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Are You Still Influenced by Book Blurbs?

By Edward Nawotka

Today’s feature editorial by Drew Nellins discusses his repulsion at finding, among a dozen pages of promotion, five full pages of blurbs with a review copy of a novel he received from Riverhead. It’s not unusual — crack open some paperbacks and you’ll find just as many blurbs printed into the book itself.

Yes, blurbs are a standard practice in the book business, but do they still hold power — especially when offered in excess? Many writers I know balk at the idea of offering blurbs, finding the practice tedious. Others blurb only books they feel professional pressure to pay attention to — books written by authors with the same publisher, editor or agent, for example. And, truth be told, it’s quite easy to produce a one- or two-step flow chart that will take you back to the point of origin.

Then again, there are authors who are the proverbial “blurb whores,” who for a reason known only to them seem to blurb everything that comes over the transom. Stephen King is, for example, a guy who once blurbed so infrequently that when he did, people took notice. He could “make” books. Today, he’s fairly prolific at “blurbing.” On the other hand, a blurb from Thomas Pynchon remains publishing gold.

Critics still like to see their reviews quoted and turned into “blurbs” that appear on the back of books. I myself can name several editions where a review of my own was excerpted and appeared on the cover itself — pride of place on the jacket.

The truth is, more often than not, when I’m crafting a review I know when a particular turn of phrase is going to be turned into marketing magic. One an occasion or two for a book I really like, I even crafted something so it can easily be turned into a pull quote.

The fact is that, whether or not the blurb writer is authentic in their praise or not, a book blurb is likely to be viewed with a modicum of suspicion. But, when the publishing industry has so few tools at their disposal to promote books, does it really have any choice?

Of course, the other side is that really effective blurb writing — be it from an author, critic or the marketing department itself — deserves recognition. That’s why in the UK the Book Marketing Society actually gives out annual awards for blurbs.

For more on this subject, take a look at Nico Vreelands’ earlier essay for Publishing Perspectives: “Why Bogus Flap Copy Erodes Readers’ Trust”.

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