Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Endorsements Can Sell Readers

This week I’ve been gathering endorsements for a forthcoming how-to book that I’m putting together. My office has a number of shelves of these types of books. I went through a number of these books and discovered only a few of them have endorsements. Why?

One reason is the sheer work involved to gather them. Few people want to go to this sort of effort for their books and they wonder if the effort is worth it. I’ve been in publishing long enough to know that some books sell better with endorsements. Book buyers will look at a book in a bookstore or on a conference table and make an instant buying decision. Some times they purchase the book because of the endorsement. Some times the endorsements or the foreword for the book will influence the store buyers (the people who make decisions whether to carry your title in their stores or chain of stores).

Consider the audience who will influence the purchase of this book—which names saying positive things about the book would draw the reader to your book. I understand why some authors don’t bother with endorsements—because they do take more work and effort.

One of the best articles I recommend to writers in this area is from Jacqueline Marcell called The Elder Rage Success Saga. Unpublished, Marcell collected 57 rejections with this book manuscript. She decided the only way publishers would seriously consider her topic was to gather numerous celebrity endorsements before the manuscript was contracted. After nine months of work, she had impressive quotes from celebrities like Hugh Downs, Leeza Gibbons, Dr. John Gray, Mark Victor Hansen, Art Linkletter and many others. As she writes in this article, “Polite persistence turned out to be the key.”

As an editor, I’m almost cynically amused when I receive a proposal from an author who suggests endorsements from Dr. James Dobson at Focus on the Family (they have no relationship or means to get such an endorsement), Billy Graham (I understand Mr. Graham recently turned down his own pastor’s request for an endorsement—so it’s not happening), and other well-known figures. Oh, and they almost always say they will appear on Oprah. Well, no fooling—they would appear—if they could possibly get Oprah interested in their particular book.

The key is to think about the potential reader for your book. What type of endorsement would influence that reader to purchase the book? With this list in hand, can you possibly reach this person and get an endorsement?

Last fall, I was working with Vonetta Flowers on her new book, Running On Ice. This book is the first person story of Vonetta Flowers who was the first African American to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics (2002 women’s bobsled). While I was interviewing her coach, he told me a terrific quotation that Bob Costas at NBC Sports made when he gave the wrap-up of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake. I wondered if I could get a printed endorsement from Costas. One advantage I had over many writers is simply experience. I knew how to give this endorsement it’s best possible chance.

First, I drafted a possible quote and made it tie in a general way to my book manuscript. My real challenge was to reach Bob Costas. I looked around the internet—nothing. In general, I’m experienced in finding people on the Internet. Remember I’m an Acquisitions Editor—but nothing about how to reach Costas. Next I decided to call the news room of NBC in New York City. I called the general number for NBC then asked to be connected to the news room. Before I called I planned my request—and the ability to quickly explain my need and my credentials (I touted my journalist connections). Whoever answered the phone gave me the email address for Costas’ manager. I drafted an email of introduction explaining my request for an endorsement—and including the possible wording for the endorsement. I hit send, then waited.

To my surprise, a few hours later I heard from the manager a brief email saying, “Terry Whalin, I know that name. We’ll get back to you.” I thought, Know my name. Who knows my name? Within the next day, the manager was good on her promise—and came back with the revised wording on the endorsement—and the permission to use it. My publisher was thrilled to have such an endorsement to use in the publicity for Running On Ice. Here’s the endorsement from Bob Costas at NBC Sports, “One of the best stories of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake came in women’s bobsled. Vonetta Flowers and her partner, Jill Bakken, won the Gold Medal. Vonetta thus became the first African American to win a Gold Medal in the Winter Games. In Running On Ice, Vonetta tells the story behind her achievement. To finish first and be the first, that’s Vonetta’s singular distinction.”

Endorsements do sell books and some times they can sell a book manuscript to a publisher. I remember several years ago fielding a phone call from an author in my office. She told me a bit about the slant of her proposed book, then said she could get an endorsement from best-selling author Beth Moore. I let my skepticism show on the phone to this author—who immediately told me that she was a close personal friend of Beth Moore. Immediately I lost my skepticism and encouraged her to send me the proposal so I could consider it for publication. The potential endorsement made it worth my consideration as an acquisitions editor—but note it was a real possibility—not something imagined.

Each individual has to determine at what point to put the energy into endorsements. It might be at the end of the project right before publication—or before you even get a contract.

Currently I’m gathering endorsements for one of my manuscripts which according to the current schedule will be released this spring (these things change in publishing or so I’ve learned the hard way). I thought about who could influence the reader for this particular book, then I made a list of possible endorsers. I selected a broad range of people and backgrounds within the target for the book. I’m still putting the finishing touches on the manuscript (it’s not complete) but I took the incomplete manuscript and produced a few Print On Demand (POD) copies of the book through Books By Bookends. I’ve been calling (and in some cases emailing) the individual asking if they are willing to endorse the book. To a person, they have graciously agreed. I’ve quickly followed each “yes” with a POD copy of my manuscript and a personal letter which includes a deadline. It’s likely I will have to remind some of these busy people about the deadline. Some people may not get it done—but I suspect overall I will gather the endorsements that I need for this book.

These endorsements are still a work in progress for me but they are a current part of my writing life.

6 Comment:

At 9:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous Left a note...

Thanks for doing this blog, Terry. I'm learning a lot. I had a question about today's post. I can see how endorsements are an important asset to nonfiction, but do you think they are also important for fiction? Would you recommend that authors obtain endorsements from other novelists to include in their proposals to publishers? Does that make any difference for an acquisition editor in his/her decisions?

C.J. Darlington

At 10:10 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...

C.J. with fiction (and nonfiction), it depends on your purpose for the endorsement. Are you trying to influence the publisher? If so, then some endorsements from well-known authors might encourage the editor to read your proposal more carefully. With fiction, it will help your publisher--if you mention you have access to such people and can attempt to gather their endorsement. The higher the profile of the person, the greater the challenge to get their endorsement.

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Mary DeMuth Left a note...

I find the more I meet other writers, the wider my circle of influence becomes. A few days ago I got back my edits from WaterBrook along with a long, tedious marketing survey to fill out. One of its points was who would endorse my book. When I started this journey of publication, I knew no one personally who would do this, but now I have a few friends who are willing to lend their name and credibility to the book's jacket.

Part of endorsement, too, is being willing to read other people's work and offer endorsements. So, I endorse others and they endorse me. I love the writing community!

At 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous Left a note...

Thanks for these thoughts, Terry & releventgirl.


At 4:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous Left a note...

Thanks for this article. I wonder though: Is it important to have the manuscript printed in book format? It seems as though the possible endorser might mistake what is really a draft for the final product.


At 4:39 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


I didn't find the creation of my POD version a problem with my endorsers. It was pretty obvious that it was a POD and not a finished book. I put the extra effort into making the POD (and a bit of expense) mostly to do anything which encourages these authors to act on my request--and most of these people are asked all the time for endorsements. It's your responsibility to make it simple for them to say yes.

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