOODBYE, I can’t wait to get to my computer and send off a blurb.

The downside of being generous with blurbs?  You get overwhelmed by galleys.  I have at least a dozen lying around my office or stacked up by my bed, and I wish I could read them all.  I know that I won’t have the time to crack open most of them, and of those I do read, most will fall flat.  Every so often, though, I’ll find one that blows me away, one that I wish I had written.  And I remember how, years ago, Palmer and Patterson stepped in to help launch an unknown writer.

If they did it, so can we all. 





10 thoughts on “Success isn’t a solo accomplishment

  1. Mark Terry

    I’ve been blessed to have very well known and successful authors blurb me as well–including you! James Rollins just came through with a great blurb for my next novel and I’m totally dazzled and thrilled by it. So thanks y’all. You know who you are.

  2. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    You are my White Knight, Tess. Your magnificent blurb for Boulevard helped push it to the next level.

  3. Brett Battes

    Let me say that I will be forever thankful to you, Tess, for blurbing my debut. I know that helped a ton! So thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. And, hopefully, I’m able to pay it forward.

  4. Louise Ure

    Both my publishers asked me to provide a list of authors to whom galleys should be sent. That’s a little dicier — and little more presumptuous — but many of those kind folks came through and I would not have had as successful a launch without them.

    The flip side of that was the woman last month who asked me to offer a blurb on her book and only had a ten-day window for me to read it. "Just scan it for a couple of pages and then say something fabulous about it." Huh uh. That’s not how it’s done.

  5. Murderati

    Tess, it was definitely your blurb that got the marketing department at SMP even more excited about my debut thriller.

    We had only exchanged a few emails when I asked you to read it and was thrilled when you agreed to give me the blurb.

    Thank you, so much, for giving back to the writing community.

  6. pari noskin taichert

    Your story is wonderful. I think the impact of blurbs is underrated. I know that Hillerman’s comments on my books helped bring them attention.

    Thank you for your obvious generosity to the next crops of writers. I hope, someday, to be equally so.

  7. JT Ellison

    The kindness and generosity of the authors who blurbed my debut are totally instrumental in the book’s success. I adore every author who takes the time to blurb.

  8. Jake Nantz

    Tess, you are wonderful for doing this to, as Brett said, pay it forward. I think people underestimate the amount of pull it can have for a reader to see and say, "Well, here’s two of my favorite writers on the back cover, and they love this book. I bet I will too." I think all writers who blurb, especially for newcomers and debuts, have a special place in the world.

  9. Shayla

    On Writing has a list at the end of books Stephen King read the year he wrote it. Your name was listed. I think he’s a regular fan of yours now. I know I buy every T.G. book the minute Amazon releases it.


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