We’ve been taught to not pat ourselves on our back because it feeds our vanity, and excessive vanity is apparently evil. So we refrain from saying anything too nice about anything we do in case our vanity becomes too big to handle. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), this works against us in the professional world. Now, people still have the idea that anyone who praises himself is perhaps vain, or arrogant, or a braggart, or all three. Yet somehow it’s necessary to get the idea across to the readers that this particular book is really good and should be read. So, what’s a poor writer supposed to do?
You can buy advertising, you can talk on radio, you can do book signings, but all this still is you talking about you. Of course, some people have developed a knack of saying good things about themselves and people love it, but this knack seems to be for the chosen few. For the rest of us, it seems like we are tooting our own horn. Well, how about getting OTHER people to say nice things about your book? If you have sold your book to a publishing house, then your publisher will generally take care of securing testimonials from people about how good your book is. You usually don’t have to do much.
However, if you are taking the self-publishing route, then it’s up to you to find this praise. You might feel funny going up to someone and saying, “Will you say nice things about my book?” This is liable to earn you a cold stare, quickly followed by a colder shoulder. We we have ways of making you like…er…there are ways to get people to comment on your book. The best way is to let them read the manuscript. So, initially, make sure you know the people and trust them to a certain degree. Then you ask them to write a paragraph or two about what they thought about your book. You are hoping that they liked it, but if they don’t, thank them anyhow…and, of course, don’t use it. But, if they liked it…ah, if they liked it, then it is pure gold.
A few things you need to get from them…their name, their occupation, and their permission to use what they said for promotion of the book. You can also get their location if you think that might be of interest to the readers. These comments are called testimonials, and you will notice that many books will include them in the front of the book in what they call the front matter (the pages before the start of the novel). And they definitely add a professional look and tone to your book, not to mention reassuring readers that this is a book worth reading.
For the 1st edition of my first published book, Witchcanery, I sent the manuscript to a number of people I thought might enjoy it and asked them to read it and let me know what they thought. To be honest, I had gone over the durned thing so many times, I had lost all perspective of and feeling for the book at that point. So I held my breath, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best. When I got the first one back, I let out the breath I had been holding and sniffed back some tears. Here’s what he said:
Witchanery drew me into a new world and brought me new friends and new heroes, new magic, used in new ways…touching and bright even when things were very dark. And DARK things get! The world of Sandra Bell Kirchman’s Witchcanery spans a great length of time and we are given but a tasty slice—I hope the hints of more are materializing from the fertile grounds as we watch.
I signed it with his name and occupation: Starhawk Victor, User Support Specialist II, American Red Cross.
Try to get a good cross-section of people to read the book and comment. For instance, my collection of testimonial givers included a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army, a retired schoolteacher, a warehouse manager, and a geologist. On the back of the book, I used the testimonial of a friend of mine who also happens to be a PhD.
Book cover of Guy Vanderhaeghe's The Englishman's Boy
It doesn’t hurt to do a little bit of mild name dropping. If you know a celebrity or have a friend who knows one, there is nothing wrong with asking them to write a foreword for your book, which is hopefully just a longer testimonial. For the first anthology I edited, In the Shadow of the Burr Oak, the gal who designed the front and back covers of the book, photojournalist Helen Solmes, knew the noted Canadian fiction author Guy Vanderhaeghe (The Englishman’s Boy and The Last Crossing). Helen asked Guy if he would write the foreword. He did and it was a lovely, touching one.
Don’t overlook sources close to home either. I gathered a few testimonials for my second anthology, Birth of a Unicorn and Other Stories, but I made my first sale (other than to the various authors of the stories in the book) to my family doctor. He had read my first book and enjoyed it. When I asked him for a testimonial, he agreed. It took a while because he is a busy man, but when it came, it was short, sweet, and well worth the wait. Here’s what the good doctor said about Birth of a Unicorn:
“Riveting. Sandra and her skilled team of writers transport you from mysterious forests to far-off beaches, high up into the mountains and right down into dungeons, whilst interacting with Unicorns, Dragons and other magical creatures. You won’t put it down ‘til you’re done.”
I will use it for future promotional brochures and other places I am promoting the book. I will sign it with his name and occupation: Johann Nel, M.D.
Well, what are you waiting for? Go and find some people to write good things about your book. What? Your book isn’t finished yet? Then go for the gusto and finish it! You know you want to.