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.


James Goodman said...

Oh, i am so hitting you up for a blurb when the time comes. :D

Anonymous said...

Yes, you confirmed what I suspected. The more the blurb gushes, the less credibility I give it, especially if the blurb makes a comparison to a bestselling author's name in it, that turns me off even, as it seems to trade on someone else's success. And makes me think, 'yeah sure this writer has 'out grishamed grisham....prove it'!

But the worst blurb ever was one that actually sold me on a book, but when I finished it, the book not only wasn't great, but the comment the blurber made was clearly based solely on the title of the book....she made a very wrong assumption, the same one I made and she confirmed, and it was clear that she never read the book at all.

So, I dismiss all blurbs...especially when you can quickly figure out that the blurbs are from friends of the writer.

But, am sure I'll eventually have to play the blurb game too.

And I think it's great that you help other writers. I totally believe in will come back to you. In fact, maybe it already has, I just bought my first JA Konrath on Saturday.


Jude Hardin said...

THE SECRET WORLD OF BLURBING serves up all the thrills, chills, and laughs I've come to expect from Konrath, along with some shocking surprises. A real page-turner. You won't be able to put it down.

--Jude Hardin, author of IN THE DAY OF SLAUGHTER

Anonymous said...

Who here has read a book with a Joe blurb? I picked up Victoria Laurie's Psychic Eye mystery series because the titles looked intriguing. Then I noticed JA Konrath had blurbed them on the covers, and thought "OK, I like Joe's books, I may like this one." The books in that series are fabulous.

Anonymous said...

I've recently started searching for a literary agent to represent me (and my first novel). I'm proud to say I received my VERY FIRST rejection email today. I'd like to share this momentous occasion with you and your readers. Am I being sarcastic? No, not at all. LOL This means I'm taking my first steps in becoming a published writer/novelist. Here it is:

[Thank you so much for sending me your proposal. I'm sorry to say we don't think we are the right agency to represent this project.

Unfortunately, because of the major corporate contractions in book publishing we are taking on almost no new clients: publishers are buying increasingly fewer books which has necessitated that we keep our client list small and very selective.

Obviously publishing is a subjective business and other agents may feel differently.

Thank you for thinking of us and I wish you luck with your book.

Yours sincerely,
(uninterested literary agent)]

Anonymous said...


We're not interested in your rejections...this is not your blog.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous -

This blog is open to me as much as it is to you.

The difference between you and I is that I have a better attitude about rejection than you do.

Take your Prozac, go back to your dark corner, and have another shot of Jack.

You need it.

Jude Hardin said...


Some of us are interested in anything that has to do with publishing. Thanks for sharing.

Your novel is finished, isn't it? "Proposal" is a term normally associated with nonfiction contracted on spec.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Wear it like a badge of honor, Kathleen. We've all been there.

I was watching a news show a couple weeks back and they had a panel discussing the James Frey fiasco.

One of the guys defending Frey echoed that rejection letter to some degree when he said Frey couldn't sell the book as fiction because nobody's buying fiction anymore. It's impossible to sell.

Obviously, that isn't quite true, but I guess the odds (there's that word again) are against the many hopefuls out there.

But so what? NEVER let it slow you down.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

Isn't it great how anonymity seems to give some people the idea that they're immune to good behavior and have the freedom to insult people?

If you have something to say, be man -- or woman -- enough to put your name to it.

Anonymous said...

Hello Jude.

It's partly finished. A friend of mine, a journalist, has been pushing me to turn my story into a book or screenplay. My set of short stories garnered great reviews at the university I attend. (I'm 36)

So, I only recently started looking for an agent. It is a nonfiction story. I've sent a couple of email queries so far. I'm glad my first rejection was so polite and encouraging.

Anonymous said...


I'm sorry about your rejection. I just thought it seemed out of place to post it on someone else's blog...kind of hijacking it.

It's a form rejection, I wouldn't read much into it...and I don't believe the market is as grim as they make it out to be. If your book is good and timely, you will find a good home for it.

Anonymous said...

