Friday, July 09, 2010

Beware of Blurbs

Ed Gorman: Laura Miller of Salon posted a column about blurbs today. It's (to me at least) an even-handed take on the subject. She even cites some UK publishing figures that insist blurbs are useful. I dunno. Once in a while a blurb will get me to buy a book but usually I'm more impressed with review quotes (even from small papers) unless they're like the one Damon Knight always cited. ""

, JUL 9, 2010 07:01 ET
Beware of blurbs
From back-scratching to overpraise, why author endorsements are so bad -- and so unreliable

Over at the Guardian site, they're holding a contest for who can write the most ludicrous blurb for a Dan Brown novel, with predictably hilarious results. The inspiration for this antic is a pre-publication blurb written by Nicole Krauss, author of "The History of Love," for the new novel by David Grossman, "To the End of the Land." The literary blog Conversational Reading lodged the initial objection to Krauss' blurb, which was prominently printed on the front cover of the advance reader's copy:

"Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before. "To the End of the Land" is a book of this magnitude. David Grossman may be the most gifted writer I've ever read; gifted not just because of his imagination, his energy, his originality, but because he has access to the unutterable, because he can look inside a person and discover the unique essence of her humanity. For twenty-six years he has been writing novels about what it means to defend this essence, this unique light, against a world designed to extinguish it. "To the End of the Land" is his most powerful, shattering, and unflinching story of this defense. To read it is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being."

Even the book's publisher seems to have realized that Krauss' praise is over-the-top and a bit icky; a commenter at Conversational Reading reported that his ARC of the novel featured an abbreviated version of the blurb.

Most of the people involved in this system are well-meaning: Blurbers want to help other authors, publishers want to win more attention for their books, and authors want to do everything they can to prove that their publishers' faith in their work has been justified. The result, however, is broken and borderline (sometimes outright) corrupt.

A few celebrated authors have made a point of regularly seeking out and championing books by writers with whom they have no connection -- Stephen King is the most prominent example. (That said, I haven't found King's recommendations particularly useful.) But overall, blurbs just aren't very meaningful. Yet, apart from a minority of skeptics, much of the public still seems to take them at face value. One British publisher claims to have seen research showing that as many as 62 percent of book buyers choose titles on the basis of blurbs.

for the rest of the article go here:


RJR said...

"This . . . is . . .a . . .book" was a quote Don Westlake gave himself for a book called COMFORT STATION, which he wrote under a pseudonym.


Rabid Fox said...

Ah Stephen King's blurbs. I've been treated to some highly enjoyable reads thanks to them, as well as some utter disappointments.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

Actually Westlake's blurb said "I wish I had written this book".

Charlieopera said...

I used to not like them so much, but how can I argue with these:

“I never read any of his books, but he could eat a lot of pizza before that dopey lap band operation he had. I lost a good tipper.” — Vinnie, the pizza delivery guy

“Charlie’s writing books now? They must have a lot of pictures.” — Tony

“I remember when he was in good shape. Twenty years ago, I guess it is now. You gotta feel for his wife.” — Pete

“We used to clean windows together. He used to throw fits on the scaffold when the rollers jammed and he’d start kicking the motor fifty floors above the street. I should write a book about that!” — Tommy

“He’s a decent enough guy, but he’s the only moron I know bet the Buffalo Bills four straight Super Bowls. I mean, come on...” — Gene

Ed Gorman said...

Charlie comes through with Blurbs We Can Believe In! :)

I have one from my Mom: "This one isn't nearly as bad as his last one!"

Deb said...

I think it was Spy magazine which used to have a column called "Log Rolling in Our Times" where they would reprint the blurbs that different authors had given each other.

My husband and I like to play the old "fill in the elipses" game where you take a blurb full of elipses and figure out what the writer actually said. This was based on a true story about Roger Ebert who gave a scathing review to a terrible movie, but the ad people managed to pull out a few positive words surrounded by elipses and, voila, great movie review!

RJR said...

I believe "I wish I had written this book" was another blurb. He blurbed the book under all his names.


Kate Stine said...

I agree with Ed -- blurbs just aren't a reliable indicator of a good book. It does probably indicate the blurbing author is a nice person. Or maybe the blurbee has something on him.