Are Author Blurbs a Waste of Space?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Today’s feature editorial by Nico Vreeland considers the downside of deceptive jacket flap copy. Blurbing — that practice of soliciting favorable quotations from fellow authors — is an accepted practice in the book business, but one that is often less-than-forthright. As many have noted before, blurbs all-too-frequently overpraise a work in terms the author of the blurb would never use had they been reviewing the book. In short, they are rarely to be trusted.

What’s more, as Laura Miller pointed out in her astute essay on the topic last year in Salon:

When publishing people look at the lineup of testimonials on the back of a new hardcover, they don’t see hints as to what the book they’re holding might be like. Instead, they see evidence of who the author knows, the influence of his or her agent, and which MFA program in creative writing he or she attended. In other words, blurbs are a product of all the stuff people claim to hate about publishing: its cliquishness and insularity.

It can also be assumed that readers have by now caught on to these shenanigans. Few people I know buy a book because of a blurb; and almost all writers I know hate writing them. Blurbs written by booksellers are a better idea, but only just…The fact is: blurbs are a remnant of publishing’s B-to-B culture; they are written more for other publishers and booksellers than they are for readers.

So, isn’t it time we banish blurbs to the dustbin of history? Publishers have a limited amount of space on a book jacket to use as “advertising.” Couldn’t the space presently committed to blurbs be put to better use? If so, how?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.