Pub Rants

Blurb Me Baby One More Time

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STATUS: It’s issues week at the NelsonAgency! I’m partly kidding because an agent’s job, by its nature, is pretty much dealing with issues. Still, we have quite the abundance considering it’s only Tuesday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TELL YOU WHY MAGGIE MAE by The Pietasters

Are author blurbs important?

Darn if I know. Darn if any of the publishers really know. It’s very hard to determine the power of a blurb in terms of nudging a browser into a buyer when at the bookstore. There are a lot of disparate views on the topic. How does one quantify the power of the blurb?

What I do know is that they don’t hurt and they are used for many reasons. They can grace a cover (usually by a really well known name that readers can identify with). The more recognizable the name, the more power of the blurb.

It’s a time-honored tradition to make blurb requests and they can be done two ways—through your agent (who asks the other author’s agent or editor) or directly by the author to the other bestselling author. However, some bestselling authors make it a general policy to not give out blurbs—mostly because they would be inundated.

Given that, the best blurbs are the ones you get because a well-known author, unbeknownst to you, picks up your book and reads it, loves it, and emails you. Carly Phillips picked up CHEATING AT SOLITAIRE by Ally Carter at an airport and loved it so much, she emailed Ally. Excited, she forwarded it to me and of course, being in agent mode, I asked Ally how comfortable she was in terms of asking Carly if she would be willing to formalize her enthusiasm into a blurb. Carly was happy to.

For Mary Jo Putney, a close friend of hers read and loved FINDERS KEEPERS by Linnea Sinclair and told Mary Jo she had to read it and gave her a copy. (Bless those reading enthusiasts!) SF romance is not traditionally Mary Jo’s thing but she had heard some buzz on the book, had the copy and her friend’s endorsement, so gave it read. Loved it and emailed Linnea. Her quote graces the cover of Linnea’s upcoming title GAMES OF COMMAND, which will be out in the spring.

Another use for a blurb? They make great inside cover praise for the front book pages. I know I tend to skim them when looking to buy a new author. Do you? What weighs more for you? Name recognition of the author or what is actually said in the blurb?

Another use of blurbs is for the marketing materials that are often included in publisher catalog copies, letters to booksellers, sales conference etc. It’s just more ammunition for the sales rep to highlight how much attention and praise a book has received.

Do I think they are necessary? No. Authors shouldn’t kill themselves getting them but I do think it’s worth some effort on their part.

48 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    As a reader, I have to admit that I am influenced if a favorite author of mine has a favorable blurb on the jacket. Just one more nudge to get me to the checkout counter.

  2. 2readornot said:

    There are only a few authors whose blurbs would influence me enough for me to try a book — Tamora Pierce is one; the others are unpublished at this point, but they’re my friends, and I trust their judgment.

  3. Kristin said:

    I am not influenced by blurbs anymore…most of the time, when I did pick up a book because of who wrote the blurb, the praise was glowing for a mundane book. I was disappointed every time.

    These three things usually get me to buy a book:

    1) Interesting title
    2) Cool cover art
    3) Intriguing back cover blurb

    And that’s about it. I will forgive a less-than-stellar opening as long as the story sounds interesting.

    Now when I see those author blurbs, I usually wonder why the writer of the book felt s/he needed them. Sort of like getting a celebrity to pitch a crummy product.

  4. Elektra said:

    I rarely if ever read the blurbs. The cover actually has the biggest influence over me, even more than the back copy (which half the time describes a completely different book than the one it’s on).

  5. Andrea Blythe said:

    I’ll read blurbs, though I tend to ignore what’s written, because a lot of it just seems to be hype to me. Unless, it’s written in an intelligent way, making me think that this blurber might actually know what they’re talking about.

    And name recognition also means a lot more to me. If my favorite author is willing to rave a book, then I’m definitely going to pick that book up.

    Which is why (going back to your previous post) I’m probably not going to blurb a book I don’t like, because I would not want my (future) readers to question my taste, because my name is attached to a not-so-great book.

  6. BuffySquirrel said:

    If I recognise the name of the person blurbing as someone I dislike, that can weigh against the blurbed book. Otherwise, blurbs are irrelevant. Even if it is from a favourite author, why should I imagine that the books they like to read are anything like the ones they like to write?

