Monday, July 12, 2010

Author Blurbs

How many of you, when you look at a book in the store, check out the blurbs recommending the book? You’ll probably see blurbs from other authors or from reviewers and review sites. Do they influence you?

Lately, there’s been buzz around the Internet and in the news about author blurbs. One thing that’s turned it into such a hot topic is a blurb by author Nicole Krauss for fellow author David Grossman’s book, To the End of the Land. It apparently is so effusive that people are laughing and even mocking it.

According to The New York Observer, this is how the blurb starts:
Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before.
It seems to get even more over the top with phrases like:
 look inside a person and discover the unique essence of her humanity
If you want to read the full blurb, link over to The Gawker.

And for more opinion on Krauss’ blurb and blurbs in general, check out Laura Miller’s Salon post. Here are a couple of comments from her:
Everyone seems to hate the process, from the authors who are compelled to plead for blurbs to the publishing professionals who have to lash their authors onto it, to the blurbers themselves, who often wind up walking a knife's edge between honesty and generosity. It stands to reason that, if many blurbs are bestowed for extraliterary reasons like friendship or professional collegiality, then many of them are insincere….

But overall, blurbs just aren't very meaningful. Yet, apart from a minority of skeptics, much of the public still seems to take them at face value. One British publisher claims to have seen research showing that as many as 62 percent of book buyers choose titles on the basis of blurbs
What I take from this is when you read the blurb on the back of a book, take it with a grain of salt. Sometimes they’re sincere, sometimes they’re hyperbole. It also tells me that if you’re an author and you get a fantabulous blurb from a fellow author, think twice about putting it on the back of your book. You may feel that such high praise will sell books, but will it? Maybe. It does help to have a blurb from a big name author, but your book better live up to the praise or you’ll lose readers.

Will Grossman’s book really live up to Krauss’s praise?
To read it is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being.
Do author blurbs influence you when you’re shopping for a book?
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46 comments:

  1. You're sitting up late tonight, Helen?

    Well, those were funny. Maybe a little bit too much. Not seen anything like that before, but I do not pay much attention to the blurbs. The impression, from my place, is that the blurbs appearing on the paperbacks are often bits and pieces clipped from newspaper reviews of the hardback edition ... if the book got a good review >:)

    Cold As Heaven

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  2. You're sitting up late tonight, Helen?

    Well, those were funny. Maybe a little bit too much. Not seen anything like that before, but I do not pay much attention to the blurbs. The impression, from my place, is that the blurbs appearing on the paperbacks are often bits and pieces clipped from newspaper reviews of the hardback edition ... if the book got a good review >:)

    Cold As Heaven

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  3. I definitely read the blurb before I buy a book. But if it's too over the top, it will turn me off.

    Really Angelic

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  4. I don't read blurbs. I guess that is because I have a list an arm long of books I know about that I want to buy. I don't need to read the blurb. I already want the book.

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  5. "to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being."

    Um....laughing...I like being a human being. And I like coming undone once in a while...[I have a poem up this morning with that word in it] but I don't think I'd like to come undone with a stranger....laughing... Oh man...what if she's serious? The author may want to put stronger locks on the door.

    I don't the read blurbs. I was startled one day to read a blurb on the back of a much loved up book and see that the blurb was what I would have said about the book...but I think that's few and far between.

    Pleaded for endorsements of any kind are tough on the soul. It's like literary prostitution...you just have to decide if you're willing to go all the way....

    Great post.
    Karen :0)

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  6. Ref: Do author blurbs influence you when you’re shopping for a book?

    Absolutely not. Why should I take the word of someone who is out to peddle this book?

    And hasn't there been a big name author or two who admitted never reading the books they blurb?

    It says as much about the book as it does about the person that blurbed it.

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  7. I don't usually read blurbs, but I do arrange blurbs for my books.

    That one was REALLY over the top! Wow. I think my editor would totally reject a blurb like that for a cover. She likes short and snappy and witty.

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  8. I usually read the blurbs on books and have purchase a few because of them. The blurb is not the only reason I'd buy a book and I don't remember ever not buying a book because of the blurb.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  9. I don't read the blurbs, only the description about the book itself.

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  10. I do read blurbs, just out of curiosity. A good one probably does influence my book selection.

