• Here’s the Story

    I wrote a book called The Forest for the Trees and it’s an advice book for writers. For four years, I blogged every day about the agony of writing and publishing, and the self loathing that afflicts most writers. A community of like-minded malcontents gathered and thus ensued a grand conversation. Now, the most popular posts are gathered in Greatest Hits ( a work in progress) Gluttons for punishment can scroll through the archives. If I've learned one thing about writers, it's this: we really are all alone. Love, Betsy
  • Archives

I Can Call You Betty

Hi Betsy,
I wrote a query. I got an agent. I wrote a book proposal. I got a publisher. I wrote my 80,000-word manuscript. I’m now in editing hell, but my book is coming out in September and I should be happy! Hard part is over!
Yeah, right.
Now, I must find “famous people” who are willing to read my book and give a quote for the cover. Huh? After climbing all of those mountains I just described, this one is giving me the biggest headache. I don’t know any famous people. I don’t know how to get close to famous people. Help!
Why is this necessary? And how does one go about doing it?
Thanks for any advice…as always, I love your blog.
NAME DELETED
PS–do you still represent NAME DELETED? I think my book would be right up her alley…..
Hey…can’t blame me for trying!!
Dear Name Deleted:
Getting blurbs is the most heinous part of the process unless you are connected up the wazoo. It’s mortifying asking for blurbs. I once saw a galley in a used bookstore in Cape Cod that I had sent out with the letter still inside: Dear Stanley Kunitz, It is with great pleasure that I’m sending XX with the hope that you might offer an endorsement…

The bottom line is that one good blurb can really open some doors, or compel a reader to open your book. Look at newly minted Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Harding’s book, Tinkers. One very sweet blurb on the cover by Marilynne Robinson did not hurt. I may not use Cover Girl make-up because Ellen Degeneres shills for it, but I will read a book because one of my favorite authors blurbs it even if it is another case of log-rolling in our time. Think about how few elements there are to interest a reader strolling through a bookstore crowded with merchandise. A great blurb might grab a reader, it might also grab a reviewer, a producer, etc. They’re like vitamins. They could really help and they won’t hurt.
That said, if you you’re a nobody from nowhere, it really sucks trying to get blurbs. You’re like Oliver at the orphanage: please sir. Hopefully your editor or agent can call in a favor or two. Or perhaps you ‘ll tap into some insanely self-promoting gene that’s been dormant until now and stop at nothing until your back ad is sagging under the weight of so many blurbs. My favorite story of blurbomania involves none other than Walt Whitman who took a line from a letter that Emerson had written and splashed it all over the second edition of his book, ” I greet you at the beginning of a great career. “
Finally, dear writer whose pain I feel, I no longer represent NAME DELETED. But I have a feeling you’re going to be just fine. Let us know!
BLURBS: Where do you stand? As a reader and as a writer?

35 Responses

  1. i was (seriously) just thinking about blurbs today while browsing at my favorite bookstore (Carmichael’s in Louisville, KY).

    my thought was: hmmm….some of these blurb givers spend too much time trying to sound like they’re auditioning for a pulitzer rather than trying to push a fellow colleague’s book. the blurb i read today–i knew i should have written it down–made me think that the blurb giver thought more of himself than the book he was blurbing.

    as someone who buys nearly as many books per week as i do cups of coffee, there has only been one book that i can remember buying only because of the blurbs: Reality Hunger, A Manifesto by David Shields. It really was the most clever book jacket I’ve ever read.

  2. A great book’s not enough?

    F*ck.

    That is all.

  3. I read blurbs for a chuckle. I don’t believe a word of them. It’s all someone calling in a favor. I look for book reviews, Amazon ratings, and recommendations from friends. I actually get turned off if I pick up a book that has a bunch of blurbs to recommend it but no real reviews.

  4. As a reader, I don’t believe them.
    As a writer, I know how insincere they usually are, and don’t believe them either.

  5. Until I started trying to get published, I never even noticed the blurbs. :-( Even now, I still don’t really.

    (I was going to say I never purchased a book because of an endorsement,but I suddenly remembered that about fifteen years ago, a singer/songwriter whom I loved but whose name no one else will recognize did endorse a book, and I bought it for that reason, because he was a very thoughtful and down-to-earth man. But then I never read the book. So it only halfway worked.)

