Gather ye testimonies while ye may

Testimonies broadcast our contributions and encourage purchase of our good words. Also referred to as endorsements or recommendations, testimonies may appear on the front and back covers of your book, in the first pages, in reviews, and, of course, on your website. To gather effective testimonies takes time, thought, and some courage. Here are five points to keep in mind.

1) When to Request a Testimony

Ideally, ask for testimonies before publication. When you do, expect your prospective testimony-ers to want to see your manuscript, or at least a part. These requests are reasonable and ethical. Depending on the stage of the book, you can send your proposal, late manuscript, or prepublication galley. Especially for nonfiction, the proposal  should contain enough substantial material so they get a flavor of your work. Even better, the late manuscript or prepublication galley should present your work very well, providing more than enough for testimonies. You can ask for testimonies after publication as well, but earlier gives you advance publicity.

2) Who to Ask

Experts and Other Writers. You may be reticent to request testimonies from experts and fellow writers. After all, you’re asking them to take valuable time away from their own work and give it to yours. I have a little formula: I first compliment (sincerely) the individual’s writing or accomplishments, or a specific work of theirs I’ve learned from or been inspired by. Then I acknowledge their busyness and offer my support. With writing colleagues, for example, I may suggest reciprocal testimonies and/or reviews. Most are glad to agree to this cross-promotion. With other experts, I offer gratitude and reviews of their books.

Clients. In addition to working on our own projects—textbooks, scholarly histories of the wars between the mother-in-laws of Ancient Europe, and paranormal-erotic-cozy-fantasy-thriller-memoir-generation-sweeping sagas—many of us provide professional editing, critiquing, and ghosting services. Our satisfied clients can provide excellent testimonies.

I generally wait until a client’s project is completed, or very close to completion, to ask for a testimony. Clients are pleased, and one even said he was “honored” to provide one. Some testimonies are short, some are quite long and detailed, and all seem to be from the heart. One client told me she could really express her gratitude to me this way. If for some reason a client declines, just let it go. You’ll have many others.

Celebrities. Unless you have a special connection with a celebrity or a celebrity writer (you’re related, your best friend is related, your book is a glowing biography of their brother, you go to the same dentist), a testimony from a star is unlikely.

In an early incarnation of my spiritual self-help book, Trust Your Life I naively wrote to Julia Cameron, telling her how much I gained from The Artist’s Way and how my book used some of the same principles. Not surprisingly, I never heard a thing. Celebs are inundated with such appeals, and their secretaries and interns run interference.

But there are exceptions . . . later I wrote to a celebrity life-career coach and writer I’ve long admired and have been inspired by. I complimented her—and meant it— and then described Trust Your Life, which has affinities with her work. I asked for a testimony and, to my shock, she (a) replied and (b) said she’d write one. She did. I am thrilled to report it appears on the front cover.

For my second book, Challenges in Completing Your Dissertation, with the primary audience dissertation writers,  in the research I discovered a book by a stellar  professor emeritus at a major university. His book was written with the student’s perspective in mind–astoundingly. I mustered my virtual courage and wrote to him, pointing out the complementary of our work. More than gracious, he replied . . . and sent a testimony—at which I was blushingly bowled over. His words appear on the back cover.

So go ahead—at worst you’ll never get a reply, and at best you’ll get a great one.

3) How to Ask

When you request a testimony, tell the individual why you’re asking; for example, they’re expert in the field, you greatly respect their opinion, or you’ve gained a great deal from their work. Also point out how your book will help readers.

Next, minimize the testimonial task. Assure them that only a few lines or sentences are needed and that the deadline is not immediate. Give a reasonable time, such as a week or ten days.

Finally, inquire how they would like their name and title or credentials to appear, and offer to include their website in the testimonial. Of course, this is good publicity for them. Alternatively, if they prefer anonymity or initials only, guarantee that you will completely respect their wishes.

4) Watch Out for Overkill

Sometimes testimonies can be so extravagant that they produce suspicion rather than admiration. An ineffective testimony is too full of hyperbole. How can anything be that good?

I recall an episode of the television show “Castle” in which the fictional successful, famous mystery novelist Richard Castle stood in front of a table piled with a tall stack of other mystery writers’ books. Apparently he’d been asked to provide testimonies. He placed his hand on the cover of each and, not opening a single one, intoned words to this effect: “An electrifying jaunt through the mind of a killer.” “Exciting and provocative; sure to stimulate.” “Fantastic new talent to watch.”

5) What Are Effective Testimonies?

Castle’s testimonies, satiric to be sure, nevertheless reflected the facileness of overtestimonying and not taking the job seriously. The most effective testimony may be one in which the writer not only actually cracks the book but also relates it to personal experience. A testimony on Amazon about Trust Your Life moved me greatly. The author told how, in the car after her mother’s funeral, she remembered a passage from the book. It supported her in recommitting to a major life and writing goal.

A good testimony is also fresh and almost underwritten. I was delighted with this one about Trust Your Life:

If you want platitudes, go elsewhere. If you want coddling, skip this. If you want airy-fairy, not here. If you want practical, specific and challenging guidance and exercises to help you achieve what you want to achieve, step right this way.

Made me want to read more of this author’s work.

So, read some testimonies. Do they smack of cliché praises? Or too-muchness? Or do they prompt you to run out and get the book? Read a range of testimonies in different genres, and you’ll get a feel of the those that are perceptive (meaning the author has read at least some of the book) and genuine. With the ones you receive, you’ll then be better equipped to winnow for substance and earnestness.

6) Good Gathering

Keep gathering. If some people refuse, don’t give up; just keep sending out your requests. Remember—your book is valuable and deserves excellent testimonies.

© 2020 Noelle Sterne


Noelle SterneDissertation coach, nurturer, bolsterer, handholder, and editor; scholarly and mainstream writing consultant; author of writing craft, spiritual, and academic articles; and spiritual and motivational counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 600 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Graduate Schools Magazine, GradShare, InnerSelf, Inspire Me Today, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, Women on Writing, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle has for 30 years helped doctoral candidates wrestle their dissertations to completion (finally). Based on her practice, her Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015) addresses students’ often overlooked or ignored but crucial nonacademic difficulties that can seriously prolong their agony. See the PowerPoint teaser here. In Noelle`s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. Following one of her own, she is currently working on her second novel. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com