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Blurb Ethics

• Thank you to everyone who’s offered new and autographed books for the DV Book Drive.  I’ll be continuing to collect books through about mid-December, at which point they will be delivered to the shelter.

• I’m still taking entries into the Mock Cover Contest, too.  I’ll pick the top entries and put those up for a vote early next week.

#

Way back when, after I sold Goldfish Dreams to a small publisher, I started hunting for blurbs. I was fortunate to get some great ones, but I remember the individual who e-mailed to say he hadn’t read the entire book, but offered a blurb anyway.  Better still, when I pointed out that his blurb contained spoilers, he invited me to just rewrite it however I saw fit.

I’d like to say I took the ethical path and declined.  Alas, I was young and desperate. I rewrote the blurb, e-mailed it to him for approval, and slapped his name on it.  I rationalize it by saying at least he approved the blurb, but it’s not my proudest moment as an author.

Years later, I was reading Julie Czerneda’s comments about blurbs. I can’t remember exactly how she said it, but I came away thinking of blurbs as a contract, a matter of trust between reader and author.  If a blurb from me has any impact at all, it will be because you’ve read my work, and you trust me as an author.  You trust that I wouldn’t recommend something I didn’t like.

Over the past few years, I’ve begun getting more blurb requests, which means I’ve had to decide how I’m going to approach this.  I find myself thinking about that blurb I got for Goldfish Dreams, and the one I got from Julie for Goblin Quest [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  Guess which one means more to me?  Guess which of these two individuals I want to be like.

That’s led to some uncomfortable moments.  I’ve had to tell several friends that I couldn’t blurb their books for one reason or another.  Sometimes the book just didn’t work for me.  That makes for an awkward conversation, but I also try to be honest.

I had a different experience a few months back.  Jennifer Estep sent me an ARC of Spider’s Bite [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], which comes out in January.

It’s not a bad book.  I like the idea of using elemental magic in urban fantasy.  Gin has the strong female thing going, which I generally enjoy.  And the story is definitely a page-turner.

I still declined to blurb it, and a part of me continues to wonder if I’m overthinking it.  Spider’s Bite, like a fair amount of urban fantasy, is a pretty “adult” book.  There’s violence and bloodshed, as well as fairly graphic sexual content.  It’s a very different style than my own work, and that’s where I hesitated.

If my name were to show up on the cover, what would that signal to my readers?  What expectations does that create?  Will someone pick up this book expecting light, fun fantasy like Jim Hines writes?

I’m sure there’s overlap between Estep’s readers and my own.  People read a wide range.  And It’s not like my blurb is going to scar some innocent, wide-eyed young reader for life by tricking them into reading sex and violence.

But I wasn’t comfortable with it, and I’m continuing to try to understand where that’s coming from.  On that note, I would love to hear your thoughts on blurbs.  What is and isn’t appropriate, what works and what doesn’t, and so on.  As an author, where would you draw the line?  As a reader, what makes you lose trust with a blurbing author?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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( 53 comments — Leave a comment )
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jimhines
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:36 pm (UTC)
Depends a lot on the reviewer. Locus has their own ideas about what is and isn't worth reviewing. A PW review, to me, means the book has a certain level of significance or success... I think the overall body of reviews a work receives means more than any one individual blurb/review, if that makes sense?
melissajm
Nov. 21st, 2009 02:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the interesting post. I've wondered how blurbs work. I didn't know if authors ask for them, or just cross their fingers and hope someone offers, or what.
burger_eater
Nov. 21st, 2009 02:57 pm (UTC)
In my case, my editor and agent asked specific writers for blurbs, and so did I.
(no subject) - melissajm - Nov. 21st, 2009 03:07 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - burger_eater - Nov. 21st, 2009 03:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 21st, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
burger_eater
Nov. 21st, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC)
Apparently, Quentin Crisp used to respond to requests for blurbs with a note saying:

"You may attribute to me whatever words you think will assist in the marketing of this fine work."

Personally, blurbs don't work on me. Honestly, I barely notice them. Other readers do, though, and I'm grateful for the ones I've gotten.
cat_mcdougall
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:01 pm (UTC)
While I'm not a published author, and therefore have never written, nor been asked to write, a blurb, I can only look at it from a reader standpoint:

The one thing I notice about series is when the same blurb is used for all the books. Over, and over, and OVER again. I know several authors that are guilty of this and can name several series that are guilty of it. Is it each blurb unique, or are they just reused? I don't know, and frankly, don't care.

I get tired of reading the exact same blurbs from the exact same authors on several different books (even by different authors!) and lose trust when I can walk down the aisle of a store and see the same blurb over and over again.

Because then I think "If [author] didn't care enough to write something different, did they actually read it?" Which leads me to wonder if they didn't why did they bother to write the blurb?

Looking at a series standpoint (Which, usually, is what I read, because I'm a masochist), I like seeing different authors blurbing on the different books. Basically, if Author A blurbed Book 1, then they shouldn't blurb the subsequent books (Unless this is a WoT situation in which blurbing Book 15 after blurbing 1 is fine). Why? Because they're biased, and a new perspective is welcome.

(Long and rambly comment hopefully makes sense even though it is long and rambly.)
jhetley
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:12 pm (UTC)
Usually the decision on blurbs and quotes from reviews are publisher decisions, totally out of the author's hands. This is true of covers in general.
(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 21st, 2009 03:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - akiko - Nov. 21st, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC) - Expand
seanan_mcguire
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:02 pm (UTC)
The point about why you wouldn't blurb Jennifer Estep's new book is interesting, because I feel very similar, although I tend to think there's also an amount of self-moderation that needs to happen on the part of the author—IE, I wouldn't send you Feed to blurb, no matter how much I wanted to, because your name on my cover would send all the wrong messages, very loudly. (Hell, my own name on that cover would send all the wrong messages, hence the pseudonym.)

I won't blurb it if I don't genuinely like it, and if I don't feel it would be good for the book in question.
trektone
Nov. 21st, 2009 08:29 pm (UTC)
I look forward to the book that has cover blurbs from both Seanan McGuire and Mira Grant. LOL!
jhetley
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:09 pm (UTC)
Mostly Ace did the blurb requests for my books, behind the curtain, and a good thing, too -- I never would have had the nerve to approach Charles de Lint, for example. On the other side of the equation, I've rarely been asked to blurb a book (obscurity has its uses), and they've all been works I enjoyed and could wax fulsome upon. No moral morass there.

Knowing how quotes get excerpted, I don't give a lot of weight to bits snipped out of reviews. "A great steaming pile of crap disguised as a book" becomes "A great . . . book."
jimhines
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:41 pm (UTC)
I think in general, the publisher is going to have a much better time with the blurb-hunting, simply because they have the connections. Especially when it's a brand-new author who doesn't really know anyone yet.
jer_
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:10 pm (UTC)
I always just assumed (and I suppose this assumption is unwarranted, but there it is anyways) that most authors use the criteria of "did I enjoy the book" for blurbing. As such, I don't necessarily take is as wrote that if an author I enjoy blurbs a book it will be in any way like his or her books, simply that the author read and enjoyed the book.

To carry this a tad further, I guess I would be a little surprised if something an author I enjoy blurbed was like that author's work. I assume most people are like me, and as such, probably aren't all that into reading stuff that is particularly similar to what they've written. So when I see a blurb, my take-away is "oh, so-and-so enjoyed it, so it is probably at least well written, but also probably entirely unlike so-and-so's body of work."

So, a blurb by an author I consider to be a strong character writer but weak in plot and style would lead me to believe that the book is comparable in those ways. Likewise a blurb by an author who is stylistically brilliant but bores me to tears through lack of plot.

After a quick verbal survey around the house, the rest of the family seems to be of the same mind.
jimhines
Nov. 21st, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)
Different authors use different criteria, everything from "I'll blurb anything you put in front of me" to "I won't put my name on this unless I absolutely adore the work." Just reading through the comments, the whole blurbing process is far from scientific.

One of the reasons I asked Esther Friesner to blurb Stepsister Scheme was because of her Chicks in Chainmail series -- I figured her name was associated with humor and strong women, which I see as strengths of that book. Whether or not that blurb sold any copies? I suspect it did, but I doubt anyone could estimate how many...
(no subject) - bodlon - Nov. 23rd, 2009 03:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
deborahblakehps
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:11 pm (UTC)
I have to agree with you. I'm currently only pubbed in NF (witchcraft books from Llewellyn), but I have had to solicit blurbs and also respond to requests to blurb other's books.

I have always respected the folks who turned me down politely since they didn't have time to actually read the book.And I tend to look for blurbers who write along the same lines as I do, since I don't want one of their fans to pick up my book and be disappointed because it wasn't what they expected.

jimhines
Nov. 21st, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC)
I've had conversations with my agents about blurbing where he recommends the same sort of thing--that there are certain authors whose blurbs wouldn't do me much good, because their readers aren't as likely to enjoy my stuff, and my readers might not recognize or care about authors from another subgenre.
(no subject) - cissa - Nov. 23rd, 2009 04:52 am (UTC) - Expand
sartorias
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:13 pm (UTC)
Good questions. I tend to think that one can fashion a blurb for the expected readership, which is really what it's for. So for example if you really loved a funny fantasy that had tons of adult comment, you could say "This is a crackup for the grownups who love to laugh!" (only you wouldn't be that asinine.)

