Blurb Matters: A Quiet Manifesto

From Jane Friedman:

Say he wants a blurb, he wants it bad. He’ll give you less than a week to read a rushed PDF,  and the thing is, you hardly know him. Decades before, maybe, and as a favor to his editor, you wrote a boosting paragraph after his first book launched, but you’re pretty sure that doesn’t mean you’re friends.

Still, his need is urgent—you feel the pulse of desperation beneath the skin of his email. You say yes when you shouldn’t. You claw at your schedule, make reading time. You’re only a few grudging chapters in when you know the trouble you’re in. The blurb-seeker’s book is self-absorbed, self-pitying, self-aggrandizing, without beauty, and to protect your own name, to defend your own ethos, you must step aside. You must let the author know, and soon. You must write the kindest possible declination, and swallowing hard, you do.

Maybe this is hypothetical. Maybe it is true. But let’s continue on. Let’s say your no is not well received. Let’s say you become—increasingly—the object of the blurb-seeker’s ire. Let’s say the whole affair becomes so preposterous—your refusal to engage escalating his anger, his anger escalating into threats—that when you finally shut his emails down and step away, you’re left wondering what this thing is anyway, this thing we call the blurb?

A blurb is an advert, a puff, a commendation, a gloss, according to various dictionary definitions. Or, in the words of Rachel Donadio, writing years ago for The New York Times, blurbs “represent a tangled mass of friendships, rivalries, favors traded and debts repaid, not always in good faith.” Indeed. But how are we to manage them? What place are they to have in our literary lives? Is a blurb an obligation? An apprehension? A price? A prize?

I have, over the course of my writing life, done a lousy job of taking a definitive stance on blurbs. I have been inconsistent and hypocritical, grateful and suspicious, honored and unsure, careful and compromised. I have blurbed books I’ve loved for people I’ve loved and been humbled by the pleasure. I have said no when I should have said yes (I am so sorry). I’ve written blurbs for books I didn’t fully understand, and I’ve written blurbs that were elbowed out of use on account of the blurbs proffered by writers more sexy and glam than I am (but then why was I asked in the first place?). I have died a thousand deaths asking for blurbs for books of my own, then opened emails from dear friends saying, Please, ask me for a blurb. Then received the kindest blurb. Then stood in my office and looked all around—incapable of locating just the right words to express my gratitude.

I have been fazed by the giving and fazed by the taking, and I have been—equally—shamed.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

3 thoughts on “Blurb Matters: A Quiet Manifesto”

    • Agreed, D., but favorable reviews can also be acquired from interested parties or those they hire. I tend to do a rough assessment of the intelligence and taste of the author of the review via their writing style and mentally weight the review accordingly. I realize that sounds snobbish, but I was subconsciously doing this for a long time before I realized the potential for snobbishness. I calculated that, so long as I didn’t leave a snobbish review, there was no foul and didn’t worry about it further.

      • I generally find reader reviews of fiction to be largely useless: too much de gustibus to make sense of. Non-fiction is another matter. I look for longer reviews that don’t just summarize the book, but discuss the arguments. Most of the time it is pretty easy to tell if the reviewer knows what he is talking about, either favorable or unfavorable to the book.

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