Publishing Your First Book: Securing Blurbs, Advance Readers and PR

The greatest challenge a first-time author faces (after creating a manuscript worthy of publishing and finding a way to get your book published), is creating a community of readers. If you are an “ordinary” person without an existing following there aren’t any shortcuts (be wary of anyone claiming otherwise). Below are the steps I took leading up to the launch of my first book “canvas“.

Building an Army of Advance Readers

When your manuscript is complete and you have proofs in your hand, the work for your book launch has only just begun. As a first-time author securing early reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble and other websites requires being proactive. Starting with your personal network, identify at least 15-20 people (ideally 50) who will agree to be Advance Readers of your book. Each will receive an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) – ideally a “galley proof” (physical copy), otherwise a fully designed PDF. In my case I was able to build up a group of 50 advance readers, each received either a PDF (if shipping was impractical) or in most cases an Advance Reader Kit (photo below). I created custom bookmarks (using VistaPrint) and a wax seal stamp (from Stamptitude). Each reader received a signed galley copy of my book and a wax-sealed parchment paper thank you letter. I took the time to treat each Advance Reader as something special – because they are special. I’m asking Advance Readers to read my book – an ask that will take a few hours. I used Mailchimp to periodically communicate with my Advance Readers in order to make the process as easy as possible.

Photo of "canvas" by James Morehead with bookmarks and a custom wax-sealed letter
“canvas” Advance Reader Kit

Securing Advance Praise (aka Blurbs) from Credible Sources

Blurbs are intended to establish credibility, so are only helpful if the source providing the blurb is credible. For poetry (my genre), blurbs from other poets, or a recognized figure in literature, was my goal. It’s intimidating to ask for a blurb as a first-time author; the key thing is to remember is that every author started as a first-time author. Start with your network and see who they know. Reach out to authors who you have read and respect. Don’t be disappointed when you are inevitably told “no” – you only need a few to say “yes”. Below are some of the “blurbs” I was able to secure:

“James Morehead’s canvas opens itself to the poetry of everyday life, where stanzas are etched in sand, and poems end in sunset. Combining micro-narratives of Boston bullies cornering a young boy, with minute descriptions of time in quarantine, it draws us into moving tableaus of tenacious attention to what went down, what might come up, and where we might find ourselves. These are poems to be savored, re-read, kept handy for those times when only poetry will do.” – W. J. T. Mitchell, Senior Editor, Critical Inquiry and Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor, English and Art History, University of Chicago

“Beauty breathes in these debut poems: from the elegant limano to strong silences. Poet, James Morehead is a world traveler who treats readers to excursions that harken back to his alluring title poem, canvas, and other portraits. These memoir poems sing in a universal language.” – Regina Harris Baiocchi, Author of Indigo Sound, Urban Haiku, and Blues Haiku.

“James creates an enchanting melody of poetic sound for the reader page after page. He notices life’s details with a tender yet precise eye, down to the ‘streets glistening with midnight rain’ and ‘summer bursting outwards / fierce from its slumber.’ Using this keen observation, James breaks past life’s routines to uncover gems of beauty. To read canvas is to be transported to a world infused with meaning and memory.”- Morgan Liphart, author of Barefoot and Running

Getting PR for your Book

Just like securing blurbs, getting journalists to write about your book starts with asking. It’s important, however, to pitch more than “I have a new book” (until you are famous, publishing a book isn’t newsworthy – there are more books published in a given week than could ever be covered by journalists). In my case I leaned into two story lines – how the pandemic inspired me to write my first book, and the challenges of being a first-time, self-published author. I spoke about my book in the context of storylines that were more universal. What is the story behind your book that you can pitch? I started with local and regional publications – and had more success with local journalists. Here are two articles that resulted from cold-calling journalists:

All of the tactics listed above continue after your book is published. A book launch is really a “soft launch” with months of work to follow building an audience of readers.

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