It's funny, but the discussion of blurbs: how to get them, whether you need them, when to give them and how honest to be, came up on two discussion lists I frequent in the last couple of weeks. I have to admit I got a little verbose about the subject, but I think the observations are sound, so I'm going to repeat them here. If you have a comment or something to say on the subject, please feel free to tell me!
And even though I request blurbs, and will give them if asked AND if I can honestly do so, I really dislike them.
I dislike them because they are, in many ways, an imposition on the author being asked for one and I hate imposing on an already-busy person. Should she be honest? Should she be "over the top" complimentary? Does she really have the TIME to read the book so she can give an honest blurb. I know I won't give a blurb unless I have read the entire book, though I do know a few people who will quickly scan the book. One person told me she reads the first two chapters the middle chapter and the last two chapters, whether blurbing or reviewing. (No, I won't reveal the name!)
I read of one mid-list author who said he receives between 15 and 20 books a WEEK asking him for a blurb, and he simply can't do it. How do you decide, if you have this kind of blurb-request traffic???
I also dislike them because they are so very, very subjective and say as much about the blurber as they do about the book. Does the fact that Stephen King loved a book mean I will love it? Does a ravingly positive blurb by an author I detest mean I will also detest this new book by someone else??
I know one very well-known A-list author who has told me point-blank that he DOES NOT read anyone else's work in the crime genre, or for that matter, very much fiction at all. His reason was that he didn't want to have his own voice affected by the voice of another author. But, since that is so, I now hold any blurb written by that man to be very suspect. Did he read it or not? Was he lying to me then, or lying to the reader now?
I had one book blurbed before, where I knew that the blurber, even though very complimentary, had not read the book very thoroughly. She made a very distinct factual error in the blurb. This person admitted later that she had not read the book through, but had skimmed it and with her permission, I changed that part of her blurb.
If I look at the 3,000-plus books on my shelves, I notice that books published in the sixties to mid-seventies had hardly anything on the back cover, other than perhaps a quote from a major review venue: NYT, the Chicago Tribune, whatever, and usually about a prior book. Then comments from other sources started appearing in the late seventies and eighties, until now you can't find a book without a blurb containing lots of stars and exclamation points unless the poor soul is blighted enough to not know anyone who will write one!
I wish they weren't needed. I wish we could have a synopsis of the book on the back cover, with perhaps a pithy quote about a previous work from some review venue and maybe some information about the author. But, the reality is that they are a necessary evil, so I will continue to ask for them and to give them when I can. I simply fear the the curse of "blurb inflation" will become so bad that they are ALL meaningless, whether accurate or not, because no one will know which ones to trust.