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.