BETWEEN THE LINES

I've been thinking about blurbs

February 7, 2014

Tags: blurbs

I’ve been thinking about blurbs. Endorsements, if you prefer a more euphonic synonym. They are apparently a necessary part of publishing a book, but do they make a difference to readers/book buyers? What are the strategies and etiquette for requesting and using them? How do we process the disappointment when requests are declined and the unexpected pleasure when a really good quote shows up in the inbox.

Do blurbs matter? Who knows. Greg Zimmerman writes on bookriot.com that “The name of the blurber matters much more than what the blurb actually says.”
In a forum on book covers and blurbs on awl.com, Kate Christensen writes, “I honestly have no idea how important blurbs are for the general reading public. Knowing what I know, whenever I see a blurb, I immediately assume the writer is friends with that person or has studied with them or babysat their kids—or slept with them or is blackmailing them or has a gun to their head. In other words, I give blurbs no credence whatsoever.”

What about you, fellow readers: do blurbs influence your book-buying decisions?

For many authors, the process of requesting blurbs ranges between uncomfortable and humiliating. On awl.com, Matthew Gallaway writes that “there was no connection I did not attempt to exploit, no matter how remote, and I still feel a bit “whored-out” from the whole experience” and Bennett Madison observes “I know there's supposed to be this whole very strict etiquette about asking for blurbs, but no one can actually agree on what that etiquette is.”

I’m not sure about the etiquette either, but here’s what I’ve learned after twice surviving the blurb-asking process:
• Ask early. Really early. Authors are busy people. If a blurb is needed in three weeks, it’s pretty unlikely you’ll get a positive response.
• Offer a bound manuscript in addition to/instead of a digital file. Many writers much prefer reading print on page.
• Check in with the blurber to make sure the manuscript/galley arrived, and include a gentle reminder of the due date.
• Thank the blurber. Profusely. Consider a finished signed book, chocolates, or a glass of wine.
• If you get a blurb, use it. If not on the book jacket (because you don’t always have control of that), then in press packets, websites, social media.

So if blurbs are here to stay, at least we can find the silver lining. We can be gentle with each other when requesting, writing, declining blurbs. Be grateful for the good fortune of finding readers and passing it on by generously supporting newer writers. It's about good literary citizenship and thanking the universe for the joy of this work.