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Do blurbs matter?

Your manuscript is edited and off to copyediting. It won’t come out for another six or seven months, so it’s too soon to do much marketing. So you go for that traditional next step: sending it to any and every author acquaintance you have and occasionally some complete and total strangers in the hopes that they’ll offer a blurb that can go on your cover.

But does it ever really make a difference?

I don’t really know. Anecdotally, yes. Booksellers care, and if they’re excited by the blurbs, they’ll be more excited about the book. That’s what I hear, at least. I’ve never seen terribly compelling evidence that it’s true.

This came up because after I finished Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers (which was lovely), I read the blurbs on the back and saw that a couple of authors I think are tremendously overrated* had given their praise. If I had seen them before picking the book up, I wonder if I might actually have been less inclined to pick it up.

So really, by titling this post with a question, I’m wondering: when you’re book shopping, do you ever notice blurbs affecting you one way or another?

*No, I will not say which ones.

22 Responses to Do blurbs matter?

  1. Tami Veldura says:

    This happened to me once. I used to read blueberries all the time and didn’t pay them much attention either way. Then I picked up a book blurbed by an author I do not enjoy. I could no bring myself to buy the book, even though I’m aware I’m probably missing out on a great novel, I just can’t do it. I stopped reading blurbs because I don’t want a legitimately good book to be written off due to an unfortunate blurb.

  2. Amber says:

    There’s a book I’ve been anxiously awaiting by a debut author (whose blog I follow). I recently saw a blurb of it by an author who is quite popular and even enjoyable to me, but her writing is stilted and her plots are formulaic to an extreme. It’s a guilty pleasure like movie theatre popcorn whereas I’d hope the original upcoming book was more like creme brulee. I’ve tried not to let it, but it’s definitely dimmed my anticipation. Although I’ll still probably buy it, so maybe my lowered expectations will work in her favor? Still, not ideal…

  3. C. says:

    Reader me: I absolutely could not care less about blurbs.

    Writer me: OMG, X actually blurbed me, and blurbed me good?! OMG!

    • This, exactly. Most blurbs recycle a couple variations, from what I’ve seen. There would have to be something really unique about the blurb for it to catch my notice and change my opinion or spark my desire.

      As a writer, though, I’m impressed when a book gets a ton of blurbs (although I secretly wonder if the publisher paid someone off), and would probably be ecstatic over any good blurbs I receive.

  4. Kiana says:

    Let me preface my response by saying: I buy paperbacks instead of hardbacks because I buy a lot of books. Buying paperbacks lets me buy more books to read for the same amount of money.

    When I am considering the purchase of a book written by an author that I have never read before, if there is a blurb on it by one of my favorite authors then I will be more inclined to buy it. The reverse is not necessarily true. If the synopsis on the back cover sounds interesting, I tend to overlook the blurb by a not favorite author.

    What really sells the book to me is the synopsis on the backcover. And I really WISH the publishers would STOP putting pictures of the author on the back cover instead of the synopsis.

  5. If I happened to glance at the blurb and it’s from one of my favorite authors, that would pique my interest. Otherwise, it doesn’t really matter either way.

  6. Amy Lewis says:

    It sometimes makes a difference, but only in one direction. If I like the premise & the story, it doesn’t really matter about who blurbs it. But if I’m really not sure, a blurb by a favorite writer might tip me over into buying it.

  7. RamseyH says:

    It depends on who the blurb is from. It seems like Stephen King writes a blurb for everyone and their brother, so… even if I was a fan, it wouldn’t mean much. If it’s a blurb from an author who isn’t wildly famous, but one whose writing I admire, then it definitely influences me. It says “Hey, you liked my writing, and I liked this – you probably will, too!”

    Sometimes I wonder who the heck decides certain blurbs ought to go on a cover, though. My favorite example is Gene Wolfe’s Innocents Aboard. On the front, a quote from Ursula K. Le Guin: “Wolfe is our Melville.” What? Who is “our?” The first thing I think is that she means Wolfe is the American Melville… but Melville is also American. The quote on the back is from the Washington Post: “If any writer from within genre fiction ever merited the designation Great Author, it is surely Wolfe.” Seriously? That’s just insulting.

  8. Cindy says:

    They make no difference to me at all when buying a book. I don’t even look at them. I usually choose books to read based on recommendations from friends, so why would I care what a stranger thinks, even if it’s another author?

