Monday, August 18, 2008

The Politics of Blurbing

Caveat lector! The endorsements on books aren’t entirely impartial. Unbeknownst to the average reader, blurbs are more often than not from the writer’s best friends, colleagues or teachers, or from authors who share the same editor, publisher or agent. They represent a tangled mass of friendships, rivalries, favors traded and debts repaid, not always in good faith. There’s some debate about whether blurbs actually help sell books, but publishers agree they can’t hurt. Often, agents try to solicit blurbs even before a publisher buys a book.
As someone who gets called on to write book blurbs occasionally, I really appreciate Rachel Donadio's look at the tricky politics of it in the New York Times. Blurbing up? Blurbing down? Blurbing laterally? There's a whole vocabulary here.

But this really tickled me :
Sometimes blurbish enthusiasm can backfire. Dave Eggers’s first book, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” itself sounds like a blurb, and came with endorsements from David Sedaris (“the force and energy of this book could power a train”) and David Foster Wallace(“this thing took off for me in the basement and didn’t stop”). Since then, Eggers has become such an effusive endorser of his contemporaries that one critic, Andre Mayer, said his blurbs “border on farce.” After Eggers called Sean Wilsey’s memoir, “Oh the Glory of It All,” so “intriguing,” “hilarious,” “jaw-dropping,” “reckless and brilliant and insane” that “at one point I had to burn the second half … so I didn’t distract myself from my own dumb deadlines,” Mayer, writing on the Web site of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation , took him to task: “Isn’t the point of a blurb to kindle interest in the book — and not the blurber?”
Postscript :

Do also see Rebecca Johnson's excellent piece in - Why Won't You Blurb Me?

(Pic from


Amir said...

I've blurbed two books just by reading the opening chapters!

Lydia Teh said...

Aye, aye, blurbing is a tricky business. I've turned down a couple of requests myself for one reason or another and felt pretty bad about it.

But blurbing is THE thing to do nowadays. I believe having the right people blurb a book gives it more weight and will definitely help to move sales.

Anonymous said...

that's really funny. At one time in my life I actually thought BETTER CONTENT helped move sales. I actually thought if your book was interesting and relevant, you'd have great sales. How wrong I was, apparently. In my time weight was what you imparted to a book by way of writing. Now weight can be added by "blurbs".

What can we say about a reader that buys books based on blurbs?

gnute said...

This makes it even more astounding that Zadie Smith managed to get Salman Rushdie blurb her first novel!