Saturday, May 4, 2019

Rhys on Blurbs


RHYS BOWEN: When people ask me what I’m reading right now, I always have to say it isn’t a book I have chosen to read, it’s a book I’ve been asked to blurb. Unfortunately I have become the go-to blurber for any historical novel written between 1850 and 1950. If a book written in that time period comes out, you’ll probably see a quote from me on the cover.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy to do this. I have benefited from some wonderful blurbs myself from top writers. Thank you Lee Child, Louise Penny, Charlaine Harris, Laura Lippman, and the Reds.  I think it’s a task that I should embrace. The only  negative is that I don’t get time to read books I want to. I do try to be quite ethical in my blurbing. I always read the book. I let the editor know, ahead of time, that if I find anything wrong in a book I won’t endorse it. And you’ll be amazed how often I find things that make me wince: in one book the lead character came out of the Savoy hotel and “took a cab to a less salubrious part of London under Charing Cross Station.”  I actually laughed. It’s about a hundred yards down the Strand, and certainly not less salubrious. I used to walk it every day when I was working for the BBC at Bush House.
This was a writer who had never been to London. I have had authors who address the butler as Mr. Soames when the butler is always referred to by his last name only except by other servants. I had a character who took a degree in ornithology from University College London. This gave me a good chuckle as I’m a graduate and nobody offered me a degree in ornithology!
The worst howler was a character coming from Yorkshire into Victoria Station. Anyone who knows London realizes that trains from Yorkshire come into the north of the city (King’s Cross, actually) and Victoria is on the south. Sorry. That book didn’t get a blurb.

I was thinking about the amount of time I spend reading other writer’s books and I decided I could perhaps make it into a very lucrative career. A blurb from Rhys for a fee. It would create a table of fees, based on the enthusiasm of the blurb.
For ten dollars: This was an okay book.
For fifty dollars: I enjoyed this book.
For a hundred dollars: This was a good book.
For a thousand dollars: Wow! This was the best book I’ve read this year.
Okay, before you send me books, I was joking.
And if I get a book I really don’t like but have agreed to blurb? A really bad book? What do I do then?
This was a book unlike any I’ve read before. I couldn’t wait to finish it. So different.
OR
Wow. What a book!
(Again I’m joking. I would never endorse a book I thought was bad. My name, my reputation will be on the cover of that book). However sometimes I have agreed to give a quote to a friend or a friend of a friend. Awkward. I once had a book to blurb that finished with the bad guy getting strangled by a boa constrictor. I said, “Comes to a really gripping conclusion.”

So I am interested to know: have you ever picked up a book because it has an endorsement from a favorite author on the cover?  And fellow writers: how do you handle blurbing a book you really don’t like?
I have to go now. There is a book waiting to be blurbed on my desk.

34 comments:

  1. If I’m interested in a book, I usually read the blurbs, especially if they’re from a favorite author. I’ve always found it interesting to know what other writers think about the book . . . .

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  2. I’m glad to know that there are ethics in blurb-writing. Sometimes as a reader who is not also a writer, I really wonder.....it seems like some authors are on the cover of every book I pick up. I have bought books because one of my favorite authors wrote a positive blurb. Sometimes I disagree with it later, but not all books appeal to everyone. Thanks for actually reading all those books, Rhys. What is in the ‘to be read’ pile that’s something you want to read, not have to read? Just curious...

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    1. Jacqueline Winspear's latest, Kate Atkinson's Transcription, several historicals from writers who are new to me. But sometimes blurbing introduces me to fabulous books. Last year I read The Stranger Diaries by Ellie Griffiths. Brilliant!