  9. Jennifer Schubert says:

    Nope, as a reader I don’t care about the blurbs. Like Kiana, I want to read the back of the book for the description, plus the first few sentences. That’s how I decide.

  10. Speaking of blurbs, my wonderfully supportive but very mischievous husband has been steadily generating anti-blurbs for my novel. A few gems:

    “Livia Blackburne writes serviceable fiction. Her debut fantasy Midnight Thief has all the elements needed to become a runaway bestseller amongst undiscerning readers.”

    And…

    “Eh…You flip through for the sex scenes and there aren’t any.”

    Maybe we’ll leave those off the cover :-)

  11. Clix says:

    Hahaha… now I wanna go find Language of Flowers (I kind of think I have a copy) and check the blurbs. >;)

    It’s not who blurbs it, but what that person says. And there’s only so much you can say in a blurb, unfortunately. A good synopsis is MUCH more likely to get me to read the book. And I almost never buy a book unless I read it and love it.

  12. Lynn says:

    I couldn’t care less about a blurb! If the inside flap of a book cover sparks my interest, I’ll go ahead and read the first page. It’s that first page that determines whether I’ll buy a book or not.

  13. Sylvia Fisher says:

    I’ve always liked reading blurbs, and I still lap ’em up even though the book premise / voice decide it for me. Blurbs are entertaining…I always picture the reviewing author faced with a generic blank blurb form, agonizing over a punchy quote that’s got to hold its own alongside the other punchy quotes. Pressure! It’s probably not as formal as all that.

    I agree with what some have said – blurbs by authors I like make the book seem even shinier, and blurbs by authors I dislike do not make me lose interest. How someone writes may speak to their taste…or it may not. By the same token, I love David Bowie but I doubt I’d dig everything on his iPod.

    Now that I’ve been following authors and agents and blogs, I find it highly entertaining to trace the connections between an author and his/her blurb-friends. A great many of them are with the same agent…which leads me to wonder about what kind of leverage a good blurb might net you.

    “If you blurb _____, I’ll get you an extension on your own deadline, or a cover consultation…”

    Ooh. The sordid underbelly of blurb relations.:)

  14. Hillsy says:

    There is a second way of looking at it – if “Author A” blurbs “Book B” there’s a risk “Author A” will lose as potential readers anyone who reads “Book B” and dislikes it.

    For instance, I wont ever be reading any Conn Iggulden. I mean they could be very good, but his decision to call a book I found appalling “wonderful” instantly has me doubting he’ll write fiction that I like. I have a stack of other books to get through so he’s not exactly pushed into the queue.

    Blurbs are rarely a selling point unless I know intimately what a writer likes to read, or what he thinks of writing in general. Brandon Sanderson might have some sway with me, but only because i’ve listened to his podcasts talking about writing and what novels he liked. There arn’t many authors I’d say I have that level of knowledge on.

  15. Julie Daines says:

    I actually do look at the blurbs. If the blurbs are by authors whose writing I enjoy, I’m more likely to purchase. If it’s the opposite, I hesitate. I think that shows that blurbs can help or hurt, depending on personal taste.

  16. Teri Carter says:

    Yes. Just yesterday I picked up the latest publishing darling, THE ART OF FIELDING, and while there was a blurb by Franzen, there was also one by James Patterson, and I thought, “Well that’s just weird.” I still bought the book but it almost put me right off.

    I like one good blurb. If the cover is littered with blurbs, I feel like they’re trying way too hard and that the story can’t speak for itself. Which is the kiss of death.

  17. Sarah Henson says:

    As a reader, I ignore the blurbs. All I really want to see is what the book is about. In fact, blurbs tend to drive me crazy. I want to flip the book over and read a brief synopsis. I hate when the back cover is littered with blurbs, then I have to balance my coffee and the other books in my arms and flip the book open searching for the synopsis. Skip the fluff, give me the meat.

  18. Joelle says:

    They don’t matter to me as a reader, but my editor is certain that they help sell to librarians (YA). My next book got a blurb from Tim Wynne-Jones which everyone was happy to have, but then he won a big award and my editor was much more excited. We shall see…although I don’t know how you could actually measure it.

  19. T.R. says:

    I think that when it comes to fictional writing for adults blurbs play an important roll. With that said when it comes to young adults fictional novels you need to focus 100% on the synopsis. If they can’t picture themselves as part of the book it is not going to make any difference what anyone else has to say about the book, unless your the BFF.

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