Writers and Editors (Pat McNees's blog)
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Do blurbs help sell books?

May 24, 2016

Tags: blurb, testimonial

by Pat McNees
My first experience asking experts to read and maybe praise a book was with DYING, A BOOK OF COMFORT, an anthology I put together after my father's death. It was designed to sooth the frightened and bereaved. The Literary Guild asked me for a list of people who might comment, which I provided, saying, "None of these people will know me from Adam." Few such books were available then, and the first comment my editor (Barbara Greenman) received was from Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the hospice movement, who wrote, “This remarkable collection, coming from personal experience and wide reading, will help many find the potential of growth through loss.” If nothing else, that established my credentials with my publisher--and it defined what the book might do and for which kind of reader, which was better coming from someone in a position to know.

But do blurbs ("advance praise") like that help sell a book? Here are some opinions on that, and on what type of blurb is most helpful:

Authors Share Insights on the “Dubious” Art of the Blurb (The Biographer's Craft, 1-11-16) “A good blurb communicates a good read, counterintuitive insights, and comes from major players in the field.” ~agent Susan Rabiner. And Jake Cumsky-Whitlock, head book buyer at Kramerbooks, a Washington, DC, bookstore, told NPR, “If I haven’t heard of the author writing the book, but it comes with the imprimatur of a reputable writer or someone I respect, that will make a big difference.”

Forget The Book, Have You Read This Irresistible Story On Blurbs? (Colin Dwyer, NPR, 9-27-15) How the process works: when the publisher starts fishing for compliments, how they come up with who to send galleys to, whether the world is overblurbed, and why writers take the time to blurb other writers.

Malcolm Gladwell Hands Out Book Blurbs Like Santa Does Presents (Laura M. Holson, NY Times, 12-16-15) "When Malcolm Gladwell was asked to write a blurb for the 2005 book “Freakonomics, ” he did not explain that it explored the dynamics of the Ku Klux Klan or the impact of naming a child “Loser.” Instead, the New Yorker writer and best-selling author of “The Tipping Point” and “Blink” simply wrote, “Prepare to be dazzled.”
“Freakonomics” became a best seller.

To Blurb or Not to Blurb (Bill Morris, The Millions, 2-15-11) The price of fame is the burden of gazillions of publishers asking you to blurb their books. "...once my blurb got published I had visions of the mailman dropping off stacks of review copies in front of my door. Did I really want to dive down that rabbit hole?"

Six Writers Tell All About Covers and Blurbs (Matthew Gallaway, The Awl, 4-4-11) "Three aspects of a book make the greatest first impression on potential readers. The opening sentence. The title. And, of course, the cover....buyers for the chain stores will order more copies of a book they find visually appealing, so their opinion counts, even to the extent that publishers will entirely change a book’s cover if an influential buyer doesn’t like it....The best blurbs come from an author writing within the same genre, since they will take advantage of a shared audience."~Stefanie Pintoff

An alternative to celebrity blurbs (Michael N. Marcus, Book Making) "If you’ve written a how-to book, the best blurbs will come from people who have actually been helped by it. A good way to find “amateur” blurbers who might write sincere comments about actually benefiting from your book is to observe online communities that are concerned with your subject."

Why you should ignore the superlatives on book jackets (Nathan Filer, The Guardian, 7-31-14) Cover blurbs aren't reviews, they're advertisements that offer no space for balanced, nuanced positivity. Do you agree? And have you seen any over-the-top examples? Share them in the Guardian's comment thread.
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