Endorsements: How Important Are They?

How important are endorsements? (Those “blurbs” on the back of a book that exclaim “A real masterpiece!”)

Let me answer with a question. When you are browsing a book title do you look at the endorsements or notice who wrote the foreword or introduction? I suspect you do without realizing it. And if you are unfamiliar with the author, but you know the endorser, then you are more likely to give this new writer a try.

In its early self-published days, The Shack by William Young gained tremendous benefit from an absolutely glowing endorsement by Eugene Peterson, author of The Message. It made me pause and think, “If Eugene Peterson makes such a claim, then maybe I should pay attention.” So, as a fan of Eugene Peterson for nearly twenty years I paid attention. I believe that endorsement is still on the front cover of The Shack (which ended up selling one million copies as a self-published book and another ten million after being picked up by FaithWords).

How many endorsements should you get? One or two meaningful ones are best. Sometimes your agent can help you secure them. Sometimes your publisher. But it is best if you get them yourself from the folks you know.

The more recognizable name the better.

And the earlier in the creative process the better. Years ago, while an editor for Bethany House, I presented a proposal at a pub board meeting. Unfortunately I did not get a good initial reception from the team. Then I asked the members of the group to look at the endorsement page in the proposal. This writer had secured endorsements  from James Montgomery Boice, R.C. Sproul, and John MacArthur, each a highly recognized author and speaker, particularly withing the Reformed Theology tradition. The pub board members exclaimed, “Who is this guy?” They had never heard of the writer of the proposed book, but they knew the endorsers. Those endorsements turned the tide in favor of offering a contract to the author!

Recently I talked to a very well known author who gets about four to five unsolicited requests for forewords or endorsements each week. I read somewhere that Annie Dillard, the Pulitzer Prize winning author,  can receive as many as 40 in one week….and most of them for books by writers she does not know.

Whatever you do, don’t (please don’t) claim in your proposal that you can get endorsements from Rick Warren, Max Lucado, Beth Moore, and Frances Chan unless you already have them in hand. Many visible leaders have tough restrictions from their board of directors regarding their endorsements (especially those who are part of a Christian ministry). They don’t want their name associated with a book that could ultimately reflect negatively on the author or their organization.

And if you are frustrated by that policy, let’s make it more personal. Imagine if you had endorsed a book by Bernie Madoff….and now that he has been sentenced to 150 years in jail, what does your endorsement of his book say about you?

Endorsements imply a promise that what is in the book is worth your time. This means that endorsements that only use initials (“A.E. from St. Louis”) are all but useless. And so are endorsements from your dentist, unless your book is about dentistry. And an endorsement from your minister is suspect, unless yours happens to be a well known author.  (What if your minister doesn’t like your book and refuses to endorse it? Will you still want to attend services?). Also try to avoid sneaking family member endorsements who have a different last name as a way of padding the list. You will be found out and your integrity will be suspect. This is not the time to “pad the resume.”

Can you sell your book without endorsements? Of course. But in today’s market, every little bit helps.

20 Responses to Endorsements: How Important Are They?

  1. Brandon Barr July 6, 2009 at 11:17 am #

    This is great advice Steve. My co-author and I have found it best to start getting endorsements immediately. We’ve been lucky enough to score Mike Resnick for our sci-fi novel, and Bob Cornuke for our archeological adventure book!

  2. Richard Mabry July 7, 2009 at 7:36 am #

    Steve,
    Good advice about a factor many authors fail to consider in the midst of manuscript polishing, platform-building, and searching for comparables. Endorsements can help or hurt, and should be carefully considered and sought–the earlier the better.

  3. Steve July 9, 2009 at 8:06 am #

    Congratulations Brandon on getting such great endorsements! I’ve been a fan of Mike Resnick for quite some time.

  4. Philip Ralli July 28, 2009 at 11:45 am #

    As a publisher, I sometimes find that when the promised endorsement from the celeb arrives, it turns out to damn with faint praise: {‘X has written a promising first novel’} {‘an original take on a sometimes controversial subject’}.

  5. Saoirse Redgrave July 30, 2009 at 6:29 am #

    Great advice and very important for authors to make those connections in advance if they can. We’re at this point with the first book in my debut series and I’m trying not to accidentally “use” authors I’ve met (and admire) to get blurbs/endorsements.

    My editor’s been a great help in all this and I know it’ll all work out, but it can be stressful if you’re an author who is very focused on writing and not so much on the social aspects of the business.

  6. Deborah Raney June 9, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    I love reading other authors books for possible endorsement, but for a while many novelists were getting requests for agreements to endorse from writers who didn’t yet have a finished book, let alone a contract. I know many of us have had to set a policy that we won’t provide a promise, or even a maybe, to endorse a book until it is contracted, finished, and at least substantively edited. I’ve seen books, including my own, change substantially in rewrite. Also, I have no way of knowing whether I’ll be on deadline when the (usually narrow) window for reading the book opens. If I’ve read other of the author’s books, I might be able to provide an endorsement of the author, rather than a specific book, but there are too many variables and too many unknowns for me to make promises “earlier in the creative process.”

    • Steve Laube June 9, 2014 at 8:39 am #

      Deb,

      You make a great point. I failed to distinguish between fiction and non-fiction proposals.