    (I find choosing books inordinately difficult, btw…)

  7. Maria said:

    Before I started writing, I never even noticed the blurbs. Like ads on the side of the road, they were completely invisible. I couldn’t have told you if the blurbs were by publishers, actors or other writers at that point. I simply ignored them, looked at the cover, read the back and the first few pages.

  8. whitemouse said:

    I never read blurbs.

    I remember picking up a book from the library once, liking the sound of it, taking it home, beginning to read it, liking it a lot, and then-and-only-then noticing that the thing was positively PASTED in endorsements from Anne Rice.

    It turns out the author is Anne Rice’s sister.

    I didn’t even notice the blurbs/foreword/picture-of-author-and-sister until after I’d completely formed my own opinion of the book.

    For anyone who’s interested: Night of the Wolf by Anne Borchardt; gorgeous writing, vivid characters, slightly plot-challenged at the end. Don’t hold her sister’s writing skills against her; she ain’t half bad.

  9. Shawna said:

    I never, ever glance at the inside-the-front-cover blurbs. If I look at them at all, it’s after reading the book, and usually they just get in the way of finding a list of titles. (But I love notes from the author.)

    When I see a book, something about the cover has to catch my eye, either the cover interests me, the name is one I’m familiar with, or the title is intriguing. It’s pretty rare for me to look at a book because the blurb caught my attention, and the only time in years that it’s happened was just recently. Can’t remember who or what book it was, now, either, unfortunately, but the best-sellling author’s name was in big letters, and it surprised me. I remember thinking that I was surprised that particular author blurbed that book, or that genre, or something… and now I can’t even remember if I got it or not.

    Then again, it was at my local grocery… and I’m compulsive about checking the books at my local grocery, because I’ve found favorites there that I probably wouldn’t have noticed elsewhere.

  10. Marie said:

    When I check out a book to see if I want to get it, I don’t look at the blurbs.

    Now, I actually read the first chapter (or two) of a book before I decide to get it, unless I already know I want to get it.

    For an author I haven’t read before, this isn’t always enough. I bought a book where I thought the story seemed to promise a lot of intrigue in the first chapter. That storyline, when I managed to get halfway through the book, barely got any “air time”. I was sorely disappointed and I haven’t finished the book yet.

    I’m getting pickier and pickier when choosing – but blurbs don’t influence my decision.

  11. Anonymous said:

    The only time I read blurbs is if they’re on the cover and the name jumps out at me, especially if it’s from an author I really respect and like. For example, if I saw an epic fantasy and Ursula LeGuin had a quote on the cover, I would buy it in a heartbeat because I loooooooove her. I also respect her as a critic, so if she says it’s good, it’s good.

  12. Anonymous said:

    Hehe, whitemouse! I’ve always been afraid of Alice Borchardt for that very reason!

    Whenever I read about to-blurb-or-not-to-blurb problems, I think of Joan Didion blurbing Nick McDonell’s Twelve. A lot of writers were like, “WTF?” And then there were reports that she’d done it as a favor to someone at Grove.

    Oh, the stories of the literati!

  13. Holly said:

    I don’t read blurbs, either, especially those on the inside. In fact, the more there are, the more annoyed I get with the publisher for taking up all that room. *Especially* if they take up space where a story description should be. I’d rather know what the book is about than what famous people/magazines thought of the last book.

    I’ve never understood the point of blurbs. In marketing to booksellers and whatnot, I can understand. But for the general reader? I don’t care how awesome the last book was if it’s the present one I’ve got my eye on. Just because they wrote one praised novel doesn’t mean this one will be as good. I’m not interested in their track record; I’m interested in their storytelling.

  14. whitemouse said:

    Oops; I did get her name wrong, didn’t I? The anonymouse is correct; the whitemouse is not. It’s Alice Borchardt.

  15. Mez said:

    I read the blurbs always. You get to know blurb-speak. If it’s an author I recognise, and whose work I like, that holds more weight.

  16. Kendall said:

    I generally ignore blurbs. It’s hard to take them seriously when one very famous author, someone I liked a lot in years past, blurbs every book on the planet….