Rob -

Thanks for the kind words. Usually, I just read the writer blogs in silence, but I was so excited at my first agent response, I just wanted to post.

Thanks. :)

JA Konrath said...

I'm grateful for anyone who posts on my blog, as logn as we mostly stick to writing and publishing.

And I'm very happy Kathleen posted this---I don't think it's hijacking at all. I think it's sharing with a group of like-minded peers.

We're all in the same boat.

Congrats on your first rejection! And may you not have many more!

As for book reivews, I love them. Unlike blurbs, book reviews are proven to sell books. Even the bad ones help the author.

I use book reviews for blurbs all the time (by publisher put a newspaper review on the cover of the pb Whiskey Sour.)

I have known some people who abuse this, though. A friend of mine was reviewed in the London Times with "Amazingly terrible" which he shortened to "Amazing..."

Anonymous said...

JA -
Thanks for the response and the warm welcome. I had hoped I'd get a glimpse of your words of wisdom today.

I love your blog. Your contributing bloggers are great too.

This blog, as well as a few others, are in my Favorites now.

Thanks. :)

Jude Hardin said...


Okay. I'm a little confused now, because in your first comment you referred to the story as a novel.

Either way, fiction or nonfiction, you'd probably have better luck pitching a first book if it was completed.

Unless you have a platform, or some sort of inside scoop or something, nonfiction can be as hard to sell as fiction.

I would recommend finishing the book, then looking for an agent.

Peter L. Winkler said...


These boilerplate rejection letters are like the apocryphal fruitcake that remains in ciculation forever. Agents never update them or change them.

To put things in historical perspective, Grace Metalious, author of Peyton Place, one of the biggest bestsellers of the 50s, was told by a prominent agent rejecting her that first novels were very difficult to sell.

If the market has been contracting as long as agents have asserted in their rejection letters, it should be as dense as a black hole by now.

JA Konrath said...

Novels, memoirs, and narrative non-fiction should be completed before submitting to publishers.

Non fiction books, such as "Windows for Dummies" or "How to Find an Agent" shouldn't be written first---you submit a non fic book proposal along with your query letter.

Anonymous said...

I have a compilation of short stories I want to complete as a nonfiction book about my own personal experience.

The 2nd story I have is fiction, which I thought I'd pitch after I got my foot in the door. I thought nonfiction would be easier to sell, initially, than fiction.

I've only sent out 2 queries. Maybe I should just go ahead and finish the nonfiction book.

I'm not in a real hurry. I just want to get it right.

JD Rhoades said...

Heh! Thanks for the blurb, Joe. Hope you read the book :-).

JD Rhoades said...

Kathleen: keep at it, girl.

Anonymous said...

Thanks JD!

I've read that 'chic-lit' has opened the door for a lot of first-time writers, but I'm not interested in writing for that genre.

Do you think 'chic-lit' is just a fad in publishing? Do you see any other trends coming around?

I think I'll stick to my interest in nonfiction and supernatural thrillers.

JA Konrath said...

If I've met in you person, you can rest assured I've read your whole book. I don't play games with people who buy me beer.

Jude Hardin said...


A "nonfiction book about my own personal experience" sounds like a memoir to me.

I say write it (keeping James Frey's troubles in mind any time you feel tempted to embellish), do some research to see which agents rep this kind of book, and then query at least fifty of them with your first mailout.

You're smart to not be in a hurry.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone.

I'm going to hit the drawing board again.

I hope to be posting here again sometime in the future with an acceptance letter. :)


Jude Hardin said...

I have a question similar to sandstorm's.

Is it possible to get blurbs before a book is published, as a tool to include in queries to agents?

David J. Montgomery said...

Yes, some writers will seek blurbs for unsold or unpublished manuscripts. I don't know how much they help, but I suppose they can't hurt. (I have a friend who did this recently, after she was dropped by her previous publisher.)

The funny thing about blurbs is that I still pay a little bit of attention to them, even though I know how bogus they are. (I know a lot of writers who'll give them even for books they don't like.)

What you have to do as a reader, if you're not going to simply dismiss them, is pay attention to the books that an author blurbs and see if they know what they're talking about. Laura Lippman is my current favorite. She's batting a thousand with me.

I've been asked for blurbs and I'm somewhat conflicted about it. (Is it appropriate for a critic to blurb a book?) What I've decided is that, as long as the book is in its final published form, there's no conflict for me to offer public comment on it. But I am careful as to what I'll say.

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, David.

I'm planning to send out a batch of queries this April, and I'm thinking it might help to include a page of blurbs. Even if some of them are from unpublished authors, at least it will show that some people have read and liked my book.

Any volunteers? Email me if you're interested. I'll be happy to return the favor, of course.

David J. Montgomery said...

I was referring to blurbs from published authors. I suspect that blurbs from unknowns would not help. I think they would risk appearing amateurish. If you can get blurbs from published writers, that might help, but otherwise I wouldn't recommend it.

JA Konrath said...

David's right.

Saying 'Clive Cussler liked it' carries weight.

Saying 'My writer's group liked it' makes you look like an amateur, and will hurt rather than help.

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks David and JA.

I'll only use blurbs from published authors (or, if you're unpublished and your name just happens to be Stephen King).

anne frasier said...

i've never blurbed a book i didn't like. can't imagine doing that. but i have turned down books that weren't really in the same genre. or maybe the book is a thriller, but it doesn't come close to the kind of thrillers i write. how do people feel about that? should the blurber stick to books that are similar to her own? is it misleading otherwise?

Wesley Smith said...

Mark Terry, are you saying that, for example, Evan Hunter has blurbed an Ed McBain novel, or that burbs from both have appeared on the same book cover?

Maybe I'm incredibly naïve, but I never considered the possibility that stuff like this happened.

Please, share some of these names. These are authors I'd like to avoid.

JA Konrath said...

If I had a pseudonym, I'd definitely blurb myself.

But I'd probably do so without reading the book...

Anonymous said...

Richard Stark has blurbed Don Westlake, or vice versa. Given how un-secret most pseudonyms are, though, I think it's more an inside joke than anything else.

I've always said that when I publish a novel, it will be under a pseudonym, so that I can give it glowing reviews everywhere.

I think that I'm kidding, though.

Anonymous said...

As an author who received a blurb from Clive Cussler for my first book, I think his blurb has helped sell more books, for which I'm eternally grateful. But because Blood Ties is in paperback, it hasn't been reviewed like a hardback.

Joan Reeves said...

I will NOT name names, but a writing friend and I both know a NYT bestselling author. My friend asked her if she would blurb her new book. Ms. NYT said: "I don't read books and blurb them. Just write anything you want and put my name on it." So my friend did.

Anonymous said...


Did Medallion send out review copies of your book? I don't think I get their stuff.

(They did had a strong public presence at Love is Murder, though.)

Jeri said...

Joe, do you think it's better to have one's agent contact an author (through their agent or editor) for a blurb, or for the writer to contact them herself?

I want to ask one of my favorite authors, a well-respected fantasy writer who touches on similar themes to mine in his work, to blurb my upcoming release, but my agent knows one of his editors and has offered to ask on my behalf.

From the potential blurbers' perspective, which is preferred?

JA Konrath said...

If your agent has an in with that author, go through your agent. Unless you're really good a soliciting blurbs yourself.

A gushing fan letter can melt the coldest heart.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

"Richard Stark has blurbed Don Westlake, or vice versa."

I could be making this up, but wasn't one of the blurbs something like,

"I wish I'd written this!"

Sounds vaguely familiar...

Anonymous said...

Also, some agents arrange to have the current authors that they represent blurb a newly added author. Maybe someone could make a game of this where participants identify first-time novels with nothing but blurbs from authors from the same agency.

Anonymous said...

Hey Joe!

Would you blurb a book that's out of your genre? Like a children's book or romance for instance?

When I buy books, I don't buy it for the blurbs. I read the summary first, then the book, and the author's bio last.


JA Konrath said...

I don't really see the point in blurbing outside of my genre. But if asked, I'd consider it.

Joanne said...

You have a great blog here, JA. Good information along with honesty. I like that! I'll be adding you to my blog list.