Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What do book blurbs really mean?

Today's post by Alton Gansky at the Charis Connection started me thinking about the business of book-blurbing:

Just this morning I sent off a set of endorsements for a fellow writer. Endorsements are part of the writing life. Once you’ve published a few books here and there, requests for endorsements begin to trickle in. Endorsements are those short blurbs that appear on the cover of books, in promo material and on web pages. And, of course, these are positive statements meant to encourage the potential book buyer. (Who would buy a book with the endorsement: “This book reads like a root canal.”)

Usually, I agree to “read for endorsement” with reluctance. I do so for several reasons. First, I’m a ponderously slow reader. Empires have risen and fallen in the time it takes me to read a handful of books. Two, many publishers and authors assume that agreeing to read for endorsement is the same thing as saying, “Yes, I will read it and praise it beyond all measure.”

I imagine that second point is true in many more cases than not. That's why book blurbs don't impress me unless they're very specific. For instance, these blurbs on the cover of a romance novel would move me not at all, regardless of who wrote them:

Warm, witty, wonderful!

[Author's name] will steal your heart!

A thrilling tale of undying love!

If the blurbist gets specific, however, I might begin to care. But she'll have to say a lot in a very few words in order for her praise to fit on the book's cover.

How do you feel about book blurbs? Take the survey, and then tell us more, if you like, in the Comments.

Your first thought after picking up a new novel and seeing a cover blurb indicating that Famous Author found the book "A gripping read" is:
Wow. This must be a really good book.
That's a rather generic quote. Did Famous Author actually read the book?
Aw. It was sweet of Famous Author to give the newbie that kind of boost.
Famous Author must have owed the newbie's agent/editor/publisher a big favor.
Famous Author's blurbs are a dime a dozen. She just wants to get her name on more bookcovers.
(If none of the above answers fit, leave yours in the Comments.)

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Elle Fredrix said...

Hi Brenda!

Frankly, blurbs mean nothing at all to me. My eyes may see them, but they certainly don’t make an impression. Why? I hate to say it, but I doubt the truthfulness of them. Yeah, I’m something of a cynic.

And even if they are true? They’re just someone’s opinion and certainly not worth their weight in gold, or for that matter, the price of a book!

Anonymous said...

I like it when an author whose work I admire and respect writes a blurb. That's what makes me sit up and take notice! However, it still needs to be more than your typical "warm, witty, wonderful" to catch me. But then, the authors that I love would never write anything so blase! LOL!


Kristin said...

I don't really read them or notice them either. Once, many years ago, when I was naive and wide-eyed, I picked up a book based on the blurb. It turned out to be the worst book I'd read in awhile, so from then on, no more listening to blurbs!

Every once in awhile, if it's a really famous writer, I will wonder for a moment, "How could so-and-so have time to read this book by some new author?" Then, I will set it back on the shelf and move on.

Three things work for me: thought-provoking cover, great back blurb, first couple of pages catch my attention.

That's it.

Brenda Coulter said...

Elle, Shauna, and Kristin, thanks for commenting. I've always wondered why my author friends get so worked up over asking for and being asked for blurbs. As a reader, I'm not at all impressed by them.