    That said, if it’s a blurb by a really super favorite (usually the kind that doesn’t blurb), then I’ll pay more attention to the blurb…but I don’t think it’s ever a deciding factor for me. Writers always talk about reading widely and reading things you don’t normally read. As someone else here said, writers don’t necessarily write the kinds of books they read. 😉

    Publishers do their books a disservice when they replace normal cover copy — book description and/or a passage from the book — with a blurb. If I can’t tell what it’s about, then why would I read it? The most important thing on a book (front, back, front page) is telling me what it’s about, not that someone else liked it.

  17. Anonymous said:

    Blurbs can work against as much as for. When I see a blurb by Robert Jordan that says, “I couldn’t put this down,” I think: oh, but I can! Same goes for blurbs by any of the other authors that I’ve mentally filed under “doesn’t have a plot and won’t shut the hell up” — anything that author likes, I doubt I would.

    Blurbs by authors are therefore against or for: I don’t like that author, so I probably couldn’t expect to like this author; I do like that author, so I’d expect to like this one. Sort of a variation on “if you liked A, and A likes B, maybe you’d like B, too.”

    But the blurbs that really intrigue me are the ones like on the cover of ‘Perfect Circle’, which simply said: “Stephen King meets Ibsen. Trust me.” — Neal Stephenson.

    Now *that* got a double-take, and yes, I picked it up, and while I’m lukewarm on King, I do know my Ibsen, and I couldn’t see how you could mix the two, but that book did. And that blurb continues to amuse me, too. It’s not that it was the usual “amazing! wonderful new writer!” blah blah blah, but something that almost sold the book in that it was nearly as elliptical as the book’s own offbeat description. It *fit* the book, if that makes sense.


  18. Sue said:

    As you can tell, for me, blurbs do nothing. It’s word of mouth, then finding more of that author’s books. If I run out of those options, I go for the publisher’s blurb on the back cover.

  19. Elektra said:

    For Douglas Adams’ Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul:

    Funnier than Psycho, more chilling than Jeeves Takes Charge and shorter than War and Peace…. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul is another semiprecious gem in Adams’ glittering diadem of humor.” –The Birmingham News

  20. The Wandering Author said:

    I ignore the blurbs. They’re so often obviously “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” that they aren’t even worth reading. That goes for review copy as well; those are such heavily edited snippets they are totally out of context.

    I also ignore the cover art, which too often is for a completely different book. If I already know the author, that may influence me. There are a few names that are enough to get me to buy the book on the spot.

    I read the “description” on the back, then the opening paragraph or two, then, if it seems like a possible buy, I flip through the pages glancing here and there.

  21. katiesandwich said:

    Yes, I’d like to clarify what I said in yesterday’s comments. I said that I will buy books based on a blurb. What I meant is, “Only if the author writing the blurb is, say, Terry Goodkind or some other writer I would never stalk, but maybe think about stalking.” (Kidding, by the way; I’m not a pycho.) I agree that the blurbs usually say nothing useful about the book. It’s all about the name behind the blurb.

    Of course, if the book description and writing don’t grab me, no blurb can convince me to spend money on the thing. I might scribble down the author and title and get it from the library later, but I won’t buy it immediately. Actually, the last book I bought had no blurbs that I can recall, just an interesting premise and a first line that sucked me in. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s called Ghosts in the Snow. Not the sort of fantasy I usually read, but it sounded so neat!

  22. Jules Jones said:

    I know from personal experience that review quotes may be carefully edited, because it happened to me. I wrote a review of an audio play on CD, which was mostly glowing but did include the comment that I would be buying more in the series but that it would be in spite of, not because of, Actor X’s hammy performance. (Actor X being a major draw for this series.)

    The review was lifted by the CD publishers and used on their website — to make it appear that I had said that Actor X was a reason I’d be buying the rest of the series. (And they used the review *without* asking my permission…)

  23. Anonymous said:

    I would definately read a book based on what a blurb said. I often struggle to find a good book,and what is written on the cover makes all the difference in whether I will buy it or not. I don’t like to spend hours reading the first few pages of endless novels at the book store to decide if I will like it. I want to know by the cover. Pictures make a difference to me also. A good cover picture, and I will pick it up.

