Gay romance fiction

Staking Acclaim: the hidden punch of pull quotes

by Damon Suede

In our business, endorsements pack a distinct wallop. If you haven’t already, one day soon you will be asked to blurb books by other folks.

There’s a legit craft to giving good quote. When I first started writing fiction I was surprised at how few reviews provided clear pull quotes. These are critical in promo campaigns and presumably anyone wanting to help a book find its audience would be larding their blogs with them. In old-school showbiz, one of the classic traditions is the moment when the whole production team meets around a conference table to pick through the reviews messengered over from the newspaper offices and loading docks to find the zowie-wowie snippets around which to build an ad campaign.

For Broadway shows, we’d pull an all-nighter around a literal table at the ad company in midtown racing through newspapers with highlighters to pull the ONE perfect quote as fast as we could before the radio spots started at 5am and print deadlines for the early edition the next morning. In one night we’d find three to five options, pick the one stunner to feature…the designers would cobble together an ad on the fly and then sprint to the various offices to get it into print and on the air by morning.

The average customer only sees those brief, gushy superlatives, and positioning them properly can anchor a legit hit for the duration. And if the show was a dud or a fiasco, we knew instantly, because the critics would deal the cut direct with clear, ruthless precision. The specificity and tenor of the language let us know precisely what the audience would take away when the reviews dropped. Critics get a bad rap, but we all loved the seasoned journo-pros who knew exactly when and where to serve up these perfect little amuse-bouches that exploded with spice and sparkle at first glance. By such pithy paeans are hits launched and fortunes made in showbiz.

Publishing may operate at a slower clip, but in the glare and blare of the current marketing landscape, word of mouth has more impact than any other factor in entertainment purchases and fan engagement. The reasons for that outsized influence are manifold, but for this month’s column, we’re going to look at a unique chore on every writer’s roster that can be a win-win-win.

With pull quotes, the advantages on both sides are significant. During a release campaign authors need snazzy quotes, STAT, for advertising, insets, articles, and more. Giving them artillery right off the bat will ease some of the stress of a launch. By the same token, anyone quoting your opinion will be working hard to signal that your words matter. Having your name (and brand) associated with the best books in your genre telegraphs your insight, discernment, and access to readers. By taking time out of your schedule to read and blurb a title, you confirm your commitment to boosting the best in your stretch of the bookshelf.

All that being said, here are a few suggestions about navigating the pull-quote process.

Offer first. Many authors get nervous about asking for favors, especially with tasks that feel commercial or self-serving. If a writer from your chapter, writing group, or a conference mentions that they have a book in edits or galleys and you have the time, by all means mention that you’d love to read the ARC. Obviously, you should never offer an automatic endorsement without having seen the work, but by bridging the gap between “I’ve met her,” and “I’ve read the book,” you create the opportunity. Show colleagues you’re willing to pitch in and folks will remember your professionalism and reciprocate.

Get real. Read the books you blurb and say what you mean about them. Empty, false, or inaccurate compliments make you and the author in question look cheesy and sleazy. Don’t slop praise onto a book you can’t stand or (worse) didn’t even read; that will come back to make you look like a cretin or dolt. Do not try to muster up fake raves out of thin air. Any professional who asks for a pull quote understands that part of the deal is that your words have meaning and value, and that false compliments hurt both parties. Prove that your word has weight.

Read close. Most acclaim for a book tends to be generic and unmemorable. “Great!” or “Fun!” tells readers exactly nothing about why they should bother. As you read, note the telling details, the stellar moments, the mad skills that truly deserve accolades. Don’t just say something is generically good, hot, cool, or whatever. Find a telling feature or unique strength of the work that will signal to its audience that THIS is the book that they cannot miss. For one thing it’s helpful for the author and/or marketing folks. For another it will make your writing in the review more interesting and incisive…and you’re a writer, yo!

Share feelings: Say something worth quoting! Genre fiction offers an emotional ride and readers want to know how any book will make them feel. Articulate exactly what and how and where the book knocks your socks off. Paint a clear image that will help a casual browser understand why this book is worth several hours of their time. Use fresh, distinct language that connects the dots for the idle eye. That quote should highlight what moved you about the book in words that show your writing chops. Never forget that every word you write for public consumption is another brick in the path that leads to your work. Take pains to share the feelings the book aroused in you in words that only you could write.

