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The Blurb Dilemma

Question of the day: I saw on Twitter that you don't often pay attention to blurbs but that one in particular swayed you to buy a book. Can you explain why you disregard them and why this one influenced you?

Oy. Blurbs.

That pretty much sums up my feelings on them. :) Why? Because nobody enjoys anything about the process of blurbing, and the more I know about them, the less seriously I take them.

No. That's not fair. Rewind.

What I didn't realize about blurbing before I became a published author is how incestual they are. Friends blurb friends. Authors blurb others in their imprint. Authors blurb others who their agents asks them too. I have done all of these things, so it's not like I'm knocking authors who do this. (Really. It's a very, very sticky situation for all parties involved.) But I try my very best to only blurb projects that I truly believe in, and I also try my very best to only blurb debut authors, because not only are debut authors the ones to whom blurbs really matter (personally), they're also the ones who need the blurbs the most (professionally). I really sincerely believe that blurbing doesn't have much influence (a teeny, tiny bit, perhaps - in terms of marketing and sales) on anyone else. (A blurb from Stephen King or whatnot aside.)

But there is still this frenzy to acquire them: I have a stack about ten deep on my desk, many of which I won't have the time to even consider due to my own writing schedule - and an author's hopes may hang in the balance of getting (or not) a blurb from an author he or she admires. (Trust me on this - there is little more euphoric than receiving your first blurb, while on the flip side, the sting of silence can set an author off the rails.) So all around, the process stinks.

But as far as why they don't sway me to pick up a book, I return to my original point. There is too much nepotism in blurbing. These days, with social media, many authors know each other, and there is a feeling of obligation to give your stamp, whether or not the book truly is "a compelling character portrait that I couldn't set down from the very first page!" (Again, NOT criticizing anyone, just giving a behind-the-scenes glimpse.) It's like when a friend asks you if she looks fat in these jeans - you're not really going to say yes, are you? The same holds with blurbs. People offer them to be nice, but nice is not always synonymous with an honest review of a book. Which is why I mostly disregard them in a bookstore. I think that blurbs often are more about who an agent/editor/author knows and not necessarily about the book itself. Which, by the way, TOTALLY sucks for the authors of a fabulous book and a well-earned blurb. Because, TO BE CLEAR, I am NOT, NOT, NOT saying that great books don't get great blurbs - they do, and I hope to endorse and support the books that I feel this way about. I can think of a few books I blurbed in the past year that I truly loved and wanted to advocate for. (Just so I'm clear about this: I am, in no way, saying that many books don't deserve wonderful blurbs! Only that not all blurbs are offered based on quality alone. Also: I actually turn down a lot of books based on numbers alone: if I feel like I've already blurbed too many that season/month/year, I say no. I think it's important not to oversaturate readers with your endorsement so they take it seriously.)

In the case of the blurb that DID sway me to buy a book, this was from an author whom I consider a favorite, and I can't recall ever seeing another blurb of his on a cover. So I knew that he was being discriminating - that he must have genuinely thought this was "an incredible page-turner that will stay with you long after you've set it down" (not his actual words, of couse), and it compelled me to give the book a second look. 

Ah, so I've just gone and contradicted myself. I DID buy a book because of a blurb. :) So maybe they're worth getting after all. But still. I'm wary. I buy a book based on a lot of factors: online buzz, friends' recommendations, reviews from places I trust, but blurbs? Eh. These days, they don't sway me.

Readers - will you share - is this how you perceive that blurbs work? Do they influence your buying patterns?

References (1)

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  • Response
    lurbs: I read a post by Allison Winn Scotch on blurbs, particularly about how she (mostly) tends to ignore them when deciding whether or not to buy a book. Her response makes sense--too much nepotism, etc.--but two things she wrote really illustrate the dilemma of green novelists:...

Reader Comments (12)

I read blurbs, but I don't swear by them. Same with reviews. Every reader is different so it's best to just read the book and let it speak for itself. I recently gave a 5-star review to a book that a friend didn't even make it to page 50 on because it annoyed her so much. Me? I couldn't put it down unless I *had* to. Same book, different people, completely opposite reactions.

From a writer's standpoint, I totally agree with you about blurbs for debut authors. But you can usually tell which ones are generic and which ones are heartfelt. If the entire blurb consists of "[book title] is a stunning debut," then it gives the impression that person didn't read the book at all. But I suppose that's better than nothing. *shrugs*

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLydia Sharp

My follow up question is how important are they? Since I'm in the submission to editors stage, I wonder when I hear of other submitting first time authors with really good blurbs from big time authors and a great ms., why it doesn't get picked up. I personally had a blurb from another women's fiction author with two solid books out. My agent went to her editor and I doubt it made any difference, especially since I didn't get an offer and the editor didn't reference it at all. . . so now I don't bother trying to get blurbs -- once the book sells, I'm sure I will.:)

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJudy

Allison - I totally agree with you on how incestual blurbing is. But there's so much incest in the book word. Reviews are completely incestual, too.

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSharon Bially

Judy - I don't think that blurbs matter one iota during the submission stage. Editors either love the book - and think there's a market for it - or they don't.

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllison Winn Scotch

Such an interesting discussion! As a debut author, I definitely feel the stress about blurbs. And, after reading this, I'm even more grateful that you took the time to give me one, A! xo

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Jio

I am a reader, not an author, but I must say that I NEVER (and I mean NEVER) buy a book based on a blurb. I really couldn't care less what some famous person says about a book in a phrase or two. I want to know what other real people just like me think about a book! This blogging craze has been wonderful for this aspect of my book purchasing. I no longer have to go off of the covers alone to decide if a book is worth my time. Or off of the opinions of people who get paid to review books (usually I disagree with those people anyway across all review genres). I follow the blogs of other real people who have jobs and lives outside of publishing, yet love to read in their spare time, just like me. Blurbs don't factor into my purchase at all, however, on occasion I DO read them after purchase.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa C

Allison nails this. When I was taking a writing workshop at MediaBistro, the instructor gave us a "what to expect" once your book reaches the marketing stage and she talked about blurbs. We were all in a panic, but with Twitter and FB it all seems so doable. However, when buying a book, and knowing how blurbing works, they don't sway me one bit either--not even for a debut author. I buy a book based on reviews from major bloggers, recommendations from friends, and publications (I seem to have the same taste as Michiko Kakutani so I read her reviews religiously). But, blurbs, meh. Unless of course the blurber was a close friend of mine and I got him or her on the phone and grilled them on the sincerity of their blurb.

September 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebeca Schiller

As a reader, this is really interesting... When I'm browsing books, I pick up ones that sound interesting, read what it's about, then read the blurbs.... If EVERYONE and every review granting publication has said something about it, I figure that it's pretty good and I've missed the buzz. If only a few random people blurb it that I've never heard of, I often put it down. If it's endorsed by someone I really love to read, particularly more than one author I love, then I'll figure that's worth something. But, even with that system (which after reading this sounds particularly bogus... and a manipulation of me the reader... that works (even worse!), sometimes the blurbs sound sort of lukewarm. And if I don't get a good vibe, I trust my gut and figure I can find something I'm more interested in off goodreads or recommendations from people on twitter or FB. I'll have to judge blurbs more judiciously after reading this, but, I did want to add my two cents from the pure reader perspective that blurbs sometimes do sell me on a book I'm unfamiliar with.

September 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoy L

I read them out of curiosity, but don't take them seriously at all, especially when it's evident that the blurbs are from either author friends or that they have same editor or agent. And especially when I once bought a book based on a blurb and half-way through the book realized that the person who blurbed it hadn't read the book at all....I felt totally misled.

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPam

A version of this issue has been heating up the YA blogosphere lately... Reviews have become like blurbs, with book reviewers or aspiring writers giving glowing praise on Amazon and GoodReads to the books of popular bloggers, whether or not the books really deserve it. I have felt that pressure myself, and like you, I do my best to resist it (or give a big fat disclaimer along the lines of, "I love this person's blog so I'm totally stoked for their book! And I might be a bit biased too..."). It's hard, but I think bottom line: everyone has to do what they feel is best.

And honestly? I pay more attention to reviews than blurbs -- the opinions of readers matters more to me than those of other writers, particularly since there are NEVER bad blurbs in a book. But on Amazon/GR, I can read the 1 and 2 star reviews and try to see if their complaints sound like ones I might have.

September 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristan

So many good thoughts here. Thanks, everyone, for chiming in! Joy, I just wanted to say that not ALL blurbs are bogus, and that's what stinks so much about this process. There are many, many wonderful books out there that are very deserving of fabulous praise, but the process has watered down the impact of this praise...because you're never quite sure if what's being said is genuine or not. But I didn't want to give the impression that all blurbs are bogus, but that is definitely NOT that case.

September 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllison Winn Scotch

I LOVE how honest Allison is in this answer! That is pretty brave, and rings so true. I have to say when I see a novel with a blurb from a big time author I think "Wow, who did she know to get that". Guess I was right...

September 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

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