  24. Allison Winn Scotch said:

    We’ve been talking about blurbs this week on my blog too, and I’m definitely someone who reads blurbs and might even then pick up the blurber’s book if I agree with his/her assessment. I think it’s also important to note that blurbs might help you in other areas too: booksellers, reviews, etc.

  25. Jennette said:

    I read blurbs out of curiosity, but they no longer influence my book buying now that I’ve heard a number of published authors say they blurb a lot of books they haven’t read.

    Back cover copy is probably the biggest deciding factor of whether I’ll buy a book.

  26. JB said:

    Being a dirt poor writer and cheap to boot, I read the blurbs before I buy. But the cover art, title, and author name (if I recognize it) are what get me to pick the book up in the first place, and the first couple of pages of the story are what really gets me thinking of forking over my $29 bucks. A blurb might just push me over the edge, though, if it’s an author I respect. That blurb on Chaucer’s book by Shakespeare closed THAT sale!

  27. This Girl I Used to Know said:

    I think I ignore blurbs just because they are such a “favor” based business.

    However, to add on to what 2readornot said… if an author I like very much, say Tamora Pierce, has a web site listing authors she recommends (which she does), then I will usually be willing to give those a try.

    The web site just looks more voluntary than a blurb on a book.

  28. MLR said:

    I’m actually very anti-blurb. It seems to me they all too often replace the cover copy, and I resent that. The cover copy and a couple of paragraphs of text are what usually decide me.

    Only once has a blurb influenced me to buy the book. A favorite author wrote a book on vampires. I’m not interested in vampire stories and started to put the book back, but I caught a blurb on the front cover that said “Near Perfect — Neil Gaiman.” Now I took that to mean “flawed but a really good read.” Since that seemed more believable than the usual hype, I bought the book after all (and LOVED it). (Note: “Perfect!” would NOT have sold me the book.)

    And regarding blurbs in general, I’ve read they are influential in getting the in-house marketing people and booksellers excited about your book. That’s one theory anyway. So even if readers don’t care about blurbs, maybe they still have value for the author.

  29. Anony Mouse said:

    An author who shares my editor blurbed that plagiarised “Opal Mehta” book by Kaavya Viswanathan, praising it to the skies. Big Ooops!

  30. Anonymous said:

    Some authors blurb a LOT for mediocre books. They’ve trained me to ignore most blurbs.

    What matters to me is the first page or so of the writing. Sometimes I’ll read a chapter or so before deciding but often the first couple of pages are plenty. The cover matters also, but the back cover almost not at all.

  31. otterb said:

    I read mostly fantasy/SF. If there’s a string of blurbs, all by authors I’ve never heard of, then I figure the book isn’t likely to be a subgenre I’ll enjoy. I don’t put much weight on celebrity blurbs, but OTOH, a blurb by an author I respect and like can tip me into buying if I’m on the fence. Likewise, a blurb that just says “fabulous” isn’t going to mean much, but one that praises some aspect of the writing that’s important to me (“Read this for the well-developed relationship between the main characters” or “a warm and sweet story”) might.

  32. ~Nancy said:

    Blurbs may initially hook me into the book; if Fairly Well-known Author blurbs it, I’ll at least pick up and read the back cover copy (not just the blurbs).

    If the story sounds interesting or fun, I’ll then read the first page or two. That, to me, is more important than anything (even if the cover art is superb). If the beginning of the story doesn’t live up to the back cover copy, why should I invest my time (and money) in that story?

    Another way is to have a friend or relative recommend a book. This rarely works for me, as friends and relatives have vastly different tastes than mine.


    Verification: mthou – a distant cousin of T’Pau. You’ll understand if you’re into Star Trek. 😉

  33. Bernita said:

    Blurbs do not influence me to buy a book one way or the other.
    When I see the same blurb by the same author used over and over for different books,however, I tend to lip curl about the blurbor, not the blurbee.

  34. Anonymous said:

    I have to admit, if there’s a blurb by Stephen King that says, “This book scared the hell out of me.” I’m reaching in my pocket for money. If I don’t recognize the author, I figure that the blur is likely some friend that provided the blurb.

