Who should I send early copies of my book to?
May 4, 2013 3:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm writing a book about language learning and the science of memory for a major publisher. We're a couple months away from sending galley copies around to various people for blurbs and reviews, and they've asked me for input as to who might be interested. So! Who should read this thing? Name some people who, if you saw their name on the back of a science-y book on language learning and memory, you'd buy it.
posted by sdis to Writing & Language (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: (Or, if you prefer, 'To whom should I send early copies of my book,' but one of those rules is a silly import from Latin and the other one is on its way out.)
posted by sdis at 3:21 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

As a general rule, only people you know will "blurb" your book--it's a sort of professional favor that people do for each other. So for that purpose, think of the most famous people who are known to you personally.
posted by agent99 at 3:47 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Pinker, Kahneman, Ariely, Paul Bloom...
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:11 AM on May 4, 2013

Me? If I were to see my blurb, I'd definitely be curious about it. And would be very inclined to write a blurb on the matter. Don't be too quick to underestimate the random extension.
posted by CrystalDave at 4:33 AM on May 4, 2013

Jad abumrad or Robert krolwich
posted by chasles at 4:55 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Semi-seconding agent99. I don't actually agree that only people you know will blurb your book, but the most useful names you can give your publisher are those of people known to you, using the broadest definition of "known".

Hopefully your editor will approach anyone relevant that s/he knows or has dealt with in the past; if you don't think they're already doing that, hassle them gently!

Also, obviously, people whose work you refer to (positively) in the book.

(This advice is for blurbs specifically, not reviews or other media coverage)
posted by oliverburkeman at 5:11 AM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Noam Chomsky and Dan Everet.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:41 AM on May 4, 2013

Eric Kandel
posted by Wolfster at 6:15 AM on May 4, 2013

Deborah Tannen
posted by goggie at 6:40 AM on May 4, 2013

George Lakoff
posted by oflinkey at 7:22 AM on May 4, 2013

I increasingly find, somewhat to my dismay, that many blurbers turn up in the index of the book they are blurbing. So I suppose you could start with your index.
posted by seemoreglass at 7:26 AM on May 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

The content of the blurb, and the (obvious to me!) relevancy of their expertise to the subject matter, is more important to me than the blurber.

If it's Madeline Albright or Paul Krugman or someone else ridiculously famous, the blurb had seriously better include something about the wonderful summers spent discussing the contents of the book in great depth with the author, with whom they attended whatever school it was that they got their best degree at. Or something. Otherwise I completely blow it off as "that author or publisher has great connections but this means nothing."

Meanwhile, Joe Schmoe, PhD, Department Chair of Linguistics at Research State University, just needs to tell me the book is well-written and more-than-basically correct for me to give it a shot. So, for example, take a look at universities below #9 on recent rankings of linguistics programs and look for dudes who do language acquisition there. I mean, you know, maybe those guys at MIT will have the time, but, it seems unlikely.

I also suggest you take a look at who's been chairing panels at recent conferences in this subject matter (it seems to me that the kind of person who's willing to endure the costs of heading up a panel, and who was deemed a "plus" by whoever decided should be chair, is probably a good bet.)

I personally value the word "chair" more than any other word in a blurber's name/description, though "director" also works if the nearby words make it clear that "director" doesn't just mean "dude who we will fire if things go badly." I also like "professor of FIELD who specializes in THIS EXACT TOPIC" (more if they're a full professor.) After "chair" and "director" and "professor" comes the prestige of the institution, with a strong preference towards known research-focused institutions. I have no idea, as a person who is buying a science-y book but isn't doing it because she's teaching a class, which universities are the best in this random narrow field (language learning and memory, yikes.) Stick to places that sound good as research institutions in general.

And yeah, start with people you know. If you've met them at a conference, though, that might count. And if you know a guy who knows the guy, by all means ask the guy you know to ask the guy he knows to help you out. Ask the guys you know (who are likely to know helpful guys) if they know anyone they'd be willing to ask to help you (i.e., your own PhD adviser may not be of much use, but he might have co-written a book or been on a bowling team with someone who'd be very helpful.)

I'd seriously consider giving a list of dream targets to everyone you know well in the field and asking if they think they can get anyone on the list to help you out. I know a few faculty members at my undergrad institution (not in your field) who seem to have basically undertaken that kind of service-to-junior-colleagues thing as a full-time hobby.

Oh, and if you know someone who is known in a related field as a person with good judgment and a willingness to say "this sucks" or "this is really kind of unreadable" and an ability to say "this is awesome" in a cogent and delightful way I'd really consider including them for review purposes.

You are BTW deeply fortunate to be in pretty much the only field I trust a "professor of such-and-such" to actually be able to recognize that something is, in fact, well-written. I can't even seem to rely upon English and Education professors for this anymore. But please, get someone who everyone knows will call you out for being too technical, if you're too technical. I typically give science-y books about two or three paragraphs to prove that they're not too frustrating when I pick them up in a real store, and on Amazon, that boils down to checking the blurbs and the description text from the publisher (plus whatever reviews are up.)

Consider also asking your publisher to do an Early Reviewers type program, to get some reviews from non-expert people who will only say "this is readable" or "this isn't readable."
posted by SMPA at 8:18 AM on May 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Richard Restak, MD?
posted by ferdinandcc at 8:51 AM on May 4, 2013

Also, if it's something that could interest the [somewhat more well-read end of the] general public, see if you can get The Rumpus book club a set of advanced copies. They mostly do fiction but have been known to throw in a good non-fiction title every now and then if it interests them. Members of their book club all get access to a book a month before the public does, and get to review it and chat with the author at the end of the month.
posted by ferdinandcc at 8:57 AM on May 4, 2013

I know it's a stretch, and based on subject matter, but anytime I stumble across Dr. Francine Patterson, I am always speechless. To me, she is a GOD of Language and Memory. Her most famous student.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 12:00 PM on May 4, 2013

Daniel Tammet is known for being an autistic savant, and synaesthetic ability with numbers but he also runs a website for learning languages. He's not got academic credentials, but if I'm understanding the field you're writing in correctly, I'd definitely take a look at the book if he blurbed it.
posted by clerestory at 5:12 PM on May 4, 2013

languagehat, obviously.

I may be beanplating here, but... What do you mean by language learning? Second language learning? Child first language acquisition? Normal adult learning new words in their first language?
posted by knile at 12:40 PM on May 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

John McWhorter is my favorite linguist and I think he's very well known. He might be more known for his political activities to the general public now, though.
posted by 0x006DB0 at 8:16 PM on May 5, 2013

Fran├žois Grosjean, Ellen Bialystok.
posted by knile at 6:20 AM on May 16, 2013

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