How to Get Testimonials for Your Self-Published Book

by Joel Friedlander on January 23, 2012 · 17 comments

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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:

  1. the kind of book you are publishing
  2. the specific niche into which you hope to sell it, and
  3. 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.

Social Proof

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

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    { 10 comments… read them below or add one }

    merri January 26, 2014 at 10:04 am

    So…. say, if the people you approached (via email) for a blurb did not respond to your request (and you know at least one of them definitely received the email), to say yay or nay, would you send them a follow-up email, to see if they received your first email? Or would you just assume they are not interested, and move on to others?

    Reply

    Karen Hampton February 6, 2012 at 5:18 am

    Thank you for a very informative article. I am just getting started on the road to E-publishing, my first publishing venture, and am looking for anything that will help me in my quest. I am amazed to see the support that is out there from so many people who are willing to share their experiences and information with others.

    Reply

    Peggy DeKay February 3, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    This is such an important topic for authors. Blurbs don’t have to be from celebrities to be effective. Some of the best blurbs are from ordinary people who have read your book and benefited from it. For my book, which is a how-to book about self-publishing I approached podcasters, systems analysts and a quality assurance professional as well as other authors. Why?

    The systems analyst and the quality assurance specialist both read technical book daily for a living. I felt that a blurb from them, and a “like” was a great endorsement. If you have written a work of fiction, then ask prolific reviewers and readers in your genre. Someone who never reads how-to books will most likely not bother to respond to a query about your how-to book no matter how good it is.

    Acquiring blurbs in the world of POD and digital publishing is a never-ending process. If you plan to update your book after a year on the market, pursue more, higher-profile blurbs during the year. Watch for great reviews on your book that are posted on Amazon during the year, these can then be incorporated into the blurb section of your “updated” book.

    Thank you Joe for the timely and relevant information on your wonderful blog.

    All the best,

    Peggy DeKay host of The Business of Writing Today podcast and blog at

    http://feeds.feedburner.com/tbowt

    Reply

    Gael McCarte January 31, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Thanks Joel, informative, helpful and upbeat as ever. And no Joel did not send me a targeted, short, communicating letter with a deadline asking for this comment.

    Reply

    J S January 25, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Testimonials are nice ego boosters. However, be cautious on your and their time getting notable and famous people to give you a blurb.

    Traditional TV advertising using popular athletes and media stars are less effective than having ‘average joe’ or ‘average mary’ proclaim the benefits of the product. Consumers know the famous people are getting paid big dollars to do it and discount that blurb. The advertising companies entice the client CEO’s to spend big on famous people because they get a pass-through.

    I know my own purchase habits have migrated on Amazon to reading BOTH the 5 and 1 star reviews to get the extremes on ‘regular consumers’ opinions.

    So be cautious. If you know a few big authors and can get some blurbs that’s great, but don’t spend weeks at it .. do some more actual story writing (which I’m off to do now..)

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander January 27, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    Good point J S. This strategy doesn’t help you pick out which people to approach for testimonials. What really matters is not who you know, but who is influential with your universe of readers.

    Reply

    Sharon Beck January 23, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    The book I’m working on will appeal to a number of groups and I know I can get testimonials from some leaders in each group. What I’m wondering about how I handle it when the groups can be at odds with each other. There is a small group who it will appeal strongly to, and several other much larger groups with significant albeit somewhat lesser interest. I want to be sensitive to all groups and yet not miss out on excellent testimonial opportunities.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander January 27, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    Sharon, you may have to decide which group you’re appealing to. I’m not sure I understand you question really, it’s difficult in the abstract.

    Reply

    Marla Markman January 23, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Helpful post, Joel. The Congruence Test is a great tip. Just because someone is a celebrity doesn’t mean they can sell your book!

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus January 23, 2012 at 1:06 am

    Often, especially for a new author with a new book, it’s just not possible to get cooperation from an expert who will add authority to yours.

    That doesn’t mean your book has to be blurbless. There’s nothing wrong with asking for and printing blurbs from friends, family and even strangers, if they’re appropriate to your book.

    Often a blurb from an “ordinary person” who really read your book and with whom prospective readers can identify, will seem more genuine and be more effective than a blurb from a star who spent just ten minutes skimming. Later on, if Oprah or another celeb falls in love with your words, you can revise the cover to include the new comments.

    My first self-pubbed book, I Only Flunk My Brightest Students: stories from school and real life, deals with my life. It made perfect sense to use blurbs from people who know me, rather than a blurb from some distant Nobel Prize winner I’d have to bribe to get a few words from.

    The book is funny. Identifying my front cover blurber as “author’s classmate since first grade” reinforces the mood. It’s almost a parody of traditional stuffy or irrelevant IDs (“professor of Indo-Eurasian folk medicine at the University of Guatemala,” “Miss Tallahassee 1972 Runner-Up,” or “Three-Time Northern Utah Senior Citizen Spelling Bee Champion”).

    A blurb written by a previewer of the revised version, titled Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults) was so good that there was no need to explain the blurber’s background. (“This book is so funny that I nearly peed in my pants. My girlfriend didn’t think it was funny, so I got a new girlfriend.” —Nicholas Santiago)

    If you write a book about artistic pickle slicing, a rave blurb from the author of a bestselling book about headlight replacement, or a Pulitzer Prize winner, might mean nothing at all. If you are writing fiction, history or poetry, however, the Pulitzer winner who lives next door could be very helpful to you.

    If you’ve written a how-to book, the best blurbs will come from people who have actually been helped by it.

    A good way to find “amateur” blurbers who might write sincere comments about actually benefiting from your book is to observe online communities (Yahoo and Linkedin groups, for example, and blogs like Joel’s) that are concerned with your subject. If you find articulate people with problems your book solves, offer to send them free advance copies (even PDFs if bound copies are not yet available) in exchange for their comments. You can say that you’d like to know if the book was helpful and how it can be improved. Mention that you might like to quote their comments, but don’t guarantee it.

    Michael N. Marcus

    http://www.BookMakingBlog.blogspot.com
    http://www.BookFur.com (information, help and book reviews for authors)
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series: http://www.silversandsbooks.com/booksaboutpublishing.html

    Reply

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