June 21, 2015

To blurb or not to blurb

I had a good chuckle at this great post at Writer Unboxed from the very funny Bill Ferris and got to thinking about blurbs in general. 

I’ve never been asked to write one (although always open to requests) but they are another riddle of book publishing world. So many questions:

Q1.         How do you get a famous or respected author to blurb for you?
A1.         Suck up. Pay a bribe. Either via your agent or publisher, or you could try sheer chutzpah with the direct approach including selling your body if necessary (age and condition dependent).

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Q2.         Can you be sure - cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die sure - that they have read the book?
A2.         No, of course not. Poor you for believing they do. Blurbs are all about I’ll scratch yours if you’ll scratch mine (age and condition dependent), and definitely no reading required.

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Q3.         What’s more powerful to boosting sales - personal endorsement by book superstar or extract from a published review?
A3.         See Q5. Review extracts are just as dodgy. Example. Blurb on novel says “Vibrant, lyrical and truly unforgettable”, but has been edited from review that says “This book had all the potential for a vibrant, lyrical and truly unforgettable novel but unfortunately the result is the biggest load of s**t ever written.”

Q4.         Are lots of blurbs a good thing?
A4.         No. You get suspicious. I’m currently reading a third edition of a book that has so many superlatives splashed across its front and back covers and four inside pages that it feels like all these high-minded and influential folk are wagging their fingers at me - “You had better love this book too, coz if you don’t, you’re a miserable curmudgeon / utter nincompoop / intellectual lightweight / etc”. With all this opinion looming over me any objective view is unlikely and I wish I had read its first edition before it became infected by the blurb monster.

Q5.           What if you see a blurb by an author whom you loathe on the cover of a book that you quite like the look of?
A5.            Tricky - see answer to Q2. Do your utmost to ignore the blurb and deface the cover if it helps (please don't do this with a library book though!) and then decide for yourself.

Copyright Jon Kudelka, www.theaustralian.com.au

Blurbs are supposed to be brief, concise, pithy, but some literary types get excitable and carried away on the topic. From the Wikipedia page on blurbs there are links to really long dissertations on the subject if you are seriously bothered about this, but there are some great comments about the blurb via this New York Times website and I concur with the guy who asked why do so many books have “New York Times bestseller” (“Sunday Times bestseller” if in UK) as a blurb? [Hmm … note to self to do a post some time on what is actually meant by bestseller.]

And my beloved Mark Twain - always to be relied upon to get right to the heart of any matter to do with his fellow authors - offered the following blurb for a novel by Henry James: 

 "Once you put it down you can't pick it up." 

Amen.


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