My latest book Running Down a Dream: Your Road Map to Winning Creative Battles came out last year.
As with all books, a lot went into getting it published and out in the world. One of the hardest things for a lot of authors is getting blurbs.
It’s hard to know who to ask and how to ask. It feels weird because there’s not a big win-win. This important person has to read your book and then come up with a review.
When it was time to start getting blurbs for Running Down a Dream I sat down and made a list of everyone I wanted. I whittled it down, reshaped it a bit, and came up with five people. I had backups, but these were the main five I wanted.
I ended up getting all five to say yes.
When I showed this list to a buddy of mine, he said, “That’s ten years of relationship-building right there.”
And he’s right.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through each blurb, how I asked for the blurb, and what you can learn from the process.
Let’s jump in.
Ryan Holiday – The Acquaintance
I’ve been following Ryan a long time. He’s been in the book marketing space for about as long as I have and worked for big name authors like Tim Ferriss, Tucker Max, Neill Strauss, Tony Robbins, and many more.
He’s also written seven books including Trust Me I’m Lying, Growth Hacker Marketing, The Obstacle is the Way, Ego is the Enemy, The Daily Stoic, Perennial Bestseller and his latest, Conspiracy.
I wanted Ryan to blurb my book because I’ve always respected the way he chooses to live his life and the methodical thoughtfulness he brings to everything he does. He’s the type of writer I aspire to be.
We talked on the phone once five or six years ago, but that was the most contact we had even though we ran in a lot of the same publishing circles.
Then about a year a half ago after I’d written the first draft of Running Down a Dream, I reached out to Ryan and paid his full hourly rate to talk to him for an hour to get some help on my book.
Afterward, I did all of the homework he recommended and sent it back to him within a couple of days.
From there we kept in light touch, and he even allowed me to write a guest post for a site that he helps out with. As I made progress on the book, I would send him short updates. I also sent him notes letting him know how much I liked Perennial Bestseller and other things he had written.
My goal here was to stay in touch with someone I respect. I started by paying for his time because I want him to know that I respect what he does and it’s worth whatever he chooses to charge for it. From there, I would just follow up from time to time. I don’t keep a schedule, I’m not trying to get anything. I just like having connections with people I respect.
Then earlier this year I read Ryan’s newest book Conspiracy and was blown away. I spent most of a weekend actively hiding from my family so I could finish it. Afterward, I invited him to be a guest on The Story Grid Podcast. At the end of the interview, he asked how my book was coming. I told him it was just about done and he said, “Well let me know if you need a blurb or any other way I can help.”
And so, when I asked him for a blurb a few months later, he agreed, and here’s what he sent.
“Running Down a Dream is a book about how to do the thing most people want to do but tell themselves is too scary, too hard, too unlikely. Tim Grahl is not some once-in-a-million-years genius. He’s an ordinary person who has managed to do what most ordinary people think is impossible. That’s why you should listen to him.”
— Ryan Holiday, New York Times bestselling author of Ego is the Enemy and The Obstacle is the Way
Lesson: In the publishing world pecking order, Ryan ranks far above me. He’s written multiple NYT bestselling books and is a highly sought after publicity and marketing expert. And so I approached him with this in mind. I paid for his time up front instead of asking for a favor. I emailed him occasionally, never requiring a response and always keeping it short. And in all of this, I wasn’t doing it because Ryan was a big-time guy that I thought could help me. It all started with my respect and love for his work. All good “networking” or outreach is simply connecting with another human over a shared interest. That’s it. If Ryan had been unable to blurb my book, no big deal. I just enjoy getting to learn from him in any capacity. Always bring this attitude to relationships and it’s impossible to be disappointed.
Derek Sivers – The Cold Ask
Derek Sivers is the founder of CD Baby, frequent TED speaker, and author of the book Anything You Want. I have been a fan of Derek’s for a very long time. His short, straight-forward writing has had so much impact on the way I live and make decisions. You should spend a day reading every one of his articles. It will be a day well spent.
Over the years I had emailed Derek a couple of times. I even recommended one of the books he ended up putting in his book notes section. I’ve read his book Anything You Want at least six times. I even met him once at a conference and ended up in the group lunch that he was a part of, but I was so nervous I barely said a word to him.
I wanted Derek to blurb my book for two reasons. First, Derek is known as a musician, speaker and, entrepreneur. I thought it was important to have a blurb from someone that wasn’t “just” a writer. Second, I respect Derek’s work so much that it would be personally meaningful to have his name on my book.
The problem was, I had no real angle to ask for the blurb. I didn’t know him well enough to lean on our relationship (in fact, he didn’t realize until after doing the blurb that we had exchanged emails and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t remember meeting me… I was pretty unmemorable at that moment) and I didn’t want to come at him sideways through a mutual friend.
So I just asked.
I sent him a short email telling him about the book, why I thought he would like the book and dropping in the fact that it was being published by Steven Pressfield’s publishing company.
And then I just asked.
I figured the worst he could do is say no.
But he said yes, and I sent him my manuscript, and he sent back this:
“What does it really look like to succeed? Slow, painful, terrified, stumbling, humble, and persistent. Tim’s amazingly vulnerable story convinces you you’re not alone in your struggle, and shows a path through it.”
— Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, frequent TED speaker, and author of Anything Your Want
Lesson: If you don’t have existing relationship, just be straight forward and ask for the blurb. Keep the email short, give a good reason why you think the book is a good fit for them, and then let it go. If they say no, that’s fine, just move on to the next one.
Steven Pressfield – The Idol
I first found Steven Pressfield through his book The War of Art. It was one of the most meaningful books I’ve ever read. From there, I went on to read almost all of his non-fiction, and still make The Authentic Swing a yearly read for me.