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  11. I rarely read blurbs. I'll sometimes buy a book because of the cover, but I usually buy intuitively. I think it would be tough to write one.

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  12. No, I don't give too much credibility to blurbs. It's the story itself that'll get me to buy the book, not someone else's opinion of it.

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  13. I really don't read blurbs very often. I usually go by authors and covers and 1st pages when I buy.

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  14. I"m kinda with Mason. I do read the blurbs, but don't necessarily buy the book because of them. I read the back cover summary, than I read the first page or so.If it grabs me, I buy.
    Karen

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  15. Enid, I agree. If it's too over the top, I don't believe it.

    Tabitha, you and me both. And that's on top of the stack already on my desk!

    Asking for blurbs is very intimidating, Karen, yet authors are expected, if not required, to do it.

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  16. Cold As Heaven, I was up late last night, which explains why I'm so late this morning in checking in!

    Maria, that's a great point - the blurb says as much about the one writing the blurb as it does about the book.

    Elizabeth, it sounds like your editor likes blurbs that fit your book.

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  17. Mason and Jenny S, I sometimes check the blurbs, if I get that far in deciding to buy it (it's not the first thing I consider). If the blurb is by an author I like to read, it might influence me.

    Laura, the back cover flap info is what I read first.

    Simon, the cover is probably the second thing I consider.

    Jemi and Karen, I definitely read the first page, then usually a random page or two later in the book.

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  18. While I don't pay much attention to the content of the blurbs, I do look to see who blurbs, especially if the book is written by an author I haven't read before. Usually authors blurb books in their own sub-genre, so a blurb from Ken Bruen tells me the book will be of one type and a blurb from Janet Evanovich tells me it will be another type.

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  19. If I see a blurb written by Katherine Paterson, I'll believe it and buy the book. Others I assume are puffery.

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  20. I read the blurbs after the book to see if I agree.
    IF I read first, the one you mention would have lost the sale. Where was the editor?
    First the author -- names grab me and they don't have to be known I just have to like the name. Then the cover -- I am a sucker for an outstanding cover.
    Last, random reading.

    Giggles and Guns

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  21. Good point, Mark. If the blurbs are all by authors I don't know, it doesn't tell me much.

    Kathy, it sounds like you trust her opinion and believe she wouldn't recommend a book unless she really liked it.

    Mary, I admit that covers can influence me one way or the other.

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  22. That certainly is a flowery blurb. I do scan the blurbs on a book cover, but they don’t usually influence my decision on whether to buy or not.

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  23. I look at the cover, then the back of the book, and first page. If it grabs me, I buy it. I never look any further into a book.

    I also like to see a bio of the author, and a photograph. I feel let down if I don't 'meet' the writer. It is silly I know, but I like to feel they wrote the book just for me.

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  24. I don't pay much attention to blurbs, reasoning that they've been written by friends or arm-twisted by the publisher.

    I immediately open to chapter one and read the first few paragraphs, then thumb through the book to see how much white space (or dialogue) is there. I hate page-long paragraphs of unbroken narrative.

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  25. Glynis, I had never thought of it like that - getting to know the author and feel like they wrote the book just for you.

    Jean, I like white space too. Which is odd considering the manuscript I'm working on now has little white space in the opening pages.

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  26. Once upon a time, I used blurbs by authors I had read and liked to influence new authors to try. It worked well for me for years. Then I hit a string when every time I wondered if the blurber even read the book. Now I don't even look at blurbs anymore.

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  27. I'll occasionally skim author blurbs, but they (thankfully) won't influence my decision to read a book. I always try to keep in mind that authors are also readers with their own unique tastes just like everybody else, and just because they liked something doesn't necessarily mean I should leap on it.

    As for those sickly, gushing reviews, they make me embarrassed on the behalf of the author who's being fawned over, since it's completely out of their control. I wouldn't like that kind of over-the-top attention splashed across my book cover, not if it reads so flowery that it's barely comprehensible. *g*

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  28. I have a feeling that the publisher now wishes they'd skipped this blurb or asked her to tone it down a bit.

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  29. My usual process is: react to interesting title/cover, read flap blurb, scan random pages. I agree with Glynis, a picture or bio is a nice touch.

    Too much of the "blurb gush" is a turnoff...