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  3. Rhys, as a reviewer I have a similar problem as yours. So much of what I read are books that I review for favorite authors or occasionally a new author or just books that are on my review list. I'm lucky in that I'm usually reviewing a book I really want to read, but sometimes I wish I could fit in some other books I want to read that I just don't have time for because of the ones I'm set to review. It's harder and harder to try to catch up on a series that's underway already, and there are several I so want to fit in. I'm trying to let myself every five books or so slip in one not on my review list. But, back to blurbs. Because my reading is so scheduled, I have to admit that I don't always read the blurbs. I might want to take more time to do that after reading the dedication you put into your blurbs, Rhys. Your imagined blurbs for books you didn't like were hilarious. Like you don't blurb a book you don't like, I don't review a book I don't like, but you are probably under much more pressure to blurb than I am to review. Thanks for giving us insight into this subject.

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  4. I think the cover of a new book attracts my eye first. Then I'll read the jacket flap, and then, if I see a cover quote from an author I admire, I'll give the book a try.

    I think it would be hard to only read the fiction other people feed me. Perhaps, if you are brutally honest in your blurbs, the publishers won't eat up so much of your time with bad books? You know they won't use it on a cover if you send them a "This is probably the worst book I've ever read," quote, or even a "The author wasn't particularly rigorous in her research, and the main character was a prat," quote, but perhaps they might think twice about sending you something they know is weak, just hoping you'll be nice about it.

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  5. Years ago, when I actually had street cred and a (very) modest fame in one field, I was asked to blurb a book that was unusual for the time. It was a compendium of online resources. The Web was so new then, but people, especially women, were buying computers like crazy, and this book was very useful. It great shortcuts to resource sites, most of which were brand-new.

    I'm not a very good blurb provider or reviewer, normally, but I was 100% behind the idea of this book, and the author had done a great job of organizing it, so I said so in my blurb. She later told me it was the best one she'd gotten, and she sent me a framed copy of the cover with my blurb on it. (Which was a lovely gesture, but what do you do with something like that? I wish she had saved her money.)

    Once in awhile a blurb will catch my attention, but I'm reading Bossypants by Tina Fey right now, which starts with seven pages of blurbs at the front of the book. And I have to say, they have ruined the book for me. Most of them refer to how screamingly funny Bossypants is, and it set up expectations that are not being met by the actual book. It's impressive that she was able to get so many book reviewers and other personalities to blurb for her, but it's serious overkill.

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  6. I don't get as many requests as Rhys does (thank goodness!), but I learned my lesson about blurbing something I thought was not that good--my name will be linked with that book forever:(. It's a tricky balance to want to be a team player and pay back what you were given, all while guarding your time and your reputation, isn't it?

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  7. I'm glad you are talking about this, Rhys, because I have always wondered. I do check out the blurbs, especially after I have finished the book, to see if my thoughts lined up the superstar's thoughts. Sometimes I am left shaking my head and thinking to myself 'how did they ever get so and so to read and comment on this book?'

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  8. I was asked to blurb a book and struggled with the horticultural howlers (poppies and coneflowers blooming simultaneously?)

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  9. I get asked to blurb a lot ... and it gives me such joy when I can gush about how great a book is .... but all of us have unique tastes and preferences so when I don’t blurb it still might be a book others might love.

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  10. Interesting insight into how the author feels about blurbing a book. I usually read the blurbs if I've picked up something and I'm in two minds about reading it. Then I parse the blurbs for substance. Is the blurb telling me anything that's not already in the book's description, title, etc.? If there are several blurbs, what is the focus of each? As Rhys notes, there are so many books I want to read and only so much time--so just having a famous author provide a blurb won't get me to pick up a book.

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  11. I’m always so honored to be asked for blurbs… It makes me feel that people think what I say might matter. That said, it does matter— because if people care what I think :-), and make a decision based on it, then disagree… Well, it’s a situation. ! So I am extremely careful about it. But it makes me feel like part of writer world, and I love that!
    And I am incredibly grateful for the blurbs I have received. Wait till you see what’s on THE MURDER LIST!
    And yes, Rhys, I fear you are forever the go to blurber forever for books! Congratulations- and think of all the writers you make happy!

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  12. I see blurbs as a bonus. If I'm considering a book by an author I've never read, my decision is based on the book's content. If there's a blurb by an author I love (like Rhys): bonus! That means I'll probably like the book.

    Rhys, I can only imaging that blurbing books is somewhat like grading college papers, except I have to read them whether I like them or not. I like to start with a positive comment. My greatest fear is that I'll run across a paper that's so awful the positive comment will be something like "Nice font! It was clear and easy to read, unlike your essay." LOL

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  13. So interesting, thank you Rhys. So do I read the blurbs? Well the blurbs on hardcovers are usually on the dust cover, so I do glance. But if this is an unknown author I will read what is written on the authors back flap cv. I look for where they may have previously worked, gone to college or writing programs etc. I read the front flap too and that can totally put me off a book as can strange print. Oh dear am I picky? Yes! Blurbs have very little interest for me, but I will buy a book influenced by the interview I heard on npr. This can turn out to be a total dog. A book I gave at Christmas. The author was witty and sounded charming; all of which they may well be, but the book was disappointing. A male friend once told me he would only read male authors of mysteries. How disappointing, and what a lot he was missing.

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  14. I've picked up two books that I can think of because there was a blurb from Hank on the book.

    I do read the blurbs but I don't necessarily buy a book because another author I read says something nice about it on the cover.

    For that kind of buying decision, I usually have to read a review that makes the book seem really interesting. Also, articles like here on JRW that spotlight the author help make me decide.

    There are a variety of ways to get me interested enough to try out a new-to-me author but of course the best endorsement comes after I buy the book because if I actually like the story, I rave about it as much as I can, wherever I can. Call it an Accessory Blurb After The Fact!

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  15. I confess I don't pay a lot of attention to blurbs with a coupe of exceptions. If a writer I really don't care for writes the blurb, I'm likely to go onto another book. And if the blurb is written by someone I adore, I will have a look at the book, thanking the gods that be for Kindle samples. My final decision is always based on reading the sample and deciding if my level of interest is worth less than or more than ten bucks. I have only so many books left to read and so much money left to spend on them!

    I totally get not writing a blurb for a book you don't like. If I ever suspect someone of doing that, chances are both author and blurb writer are off my list permanently. I can forgive bad writing but not dishonesty.

    Another thought: I'm always impressed when a little known struggling writer of, let's say, a debut novel, gets endorsed by someone like Stephen King. That book is going to end up on the top of my TBR pile, mostly on the strength of the blurb.

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  16. I rarely pay any attention to blurbs or snippets from reviews. They tell me nothing about the book itself. I get interested in book if it was discussed at a book blog (especially Reds) or on the radio and it sounds like my cup of tea. I usually then go to the author's website to learn more about them, and see what else they've written, and so on.

    So, Rhys, can't you just say no?

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  17. I do read the blurbs when making a decision about a new-to-me author's latest. That said, I'm more influenced by the snippets of reviews from the publications and the bloggers (I'm looking at you, Kathy!)
    I had a passing acquaintance with someone who was very prolific in his own field and highly regarded. He was bombarded with requests for endorsements from other writers. And, sadly, he was not as committed to the process as you, Dear Reds. I sort of fell into thinking that his approach was consistent with blurbs in general.
    I'm so glad to find out I was wrong!

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    1. Lyda, I appreciate your attention to reviews. You're the reason why I have a blog and review. I just want to share good books with others and tell a bit about the book so that other readers can decide if the book is for them.

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  18. Very interesting post Rhys, thank you to share this with us.
    I can't say that I pay attention to blurbs when I'm buying a book.
    Once it went the other way around: after reading a book of a favorite author, I checked the blurb written by an unknown author to me and decided to search for his work and try it. Who knows, maybe one of your blurbs could bring you new readers.

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  19. Oh, great topic! I just did a blurb for a book yesterday and have another due in two weeks. I did pick up a book once because it was blurbed by an author I loved and I hated it. It made me reconsider the author I loved because, truly, what were they thinking?

