Most authors like to have “blurbs” on their book covers. This is where other authors or people prominent in the subject field endorse the book. Although I don’t know that a blurb has ever influenced my decision to buy a book, it certainly makes me look favorably on the author if So-and-so said that they enjoyed reading it. And that’s the whole point of getting blurbs.

I just finished the process of soliciting blurbs for my book. Obviously, to get blurbs on the cover, one must request blurbs from people before the book goes to print. Some authors like to send out galleys of their books (which means their printing time is held up while the galleys are read and the covers finished), others just send out the plain old Word document manuscript (which means a huge computer file or several pounds of printed letter-sized paper is sent out). I went the latter route, giving my readers a choice of downloading the PDF from my site or having me mail them a huge pile of paper. (Only one chose the paper.)

I contacted five people for blurbs (there was a sixth who volunteered). One said no, begging off on a full schedule. One actually read my book, every word, and wrote a beautiful letter as their endorsement. The volunteer hasn’t gotten around to reading it because they’re busy (then why’d they throw their hat into the ring?). A fourth said they would read it but since I haven’t heard back, I assume not.

The last two didn’t have any desire to read the book but were happy to have me write some endorsements for them. They each picked one they liked (they both got two separate lists, my attempt to tailor the endorsements to their professional focus and voice) and that’s what I’m putting on my book cover. While it makes for a really easy exchange, it is disappointing that the book isn’t being read. I wanted honest thoughts.

But be careful what I wish for, right? One of the last two decided to read my book anyway. They liked everything I had to say, except for my opinion on one topic. (I reread that part and still wonder if they actually read what I was really saying or if they simply picked out key words.) Then, they got mad when I refused to rewrite those parts as they thought I should. I considered offering to completely rewrite the book to their exact standards as long as they picked up all the costs from here on out; but didn’t. Their final e-mail to me was a rather snide remark. I assume their blurb still stands since I haven’t heard anything to the contrary, although I am debating the wisdom of giving them free advertising.

This little episode made me realize how much of their own book must’ve been written by their co-author. The writing style and personality of the e-mails was vastly different from the book I’ve read, recommended and loved. (My book is more polished than my e-mails or this blog, but my voice is very much the same. At least, I think so.) It’s funny that I’m already stirring controversy and I haven’t even been published. It’s just a shame that it was with someone I admired and respected. Needless to say, my lasting impression of them has changed.

So there’s one way the whole process has taught me some lessons. The other way was another eye-opening look into the whole “author” process.

What I didn’t realize until now is how many blurbs you see on book covers are written by the author. I assumed, due to the subject matter of the book, that no one in their right mind would let me stick their name on my cover without first reading the book. Nope. Either most people don’t like having to read something (too much like homework) or they really really trust me. I’m guessing most people don’t like homework.

This is one area where I feel safe assuming that my experience (minus the confrontation with the other author), is the norm. If people don’t mind sticking their name to a book about Internet escorts without reading the material, I’m going to assume that they feel perfectly safe in doing so with books on finance, gardening, yoga or most fiction. This new awareness means I’m no longer reading blurbs on a book cover.

But it does bring up some very curious questions. There’s a website that gives out awards to blurbs for “puffery.” Basically, Alex (the owner/writer of the site), is making fun of blurbs that try to say so much they become full of air. Here are some favorite examples:

    Huston’s novel suspends you in an intricate, contradictory swirl of contentment and existential awareness.

    John Gould’s stories are small in the way that nests are small. Or globes, or hearts, or irony.

    The Lovely Bones is the kind of novel that, once you’re done, you may go visit while wandering through a bookstore and touch on the binding, just to remember the emotions you felt while reading it.

    A great novel. A phenomenal debut. Thrillingly alive, sublimely creepy, distressingly scary, breathtakingly intelligent – it renders most other fiction meaningless. One can imagine Thomas Pynchon, J. G. Ballard, Stephen King, David Foster Wallace, bowing at Danielewski’s feet, choking with astonishment, surprise, laughter, awe.

My questions are, if authors are the ones writing their own blurbs, why doesn’t Alex dog them? What are these authors thinking when they write their blurbs? Also, if the authors are presenting these blurbs for these other people to attach their names to, don’t those people even read the blurb and say something like, “You’re full of it?” How exactly do puffy blurbs happen? I’m totally mystified. (I tried to keep my blurbs puff-free and think I succeeded.)

I’ve considered writing Alex and asking my questions, but haven’t. I’m worried about the answer. I might learn a lot more about the publishing industry than I really want to know.
This whole self-publishing process has had two main parts: learning how to do it and learning what really happens. Those are two different things.

Oh well, I’m always fond of saying that I like to learn something new every day. I can see upcoming issues, such as dealing with bookstores and other wholesalers but I’m perfectly confident that the real thing to surprise me will be nothing I’ve thought of at this point and nothing that any other self-publishing book has mentioned. I can only look forward to learning something new 🙂

3 thoughts on “blurbing

  1. Amanda,

    I have never paid much attention to the blurbs on books, and here is one good reason: I use to work for an author, and he had sent his latest book to be reviewed. He ended up putting blurb on his book that went something like this ‘…the best book I’ve ever read…’ The original quote was ‘Not the best book I’ve ever read’

    Robert

  2. Robert,

    Why I am not surprised to hear this? This whole blurbing business is even worse than I thought!

    So I wonder why it’s even considered a neccessary part of the process? (All book authors, self-published or not, are urged to get blurbs.)

    XX
    Amanda

  3. Don’t be too quick to discredit the blurbs. I once did a seminar on what compels people to buy certain books of the same subject irrespective of author, and the blurbs or synopses almost always came in a close second to?? You are the brilliant author, I will let you tell us!

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