Friday, November 21, 2008

The Blurb Game

By John Gilstrap

Manuscript written: check. New title determined: check. D&A payment processed: check. Let’s see . . . What’s next?

Ah, yes. Time to collect blurbs. Of all the rituals of the publishing business, this is the one I hate most. I contact friends of mine who also happen to write books and I ask them to read my manuscript and say nice things so that my book may better compete with theirs on bookstore shelves.

It’s amazing, when you think about it. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a Crest toothpaste ad with an endorsement from Colgate. But the community of writers is small enough and collegial enough that the blurb is rarely denied; and when it is, it’s usually because of encroaching deadlines and such. That collegiality is one of the things I love most about being an author. It’s like being a part of a giant, supremely talented support group.

As much as I get uncomfortable asking for blurbs, I love to give them. Mine is not a big enough name to get much of that, but when the request comes, I rarely say no, so long as the book is under contract with a legitimate publisher.

That’s not to say that every manuscript I’m sent gets a blurb. I do have standards, and I’ll never lie on the page. Sometimes, I don’t care for the story or the writing, in which case I will likely just “never get around” to the book. I’m certainly not going to give a negative blurb. What would be the point?

And that brings me to the nerve-wracking part of the blurbing process. A few readers at a time, the population of people who have read No Mercy will grow, which means if my assessment of my own writing is flawed, the delusion will soon end, and the news will be delivered by people I respect more than any others.

Because I love my book, though, I’d be shocked to find that others might not. So there’s no rational reason to expect anything but positive blurbs. Then, when they arrive, I’ll wonder whether they really liked the book, or if are they just doing a colleague a favor. This really can be an insecure business.

So, Killzone colleagues, what are your thoughts on blurbs? Do you seek them yourselves, or do you let your publisher take care of that for you? Have you ever given a positive blurb that you didn't really mean? Any that you've regretted giving in the firstplace?


  1. Unlike the Crest/Colgate example, if someone buys my book with a blurb from another author, it doesn't mean they won't buy that writer's book, too. For most people, the choice of a product such as toothpaste is more of a personal decision that usually comes with product loyalty. I'm loyal to Thomas Harris but that won't stop me from buying a book by Jeffrey Deaver.

    I tend to solicit my own burbs. I found out early on that it's amazing what you can get if you just ask in a nice manner. I've noticed that as writers move up the sales ladder, there is a shift from author blurbs to review blurbs on their covers. Once they achieve a certain level of notoriety, they don't need their fellow writers commenting on their books as much as they need a great review from publications like the NYT or People Magazine. A good mix of both is nice, though.

  2. I have turned down blurb requests when I either didn't love the book or didn't think it had any relation to my work. Recently, someone asked me to blurb a futuristic sci-fi techno-religious thriller. The book wasn't bad, but I explained to the author that the point of blurbs (as I understand it) is that readers will see my name on the book, think it's similar to my work, and purchase it. I do think if the work is completely unrelated, readers might be taken aback. And since this book was so far outside of what I write, I advised him to try someone whose work was more in line with his story. (Not that I wasn't flattered to be asked- I was, but didn't think I'd be doing either of us any favors).
    I always get my own blurbs, asking someone whose books are in the same vein as mine.
    And Joe, you're right, I've noticed the same thing.

  3. I've heard that bookstores don't like for authors from the same publisher to blurb each other's works, because bookstores and/or reviewers suspect quid pro quo--anyone else ever hear that?

  4. That's interesting, Kathryn. I've heard that if your publisher is the one that gets blurbs for you, they only use in-house authors so as not to promote writers from competitive houses.

  5. Hi
    My experience is that the publisher likes to get the blurbs so the writer doesn't feel awkward about asking. Mine was happy to contact writers I knew as well as in-house writers. Not sure they would go outside the house though unless the author had a personal relationship. It seemed like they would keep it in house unless that was the case. My publisher does prefer to put print reviews on the cover rather than blurbs and for some reason they prefer these to the Kirkus or PW reviews too - must be some pecking order I'm not aware of. I'm still too much of a nobody to be asked to blurb yet:)