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  20. I will consider reading a book by an author unknown to me if it’s blurbed by an author I love, or if it has been nominated for an award. For the most part, though, I choose books by authors featured on JRW or similar book blogs. I rarely read an Amazon review until after I have finished reading a book. Taste in books is so subjective; one of my sisters has been raving about a particular book for months now. I have tried and tried to read it, and it’s pleasant, but it just doesn’t hold my interest. I do believe the book is well-written, but it’s just not for me,

    DebRo

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  21. I read the front flap to see what the book is about if the author is new to me. I don't even look at the blurbs until I've finished reading the book. It's interesting to see if one of "my" authors provided a blurb and if we agree.

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  22. Dear Brilliant Blurbers (that's you, Rhys and Reds), I do pay attention to you, and I've rarely been disappointed. But here's a situation: What do you do when a debut book by a new author is beyond wonderful, and you say so in your blurb, and then her/his subsequent books peter out into derivative messes? I recently read a first book that I thought was pretty good, which led me to read the second, which I found wonderfully written, and I happily told friends and Facebook about it. Then...the third and fourth, not so good, and I could hardly wait for the confusing fifth to end. There won't be a sixth for me. Yet the first enthusiastic blurbs continue to be used on the book covers. How do you-all deal with that?

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  23. I do read blurbs sometimes and may chose a new author partly because of them. I also pay attention to who the authors dedicate or mention in their forwards or afterwards. I may look into an author that I haven't tried before.

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  24. I find blurbs interesting, but I don't rely on them to decide whether or not to read a book.

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  25. Rhys, thank you. I often discover new authors through blurbs. For example, I read a novel by one of my favorite authors and I discovered a new author because of her blurb on the book. Often I wound up loving the new author too.

    You are right on target about not giving a blurb for a book that you did not like. Sometimes I would read a book then decide not to review because either I could not finish (not in the mood) or I just did not like the book for whatever reason. I have to remind myself that although I do not like a certain book, there is always someone who would love the same book!

    So, thank you!

    Diana

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  26. I do look at blurbs, to see who has said something positive about the book be it writers or fellow reviewers. I have picked up a book or two because of a blurb from an author I like, and I've been burned by it as well, so I've learned to be careful.

    I'm happy (but not at all surprised) to find that you take writing blurbs seriously, Rhys.

    I understand about the commitment to blurb and how it eats up your reading time. I have got to figure out a way to whittle down my TBR mountain range, but it is so hard to say no to review copies of books I know I want to read.

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  27. Speaking of time, I was reminded of when I worked in DC. I remember a publisher asked my boss if he could review a book by Carl Sagan. As much as he wanted to, he had NO time to review Carl Sagan's book, though I got a peek at the book :-)

    Diana

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  28. I can think of two occasions on which author recommendations introduced me to new (to me) authors I have loved. The first was when Stephen King raved about Meg Gardiner's China Lake. I believe he called it a roller coaster ride of a novel, and he wasn't wrong. In every one of the Evan Delaney books I felt the impulse to hang on tight, breathless. The other time was when I took a chance and added several of G.M. Malliet's books to my Christmas wish list, because her first novel had very positive blurbs from Louise Penny, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Deborah Crombie. How could I go wrong? I received three Max Tudor novels under the tree and spent the rest of the snowy holidays tucked in, blissful.

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  29. Catherine SiemannMay 5, 2019 at 9:30 AM

    Hmm, having just finished your Guppies class, in my thank you I referred to you as one of my dream blurbers. Now I feel even more foolish!

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  30. I usually read the blurbs before buying a book, but as a new author with no connections (the publisher is sending ARCs to the usual suspects) I feel sort like I'm back in 7th grade, unsure about where to sit at lunch. That would make you, Rhys Bowen, who happily agrees to write blurbs for so many writers, like the eighth grader who publicly plops her tray down across the table.

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  31. Speaking of blurbs, I saw two blurbs by new to me authors on an advanced copy of Marty Wingate's novel. And I am going to check out these two new authors and see if the library has their novels.

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