Monday, March 02, 2009

Quotes on Books

If you’re a published author you know how important it is or how much stress some publishers place on getting quotes for your book. For those who aren’t published, this means using the network you’ve created through writing groups, conferences, and other events to humbly approach bestselling authors and ask if they’ll read your manuscript (because you have a publishing contract in hand) for a quote to be put on the cover of your book. It could also mean asking your agent to send your book to authors within her network and hoping your editor does the same, but frankly, I think quote requests are better coming from the author.

When I was a young editor I was confounded by the idea of quotes. I never understood why they mattered so much or who would care. As I reader I never cared who said what on the cover of a book, and certainly I didn’t understand why anyone else would. But times have changed and after 15 years in the business I get it. The lightbulb moment for me was when I actually bought a book based on a quote. I was perusing the bookshelves when I saw a debut title with a quote from an author I had just read and really enjoyed. I snapped it up. I figured that if Author X liked the book I might too. And guess what? I did. Since then, quotes have actually worked both ways for me. When finishing a book I really like I will sometimes look to see who quoted on it and buy that person’s book as well.

Which is why I always remind my authors, when giving quotes, to only give them to authors you really believe in, and why editors and agents, when seeking quotes for our books, look for authors who write in a style similar to the book we’re looking for a quote on.

But what about you? As a reader, has a quote ever made a difference in your buying decision? And for all authors, are you building your network for those future quotes?

Jessica

64 comments:

Martin Willoughby said...

I recently bought a book entitled 'Space Captain Smith'. The quote on the back was from Dirk Maggs.

Though it didn't persuade me of itself, it certainly helped.

Kimber An said...

Nope. The readers I know are skeptical of quotes too. How are we to know the other author wasn't just returning the favor? How are we to know she even read the book or a chapter or even the blurb? With the readers I know, it's the recommendations from friends and bloggers they know which counts the most.

Kimber An said...

The exception is the authors we already know and respect. If an author like that gives a quote and I get the book and it stinks... Oh, dear, I don't even want to think about it.

Annette Lyon said...

A friend of mine is willing to give a quote for anything. He figures it'll spread the net and get him more visible. I say it'll come back to bite him, especially if he blurbs something he really hates.

beverley said...

This blog is so timely, as I'm going through this right now. And you know what, every author I asked kindly and generously said they would read and give a quote (that's the romance industry for you).

I do have to say however, I bought a book based on my FAVOURITE romance author. I was very, very sadly disappointed and became pretty cynical about quotes from that point on.

I always check to see if the author who is quoting is from the same house as the author who the quote is for. I find that invariably when I'm disappointed in a book, those authors are from the same house.

Anonymous said...

I've never placed any credence in those quotes as a reader. I've assumed that these authors are just doing each other favors. In fact, the more such quotes I see in a book, the LESS inclined I am to buy it.

Rebecca Mazin said...

I am a quote reader and have read, or at least skimmed, books based on these recommendations. When asking for quotes it also helps to do a little digging. Priceline founder Jay Walker responded to my request which included reference to our mutual hometown and alma matter. I didn't even meet him until after the book was published, he was a few years ahead of me.

Juliana Stone said...

Timely post. I'm just now in the process of thinking about such things. I've read posts on other loops, by authors who take "quoting" very seriously. From what I can tell, most serious authors will only give quotes if they truly enjoyed the book, because it is their name on the cover and their reputation. IMHO

Anita said...

Lisa Lutz has her third book in the Spellman series coming to bookstores soon. The cover has cut-out binoculars on the jacket. The cut-outs visually beg you to open up the jacket to see what's underneath. Underneath is not author quotes, but a set of awesome review statements from Booklist, Kirkus, etc. I usually don't pay attention to author comments or reviews (funny, since I'm a newspaper reviewer), but this one was done in a very clever, catchy manner. And, yeah, I'm working on quote contacts for my book...it can't hurt and it might help.

April Brown said...

Most books I buy don't have quotes. Sadly, I have noticed, even books by famous authors, the more quotes, the worse the book.

I don't read them until after the book either. I wouldn't use quotes just to encourage readers, since as a reader I know they don't mean much.

If a publisher thinks they do, go ahead and add them they shouldn't hurt.

Of course, I read one review in some book, not a quote, that did a better snyposis of the book than the back cover.

Anonymous said...

I've found there are authors who will give a quote to anyone within their group of friends, and most of the time they're not familiar with the content of the book at all. If you see a bestselling author's name turn up on the cover of book after book, you can just about bet this is the case. She's just doing favors. Quotes are nice window dressing but, to me, are pretty much meaningless in my decision to buy and read a book.

Anonymous said...

I don't trust quotes anymore, for the same reason I don't trust customer reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and other places where the author's friends (fellow writers trying to get published) will storm the sites with rave reviews.