Five years ago I connected with Shawn Coyne and we started The Story Grid Podcast. Shawn has been an editor for over 25 years and has been Steve’s editor for almost that long. They are now partners in Black Irish Publishing.
Through my work with Shawn on Story Grid, I got the chance to talk to Steve a few times. We recorded a couple podcast episodes together and I helped them on the behind-the-scenes marketing and systems for Black Irish.
Each time I interacted with him, I was more impressed. He loved writing and writers so much and constantly looked for more ways to help them.
Eventually, when it came time to start figuring out how to publish my new book, Steve and Shawn both agreed that they would like to publish it through Black Irish.
The idea that Steve would want to be a part of one of my book projects seemed absolutely surreal and when he also offered to blurb it, I was over the moon.
“Full disclosure: Tim Grahl is my own secret guru for exactly the stuff that Running Down a Dream is about. My own book, The War of Art, was about the concept of self-sabotage as it afflicts us as writers and artists struggling to be our best professional selves. Tim’s book is the workingman’s tool-belt. His gift is to show us in nuts-and-bolts, no-nonsense terms exactly how to navigate this crazy life and how to actually Get Our Stuff Done. Indispensable!”
— Steven Pressfield, New York Times bestselling author of The War of Art
Lesson: It’s honestly hard to pull a lesson from this one. The way I came to meet Steve was a such a circular, long route that it would be impossible to recreate. If anything, I would say “always seek to help first.” Shawn and I started the podcast together because he needed help with the platform for his book. I spent a decent amount of time helping Steve and Shawn with behind-the-scenes stuff for Black Irish. All while never expecting anything in return. It’s true what Zig Ziglar said so many times… “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”
Barbara Corcoran – The Celebrity
Barbara Corcoran is easily the most independently famous person I got to blurb my book. She has been an investor on the popular show Shark Tank for nine seasons, is a well known real estate investor, and the author of several books.
I first was connected with Barbara by a referral from a previous client. I began working with her before she was on Shark Tank and, actually, met her for the first time the day she flew back to New York City after auditioning for the show for the first time.
I worked with Barbara and her team on several website projects before parting ways amicably. She has always stood out as one of my favorite clients. She was so caring and straight-forward with me. Plus, when my wife and I were visiting New York one time, she had us over to her apartment and bought us broadway tickets.
So when I thought about the people I knew who I would feel honored to have blurb my book, I, of course, thought of Barbara. The problem was, I hadn’t talked to here in seven years. And in that seven years, she had gone from famous to famous and I was just a website guy she had worked with a long time ago.
I wrote and rewrote the email to her assistant several times trying to think of the best way to ask for the blurb. Finally, thinking about how much I appreciated how straight forward she always was about everything, I decided to do the same.
I wrote her an email with the subject line “A favor” and simply told her how much I appreciated and respected her and asked if she would blurb my book. That was it. Her assistant said to send it over, and a few weeks later she sent me this:
“What I love about this book is that Tim tells the truth. He not only shares his wins as he pursued his dream, but also his devastating failures. Everybody faces challenges when starting something new and this book is the secret sauce in overcoming them.”
— Barbara Corcoran, founder of The Corcoran Group, author, and Shark Tank investor
Lesson: Don’t be afraid to ask. There is every reason for Barbara to say no to blurbing my book and I fully expected her to. And yet, she said yes. I am constantly amazed by how much people really do want to help other people, and appreciate dropping the pretense and just asking.
Daniel Pink – The Client
Daniel Pink is my longest standing client. He was one of the first authors to hire me and we worked together for many years.
Honestly, this was the easiest ask for me. I have known Dan for a decade and felt comfortable enough to ask him as a friend. Of course, if he had said no it would have been fine, but I was pretty sure he would say yes.
I wanted Dan to blurb my book for an obvious reason. He’s a very well known and successful writer in the self-help, business book space. I know there are a lot of people that respect him and know his name, and his blurb may put them over the edge to give my book a try.
But I had a personal reason too.
Running Down a Dream is about the struggles I went through to build the creative life I wanted. I share a lot of dark stories.
Dan knew me for most of this time. Of course, he wasn’t privy to all of my personal struggles, but he gave me a lot of support and advice when I was a young entrepreneur drowning in doubt and insecurity. Having Dan blurb this book felt special because he was the only one out of the five that had worked with me and known me the longest.
Here’s what Dan said about the book:
”I’ve known Tim for a decade, but I had no idea what a skilled storyteller he was. In Running Down a Dream, he shatters the mold of a typical self-help book by offering a fresh perspective — and an array of life-changing advice — on creativity, success, and happiness.”
— Daniel H. Pink, author of When and Drive
Lesson: Keep the blurbs personal. Don’t try to get the biggest, a-list names to give you blurbs. Focus on people you respect and are meaningful to you. I think this, more than any other, was why I got five out of five yes’s.
How to Get Blurbs: The Takeaways
- Start now building relationships with people. Of course, I’ve built relationships with far more than these five people. Cast a wide net. Connect with people who share your interests. Stay connected over a long period of time and always focus on being helpful first.
- Be direct. Don’t beat around the bush, send long, wordy emails, or give a dozen reasons why they should blurb your book. Just send a simple email telling them why their work is meaningful to you and why you think your book is a good fit for them. And then just ask.
- Make it mean something. Pick people that are meaningful to you and your work. Don’t just pick a-listers.
- Don’t have expectations. Assume everyone you ask will probably say no for very good reasons. It’s not a slight against you. You are not allowed to take it personally.
- Don’t be afraid to ask. The worst someone can do is say no or not respond. No big deal. Make the ask and trust them to make the best decision for themselves.
Getting great blurbs for your book can help you catch the attention of new readers, but it can often be hard to know how and where to start. Follow the lessons in this article to get you started.