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Unputdownable! Blah blurbs and authorial sway

book blurb 300x300 Unputdownable! Blah blurbs and authorial sway

Some years ago I bought a book by an unknown author purely because it had a snazzy little blurb on it from Charles de Lint saying how fabulous the book in question was. Unfortunately the book in question wasnt my cup of tea, perhaps because it wasnt the light, de Lint-esque mythology-heavy romp I was hoping for.

Per my earlier post about misleading book covers raising my ire, Im a reader whos easily burnt. This is largely because Im a very poor writer, and books in Australia are an expensive addiction. If Ive foregone food for a week for a book and the result isnt what I hoped for, I get grumpy. (And hungry.)

I do pay passing attention to author blurbs, and if Im on the fence about a book, they may'convince me to make a purchase. But often I see them as little more than a quick way to fill in a gap in cover design. There are a few reasons for this.

The first is that an author in a particular genre/subgenre has blurbed a book thats very removed in content and style from the work of that author. (Imagine, for example, Stephenie Meyer blurbing a feminist manifesto, or Dean Koontz blurbing Bambi.) This automatically makes me doubt the weight of the review.

The second is that the blurbing author seems to suffer from blurbohyphergraphia (a condition I just made up wherein someone is struck by the compulsive need to blurb). If Im seeing your name on more titles by other authors than I am on your own books, it may be time to rein in that effusive praise a little: you dont want to dilute your blurb currency.

The third is when the blurb is from an author Ive never heard of. Or when its from a TV magazine.

The fourth is when the number of pages given over to blurbs takes up more than a page of the book, and these blurbs contain many ellipses and a judicious sprinkling of parentheses. I always wonder whether a qualifier or hedging statement has been removed to give a blurb a boost, and I cant help but wonder why a book needs three pages of quotes to convince me to buy it.

The fifth is that the blurb is a) a back-handed compliment or b) an awful, awful cliche. An example of the first is a book thats an ambitious debut or thats written by an author to watch. '(And whats with those'literary books that are described as warm or witty when theyre clearly meant to be Serious Works of Fiction?)'An example of the second is anything that claims the book is: a tour de force or an examination of the human condition.

The sixth is a blurb containing any of the following words: raw; visceral; subversive; stupendous; unputdownable; page-turner.

Goodness. From the above, I suppose that author blurbs dont carry much weight for me at all as a reader except on very rare occasion. What about you? Do you buy or pick up books based on author blurbs? And what are your pet blurb peeves?


  1. I agree with you about blurbs no longer being an important factor when I buy books. Ive come to the realisation recently that the blurbs are always conducted in house with an author represented by the same publishing house. I think mostly the process is somewhat similar to oh look we have a new fantasy novel, lets get one of our other fantasy authors (as high profile as possible) to read it and write a paragraph about it, from which we will cleverly paraphrase. I believe that for the most part, its a misleading process, and I now pick books the old fashioned way: based previous experience with the author, the blurb and of course, the cover.

    • Stephanie /

      Very good point, Shaheen. I wonder whether cross-publisher blurbs are taboo? I have heard of authors revising the blurb policies because theyre concerned of diluting their brand with too many blurbs, and think that its a very interesting phenomenon. The whole blurb thing is sort of a wordier version of the If you like X, youll love Y! marketing approach.

  2. While a blurb may convince me to pick up a book and look it over, it has rarely convinced me to buy the book. When it has, I am happy to say, I have been pleasantly pleased. But then I read the blurb, first page, middle of the book, and last page before buying a book I havent heard of before. I dont mind spoilers if it means Ill spend my money on something worthwhile.

  3. Stephanie /

    I like to suss out a books contents before putting down my hard-earned dollars, too. Like you Im not at all fussed by spoilersa post in its own, I think!

  4. Oooh, a post on spoilers, great idea!

  5. One of my all-time faves:
    Book included a blurb quoting from Library Journals review that described books 1st person narration as Ingratiating. Um, thats a polite way of saying annoying, not a positive.

  6. Stephanie /

    Ingratiating? Oh, I love it, Barb. Maybe I should run a faux blurb comp!

  7. I hate it when authors I like shill for books that suck. Neil Gaiman is notorious for this (with me, at least).

  8. Stephanie /

    Im seeing it a lot in YA of late, and also with authors who write in fairly niche subgenres. I havent seen too much Gaiman blurbage, but I might start keeping a tally :)

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