I can understand why they do -- they are excited for their newly published friend, and hope the favor will be returned. But is that review trustworthy? In my opinion no. How objective can they possibly be? Even if they had a major issue with it, they certainly arent' going to go on a public site and list its flaws.

I feel the same about quotes. Authors have a tendency to whore themselves out. If they were more selective in who they gave a quote to, then I might take it more seriously. I've been burned badly before, buying because of a quote of an author I loved.

Anonymous said...

I hate the back of books that are littered with quotes. They don't bother to have any info on what the PLOT is, but here, buy this because Famous Author X likes it.

I'd like to think I'm smarter than that.

Also, I agree with Beverly, above, who said, when the quote is from an author at the same house, it's very suspicious.

This happens in YA a lot. Whenever someone has a new book ready to come out they are quoting like mad a bunch of other books from the same imprint. Makes me cringe. There is a certain YA author, who, when she quotes a book, I know not to buy it, such is her taste.

Anonymous said...

Nope. Can't even say those (blurbs)register on my consciousness. I have to be intrigued by the book's premise and the opening few pages which I always read. If those grab me I'll buy. Other author's recommendations? Don't even see them.

Anonymous said...

I have never, ever bought a book because of a quote and when my debut was working through the process, I refused to ask busy people to read my book. I hate that whole thing. Now that my second one is out, we used the glowing reviews the first one got on the cover. Much more relevant and effective. Readers aren't stupid. They know that often authors' friends are quoting on their book. I'd much rather see a quote from an impartial third party than another writer.

L.C. Gant said...

For me, quotes are the icing on the cake in terms of my book buying decisions. If I'm on the fence about a book, I'll buy it if it has a quote from an author I like.

If the book doesn't live up to my expectations, I don't blame the authors who provided quotes--I just figure their taste is different than mine. Basically, quotes aren't the main reason I buy, but they help.

Cole said...

I've never bought a book based on the quotes and can't recall even reading them until after I'm done reading the book. And that would generally only be because I was somewhere with nothing else to read. I buy books based on subject, cover blurb and author.

Bonnie said...

I sometimes find myself being persuaded to buy a book based on quotes, but I don't think a quote would be the only reason to buy the book.
But get this:
I am the author of a book that last year went from hardback to paperback. I have a positive quote from a NY Times-bestselling author (she writes on the same topic as my book) and the publisher promised to put the quote on the paperback version. Oops, they forgot. Too bad, me. I feel that I have probably lost sales as a result of the lost blurb. I can only hope that when they reprint the book they put it on.
Other than complaining about this to my editor, which accomplished nothing, what else can I do (I don't have an agent to complain for me)?

selestial-owg said...

I read the blurbs, but usually only after I've bought the book (weird I know). Not every book is going to appeal to the same people, so if an author I like blurbs a book that I don't like, I don't think less of them since they have a right to their own tastes. For instance, a NYT bestselling author blurbed and ran an online bookclub of a book that I thought was 'fine', but didn't particularly enjoy. She was heads over heels for it. That's okay - we both have the right to our opinions.

The only blurb that ever really caught my attention was Sherrilyn Kenyon blurbing Kinley MacGregor's "Sword of Darkness" (recent read for me). That one made me sit up and laugh (but apparently laughter was the goal).

Vivi Anna said...

I heard a ton of good stuff abuot The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. but it was Stephen King's quote and review that made me go and buy it.

And it turned out to be one of the best books I'd ever read.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, this post made me nervous. Like many of the other posts, I am not a fan of the quotes and other than setting down books that Oprah recommends (too depressing to bother with), I don't really pay attention to them. I do like some quotes from reviews, but not authors. But, as a writer, the idea that I have to find famous people to read my work and comment on it might just give me hives. Writing, editing, and marketing my book are hard, as many others know, but the idea of schmoozing for quotes might prove my undoing. Deep breaths, and I will officially worry about that when forced.

Nancy Coffelt said...

I just had the task of finding quotes dropped in my lap last week.
At first I thought, "But I don't know anybody!" After the panic subsided, I realized I did have some resources. The years I've spent emerging from my writing "troll hole" for writing groups and workshops allowed me to make some contacts. Haven't actually asked yet but am steeling myself for that by the weekend...
Anybody know Stephen King? :)

Gina Robinson said...

Since I don't buy books based on quotes, I wondered about the importance of them, too. Until last fall when I was setting up a joint book signing with a friend. I'd brought in cover flats of both our new releases to give to the bookseller. When she saw my friend's cover quote from Debbie Macomber, her eyes lit up and she said something like, "Oh, this will sell books." She was evidently a Debbie fan, as were many of her customers.

So those cover quotes can be important for other buyers--booksellers.

Conni said...

I have, once or twice. When Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell came out, and Neil Gaiman was talking it up, I bought it on the strength of that recommendation. I also picked up Thomas the Rhymer (by Ellen Kushner) because Neil had a blurb on the cover. (Though I'd read Swordspoint and enjoyed it, so I was already inclined to like Ms. Kushner.)

Conversely, glowing reviews from authors I dislike on a book make me less inclined to pick it up.

The blurb that always makes me giggle, though? "Boy, can she write!" -- Anne McCaffrey, on any number of books by Bujold.

Anonymous said...

The author, title and cover (in that order) are what get me to pull a book off the shelf. Next comes the blurb on the back cover. I'm with selestial-owg...I won't glance at the quotes until I'm snuggling up with the book at home. Considering the trend where many editors admit that they don't bother to read synopsis, I'd say quotes are to me as synopsis are to those editors. A lot of hassle for nothing. With everyone so busy as it is, why can't we just cut back to the basics folks?

Anonymous said...

Nancy Coffelt,

We are supposed to leave our writing "troll hole"? Oops.

Arianna Skye said...

I will admit, I do read the cover quotes and occasionally will use that quote in my decision to purchase a book. I tend to read the quote first, then flip the book over and read the blurb. Ultimately, the blurb will help me make my final decision.

Emily Cross said...

Its a combination of things that make me buy a book - which do include vain things like covers and quotes.
In regards to quotes though, i only go by them if it is by a] an author i respect and b] by an author who doesn't give out quotes alot. It makes me think twice about a book because obviously the author cared enough to give a quote for the book.

Kate Levin said...

When I give in to fantasizing about becoming a published writer, I often think about who I would want to provide quotes for my book. I've bought books based on author quotes and I think they can be a valuable tool.

J. Mayhew said...

if an author i respect has given a positive quote to another book, i do give that recommendation some weight--but it's not a deal breaker for me.

Lisette Kristensen said...

With Kimber An on this one too. Nope, never read them. Will admit how naive I am, thought the agent/editor got the quotes, never once crossed my mind the author went and did it. yikes!

SPITsisters said...

I am embarrassed to say that while I have purchased a book based on a quote, I've never thought about the marketing angle until now. Very interesting.

So, when you do purchase a book after you have been swayed by a quote, are you more disappointed when the book doesn't deliver? I am!

Devon Ellington said...

I try hard not to read the quotes when I pick up a book because, nine times out of ten, if I read the quote before I page through the book, I put the book back.

It's not like they'd put a quote on the cover that dissed the book. Of COURSE it's going to recommend it.

If there are quotes on there from authors whose work I know and like, I'll assume they're in the author's/agent's network and won't take them seriously.

If there are quotes from an author whose work I don't like, then I immediately put it back anyway and don't give the new-to-me authors a chance.

I LOATHE quotes on books.

It's caused me to put more books back on the shelf than buy any.

I know, I'm in the minority, and unusually vehement about this, but I can't stand the practice.

Sooki Scott said...

I've never purchased or read a book because of an author's quote. I've always attributed them to a 'you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours' business agreement between authors and publishers rather than a genuine love of the book.

Good to know they derive from real opinions. I'll pay more attention from now on.


Confucius say; man who walk through airport turnstile sideways going to Bangkok

Anonymous said...

As a reader, a quote has never made a difference for me. Just because another author liked the book does not mean I will like the book. In fact, I've truly disliked some books that my favorite authors have given a quote for. They mean absolutely nothing to me. I mostly don't even believe them.

Litgirl01 said...

I've always wondered how that works! :-) I have picked a book up before because an author I liked endorsed it, and in some cases it was a success.

Sheila Deeth said...

Mostly I ignore quotes. But if someone's recommended a writer and I see a quote from a writer I like, then I will plan to buy the book. Maybe that means I put friend's recommendations first, but qualify them with quotes.

Diana said...

Some of my favorite quotes are on the Stephanie Bond body movers books. "'What a great book! I'm really glad my wife made me read it!' - Stephanie's husband" said more to me about the book than "This was one of the funniest books I read in 2007!" from an author.

I've been tricked a few times, too. Janet Evanovich has quotes on some of Carla Neggers books, and those are two very different writers.

I actually put a book back because of a quote, too. When you're a new novelist and the only quote you can get is from your big-name sister, who happens to be a novelist - well, I think she would have been better off going without a quote.

Anonymous said...

There's a particular author I won't name, of course, who does this favor for an awful lot of authors. Some of the books are good and others are horrible, poorly written and plotted, but they get the same sort of blurb. I NEVER trust these things and tend to think less of an author when they've resorted to this. This is just the way I see it, and I know a lot of people who agree. I'm talking about readers, now, not writers. So many of the readers I know make fun of those. Those reader review on Amazon.com are even more ridiculous. I'd swear the authors write some of them themselves. Even some of the negative ones are ridiculous. It's almost as if someone's getting these people to trash the competition so they'll look better in contrast (And I'm not an author myself, so this isn't sour grapes talking here).