      Many times a non-fiction book can be contracted without the entire book being finished. But in fiction, especially for the debut writer, the manuscript must be complete.

      Thus your point of endorsing a manuscript in process or in proposal form is difficult to do.

      In non-fiction a good sample chapter or two and a detailed/annotated table of contents is enough.

      Steve

  7. Jeanne Takenaka June 9, 2014 at 7:42 am #

    This makes sense. I tend to be one who looks at who endorses a book if I’m not familiar with an author. If it has an endorser whom I recognize and respect, that will likely tip me in favor of buying that book.

    As a pre-pubbed writer, I’m curious, is it good to have the actual endorsements from authors in the body of a proposal, or just the names of people who are willing to endorse the book?

  8. Laura Drumb June 9, 2014 at 7:44 am #

    But how do you get those endorsements? I know if you meet an author you admire at a conference, for instance, you could ask then. But as you said, many have requirements that prohibit them doing that. So where do you turn then? Just curious how this works especially before you have an agent or publisher under your belt as well as ten published novels and a speaking platform of thousands.

    • Steve Laube June 9, 2014 at 9:03 am #

      Laura,

      This is the uphill challenge for the new writer. If you can’t get endorsements, don’t worry about it. It isn’t critical or doesn’t mean the death of the book.

      That is why I stated it the way I did. It is one more leg up if you can get a meaningful endorsement.

      I recently bought a book in a store that had no endorsements because the title was interesting and the promise of the content was compelling. In addition I read a couple pages and the writer was quite good.

  9. Lynette Eason June 9, 2014 at 8:07 am #

    It’s funny that this would be the post today. Just last night, out of the blue, I decided I would ask a well-known author if he would read my next book for a possible endorsement. He said yes, with the only caveat being time. Of course I understand this. I get requests on a frequent basis and it’s super hard to say, “I’m sorry, but I have three books due in the next six months. Try me again after January 1.” It’s hard because I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of email. It’s disappointing, but definitely understandable, too. I do read endorsements and they can be the impetus that sends me to the checkout line. :) Great post, Steve.

  10. Preslaysa June 9, 2014 at 8:27 am #

    This is sound wisdom. Are most endorsements gained through personal relationships with other authors? Or does the publisher connect the soon to be published author with potential endorsers from the publisher’s list?

    • Steve Laube June 9, 2014 at 9:04 am #

      Most endorsements are through personal relationships.

      It can happen that an unsolicited request receives an endorsement, but that isn’t always possible.

  11. Darcie Gudger June 9, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    Wow. How timely! I just got an email from my publisher letting me know they are going to delay the release of my book a bit in order to get some recognizable endorsements. Right under that email was this post. Brilliant timing ;) Very insightful. Thanks.

  12. Shadia Hrichi June 9, 2014 at 8:46 am #

    I agree but discovered a real challenge as an author of bible studies. I’ve yet to find a bible study that includes endorsements on the cover or inside the book. I’d love to know if publishers consider endorsements for this category of books improper? In my case, I secured a number of excellent and reputable endorsements for my story-driven study for post abortion healing, including a powerful Forward by Brian Fisher (President of Online for Life -a ministry with a reach of over ½ million) but with the exception of the Forward, I opted to list my endorsements on my website instead of in the book or on the cover. I’d love to know if this is an unwritten ‘rule’ for bible studies.

    • Steve Laube June 9, 2014 at 9:08 am #

      Shadia,

      Bible studies, at least the “typical” ones, are not as “celebrity-driven” as they are “content-driven.” The “celebrity” part is the author itself. If the bible study is by a Beth Moore or Max Lucado or Chuck Swindoll there isn’t a need for an endorsement to garner credibility in the marketplace.

      Listing endorsements on the web site is a clever idea for additional credibility via those who visit you. But if the book’s endorsements don’t show up in the “Look Inside” feature on an online bookstore or don’t show up on the book on the shelf, the opportunity for accolades and support is lost.

      I know if I spent the time to endorse your bible study and it didn’t show in the finished book I’d be a little disappointed.

      • Shadia Hrichi June 9, 2014 at 9:42 am #

        Wow, Thank you, Steve. I hadn’t thought of it from the endorsers’ point of view; rather, because I self-published, I was concerned about adhering to general publishing guidelines (which seemed to exclude endorsements in bibles studies). However, since I need to update my bio on the book’s back cover to indicate my recent graduation from seminary (woo hoo!), I think I will update the interior as well to list the other endorsements. So glad I asked! :)

  13. Leslie Nelson June 9, 2014 at 11:31 am #

    As a reader, I look not only at the name of the person giving the endorsement, but what the endorsement has to say. Particularly for non-fiction, the endorsement by an unknown person offers a promise that interests me, that could sway me.

  14. Bob McLaughlin June 11, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    Was at a recent ACW workshop where Dennis Hensley was the mentor. Really liked the project I brought to work on and wants to see it when it’s finished with the possibility of an endorsement. Meant a lot to me, especially with maybe his name on the back of the book!

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    [...] … lunch with Linda Boice, the wife of the late James Montgomery Boice, listening to stories …Endorsements | Steve LaubeHow important are endorsements? (Those blurbs on the back of a book that exclaim A real [...]

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