Chip MacGregor

May 21, 2012

Does it help to have endorsements?


I’ve had a number of questions about book proposals sent to me, so I’d like to take several days to explore creating a great book proposal. Stan wrote to me and asked, “Does it really help a book to have endorsements on it? Would it help my proposal?”

One thing publishing history has taught us is that readers are not stupid. They may get fooled occasionally by great marketing, but they catch on quickly — so yesterday’s collection of neato stories is today’s boring, unsold project. And book buyers have caught on to the fact that a ton of endorsements by people who haven’t actually read your book, in the words of Bogie-as-Rick, “doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” The days of listing 37 endorsement that all say “loved the book” are over. Done. Dead and gone. Departed this life. Assumed room temperature. Today, there are only two types of endorsements that matter.

1. The Celebrity Endorsement. This is where you get Tom Clancy or John Grisham or Brad Pitt or some other notable, attention-getting person to say, “This book moved me deeply” or some such thing. It also includes getting a real doctor to say that your cookbook will help fight cancer, or getting an investment banker to say that your money management book offers a great plan to help readers get out of debt. Locally, it’s the equivalent of having your well-known professional basketball player go on camera and explain that he always buys his cars at Farnsworth Chevrolet. There’s value in getting a recognizable name to endorse your product. I don’t know that it always works with books, but it’s a heck of a lot better than getting your mom or your pastor or your neighbor to say it (“I’ve loved little Chippy’s writing since he was in diapers!”). The problem is that you often find the same people saying the same things — a couple of well-known novelists offering pale praise for the writer’s work. But unless it’s honest, I don’t know that a book endorsement means all that much. And if you’re not done writing, an endorsement of a general concept doesn’t carry much weight at all, unless it comes from an A+ level author who is guaranteeing an endorsement because he or she is already familiar with your work. So while I doubt any publisher ever contracted a book because they were promised a great endorsement, it certainly doesn’t hurt your chances…so long as the endorser is truly a celebrity.

2. The Wet-Your-Pants Endorsement. The only other type of endorsement that matters is the one where someone says, in essence, “THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING BOOK SINCE THE INVENTION OF MOVEABLE TYPE! MY LIFE WILL NEVER BE THE SAME! I GOT SO EXCITED READING IT I WET MY PANTS!” These types of endorsements are often accompanied by a whole slew of exclamation points. It can work, too, since all of us who enjoy books are interested in words that actually made a difference in the life of someone else. The potential weakness with this type of endorsement is that we’ve all been duped into buying really bad books where the author’s mom or best friend or bookie were obviously the ones writing the words. Still, a WYP endorsement can garner you some attention if a potential reader is already holding your book and looking over the back cover.

Those are the only two kinds of endorsements that matter. Having polite words from an unknown person do you no good — with publishers or the reading public. So does an endorsement actually help sell your book? It might help get it noticed — certainly a word from J.K. Rowling about your fine YA novel will make an editor sit up and pay attention to your proposal. It won’t actually SELL your book, but it might make it stand out just a bit. And that’s all you’re really trying to do with your endorsements. And, with that on the table, tomorrow I’ll offer a couple tips for “what makes a good endorsement.”

What’s the best endorsement you’ve ever received?

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