  35. Kalen Hughes said:

    This is so interesting. The last big discussion I saw about blurbs overwhelmingly expressed that readers don’t care about blurbs, most skip right over them (which was–and is–certainly true of me as a reader) but that they seem to carry great weight with the major book buyers (aka those guys who decide who gets on the shelf at Borders and Wal-Mart, etc.). A great blurb from a NY Times Best Seller can—supposedly–help with your numbers.

    Like so much in the publishing industry it’s all smoke and mirrors, with a bit of voodoo thrown in for good measure.

  36. Brianna said:

    As a picky romance reader, I’ve weeded through a lot of stuff I’m not a fan of–and now I generally only read authors that I know and like (I never pay attention to titles or covers, I just scan for “my” authors’ names). As such, one thing that will make me take a chance on a new author is seeing a blurb from an author whose writing I respect.

  37. Hotpie said:

    I picked up “Game of Thrones” only because Robert Jordan’s blurb was on the cover (he was my favorite author at the time).

    Now, I’m only mildly interested in Jordan, but I still buy Martin’s books the day they’re released. All because of a blurb 12 years ago.

  38. Gabriele C. said:

    I haven’t read it yet, but it’s called Ghosts in the Snow. Not the sort of fantasy I usually read, but it sounded so neat!

    Katie, move that on top of your TBR pile, the book rocks, and so does the second in the series, Threads of Malice. 🙂

    I don’t care about blurbs most of the time, but Bernard Cornwell’s blurb for Simon Scarrow’s Under the Eagles made me giggle: ‘I don’t need that sort of competition’. Though it took the addition of a good review on the Roman Army Talk forums for me to pick it up – since then I keep buying the series.

    So yes, a blurb by an author I know may awake the interest in a book for me, but I usually look for further information before I buy it.

  39. Eileen said:

    I have been amazed how kind people have been when I requested blurbs. They may not have time to do it, but the openess to discuss has been very much appreciated. When I got a blurb from a dream author it made my day.

  40. Gina said:

    blurbs don’t neccesarily weigh in on my decision to read or select a book, mostly because they are similar to movie revies in that it’s only one persons opinion and I like to form my own… BUT

    the thing about blurbs that bothers me are ones where blatant nepotism is involved, someone blurbing their sister or cousin, I mean I could get my mom to blurb my book but of course she is going to love it… 🙂


  41. Elizabeth said:

    I almost never look at blurbs. In fact, if they replace the back cover copy, or if they take up a full page or more inside the book, they annoy me. I also become suspicious, wondering what’s wrong with the book that they have to try so hard to sell it.

    The only exception is if there’s a blurb on the front cover by an author whose own books I either love or hate, but even then, I read a page or two and consider the plot.

  42. Anonymous said:

    As many others have said, I would be influenced by a blurb from my FAVORITE author–and probably only my favorite author.

    If Laura Lippman likes a book, it’s for me.

  43. Anonymous said:

    I don’t put much stock in cover blurbs, because I know how the system works. It’s entirely possible for an author to write a largely critical review of a book and have the publisher excerpt something that sounds good out of context and put that on the cover. Plus, authors sometimes write something nice even when they don’t mean it.


    A mega-bestselling author with whom I’m acquainted has read some excerpts from my work and offered a blurb when (if) the time comes. It is amazing how excited editors and agents get when I share this.

    So blurbs may not be important to readers, but they sure seem to be important to many agents and editors.

  44. Lynne said:

    Gina said:
    “the thing about blurbs that bothers me are ones where blatant nepotism is involved, someone blurbing their sister or cousin, I mean I could get my mom to blurb my book but of course she is going to love it… :)’

    and I had to laugh. Stephanie Bond’s BODY MOVERS has this for a blurb on the cover:
    “This is the best book I’ve ever read!” – Stephanie’s mom

    Seems to me, that tells you a lot about the kind of book it is. It’s one of the few blurbs I’ve ever really consciously noticed ~

  45. Anonymous said:

    For me, I won’t even pull the book off the shelf if it’s got a boring title/cover. If it catches my attention, and I like the description on the inside flap, I’ll read the first chapter. If I like the first chapter, I buy the book. Otherwise, I don’t waste my money.