But I'd never thought about blurbs being personal advertising, so to speak. I tend not to notice them, so I forget that others do.
jimhines
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:43 pm (UTC)
Oh, don't underestimate my asininability :-) That's a good point though, about crafting the blurb for the audience. Assuming the publisher doesn't do some creating trimming and put "A crackup!" on the cover.
mtlawson
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:15 pm (UTC)
Jim, how much of your discomfort is due to that you're being asked to blurb as often as you are? The reason why I'm asking is that I'm pretty reticent about putting reviews out on my LJ entries for several reasons, one of which is that it would feel weird for someone to intentionally seek out my own opinion on a book.
jimhines
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:45 pm (UTC)
I don't actually get that many blurb requests yet. I'll get maybe 3-5 each year, but I don't think my name carries enough weight to trigger the deluge of requests some of the more famous authors receive.

I get what you're saying, though. There's definitely a different feeling when you're reviewing something you read because you enjoyed it vs. having someone send you something for review.
(no subject) - mtlawson - Nov. 22nd, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
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jimhines
Nov. 21st, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
Personally, I like reviews better, because a good review provides enough information to let the reader decide for him or herself whether they want to read it.

I know I tend to notice a blurb that comes from someone who doesn't do many. A friend picked up a blurb from Ursula LeGuin a while back that made me sit up and pay attention, because that's not a name I see on very many blurbs.
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(no subject) - reileen - Nov. 21st, 2009 07:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - jimhines - Nov. 22nd, 2009 12:22 am (UTC) - Expand
snapes_angel
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:35 pm (UTC)
I'd probably go ahead and blurb it, if it interested me, although I'd also point out that, well, it's not something I'd write. Don't we all want, need, or expect a little escapism, at one or another point?

This has me wondering, though, what kind of blurb Jig would write for Stepsister Scheme. XD
jimhines
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:46 pm (UTC)
Jig would just be delighted he wasn't in this one, and got to stay at home in the lair where it was safe and warm :-)
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jimhines
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:58 pm (UTC)
You know, if that causes bad feelings, I think that says more about the other author than it does you. I've had friends decline to blurb my books because they didn't really like them. It stings, but so what? Just because someone is a friend doesn't obligate them to like my stuff.

And normal is overrated anyway ;-)
bearmountain
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:46 pm (UTC)
I think blurbs matter most to authors. As a reader? I don't even look at them. I do notice if I've read the author blurbing but that is usually AFTER I've read the book and I'm looking to see who "liked" it and whether I agree with them. If blurbs help anyone, it's the author doing the blurbing--because if I liked the book and I see a blurb after the fact, I might go see who that author is.

Does it sell a book to me? No. I buy most of my books on Amazon these days. I *might* scan a review or two. I read the book description and I usually scan the pro review if there is one, but a lot of the time I go there already knowing what book I'm going to buy because someone told me about the book or I read about the book on one of the many blogs/forums about books.

Blurbs? Most descriptions don't have them or have generic blurbs from other books ("Jim Hines is a masterful writer.") Which may or may not go with the book in question.

In theory they are supposed to sell books, but I don't know of any reader that pays them any mind.
jimhines
Nov. 21st, 2009 03:56 pm (UTC)
Oh, I've heard from readers who pay attention to blurbs, and will pick up a book based on one. But I think there's a difference between the average reader and one who actually works as a reviewer and sees more of the behind-the-scenes. Much like authors have a different perpective on blurbs than the average reader. They do sell books. How many is a hard question to answer, but they can have an impact.
sageautumn
Nov. 21st, 2009 04:02 pm (UTC)
I mostly don't pay attention to blurbs... and I'll go so far as to say wordy ones annoy me--they belong on the BACK.

Looking backward, I think I care less about who they are by and only slightly more about what they say. As in... "A great read with intense worldbuilding*!" doesn't even register to me, where as something that tells me about the book might--"A great read in the tradition of "Ender's Game"!" very well might.

* Not that any review would say exactly that, but... maybe you get the idea. Okay, great world--what's it LIKE?
jimhines
Nov. 21st, 2009 04:08 pm (UTC)
I mentioned above liking reviews better than blurbs, because a good review gives you more information to decide for yourself whether you'd like the book. This sounds like the same sort of thing--don't just tell me you liked it, but give us some clue why.

::Makes notes for the next time I'm blurbing someone's book::
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