Keep up. Spare anyone snide or backhanded language about any other title on the shelf. Don’t use other books for antithetical/negative comparisons. Even if a book is incompetent or embarrassing, your job is never to tear folks down. If you dislike (or worse, loathe) a book, then obviously you aren’t the right reader for it. You are 100% allowed (even required!) to be honest and constructive in your response to a story. If you simply don’t connect with the characters or their story is as thrilling as a discarded sock, mustering out a half-hearted quote serves no one. Going negative on someone’s bundle of joy makes you look petty or vindictive.

Skip ellipses. Long, wordy, or complicated compliments are fine, but only if balanced with something useful. Wax eloquent as much as you dare, but don’t forget to give them contiguous clusters of punchy words that can be sliced up and dropped onto covers and tweets. An endorsement broken up by dots (e.g. “a wonderful…story with…fascinating [characters] that will make you…swoon….”) always feels a little contrived and misleading, as if you’re cherrypicking the positives. Readers can’t help but fill in the gaps with something negative. (e.g. “a once-wonderful writer barfed up this lame fanfic story with generic “fascinating” teens you know from TV that will make you wish for a Xanax before you swoon into a septic tank.”) Every time they have to stitch things together makes the praise seem suspicious or stilted.

Show taste. Every book is not a masterpiece. Every author is not for the ages. We all know shameless blurbwhores in mass market publishing. Plenty of name-brand bestsellers plop their monicker and a fat slice of hyperbole on anyone who pays to play or shares their agency. Over time you’ve learned to distrust and even avoid their recommendations because…oy. Those ersatz raves may still sell books to the punters, but they undermine everyone’s credibility. And just because you feel obligated or everyone waxes rhapsodic doesn’t mean you must. Don’t be a lemming.

Stay centered. Make sure that the book you’re championing won’t completely confuse your fanbase or theirs. By the same token, that doesn’t mean you should only blurb in your subgenre, but rather that confusing your readers or theirs can create a nightmare in promo down the line. Coherence and consistency carry huge weight in our industry. If you write sweet historical westerns, pimping a polyamorous BDSM cyberpunk makes zero sense for either party. Drive your lane or you’ll end up roadkill.

Look around. Mutual backscratching trap you in a rut if you aren’t careful. You are never obligated to wax ecstatic about a friend’s book any more than they are. Likewise, going to the same three people over and over for endorsements starts to look incestuous and contrived. A blustery quote for your chaptermates or husband won’t move many copies. Make sure you don’t throw the same party every time. Share the wealth, and seek fresh turf.

Reach out. When looking for quotes, authors tend to level up whenever possible, which makes perfect sense: name-brand authors wield influence because they’ve earned it. But people have deadlines and favors come at a literal cost. That goes for you too! Build connections before you call on them. Any A-gamer will cultivate positive relationships with mentors and heroes rather than haranguing “names” for praise at the last minute. Publishing is a rich, wide ecosystem; the sooner you connect with and learn from its apex predators the safer and stronger your career.

Finish early: when someone gives you an ARC to blurb, nine times out of ten they are behind schedule and panicked about the release campaign. There are bookmarks to order and billboards to design. If your perfect pull quote is the one that’s finalized, proofed, and dazzling in their inbox first, you may be giving them that essential ingredient to help them pimp the book properly. Remember: one day you will be the author drumming the desk waiting on a pull-quote to fill that negative space on swag and adverts.

Of course, all of the above truisms apply to YOUR work as well when it comes time to beat the pushes for copy-worthy praise. By playing smart with your colleagues, you encourage them to do the same and the ROI is exponential.

When you seriously love a book, help it find its ideal audience by supporting its release with clear, punchy compliments that are promo friendly. Learn to give people the kinds of pull-quotes you’d want for your own promo efforts. It’s a muscle you can develop, just like those Broadway oldtimers who knew and delivered what the producers needed. They knew how to distill their legitimate enthusiasm into perfect soundbites. We bought those old salts a lot of champagne and sirloin on opening night, I can tell you.

Even better, fans will learn that the stories you recommend are worth every penny and minute spent, that your word means something powerful, that they should pay attention to you because you pay attention to them. Best part? Get known for giving authentic, passionate praise for books that you genuinely love, and over time you will cultivate a large group of authors and industry muscle who won’t think twice about giving you authentic, enthusiastic quotes in kind.

Paying it forward in artful pull quotes improves the genre, extends your audience, and boosts your next release campaign to boot.


A professional development article for writers by M/M author Damon Suede

Copyright 2017. Damon Suede. All Rights Reserved

Originally published as a lecture for Romance University.

If you wish to republish this article, just drop me a line.