Thursday, January 7, 2010

Do Blurbs Matter?

"Whether a book is worth buying lies in its content, not its blurb." - Chen Cun

Though I agree with the above quote, I admit if I were to receive a blurb from a well-known author such as Jodi Picoult, Janet Evanovich, or Stephen King, I’d probably jump up and down with delight. (I’d like to say I’d turn flips or do handsprings, but I do know my own limitations.) Yet the practical side of me wonders how important blurbs are in selling books.

In my post on eponyms last April, I mentioned that the word “blurb” came from the book cover of Are you a Bromide? designed by Gelett Burgess in 1907. Miss Belinda Blurb, a fictitious female declared, among other things, that, “This books has 42-carat THRILLS in it.” I haven’t read the book, but the with the subtitle of “The Sulphitic Theory Expounded and Exemplified According to the Most Recent Researches into the Psychology of Boredom Including Many Well-Known Bromidioms Now in Use,” I think that blurb could be a bit of a stretch.

There’s no way we can know if the book would have sold any fewer copies if Miss Blurb had never made an appearance, but the fact that very few books are published without blurbs leads me to believe someone thinks they’re important.

Not to long ago Lynn Sellers wrote in her post, Writer Promo Swaps, “Writers have always exchanged high-praise blurbs with each other (with the most famous example being the writer who blurbed himself using one of his pseudonyms).”

That intrigued me and forced me to go digging to find out the name of this gutsy person. The man was Donald Westlake. According to an article on, “On his website, Westlake noted that the cover of Cunningham’s 1970 book, Comfort Station, even contains one of his favorite blurbs: "I wish I had written this book!" — Donald E. Westlake. You’ve got to admire a guy who could get away with blurbing himself.”

In an recent article, from The Guardian, “What’s the Point of Book Blurbs?” the author, Daniel Kalder says, “Then there are blurbs, the more of which you can plaster on your paperback the better. Usually these are from newspaper reviews reduced by your sales people to a string of superlatives here, a comparison to somebody more famous than you are there. If the blurb comes from a review by a famous person, then they may just run with the name of the celebrity alone ("The Da Vinci Code is f*cking awesome!" – Salman Rushdie).

“Do these blurbs – many of which could be transferred from book to book without great difficulty – actually sway readers? I mean, if you believed them then you'd think every book published is, like, really amazing.”

You can click here to read the entire article.

I’d love to know what you think. Are you swayed by a blurb or the person who wrote the blurb? Have you ever not bought a book due to lack of blurbs or because one was written by someone you didn’t like?

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Chen Cun, Jodi Picoult, Janet Evanovich, Stephen King, blurbs, Lynn Sellers, Donald Westlake, Daniel Kalder, Belinda Blurb, Gelett Burgess,


dirtywhitecandy said...

Fascinating post about the origin of the word blurb - I had often wondered how such an ugly word came into wide use!

I have to correct your terminology slightly - the blurb is actually all the descriptive matter on the back, not just the endorsements ;-)

But as to your very good question, I'm so cynical about blurbs they're the last thing I read. I often find that whoever writes them reveals material that shouldn't be revealed until quite late in the story. And quotes from impressed fellow authors are often edited so that they are not a true representation of what was said.

I read the first line of the blurb, then look at the beginning of the book itself. If I'm on line, I also look at the reviews by readers.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That's a good question, Jane! Many say they matter, just as many say they don't. And yet as an author, I'd be terrified if one of my books came out without any blurbs on the back. I've visited enough bookstores for signings that I know people do look at the blurbs. We need them for those readers who do look for blurbs.

Joanne said...

I'm not sure if blurbs actually convince a reader to buy, or more that they catch the reader's eye and get them to pick up the book and consider it, which is a good thing too. So in that case, I'd say they have a worthwhile purpose.

Karen Walker said...

The blurb gets me to look at the inside. I'd never buy a book from the blurb alone.

Carol Kilgore said...

I was swayed by blurbs until I purchased a book so bad I couldn't finished it that had been PRAISED by one of my favorite authors. Now I don't pay attention to them at all.

Sandy Lender said...

I think the blurbs only affect me (I only start reading them) when I'm on the fence after reading the first page of the book. If the first page hasn't intrigued me, I'm not going to bother with the blurbs. Don't care.

Now for a confession. On Barnes & Nobles' Web site, for my first novel Choices Meant for Kings, there's a short review from a woman named Abigail Farrier in which she says something to the effect of what a great book it is because Nigel Taiman is so fabulous. You may recognize Abigail as a character from the novel. You may recognize her as the lovesick chick who wants to steal Nigel away from the main character. It's the only time I've ever "blurbed" for myself, but at least I made it obvious! (And I kept her in character...)

From Sandy Lender
"Some days, you just want the dragon to win."

Anonymous said...

I'm still waiting for those well-known blurbs. I gave Dean Koontz a copy of my book. Wouldn't that be a real hoot if he emailed me an awesome blurb.

Stephen Tremp

Helen Ginger said...

I do look at endorsements, but they're not the first thing I check out on a book. They may, in fact, be the last thing, after the back cover blurb, the opening page, the cover, and a random page. If it's by an author that I read and like, then it might influence me.

Straight From Hel

Jen Chandler said...

This was really interesting. I had no idea that's where the word "blurb" came from.

I do skim through blurbs in books I buy from time to time. If I see a name I recognize, I think, "Gee, I'd love for -name favorite author- to say something splendid about my book!" but I've never bought/not bought a book due to blurbs.

Happy Thursday!

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

You’re right, Roz. I should have made the distinction that I was talking about endorsements and not the summary or other info found on the back cover. Nothing is worse than a blurb of any kind with a spoiler in it.

I think you are right, Diane. People do look at them and I suppose many don’t realize the publishers only use the best sounding bits.

Joanne, good point. Catching the reader’s eye is what writers need for any sort of success with their books.

Karen, if the blurb gets you to look inside, I’d say they were important.

Carol, I wonder if that was one of those blurbs that had been severely edited by the publishers or one of those authors who’ll endorse almost anything?

Sandy, you are so cheeky! I remember reading that review but I never connected it with the actual character, although I remember the Abigail from the book quite well.

Stephen, if you hear from Dean Koontz be sure to let us know. That would be too cool!

Helen, it sounds as if you have a ritual you go through before buying a book. Good idea.

Jen, we can at least dream about those famous endorsements…and, sometimes dreams do come true.

The Old Silly said...

Always wondered where the weird word "blurb" came from, lol. Interesting. I think they have their place and relative merit - I use them on my books, but I always take them with a grain of salt also when picking up a book to check it out. Like said, if you believed all the blurbs you read, every book in the store is "the best book ever written" - yeah, riiiiiight!

Marvin D Wilson

Tamika: said...

I have to admit, I do pay attention to blurbs. To see a big publishing icon or famous author give kudos does something to solidify the work.

I hope to be doing those types of cartwheels one day, but if not I'm sure I'll live.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

Honestly, no they don't influence me. They're publicity. Let's face it no one is going to print "I want the time back I lost reading this book" on their back cover. However, some snazzy author wants to write a blurb for my book? I think it would be rude to refuse!


Elisabeth said...

To me blurbs are like complete profiles on blogs. We know they only spell out part of the story but still we read them first, that is after we've read the first sentence or maybe before we open the book depending on who we are.

Darcia Helle said...

Jane, what a great question! Like you, I would be thrilled to receive an endorsement from a well-known writer (or any writer!) that I respect. However, that would be my ego rejoicing and would not necessarily translate to sales.

Perhaps those endorsements do help if the author of the book in question is not known to the reader but the endorser is. Otherwise, I'm not so sure they matter. I don't actually pay much attention to them since I learned that the majority of the time the endorsers have not actually read the book they claim to love.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I don't read the blurbs on books I buy (or check out of the library). I also cringe at the thought of requesting a blurb from someone and have escaped doing that so far. Would I turn one down from a well-known author if volunteered? Absolutely not!

Galen Kindley--Author said...

What would happen if Blurb and Malaprop formed a law firm, with onimonipea? I'd probably hire 'em, that's what.

Interesting post, Jane. As a reader, Blurbs sorta matter to me. If they're not there, no big deal; but if a bunch of names I recognize are there, or even don't recognize, it makes it kinda nice to have the word of someone who's scouted the territory, so to speak. Not a big deal, but nice to have.

Best Regards, Galen.
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Very interesting post, Jane! I'm tweeting this one.

I think I'm a little swayed...mostly when I'm not what genre a book is and then I see a blurb that indicates to me that it must be a thriller if King is blurbing it, etc.

Mystery Writing is Murder
Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

Jan Morrison said...

Love the info on the origin of the word Blurb! I'll think of that often. I like blurbs, I like cover art - I'll look at anything quickly to see if it appeals and the whole thing does make a difference to me. Am I shallow? Hell yes!

Journaling Woman said...

I have to admit I am a blurb lover. I like to write blurbs and read them. Is there a fan club, I might even join.

Having said that, a reader needs to keep in mind that the blurb may be the best thing about a book just as a movie trailer could be the best scene in a movie. I read the first few lines of the first chapter before buying.

Very interesting post, Jane.

Jane's Ride - Novelist Jane Kennedy Sutton's journey through the ups and downs of the writing, publishing and marketing world