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.