It seems marketing books in the 21st century is harder than ever. There are fewer bookstores to reach out to, and so much shopping is done online. How can a publisher help launch a first novel from a promising writer? Like we did way back in the 20th century, we provide advance reading copies to reviewers, sales reps, and key buyers. We use more modern methods—making e-ARCs available, reaching out to bloggers, and using Facebook and Twitter to connect directly with consumers.

Still, today as it was decades ago, a good blurb is a great tool for sales people and publicists. If your book is scary, a nice sentence or two from Stephen King can mean the difference between literary oblivion and the bestseller list. If you’re launching a legal thriller, you would be foolish not to ask John Grisham to pen a few kind words. If your book has a few scenes in which a lover gives his paramour a good, hard spanking, how much would it be worth to have approval from Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James?

Publishers frequently ask authors to reach out to peers or to more successful authors for praise-filled blurbs. Those kind words can be used over and over again, to burnish the back jacket, to spark up a press release, or to post on sites like and But what if a first novel is full of Jungian imagery and magical realism? Recently, I encouraged Tad Crawford, author of the new novel A Floating Life on our Arcade Publishing list, to ask some writers to blurb his book. In addition to reaching out to contemporary authors, Crawford sought help from some bold-faced names of the past. A few of the queries follow. I was pleased with Crawford’s creativity, but was not surprised at the response: silence.

Dear Franz Kafka,

I hold your fiction in the highest esteem. I would be deeply appreciative if you would consider dashing off a blurb for my new novel, A Floating Life, to be published by Arcade in September.

A Floating Life is filled with images that surprise and disorient, such as a litigious dachshund, a job interview in a steam room with a one-eyed, seven-foot chef, and the nameless narrator’s breast-feeding of the baby he has birthed. Without comparing these images to such superlative renderings as waking one day as a giant cockroach or a sword in the uplifted hand of Liberty, I believe A Floating Life will give pleasure to those who love your books.

With heartfelt admiration,

Tad Crawford

Dear Thomas Mann,

Reading your novels and short stories has been a transformative experience for me. My joy in your creative work leads me to ask if you would consider writing a blurb for my new novel, A Floating Life, to be published by Arcade in September.

In A Floating Life the narrator’s relationship deepens with an elderly Dutch model maker named Pecheur, whose miniature boats are erratically offered for sale in a hard-to-find shop called the Floating World. Enlivened by Pecheur’s dream to tame the destructive forces of nature, the narrator begins to find his bearings. While hardly an asylum like that where Hans Castorp seeks a cure from Dr. Krakowski, the Floating World does offer asylum as the narrator seeks to harness the forces of his own nature.

I thank you in advance for any brief words that you might offer.

With the greatest respect,

Tad Crawford

Dear Samuel Beckett,

Your plays and novels opened new worlds to me. Please forgive that my enthusiasm for your work prompts me to importune you for a brief blurb for my novel, A Floating Life, which will be published by Arcade in September.

In A Floating Life the narrator becomes stranded on a volcanic island with two soldiers from a long-ended war, one of whom has also been a prisoner of the other for more than half a century. The narrator and his soldier companions are trapped by the perils of escape and a formidable bond of love, but is this so different from being trapped by giant urns, taped words from the past, or endless waiting?

With my apologies for this intrusion,

Tad Crawford

Bill Wolfsthal is the associate publisher and marketing director at Skyhorse Publishing. A Floating Life, a novel by Tad Crawford, is out September 1, 2012, from Arcade Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing.