One way enterprising authors can level the playing field for their book marketing is to enlist the help of better-known, more-established figures in their field.
How do you do that? By getting people to read (or scan) your book and supply a positive comment you can use in your book promotion. These promotional quotes have many uses, whether you call them testimonials, blurbs, or something else.
Before we go into how to get these testimonials, let’s take a look at why they work.
How Testimonials Help Sell Books
The power of testimonials varies depending on:
- the kind of book you are publishing
- the specific niche into which you hope to sell it, and
- the influence of the people who are giving the testimonials.
Two important elements that affect the effectiveness of your testimonials are social proof and congruence. Let’s look at each one.
A lot of the influence of testimonials comes through the persuasive effect of what’s called “social proof.” In an ambiguous situation, the influence of what other people are doing can determine how we react.
For instance, in considering a book in which you might be interested, if you notice that every authority in the field has recommended the book, that’s a powerful form of social proof in your decision whether or not to buy the book.
The Congruence Test
Testimonials also exercise another persuasive effect through the perceived authority of the person giving the quote. So if you have a book on how to throw the perfect pass in football, a testimonial from Aaron Rogers, the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, last year’s championship team, will carry a lot of influence.
But a mistake authors often make, in my experience, is assuming that authority in one field will carry over to other fields. If Aaron Rogers gives me a testimonial for a book on getting rid of garden pests, who cares? Rogers has no authority in the field of pest control (that I know of) so this testimonial would fail the test of congruence—there’s no connection between his field of authority and the subject of the book.
Authors fall into this trap in different ways, but the most common one I hear is something like this: “Well, Aaron used to babysit for my sister and said he’d be happy to help out any way he could, so I thought it would be great if someone as famous as him says good things about my garden pest book. I mean, millions of people love the guy, how could it hurt?”
My advice would be to resist this temptation and wait for your football book to be ready before you appeal to Aaron Rogers for a blurb. It’s important here to realize the difference between the kind of celebrity testimonials you see on TV and targeted book promotion. Aaron might be able to sell Cadillacs for the local dealer. After all, Cadillacs are the same no matter which dealer you buy them from, so Aaron’s testimony that “Charlie’s Caddys is the best place to shop!” could carry some weight.
But if your book presents you as an expert in the field, you are selling something quite different and unique. Here, people really care about whether you know your stuff, and no amount of testimony from an unrelated, non-expert, non-authoritative source is going to help.
Okay, now we’re ready to look at how to get this done for your book.
Getting Testimonials: A 3-Step Process
In order to streamline your efforts at getting blurbs for your book, I’ve condensed this process into three pretty simple steps.
1. Identify Your Targets
This is a very important part of the process, and here’s where you have to really stretch yourself the most. What I mean is that you are going to want to “shoot for the stars” and try to get the very best quotes you can from the people who are at the top of the mountain in terms of notoriety and influence over the people you’ve identified as potential buyers of your book.
It’s super important here to rigorously apply the law of congruence we talked about before. You have to know who your readers are and who influences them. That’s much more important than whether they are “famous” or on TV or a friend of the family.
But don’t hold back. Spend a few minutes fantasizing about the “perfect” blurb, the one that might really change the sales of your book, and what it would look like on the cover of your book or in the first paragraph of your press release. Then go for it, and include those people in your campaign.
In this step, you’ll also need to get the email or regular mail addresses for the people on your list. And don’t limit the number of people you ask. Get your list together and plan on approaching every one of them.
2. Send a Well-Crafted Query
Your query letter will make or break your testimonial campaign, so it’s important to spend time on it. Here are some tips to remember as you draft and review it.
- Keep it short. It’s likely that the people you are querying are pretty busy. If you send a four-page letter explaining your book and marketing in detail, many people won’t even have time to read it. So how short should it be? As short as possible to still get the job done, but in no case should you go more than one page.
- Introduce yourself. If the people you are writing to don’t know you, you’ll need to include some information on who you are and why you’re qualified to write your book. However, no one wants to read a resume or long list of accomplishments; that’s boring and will put people off if you include it at the beginning of your query.
- Why is it important? Tell in a sentence or two what you hope to accomplish with your book and why other people should care.
- Connect to a common cause. This is crucial. Try to establish a commonality between yourself and the person you are querying. For instance, if their last book is on a similar subject, point out that you are both trying to educate people on these issues. It’s also important here to mention whether the person’s work is noted in your book, or if they or their works are quoted, and where.
- Be specific about what you want. You need to include in your query exactly what you’re looking for and what you intend to do with it. For instance, you might say “If you enjoy the book, would you give me a quote I can use in my book promotion?” Don’t forget to mention that you may edit the responses for length, since some authors will send you much more material than you can reasonably use.
- Set a deadline. You will get far more responses if you set a deadline, and this is quite common in publishing where we’re trying to meet publication day deadlines. You can say something like, “It would help tremendously to have your response by February 1, but of course I would be grateful for any responses that come in after that if your schedule doesn’t allow you to meet that date.”
- Make it easy. Don’t send your book with the query letter, but do offer it in whichever formats you have available. If you are doing a print or print on-demand book, offer the printed copy as well as a PDF. If you have an eBook version, offer that as well. I particularly like PDFs and use them extensively because they look just like the printed book but can be delivered instantly.
- Leave options open. Be aware that there may be reasons a particular person won’t blurb your book, and that’s just the way it is. Don’t take it personally, since the person may just be very busy, on a deadline of their own, traveling, or the brother-in-law of your biggest competitor. You never know, but the idea is to invite enough people that you’ll end up with some really great testimonials even if a number of people don’t respond.
3. Follow Up
About a week before your deadline, send a very gentle reminder to people who have agreed to review the book but who haven’t yet responded.
Even more important, when someone sends you a blurb you can use, make sure to thank them. This simple step, often overlooked, can help ease your way when you want to do more promotion or you’re ready to promote your next book.
Another way to show the people who blurbed you that you really appreciate their help is to send them a copy of the finished book with another thank you note.
Being able to issue your book with the strong recommendation of a host of experts and authority figures in your field will give your book a boost in many ways. So shoot for the stars, and give your book the help it deserves by getting the best testimonials you can.
Photo by World Economic Forum. This article was originally published in December 2011 by CreateSpace.com under the title Shoot For the Stars: How to Get Testimonials for Your Book