Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Secret World of Blurbing

I blurb a lot of books.

I do this for three main reasons.
  1. A lot of authors have blurbed me, and I feel I need to return the favor.
  2. I know how hard it is for new authors, and I want to help.
  3. It can't hurt having my name on millions of covers.

It isn't easy to solicit blurbs, even though it is on the author's shoulders to do so. I've been turned down many times (sometimes in a very mean-spirited way,) but I've also managed to snag a few dozen blurbs from well-known, and bestselling, authors.

I've personally blurbed over fifty books. Does that make me a blurb-whore? How important are blurbs anyway? Do they work? Do authors really read the whole book before they blurb? Do they blurb books that suck? Do they exaggerate? Do they lie? How do you turn down a request for blurbs?

I have an article about how to solicit blurbs on the TIPS pages of my website called Blurbs 101. If you're looking to get blurbs, I explain how.

For this blog entry I'd like to talk about it from the blurber's POV, rather than the blurbee's.

So now, in the interest of full disclosure, I will make myself a pariah in the publishing world. I will truthfully answer what no other author will dare answer, and it will probably come back to haunt me.

I'm going to tell the truth, even though it makes the industry, and me, look bad...

(Did you get tingles reading that? I did.)

  • Did you ever blurb a book you didn't read?

    I try to read every book from beginning to end, even though I know for a fact that many authors will blurb something they haven't read. Sometimes all they'll read is the back jacket copy. I can't really blame those authors for that---it's hard to find the time, and the bigger the author, the more blurb requests they receive.

    But you noticed I said 'try.' Does that mean there are actually some books which I haven't read completely but still blurbed?

    In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that yes, indeed, I have blurbed a few books that I wasn't able to finish because of time constraints (my deadlines vs the blurb deadline.) In that case I'll read as much as time can allow, and if I like it, I'll blurb it.

    Is that wrong? Hypocritical? Unethical? Yeah, probably. But I'm man enough to admit it. Most authors do it and will never admit it. It's so well-known in the industry, that when pros ask other pros to blurb, there's an automatic assumption that the book won't be read.

    Rest assured that if you're an author I've blurbed, and you're reading this, I did in fact read your entire book. :)

  • Have you ever blurbed a book you didn't like?


    Well, not really.

    When I teach, I'm a harsh critic. When I read, I'm pretty easy. If something was good enough to get published, then it obviously had some merit, and I can usually find that merit---even if I have to slog through some bad prose to get to it.

    I concentrate on the good, and offer a blurb based on what I liked. After all, this isn't an impartial review. This is to impress the publisher, and help the author find an audience who does like this sort of book.

    Publishers love blurbs. It gets them excited and enthused. I haven't seen any hard data about whether blurbs sell books, but I know for a fact that the more blurbs you get, the happier your publisher is.

  • Have you ever given an over-enthusiastic blurb?

    Of course. That's the point. Blurbs have to be over-the-top raves, or else they have no use. Exaggeration and hyperbole are expected. Blurbs are sales pitches for someone else's work.

  • Isn't that lying? Aren't you worried that your fans will see your name on something, buy the book because of it, and then get mad at you for recommending it?

    In all honesty, I do feel I have an obligation to my fans, and that my name has some value. But I have to weigh that against authors who need help.

    The author usually wins.

    But before you scream at me about integrity and values, I urge you to hate the game, not the playa. This is the way the system is set up. This is how 90% of authors operate. They won't admit it. Ever. They'll take this secret knowledge to the grave with them. They won't even discuss it privately with close friends after several drinks. They'll even post responses on this blog saying I'm evil and of course they only blurb things that they truly love.

    And they're lying. Except for a very select few, who don't blurb anything at all.

    I hope my fans will realize that taste is subjective, and that I may like something that they may not like, but that shouldn't have any reflection on the books I write.

    I really hope they realize that.

  • Do you ever turn down books for blurbs?

    Sort of. It's tough saying no to people. I know how hard this business is. But sometimes I simply don't have time to get to something, and the next thing I know the book is in print and I missed the opportunity to blurb them.

  • Have you ever missed an opportunity to blurb on purpose, because you started the book and didn't like it and were chicken to tell the author that their book was crummy?

    Yes. But in other cases, I really did run out of time.

    If you're reading this, and I said I'd blurb your book but didn't, it's because I ran out of time. :)

  • Aren't you worried you'll be labeled a blurb whore like (insert big name author here)?

    If everyone knows (big name author) is a blurb whore, why does he/she keep getting blurb requests? Why is his/her name plastered on every other book?

    I promised myself I'd help new writers. That means blurbing.

    It also means doing a blog about the realities of blurbing.

  • Would you ever take money for blurbs?

    I've heard unconfirmed stories of bestselling authors who sell blurbs, some for as high as 50k. I wouldn't ever do this, because my goal is to help other authors, not profit from them.

    Apparently even JA has a scruple or two.

  • Have you every signed your name to a blurb you didn't write?

    No. But I've seen other authors do this. They'll tell the blurbee to write a few sample blurbs, and then the blurber will pick the one to sign his name to. No kidding. I have actual proof that this happens.

    I wouldn't do this. I'd also never blurb a book sight unseen. If I've blurbed the book, I have a copy of it. Some authors will give a blurb without even requesting the manuscript. I always ask for the manuscript, and always try to read the entire thing.

    Again, I'm not as amoral as some blurbers out there. But remember---their amorality is based on trying to help their fellow authors. Think gift horses and mouths.

  • Don't you think that after this blog post gets around, you'll never be asked to blurb again?

    In all honesty, I can guarantee that after this post goes live, several authors will email me, asking for blurbs.

    That's just how the business works, folks.

    I might lose some credibility by speaking the truth. But I might gain some credibility by speaking the truth.

    The bottom line is: I'm eternally grateful to the people who have blurbed me, and will continue to support them and tout their praises because they've done me a huge favor, and I'd never dare question if they actually read my books or not.

    I hope the folks I've blurbed feel the same way about me.