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On the subject of blurbs
Who doesn't love a good blurb? Even the word signals happiness and contentment and silly joy. Blurb. blurb blurb blurb.
What's a blurb, you ask? Blurbs are those quotes from famous authors that dot book covers to draw you in, such as:
- "Amazing! I wet the bed in terror!" Stephen King
- "Astonishing! I wet Stephen King's bed in excitement!" Alice Munro
That sort of thing.
For authors, such blurbs are a vital tool; not for sales, particularly, but for ego gratification. Authors are their own worst critics (I speak from personal experience i.e. i can't stand what I write), and getting an endorsement from another author can be a soothing balm over the tortured writer's soul. "At least someone likes it!" It's a badge of honour of sorts.
But do blurbs work on readers? That depends on any number of factors; the reader, the author, whether the book is hard- or soft-cover, what the reader had for lunch that day. A blurb is meant to signal to the reader that this author whom you admire admires that author, and thereby, by the transitive property of equality (if a =b and b=c, then a=c), you admire that author.
See? Algebra does have a use in our daily lives.
But like all math, this equation doesn't always add up (again, that's personal experience talking here. I'm no calculatician, I can tell you.). Publishers wrestle with this problem every day. Blurbs can provoke indifference. Sometimes they can have an adverse effect: why would you ever purchase a book recommended by an author you can't stand?
In the end, blurbs are a tool, like everything else in the publicity tool-belt. You cannot hope to gain attention by one, you must use them all. To continue the tool metaphor, you can't build a house with only a hammer, you're going to need a few nails in there, and perhaps a belt sander. And while a hammer may be fine, there is always the possibility of getting a better hammer.
There is also the possibility of overuse and unreliability. A.J. Jacobs has blurbed so many books he fears he may have an addiction. Nelson De Mille gave a glowing blurb to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, then later admitted that his publicity department wrote it, and that he couldn't remember reading it.
So blurbs are useful only as much as we let them be useful. I fall for anything recommended by Thomas Pynchon, but that's just me. If they catch your eye, great. If they don't, perhaps our wonderful cover design will. No? How about the awards we've won?
Wow, fickle audience.
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