How To Ask For What You Need
When that thing is a blurb/beta read
Are you white-knuckling it through the workday like me? Yes? Isn’t it grand? Anywhoo, I’ve got lots of practical advice to share that will hopefully make some small part of your work-life easier. Every little bit helps.
First! I’m back over at Catapult’s Don’t Write Alone series with more nuts-and-bolts info about CONTRACTS! In this installment, we’re talking about RIGHTS, the things you give to the publisher in exchange for money, or the keep them yourself. Check it out. And catch up on the first installment about MONEY here. Stay tuned, there’s one more part coming up in a few weeks.
SO, in true Capricorn fashion, I would prefer to crumble into a pile of fine dust before asking for something I need, and I know that many authors feel the same way when it comes to blurbs or a beta read. Here are some tips to get you through this exquisitely painful process.
What’s a blurb? It’s those quotes on the back of the book from other authors that say how great the book is. Those authors are doing the book’s author a favor! They aren’t paid! And one day you too will be asking someone to read your book and say nice things about it. Once day, too, someone will ask you.
If you aren’t published yet, you might ask someone to read your book and offer their take before you send it to editors or agents. This is often known as a beta read. Not everyone does this, but if it’s something you want, it can be hard to ask for it! You will likely only ask those you have an established relationship with for a beta read, so if that’s on your radar but you don’t have those connections yet, work to find a writing group or other organization in your genre where it will be easier to find likeminded, available, amenable readers.
So, how do you ask for a blurb or a beta reader? Early and often. Meaning, give readers as much time as you can to offer their thoughts, and don’t just ask one person (more for blurbs than beta readers. It’s unlikely you’ll ask 9 people to beta read your book. I wouldn’t advise that.) Send your prospective reader a polite, professional note that includes the following information:
Date: When do you need to hear back by? GIVE A DATE RIGHT UP FRONT. Don’t say oh, whenever you can fit it in! because that is usually never. If you’re asking for a blurb, your publisher will tell you the date by which they need to hear back to get any blurb on the printed book, so include that info in your initial ask. The blurber can offer something after, too, and that can go online and still be effective. But give a date! Some publicists say not to give readers TOO much time, and I agree that I wouldn’t send something out for blurbs more than six months before you want to hear back, but it’s unlikely your book will be ready for blurbs by then, regardless.
If you’re looking for a beta reader, you might not have as firm a date, but I would still advise you to say something like “I’m hoping to hear your thoughts by X date, and I’m happy to discuss that further.” That gives the reader an idea of your expectations, and opens the door for them to say “Ok but how about a month after that?”
Format: Is your book available in hardcopy, or just a PDF? What about a Word doc or an epub file? Let them know how they can read it, and give them the format they request.
What’s Your Ask: Be clear about what you’re looking for. For a blurb, say explicitly that you’re hoping the reader can offer a blurb for that book. Don’t say “can you take a look?” or something equally vague. If you’re asking for a beta read, you can say if you’re interested in an author’s specific take, like the plot or characterization or where it fits in the genre. You don’t have to, but if that’s what you want, ask for it.
Don’t Apologize: No one LIKES asking for blurbs. Not even us agents, editors, or publicists/marketers. Even the readers getting blurb/beta requests know that it’s hard to ask. But keep your apologies to a minimum. Everyone is busy. Everyone has 500 other things to do. You can THANK them for considering offering a blurb or beta read, but don’t go overboard saying I know you’re so busy, I’m sure you get 1000 requests a day, I understand if you’re swamped. Go hard on please and thank you, but go easier on I’m sorry.
Accept No Gracefully: Someone you really want to read your book is going to say no. Maybe even someone who is your friend. Maybe someone who said they would read before, but can’t now. It happens. People’s schedules change. People often need to say no, even when they want to say yes, to protect their time and health. They may not want to offer a blurb or beta read, and that is their right and they don’t owe you an explanation. It’s ok! No doesn’t equal you suck and your book is worthless. It just means I can’t right now.
Accept No Response Gracefully: Sometimes, you’re not even going to her back with a yes or no. It happens! Some people are so inundated with requests they can’t keep up. Some people are bad at email. Some mean to respond but forget. No response does not equal you aren’t worthy enough to respond. It just means they didn’t answer your email. Don’t borrow trouble.
Shoot for the Moon, but ASAP: I’m sure there is a big name on your list of hopeful readers. Do it! Ask! The worst they can say is no, or not respond at all. You’re no worse off than you were before you asked. This is slightly easier, when we’re talking blurbs, if your agent or editor has a connection to Bigwig’s agent or editor, so don’t be shy to use those connections. Don’t leave those asks for the last minute, though. The bigger the name, the busier the writer.
For beta reads, I don’t necessarily suggest sliding into a best selling author’s DMs and saying hey will you read my book? I know people do that, but I doubt they have much success. There might be other people of stature in your circle of friends or contacts that you’re scared to ask, and I think you can still go for that! Ask! No is an ok thing to hear! You never know until you try.
One last thing re: blurbs. You might be thinking should my publisher be doing this? And you are half-right. Your publisher can and will likely do some of the blurb-brainstorming and blurb-asking for you. Your agent might also pitch in. You will also be expected to help, both with name generation and outreach. It’s a team effort, for everyone.
Remember friends, it is hard to ask for things! You are not alone in these feelings! Not asking means you definitely will not get it. Asking means you might actually get it.