Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Blurb-O-Matic

Well, last night's post about blurbs elicited a number of intersting responses. If I'm reading them correctly the consensus seems to be that quotes from big name writers help. But there are perils involved in the whole business. I thought Sanrda Ruttan's letter was particularly thoughtful.

Sandra Ruttan said...
I've definitely heard variations of "I'm not a big name so a blurb from me won't help" but... the thing is, is it better to go with no blurbs at all?

I'm not convinced blurbs help, but it is only the bestsellers - the Rankins, Lippmans, Connellys - that dare to put out a book without a blurb on the front cover. Not having a blurb is a curiosity, and I guess for the people who do pay attention to these things they think either you're full of yourself or you aren't that good.

My own experience is such that getting new blurbs from known names was pretty well impossible for me, so I turned to other new authors, and one of them met me with a laundry list of conditions for supplying a blurb that was about three paragraphs long.

It's a popularity game for so many, choosing only to blurb when it will bring attention to their name, and often more about trading favors than anything else. Best story I know is a very well-known author who blurbed another author. Blurb appears on the cover. My SO picked up the book, and in an e-mail exchange with the blurber said, "I'm reading X by X right now." The author responded, "Never heard of it."

I've given up on it. If it's all about kissing backside and not about writing, I don't want the endorsements. I've grown to distrust most of them.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Gorman,
I'll read anything you blurb. You turned me on to that great Vietnam series Ground Zero, and I have the entire series now. Most of the book Stephen King blurbs turn out to be worthwhile reads. If I trust the author, I'll trust his blurb.
Brian O'Connor

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Ed,

My favorite blurb of all time appears on the back cover of _Night Train to Memphis_ by Elizabeth Peters:

"This time Elizabeth Peters has gone too far. The woman has been annoying me for years. She's a fairly good writer, actually, and this is probably her best book. Per usual it's funny and exciting, but this time she has gone overboard on the romantic stuff in flagrant imitation of me. This is actionable! I shall demand a share of the royalties!"

The author? Barbara Michaels. :-)

Anonymous said...

I've gone through most of my titles and found only two blurbs. I do suppose a well-known author's endorsement would help, but somehow I've managed all these years without blurbs. Maybe it's because no one wants to blurb me.

Richard Wheeler

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Best blurb I ever heard wasn't used. "Not as bad as his last book."

Sandra Ruttan said...

I once did a blog post featuring the blurbs you'll never see, just for fun. One was: "She was good in bed, and her book wasn't bad either."

I asked for contributions in the comments and this real blurb was offered up:

"If little blurbs like this actually affect your way of thinking, you're a sheep and a follower -- so fulfill your damn destiny already, pick up this beautiful book, and go pay for it. Really, I'm sad for you." -- Brad Meltzer, Author of Justice League and The Book of Fate.

Todd Mason said...

I'd highly doubt that any casual reader will pick up a book and see it doesn't have any credited blurbs and think, what an arrogant bastard this writer is...if they think about it much at all, they'd probably wonder why the publisher was falling down on the job.

Ben Boulden said...

Todd. I agree. I don't think the average book buyer pays much attention to blurbs. They look at the cover, read the description, and the first few sentences / paragraphs / pages (if they make it that far) and buy the book or not.

I think publishers use blurbs as a way to escape real promotion and advertising. It's easier to say "hey, look Stephen King loved this book" than actually promote the thing. But the publishing world seems to be the last industry that doesn't think promotion works. Go figure.

Sandra Ruttan said...

As I said in my comment "for the people who do pay attention to these things". It is the people in the writing community who are more likely to notice, and possibly discount you as a snob/not a team player/whatever. Once I started to learn the business I did take note of things like blurbs in stores, more from an assessment point of view, and if an author I hadn't heard of didn't have any blurbs, I always wondered why, especially if they didn't have a few pages of praise inside the book, as those things just seemed to be standard.

The publishing industry obviously puts some emphasis on blurbs. Authors are encouraged to ask for them, some agents seek them out, some editors do, and ARCs are distributed in the hopes of getting endorsements and positive feedback. If we all really believe they don't mean anything to the casual reader, are we suggesting the whole reason to get them is some sort of industry competition? Is it the equivalent of notches on a bedpost? Or just one great big ego trip for the author in question?

I've had two authors admit openly, to my face, they were misquoted in a blurb used or they lied in a blurb given for a book they never read. (Not my books in either case.) How would you feel if you were the author of the book with the compromised blurb?

Ben Boulden said...

Sandra. Absolutely. The blurb is such a large part of the publishing industry that when there aren't any on a novel--inside or out--I do wonder what's wrong with the thing. It's so standard that when it's missing the novel seems incomplete, and it's noticed and filed by the yucks (me included) that notice such things. Or heck, maybe it's really just a graphic design thing--blurbs look good on the cover.

Ben