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O Me of Little Faith

What’s the story with endorsements? That’s a question I’ve been asked on numerous occasions. Those little blurbs on the front and back of books…where do they come from? What’s the purpose? How do you get them?

Let’s discuss. As you might have gathered from above, those are officially called “endorsements,” and they’re pretty important. Their job is to do one of two things: 1) Attract the attention of someone to the book, and 2) Establish the author as an authority.

For instance, you’re hoping an endorsement will be the final push that convinces a customer to buy your book. Maybe the cover art or the title will catch their attention. The customer will pick your book up off the shelf. But will he or she actually open it and look inside? Possibly, if the endorsement intrigues them. If, on the front page, they read, “This book is so awesome you would have to be stupid not to buy it.” — Jason Boyett, author of the Pocket Guides.
That’s an endorsement. A lame one, yes, but an endorsement all the same.

The endorsement is something that distinguishes the book from the crowd. It establishes the credentials of the author, tells the potential reader why the book is important or worth reading, and — by the immense power of association — gives the reader a sense of what the book might be like.

Who do you ask?

As mentioned above, association is a big deal when it comes to endorsements. You want someone whose opinion on the subject matters, because you want to create a connection in their minds between their work and your work. It’s why the authors of legal thrillers want John Grisham‘s endorsement. It’s why horror or suspense writers long for an endorsement by Stephen King. It’s why everyone who writes about hipster spirituality wants Don Miller, and why every religion/culture writer wants AJ Jacobs.

Endorsers need to be one of two things: 1) Someone with a high-enough profile to impress a reader by association. OR, 2) It needs to be someone who may not be famous but has an impressive title or area of expertise (like a retired New York City police detective endorsing a police procedural set in New York City — you probably haven’t heard of him, but if he’s impressed, then maybe the book is worth your money). In most cases, however, other writers end up being the best endorsers, because they can turn a clever phrase. And because writers like to help each other out.

How do you get endorsements?

You ask. At some point in the publication process, there is a six-week period or so where endorsements are being gathered. It usually occurs when the manuscript is in something of a final state — it’s either in edited manuscript form or a preliminary galleys form (galleys: it looks like a typeset book). You set a deadline, you identify potential endorsers, and you send them the book to read.

Sometimes the publisher handles this for you. They get in touch with the potential endorser and ask them very nicely. Sometimes this works, but not always. Asking someone to read an entire book and compose a thoughtful, entertaining sentence or two about it is a big thing to ask. It takes time to read a book — and people are busy — so asking for an endorsement is a asking for a big favor.

With my earlier books, before I knew anyone in publishing, my publisher did most of the asking. I didn’t end up with much (other than the brilliant endorsement by Jerry Jenkins for Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse…he declined endorsement when my publisher asked, but ended up giving me one when I followed up personally — it’s a long story). Once I made some connections in the industry, though, I’ve done the asking. This is because I prefer to make the request to people I already have a relationship with. It’s not always a direct relationship — a few of my endorsers for the new Pocket Guide books were friends of friends. But I had enough of a connection with them to feel confident enough to ask them personally for the favor.

I sent a preliminary email about the new series and asked if they’d be open to reading Pocket Guide to Sainthood and Pocket Guide to the Afterlife for a potential endorsement. If they emailed back and said, “Sure!” then I sent them the manuscript and a deadline. Along the way, I also sent out a few reminders that the deadline was approaching. Just because I know how writers are…and because I need those reminders, too.

Will you tell me more about your endorsements for the Pocket Guide series?

Wow. Of course I will. What an accommodating question-asker you are! You fit perfectly within my nakedly self-promotional scheme!

Since we’re releasing the Pocket Guides as a series, my publisher and I decided not to try to get endorsements for each particular book. With three books and 3-5 endorsements per book, that’s a lot. So we targetted potential endorsers who could say something about the series as a whole, or my personal writing style, or something to that effect. A general, series-wide endorsement.

And because these books target mainstream readers more than Christian bookstore readers — they’re educational and snarky, after all — we focused especially on mainstream authors who wrote about religion but weren’t really operating within the Christian “bubble.”

So the series ended up with endorsements from, yes, AJ Jacobs (author of The Year of Living Biblically), Daniel Radosh (author of Rapture Ready!), Robert Lanham (author of The Sinner’s Guide to the Evangelical Right) and Lauren Sandler (author of Righteous), plus a handful of others. I was thrilled with what we ended up with, and am indebted to these authors for the favor.

I won’t give away the farm quite yet, but here are a couple:

“Jason Boyett’s Pocket Guides are smart and hilarious. And they’re sneaky too: You don’t realize how much you’re learning because you’re having so much fun.”
— AJ Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically

“Irreverent, illuminating and packed with thousands more 21st century pop culture references than the Bible, the Qur’an and the Bhagavad Gita combined. Boyett’s Pocket Guide series is a one-stop religion degree without the annoyances of financial aid payments or the medieval club.”
— Robert Lanham, author of The Sinner’s Guide to the Evangelical Right

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And if I didn’t answer any additional burning questions you might have about endorsements, leave a comment. I’ll answer.

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