    • Then again, the blurb did do its job whole-way. The blurb’s purpose is to SELL books, not make readers happy.

      I can’t wait to not read any book Marilynne Robinson blurbs. I really hated Gilead.

      But I’ll read any book that Tim Cahill recommends. Oh, if only they could all be “Pecked to Death by Ducks”.

      • I love that you hate Gilead. I always think Marilynne Robinson is the Course in Miracles woman.

        Blurbs are like assholes–they all stink, but if you don’t have at least one you’re guaranteed full of shit.

        Too forced? Ah, well. I’m in a chipper mood today! My wife’s coming home from a trip. I’m all weepy and excited.

      • Vivian, I’m buying Tinkers solely because of Marilyn Robinson’s blurb! I loved Gilead almost as much as Housekeeping which is one of my top three novels ever.

        There are very few blurbs that would get me to buy a book. It’s almost always the first page if it’s not a book that’s been recommended. Still, I’d kill for some good blurbs when my novel is sold, good meaning Robinson, Kingsolver, etc– the ones you rarely see.

  6. I have a completely different opinion of blurbs.

    Mine is very near the bottom as far as being a recognized name in the publishing world. When I wrote my first novel, “bottom” looked like a mountain. But I’d written a story that I *needed* to get published. It was an apology to my only daughter for being mean to her when she came out to our family as a lesbian a few years earlier.

    I’d always thought of myself as a broad-minded person. I found out that I was broad minded as long as it was somebody else’s lesbian daughter. She trusted me with her secret and I turned on her. We had a few horrible months before I realized that I was going to have to change or I would lose her. I went to a psychologist who told me about PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). When I called the number, a man answered the phone. I gave him my name and poured out my whole tearful, blubbering story. After I finished, he said, “Lady! This is the Veterans Administration!” Little did I know, I had taken the first step toward recovery. I had told someone and the world didn’t come to an end. The people at PFLAG worked their magic and my daughter and I became closer than ever.

    Back to the book: I wrote it as a labor of love and I was like a crazed woman who would have scratched anybody’s eyes out who said it wasn’t possible to find a publisher. I had an agent for another book that never sold. She read the first few pages of my had-to-get-it-published book and said no, she wouldn’t send it out. So I sold it myself to a small, well-respected publisher (Academy Chicago Publishers). They edited it beautifully, found the perfect jacket art (a Daniel Nevins print), and published it in hardcover and paperback and sold the rights to China and Italy. Then, miracle of miracles, it up and won a Lambda Award.

    Back to blurbs: I was shameless about getting blurbs for my book. If it tanked, it wasn’t going to be for lack of trying. I wrote to every well-known gay person I could find an address for (usually had to go through managers or agents). When my book was published, it had several big names holding its little unknown hand: Emily Saliers of The Indigo Girls, Betty DeGeneres (right after her book Love, Ellen had been published), Emma Donoghue (right after Slammerkin was released) and a bunch of others.

    My just-published novel has a great endorsement smack on the front cover by Sara Gruen, author of Water for Elephants.

    Blurbs aren’t all self promotion for the big authors/celebrities or payback for favors. Sometimes they’re written by good-hearted authors who remember when someone helped them out.

  7. When my favorite writers blurb, it’s usually enough to make me buy the book. I even bought a HIDEOUS book not once BUT TWICE (I lost the first one before I started it) because the blurber merely COMPARED the writer to two of my favorites. I’m being deliberately vague here because it is the internets, after all, permanent and public. And that book sucked so hard that I’m still resentful about those purchases, even though it was years ago. It is my fervent hope that I run into the blurber at a conference somewhere so I can ask for my $30 back. And possibly spit in his hair.

    In related news, yesterday, during a pre-op intake, the nurse asked if I ever had urges to harm myself or others. Um, is that a trick question?

    • I got tricked into this recently. There’s a writer I like who, I think, is pretty obscure — at least to American readers. She’s quite well known in England, is my sense. Anyway, I adore her writing, and when a well-reviewed book recently showed up in paperback format with a glowing blurb from her ON THE FRONT COVER, that decided it for me, I started reading the book.