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  30. Those of us who are writers or who are active in the "writing" world know that a lot of the blurbs are paid for or done by some authors without even reading the book. Those outside the writing world who are avid readers can be swayed.

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  31. I do read the blurbs and sometimes am influenced to buy the book based on the blurb, if the sample I can read lives up to it. But I would not even finish reading the blurb you cited. Gag me!

    As an author who just solicited blurbs from two well-respected authors, I am a bit dismayed to read what Laura Miller had to say.

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  32. I don't pay much attention to the blurbs. They are like job references...you wouldn't ask for them if you didn't expect that what you'd hear would be good...the people that don't want to refer you, or don't like your book, aren't writing blurbs are they?

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  33. Maryann, this blurb has gotten so much "air" time that it is dismaying. It damages all the blurbs that were legit and heartfelt. (This one may have been, but it was too over-the-top and the publisher should have realized that.)

    Very true, Liza. Most authors, if they don't like the book, won't blurb it. Except... some will. They want to please the publisher or they hope for a return blurb some day.

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  34. THey don't influence me at all. I buy books based on the recommendation of people I know. Not those I don't.

    CD

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  35. I read the blurb, but it usually doesn't influence me. I always read the back or the inside cover before deciding if it is a book that will interest me.

    I like to make up my own mind :)

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  36. It does seem a bit pointless to read a blurb since it's going to be positive and most likely glowing. If it wasn't, it wouldn't make it on the cover.

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  37. Oh, lord. That is snork-worthy...

    I've done the blurb thing. Scary. I was fortunate to get some really nice blurbs from some really nice authors, and they had enough meat on them that I felt like there was some sincerity (at least I like to think so, because they were very nice!).

    I'm dreading the day that I get asked to blurb something that I don't feel strongly about.

    And, I do tend to be influenced by blurbs, I will admit it. If the blurber is an author I really like, or says something that sounds genuine or insightful...yeah, that influences my buying decisions.

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  38. I try to avoid blurbs. Often they give too much of the story away, or I'm just not that interested. I might read the first line of the blurb only. I tend to pick books on recommendation, on the title, on the genre, or on the author. I've even picked a book by its cover (is that shallow? lol)

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  39. I sometimes scan them for authors I trust--some authors have said things in the media that just seem dead-on, and so I come to trust them. Stephen King for instance--he is only mid-list on authors I care to READ, but he seems to LIKE the same books I do and be honest in his reviews, so if he blurbed, I'd believe him. Anyone I don't already TRUST the reputation for though, I don't pay much attention to.

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  40. That's wild.
    And sorry, Helen, didn't realize until just now that I missed your blog this morning. My apologies.

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  41. I'm influenced by covers, Lynda. A couple of times, I've been influenced by blurbs but not by what was said, but that an author I liked seemed to like the book.

    Good point, Hart.

    Alex, you are such a sweetie.

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  42. If there's a blurb from someone whose writing I know I'll read it. Otherwise I skip it and keep the salt for my chips.

    I always skip the blurbs inside the front cover. If I've opened the book, it's the story I want to look at.

    Often when I've finished a book I'll look back at the blurbs and see what I think of them, maybe to find another author I'll like.

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  43. I have my internet back, yay!

    Author endorsements don't do much for my buying. Usually, the endorsement is by a fellow author of the same genre.

    In a store, the first thing that captures my interest is the cover art, followed by the title. What I pay attention to is the back cover story blurb. THAT is what catches my attention long enough to look closer at the book, not what another author thinks of it. That's true whether it's on a blog highlighting the book or I see it in the store.

    Have a great week, Helen!

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  44. Recently I was trying to figure out what a particular book was about and without an inside cover flap, the only place to find the synopsis would be the back cover, which was filled with these amazing "blurbs" of high praise without any description of what was in between the covers! I rarely read the blurbs unless it is from a particular review outlet that I know has similar tastes to mine.

    I did hear at one time that some of those blurbs are paid for...?

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  45. Sheila, that's a great idea. Once you've read the book, then look at the blurbs. If an author praised the book and you liked it, then perhaps you'll like his/her books or would like the books he/she recommends.

    Suzanne, I've run across a couple of books like that - no flap copy that tells what the book is about. It's as if the author is so famous, you'll read it no matter the storyline.

    Yes, some blurbs are paid for.

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