Thursday, October 29, 2009

The blurb...

btt button

Suggested by Jennysbooks: Something I’ve been thinking about lately: “What words/phrases in a blurb make a book irresistible? What words/phrases will make you put the book back down immediately?”

I don't think there is a word or phrase in a blurb or review quote that will make or break me. Perhaps if a blurb characterized a book as full of blood and gore, or if something in it indicated that the subject or narrator of the book were obnoxiously holy, racist, sexist, or homophobic I would probably put down the book, but it's the general thrust of blurbs that speak to me. It puts me off when there are too many blurbs. Some paperbacks have pages of them from every newspaper in the world. Make a choice. They rarely say anything different. Many compare the writer to another writer, usually one that has sold many books. Sometimes I am aware that a blurb was only stuck in because it mentioned yet another author's name, on the chance that that one comparison will be the only writer the prospective customer has ever heard of. It's especially ridiculous when two successive blurbs compare the author to such different authors that the comparisons clearly don't reflect the publisher's opinion about they book, they just reflect their desire to sell more copies by appealing to different markets - say, "reminds me of Nicholas Sparks..." and "this is a great novel in the tradition of Faulkner." Desperation is the greatest turn-off in book sales. The surest way to get me not to buy a book is to use hyperbole. "The greatest," "the best," "it will change your life," "more meaningful than the bible, only shorter." Give me a break.

Generally it is the quality of the author of the blurb or quote makes a difference, unless I know that there is an established connection between the blurb author and the book's. I have seen blurb's written by an author's mentor. That like having a review written by your mother. But if the blurb writer is a talented writer and says something specific about the book that makes me think that it has an original voice or tells an involving, moving, or important story, combines ideas in unique ways, or captures a period or place I'm interested in creatively, I might go for it. If it's a review quote I am also swayed, snob that I am, by the literary quality of the publication the review came from. Basically, if a good writer tells me this book or writer has value and the subject matter or genre doesn't put me off, I might be reeled in. Just don't try too hard.

That would be the perfect costume for a literary Halloween party - go as The Blurb! But if you do it, please remember to credit me.


Sheila O'Malley said...

Funny story about a blurb which I think you will appreciate - I agree with everything you've said here, especially the comparison to Nicholas Sparks. I will say that to me it depends on who wrote the blurb. I will buy a book if Annie Proulx endorses it. Or Lorrie Moore. Or any number of other writers. But one day, many years ago, I finished reading Possession, and it rocked my world. I didn't know WHAT to read after that, and actually felt upset - because any other book was bound to pale in comparison. I was quite upset about it. So I was browsing in a bookstore, and a book caught my eye - the cover in particular. I liked the cover. It was an author I had never heard of. A Nicholas Mosley. Hmmm. But the cover ... and then I saw the blurb on the back and the first thing I saw was, "Like AS Byatt's Possesion, Hopeful Monsters is a blah blah blah blah blah" and I bought it just because of that. Well, and also the cover. I have always felt so grateful that I just went with my gut on that one. Imagine if we had never discovered that book!!

Anonymous said...

I agree about not trying too hard. If it's a good story / idea then summarising what it is will sell it better than over the top phrases

Anonymous said...

Ha! The Blurb!

On the pages of review blurbs in paperbacks: really, they should all just form a consensus and have endorsement--you know, like they do with toothpaste: "Eight out of ten newspapers agree--this book is amazing!" Think of the paper it would save.

I also like the mentor/mother comparison. "I taught him to write. His book is fabulous!" Um, yeah. Maybe.

gautami tripathy said...

I flip through the book and if the prose seems poetic, I pick it up!

Booking through Blurbs

Ted said...

S - That is so hilarious, since I feel like they have some superficial features but are hardly similar. But if we hadn't read that one indeed! More importantly... red wine?

Ted said...

NI - I'm not sure we're the typical market.

ER - yes, or a checklist!

GT - A purist, uncorrupt, in our midst!

Sheila O'Malley said...

ted - Yes! I emailed you yesterday, hope you got it.

Red wine soon, please?

Ted said...

Sheila - Aack, no I didn't get it. What's w/ that?!? I'll email you and we'll figure out a date.