Let’s get blurb-ical

Once upon a time, I never noticed book blurbs — and to be honest, I’m not sure I could have told you what a blurb was. Every now and then I might take note of a famous fellow author’s words of praise on a dust jacket, but it wasn’t crucial for me to learn someone else thought a book was great.

As a reader, I was fanciful. I took chances.

My caution runs deeper these days. Wary of spending time and money on a book that might break me out in hives, I do plenty of research before crackin’ out my wallet — and if the overwhelming response from bloggers and reviewers on sites like Goodreads isn’t positive, I likely steer clear.

That’s not always true, of course. If I’m being honest (and you know I will), I sometimes grab a book because I fall a little in love with the cover . . . or because the premise, despite others’ warnings, still intrigues me. Sometimes I read a book knowing it might be horrendous because I want to see what all the fuss is about, or just because I like forming my own opinions. There are books I’ve loved that others have despised, and books I’ve despised that others have built shrines to honor.

Reading is an adventure. You never quite know where it will take you.

But back to blurbing. Defined by LibraryThing as “a super-short review, done before the book is published or reviewed professionally,” blurbs typically appear on a book’s cover. In Alyssa Shelasky’s Apron Anxiety, my current read, Gael Greene’s quote reads, “Hot sex, looking good, scoring journalistic triumphs
. . . nothing made Alyssa love herself enough until she learned to cook. There’s a racy plot and a surprising moral in this intimate and delicious book.”

So I’m halfway through Apron Anxiety — and you know what? Greene’s right. Pretty racy and fun and interesting. I have my beef with Shelasky’s depiction of Washington, D.C., mostly because it is my home, and no it’s not New York but for heaven’s sake NOWHERE is so get over it already or just do what makes you happy and stop feeling so sorry for yourself and oh my God.

Well.

I’ll save the rest of that for later.

Blurbers have a tough job. In addition to actually reading a book (hopefully? am I being laughably optimistic?), perhaps at the request of a writer friend or publisher, they’re given the task of writing a pithy summary and ringing endorsement to help sell another’s work. Does a book’s success hinge on a blurb? Probably not. But could a blurb from a well-known author help bolster a book’s credibility or sales? Perhaps — especially if one is a debut author.

But what if the book is terrible? Not every novel is earth-shatteringly good. Sometimes they’re mediocre at best, awful at worst. What happens if the book is legitimately awful, and you’re left with the thankless and painful task of putting your personal “stamp of approval” on something that sucks? Just as with reviewing, my approval of a book others believe to be bad makes me look foolish. Opinions will always differ, of course, but come on — we know when something is just bad.

And then my credibility? Not so credible. If I ran around slapping five-star ratings on everything and sprinkling you with magic fairy dust as soon as visited the site (not sure about the logistics of that, but let’s pretend it’s totally possible), I doubt you would take me very seriously.

So here’s my question: do you put any stock in book blurbs? Perusing the new releases at your local bookstore, would a blurb from your favorite author — in my case, say, Megan McCafferty — sway you to pick up a novel? Have you ever purchased a book based on those endorsements? And on the flip side, have you ever felt misled by a blurb?

I’ll go first: yes. To all of the above. I definitely take notice of book blurbs now in a way I never did before, and seeing an author I like touting another’s work piques my interest. Rarely would I buy a book solely based on a blurb, but it has been done. And will likely be done again. In our fast-paced world, a blurb is a quick way to get my attention and let me know what I can expect from a reader’s perspective . . . in an ideal world, anyway. Sometimes I finish a book, read the blurbs again and think those people are insane. But sometimes I finish a book, peek at the blurb and think, “Yep. So-and-so totally got it.”

It’s a tricky thing, blurbing. I’m not pretending to even know the half of what-all goes on behind the scenes. I don’t work in publishing, and I’m sure the process of finding and blurbing another’s book is far more complicated than emailing a buddy and saying, “Hey — want to say my book is awesome?” And that’s not all for me to know.

My curiosity is all about the reader’s perspective — and how blurbing impacts you. So let’s get blurb-ical. (Physical? That was an Olivia Newton-John song pun . . . I’m very, very sorry.)


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11 thoughts on “Let’s get blurb-ical

  1. I got your Olivia Newton John reference as soon as I read the title! No apologies necessary. That cheese is right up my alley. Like you, I had no idea what blurbs were until I started to research and understand the publishing industry a bit better. I’m can say with 100% certainty that I have never purchased a book because of a blurb. I don’t even pay attention to them. You also sent me googling because I remembered reading a post from author Allison Winn Scotch about blurbing and I found it interesting: http://www.allisonwinn.com/ask-allison/2010/9/7/the-blurb-dilemma.html

    • Very interesting, Melissa — I really enjoyed reading Allison’s post, especially as she’s a published author with way more insight into blurbing than I have. I’d suspected blurbing relationships could get a little messy — and incestuous, as Allison mentions — and that does make me wonder how much stock to put in any of them.

  2. My answer would be NO. Because I have seen my beloved authors blurb books that were horrid. Or maybe not horrid, but mediocre. To me, in a few of these situations, I knew it wasn’t just a case of “everybody has different tastes”. You can’t call a forgettable crime thriller a “tour de force”!!! You just can’t. So I pay no attention to them, except to figure out what sub-genre the publisher is attempting to put it in. They generally will only use like authors as a blurb.

  3. Just read that post by Scotch and I just nodded my head. Just what I expected really. It is a great post!

  4. Blurbs can pique my interest to pick the book up and look at it but no more than that. Certainly in the UK I notice that publishing houses use their top selling authors to do blurbs and it all just seems a little cosy, everyone patting each other’s back so to speak. Also I suspect authors get paid for doing a blurb which gets used on a cover, as well as it promoting THEIR name. Hmm, I’m obviously more of a cynic than I realised! Library Thing, Book bloggers I trust, Good Reads and word of mouth are the way I choose what to read/buy.

  5. I love reading a blurb about a book…it actually gives me more to think about then an overly long review…

  6. I loooove book blurbs and think my reviews tend to be blurbtastic. But you’re right, it’s tough keeping it simple. And I can’t imagine blurbing something I hate.

  7. I can’t remember buying a book because of what an author said about it on the cover, but I’ve definitely had times when I’ve finished a book, thought it bad, ands marvelled at how a famous writer could have spoken highly of it. But then I think, personal opinions will always differ, and also, there are so many times when quotes are altered or edited in the media. While on book covers it likely doesn’t happen much, all those elipses make me wonder if the quote was refering to a part of the book rather than the whole.

  8. Admittedly if I see a book blurb from someone that I hold in very high regard, I may at least pick up the book and look at it a little bit. I don’t think I would buy a book just because of a book blurb though.

  9. Great post Meg! I don’t read blurbs. Or at least 99% of the time I don’t. Don’t read dust jackets and honestly I’ve mostly stopped reading book reviews on blogs (except for bottom-line opinion type parts). I want to know almost NOTHING about a book before reading it and I think that blurbs sometimes can be misleading.

    All that said–I do think that once upon a time I’ve picked up a book or two based on blurb. 😉

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