      I couldn’t finish the da*** thing. It was so boring, I could not have cared any less about any of the characters. I kept trying to, but finally gave up reading the book.

      So my writer “friend” let me down there!

  8. My theory is umbilicoplasty.

  9. Love reading blurbs! But…prefer the Brit term, “puffs”. And you have to wonder: did Kingsley Amis and Patricia Highsmith and the like have to go puff trolling?

    • Jeez, strike that Highsmith ref. Let’s say, Virginia Woolf. PH, of course, was a Yank, and would have been looking fir puffs off a butt, not on a book.

  10. August….it is unsettling when you are perky. You aren’t planning a bank heist or something are you?

    And Bonnie…I love that story. I bet the guy you talked to has told it a million times.

    I don’t really hate getting blurbs. You find out the most interesting stuff about the writers you beg them off of. There are a couple I got on my long what an asshole list. And a couple I’m nominating for sainthood.

    What I hate is signing books at a Strawberry Festival.

  11. Blurbs are for pussies.

  12. Clearly, you’ve never tried to get one, tricky.

  13. I love Bonnie’s story.

    And who doesn’t flip a book to read the support blurbs? How ebooks will accomplish that advertising vett is a toss up. Social networking links? Twitter jabber? Faceoff links? Will it all be left to the comments page on a bookseller site? Hope not.

    I don’t trust the general public.

  14. I have never in my life intentionally read a blurb. I think Orson Scott Card endorsed Brandon Sanderson’s first novel but I didn’t know that til after I bought it. Plus, that’s the sci-fi/fantasy equivalent of Toni Morrison endorsing someone. Means nothing by virtue of how much I lurve OSC/ToMo. They’re being nice. And modest. Makes me want to rebuy their books, not someone else’s.

    • Orson Scott Card also endorsed “laws against homosexual behavior,” so he can suck my big straight dick.

      (But in keeping with my chipper mood, I’ll add that I enjoy the music on your website, and had it playing in the background while I wrote last week. So all that shitty prose is your fault. Ten bucks says Betsy’s a big Noisette’s fan.)

  15. How funny; I just blogged about how I justify reading certain books that might not be so good for me because they have “respectable blurbs.”

    I do have a few authors in mind if I ever have to ask for blurbs, but our ties are tenuous at best and I’m sure the process will be mortifying.

  16. generic blurb used on at least five new releases a month/……”_______’s prose is so spare, so beautiful, it haunted me long after I read the last sentence.” which was (okay, who knows this last line, book and author?)
    “I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!”

  17. I think I almost don’t read the specific content of blurbs. I read the style — if the blurbs are all the kind of poetical blobby language I don’t like, I suspect the book will be as well — and I take a poll of the names to see if there are writers I can’t stand. So blurbs tend to work as a filter rather than a funnel — I’m looking for clues that I won’t like the book more than for reassurance that I will.

    I can only imagine that asking famous writers one has never met to say nice things about one’s book is absolute torture.

  18. [...] now she’s lit a fire under me with this entry about The Almighty Blurb, which looms large in the lives of most editors.  Blurbs!  Chasing them is agony; getting one is [...]

  19. Well, I have lots of opinions on how to get blurbs. In fact, I’ve practically written a treatise on it that’s been reprinted in several places, most recently at Nathan Bransford’s blog:

    http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/08/guest-blog-week-fine-art-of-getting.html

  20. Let me share a happy story. The blurb on the front of my new book is from Stefan Fatsis, author of “Word Freak.” I had never met him. We had no friends in common. His book sold more in a week than my two prior books had sold in their entire lives. But I sent him an email, told him I thought my new book had a lot in common with “Word Freak,” that it had helped inspire my book, and that a blurb from him would mean a lot to me personally. Would he read the galleys? He said yes, gave me his address, and read the book and liked it. Maybe he is an unusual mensch of a man (no doubt he is), but perhaps there are similar stories out there. Best of luck.

  21. Slightly off the subject, and late to boot, but: what may count as my favorite blurb of all time was quoted in a New Yorker article about blurbs, published sometime in the misty past. It said only this: “If you don’t read this book, you will die.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,073 other followers

%d bloggers like this: