Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Blurbs, blurbs, blurbs

A couple of weeks ago, Joe Finder wrote this interesting blog post on book blurbs. I found myself nodding when he mentioned a reader feeling betrayed by a blurb he wrote without having read the book.

I had never felt betrayed by Joe, mind you, but I had experienced that myself - somewhat - with other authors. I do not pick books based on blurbs. And because I don't, I made it part of my reading challenge this year. I really wanted to challenge myself with that component. I also found that the majority of people participating said that would be their trickiest one as well.

But because I don't pick books based on blurbs doesn't mean I don't read the blurbs. And there have been quite a few occasions now where I've had a book I thought was luke-warm at best with a glowing blurb from a well-known and well-respected author. My first thought is always, "whoa, we must really have different tastes in reading." After all, people can like different styles.

However, another red flag goes up for me when I see one author blurbing A LOT of books. Then I think, did that person REALLY read all of those books? And if so where did he/she find time to write their own book? I can understand, like Joe said, the person receives a lot of requests for blurbs. And authors want to support each other. But does that support start to become meaningless when the blurbs aren't truly sincere?

Since I choose to only post positive reviews on my blog, I work extra hard to make sure that my sincerity comes across in the reviews. I don't like every book I read; I choose to talk about only the ones I like. So, how can that sincerity come through in blurbs for authors? What convinces you an author is sincere in his/her blurb?

I'd like to hear what you all think. Since so many people said they'd have the hardest time with the book chosen from a blurb in the reading challenge, why is that? Do you ever choose a book based on a blurb? Without calling anyone specific on the carper, have you ever felt betrayed by a favorite author because of a blurb you felt was insincere? Did you stop reading books blurbed by that author? Stop reading blurbs altogether? Does any of it even matter? Please share.

I haven't read my book by a new-to-me author based on a blurb from an author I like, yet. I'm kind of nervous, but I'm glad I put it in the challenge. And I'm very interested to hear your thoughts as well.


Poncho March 29, 2011 at 6:45 AM  

I very rarely pick books because of the blurbs. Besides, here in Mexico, blurbing is not that meaningful as, say, commercial endorsement is in terms of book promotion.

Here in Mexico, it's considered in to like a very promoted book (i.e. THE DA VINCI CODE, The HARRY POTTER series), and intellectual to dislike 'em. Yet, few people have actual opinions about many books.

Funny thing is, when I do read the few blurbs we have here (which are often printed inside the covers), I find myself discouraged when there's too much praise -specially when all the praise seems to be all over the place.

Thanks for this, Jen. It made me think a lot about my reasons for reading.

rhapsodyinbooks March 29, 2011 at 8:57 AM  

I haven't bought a book ONLY because of blurbs, but I do read them, and have been influenced by them. And yes, I feel betrayed! Even though I know that authors get these guilt-obligations (for example) just like we do! But I don't stop reading books blurbed by that author; I do, however, file it in my head that this person's blurbs are not necessarily reliable!

Brian Lindenmuth March 29, 2011 at 9:05 AM  

If you pay close attention then the blurb racket is exposed. One can see what links blurbs often times. All of the blurbers will be published from the books publisher; they will all be represented by the same agent; they will all be friends.

I once read and enjoyed a book that was blurbed by an author I’ve communicated with. In one of my emails to this author I said I that I had enjoyed ***. Their response was “Oh, I haven’t read that.”

I love blurbs (and reading them) but I see them for the fallacy they often are. I am however a sucker for two blurb types (a whole different discussion). The first one is the lengthy, mini-review blurb. If a blurb has some real meat on its bones then it might persuade me. The second is the over the top, bombastic comparative blurb. “It’s like Emily Dickinson on angel dust!” – I’m in.

Two examples of these types.

I once grabbed a book that was described on the back as being “part Easy Rider and part bipolar Wizard of Oz”. How could I *not* read it. I did and it turned out to live up to the description and surpass it and become a favorite.

For the other type of blurb I couldn’t find the one I was looking for in an easily copy and pastable format so here the B team. This:

“Whenever I try to describe the resonant and disturbing literature that Horror, whether acknowledged or not, lately has found itself capable of producing, I find myself alluding to Brian Evenson, long with Graham Joyce and a few others: of these splendid younger writers, Evenson places himself furthest out on the sheerest, least sheltered narrative precipice – narrative at the far edge of narrative possibility – where he can speak clearly and plainly of loss, violence, and pain. “

I found to be an effective blurb for me.

Sabrina E. Ogden March 29, 2011 at 11:23 AM  

I don't like blurbs, don't read blurbs and only find them by accidently leaving the back cover on the upside on the desk.

It all started with an author that I was following on Twitter. He made reference to this 12 worded blurb for his new book and when I read it, it sounded like the author read through a bunch of other blurbs and picked all the action words he could find. I hated that blurb and I didn't like the author much for liking that blurb.

Blurbs upset me so much that picking a book for your reading challenge has become a chore.

Funny thing is, I do find extra delight when my book review friends get blurbed. Makes my day something special, if only because I read their reviews and I KNOW the sincerety behind each word written. Now if all blurbs were written by reviewers...I'd read them all!

Pop Culture Nerd March 29, 2011 at 12:42 PM  

I do read blurbs but don't decide what to read based on them. The only time when they might sway me is when I see a book by a new author and EVERY blurb is from someone whose work I love. I couldn't resist one that had my top 5 authors all recommending it.

Betrayed is a strong word but I did feel annoyed when I read this one book because it had only one long, passionate blurb printed on the back from a very successful author whose books I really enjoy. I thought, Well, his books are tight, action-packed, have great characters and are well-plotted so if he likes this book THIS much, it must be good. Turns out it was horrible, made no sense, and had an unsatisfying ending. I didn't stop reading the author who blurbed it (his books are still great) but I did doubt the reliability of his later recommendations.

Jen Forbus March 29, 2011 at 8:24 PM  

Poncho, that's very interesting about blurbs for books in Mexico. And I know what you mean about blurbs having the praise all different. It's kind of like, well, didn't any two people like the same things in this book? And am I going to like any of those elements?

Jen Forbus March 29, 2011 at 8:26 PM  

Kate, I do that often as well. I'll be reading a book that's "blah" and set it down and THEN notice some glowing blurb and think, "what am I missing here?" But you know, if you just don't like a book, that's o.k. You don't have to like them all. But you should be honest at least.

Jen Forbus March 29, 2011 at 8:30 PM  

Brian, those examples are awesome. I love them. Maybe I'll start keeping track of blurbs that really attract my attention.

I do remember laughing hysterically at a book that was labeled, "Think Robert Crais meets Janet Evanovich." The thought actually made my head HURT!

Jen Forbus March 29, 2011 at 8:32 PM  

There seems to be this new fad with ARCs lately of the covers being all blurbs. The first one I saw like that totally turned me off. I thought, "how pretentious." I guess it's just me though because there have been more since then doing the same thing.

caite March 29, 2011 at 9:04 PM  

I will admit that I have been influenced by blurbs on occasion...and gotten burned almost every time.

Allison March 29, 2011 at 10:18 PM  

What I hate are the authors who are paid to write a review of a stinky book. I won't name names, but one very famous author does this. Those books have always sucked. I read the inside jacket or the back, and decide myself whether I'll read it or not.

Coffee and a Book Chick March 30, 2011 at 9:36 AM  

I was betrayed once by a blurb and never once since then do I ever look at them. I will pick a book now based on the storyline and the first few pages.

I was so upset by the blurb that hooked me in that one time because the book ended up being absolutely awful. When I jumped onto the book reviews online with Amazon, Goodreads, etc., I noticed everyone hated it as well. All I thought was that an author who was known, who was respected, gushed about a novel in their blurb, and I can't believe that they would have ever felt that way if they had actually read the book. Which then made me realize that perhaps I didn't quite care for that author's work much, either. Now, I have gotten over it and will read that blurbing author's work now (even though I'm still disappointed in the credibility factor), since it's just a business decision. I just won't allow it to affect or sway my reading choices anymore.

Rachel April 2, 2011 at 2:21 PM  

Hey Jen! I am definitely one of those that is worried about my blurb book challenge book. I've never actually read blurbs before purchasing a book though I often read them after. When I pick up a book the first thing I look for is the description. If it is blurb or bits of review only I immediately set it back down.

I have read books recommended by authors I enjoy (via blogs, etc) and have certainly been astounded by the trash good authors will promote. The first time this happened to me I thought, "Has My Favorite Author even read her own books? How can she promote something like this when her writing is so fantastic?" Now I am going on the theory that skill and taste are not related and I try not to hold it against authors that I notice have blurbed a book I am putting down because it sucks.

On a different blurby note... I think whether you pay attention to blurbs or not has a lot to do with the type of book consumer you are. I've always assumed that blurbs are for people who read/purchase <20 books/year. The industry already knows it's got bookworms hooked so the blurbs are for the rest of the population they are trying to hook.

Jen Forbus April 3, 2011 at 1:41 PM  

Love all these thoughts and experiences with blurbs, guys, thanks! And Rachel, I think you make a very good point. Blurbs probably mean the most to the consumers who don't purchase many books. I wonder if any of them have felt betrayed by one of their favorite authors?

  © Blogger templates 'Neuronic' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP