An Examination Of The Wily “Book Blurb”

Book blurbs are strange territory for a writer: we go to other authors and solicit from them the time to read our (as yet unpublished) stories and the effort and marketing savvy to write a capable sales blurb for the book (which will go on the cover, inside the cover, or on the web).

You hate to even ask for blurbs because you’re forced to blacken your shame sensors with the heel of a boot just to get up the gumption to ask other authors (many of whom are writers you respect, even adore) to kind of become… advertising shills for your book.

They, as the authors granting blurbs, are ideally hoping to be curators in a way similar to (if also larger than) the retweet — the hope on Twitter is that someone retweets something because it’s content they find interesting and compelling, not because of some kind of back-scratching favor. And so it is with blurbs: you want that author not to provide a blurb to you or anybody else as a favor but because they actually want potential readers (including their own) to see that they have given it something of a seal of approval.

As a blurb writer it’s like, well, okay, I don’t just want to sound like a shill — “Better than Cats! I’ll read it again and again!” — and you want to put a little bit of your voice into it but not so much you’re sounding like you want to show off a fucking promotional blurb. It’s not all about you, right? And you certainly don’t want to put anything that could even sniff a little bit of negativity (“Brilliant book despite its poopy third act!”), nor do you want to cram it into a niche (“Canadian meth addicts will love it!”). You want to say something about the book without it sounding really generic (“It is a book that has many words put together in great sentences!”) but also don’t want to get specific (“ROSEBUD IS A FUCKING SLED”).

So, blurbs are weird. Asking for them. Writing them.

It gets even weirder when you consider that sometimes, authors don’t even write the blurbs. (Sometimes editors or agents will write them on behalf of authors who may or may not have even read the books.) And sometimes blurbs are culled from reviews or statements online. And, once in a blue moon, you see one of those blurbs from a mega-star author on a not-mega-star book (“This book was the holy tits!” — J.K. Rowling) and you’re like, how the hell did that happen? Did someone have incriminating evidence? Did they get J.K. Rowling really drunk one night on creme de menthe and they recorded whatever insane blurbs fell out of her mouth? Is there some other J.K. Rowling? Maybe some hair stylist from Reseda?

Anyway.

Couple questions, then.

Writers: what do you want in a blurb? And what do you aim for when you write one?

Readers: what do you like in a blurb? What catches your attention and sells the book? Further: are there any authors whose blurbs carry significant weight with you — and why?