Anonymous said...

I always read quotes for the express purpose of seeing if I can figure out the backscratching connection. One old writing buddy had a long list of blurbs from authors whom she had helped to hire for the creative writing dept. she was in charge of. Her book, which had its genesis in our writing group, was mediocre at best and sank like a stone after being published, no matter how many of these work colleagues had nice things forced out of them for blurbs. A very famous writer from my hometown (Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction) would give plugs w/o even reading the book and laugh about it. The old Spy magazine used to have a funny column about this, which they called literary logrolling. They turned up hysterical examples of tit-for-tat blurbing in the publishing world. Once you understand that it is all about marketing, you never take these author blurbs seriously. I would, however, believe blurbs from actually book reviewers at independent media like newspapers, etc.

green_knight said...

If the book is SF and there are no quotes from people I recognise, I wonder why, If it's praised by people I know and trust - either personal friends or people whose ability to recognise good writing I trust, I'm likely to buy it. If it's blurbed by people whose tastes do not mesh with mine at all, I'm likely to pass it by.

If it uses a quote by Harriet Klausner, I'll die laughing.

Janet said...

I honestly don't know, but they probably have. If an author I respect has blurbed a book, I'm much more likely to take it seriously. I think it's similar to a referral for an agent: it wins the writer more attentive consideration.

Word verification: glamm LOL

Wes said...

Quotes by authors I respect have a strong impact on my purchases. HOWEVER, I've been burned lately by best selling authors of historical fiction selling a shoddy book and trading on the reputation they built from earlier books (yeah, I know, it's a different topic).

Anonymous said...

Asking an author for a blurb is a favor to theat author, becauseit means free publicity--their name and last (or biggest) book title on my book...everyone knows they don't really read the whole book they're blogging. it's just a social networking thing (you add me as friend, I put comment on your wall....etc...) you blurb me, I am your supporter from now on. As long as the book in question is't complete dung, they almost always go for it.

Cindy Procter-King said...

I can't say it's really made a difference for me. My fav cover quotes are Stephanie Bond's (from her mother or husband, etc).

Anonymous said...

Quotes from lesser-known authors don't impress or sway me cuz I figure they're just scratching each other's backs.

I'm esp peeved when they substitute quotes for a real synopsis or accurate description of plot. But one or two good quotes, combined with an interesting storyline makes a difference. Like movie reviews, I'm suspect if there's NO praise at all, as if the author can't find one positive response to use as a blurb.

jilljames said...

If I'm not quite sure about a book's theme or such, a quote from an author I know may sway me to buy the book. I'm assuming the book is similar to theirs.

Evangeline said...

The only genre whose cover quotes I paid attention to were urban fantasy. Now, after being burned by so-so to bad UF with blurbs by favorite authors, I don't trust cover quotes at all--but with one exception: Mary Balogh is known to give very, very few endorsements, so when I see her name on a book, I'll be more likely to take a closer look.

s9 said...

Quotes are crucial. If I don't know anything about you or your book, and the back cover copy doesn't tell me enough to judge (happens more often than not), then I'm going to decide whether to open the book and read the first page depending on whose quotes are on the cover and what they say.

Elissa M said...

I admit I buy books for their cover illustrations. To be more accurate, I pick up a book with a cover that speaks to me. I look at the blurb on the back. I try to figure out if it's a stand-alone novel (which, because I like fantasy, is often not the case).

I don't even read the quotes, unless I'm searching for more info on if the book stands alone or not. If the quote somehow conveys that it is indeed an entire story in one volume, I'll buy the book. But in that case, it wasn't really the quote that sold me, just the type of book it was.

wrigleyfield said...

I totally buy on quotes. Both a quotee I respect and a very specific quote that expresses something I might love about a book will sell me.

Conversely, I notice the absence of quotes on some books, although it's not fatal. I've also learned that in one area I read, there are two authors whose own books I love but who will blurb absolutely anything; their quotes no longer mean a thing to me.

AstonWest said...

Knowing how quotes are generally picked up by authors (from other authors), I've never put much stock in them. I would figure that to be much like agents who would give no credence to authors who get positive quotes from friends a family members about how great their manuscript is.

Anita said...

Wow! More than 50 comments and there was no "Sex" in the post title?!

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

I'm networking with authors in the genres I hope to be (traditionally) published in. I'm also reading their work. I think it's important to support them in turn.

My current e-releases don't provide for blurbs so I'm counting on reviews for now.

Rick said...

No, I've never bought a book because of a quote or blurb. I have, however, taken occasion to be amused and giggle at the smaller sub-genres that all have authors quoting and blurbing for each other.

I may respect an author and love everything they've ever done, but it doesn't mean they have my taste in books. Similarly, I may hate everything one writer has done, but it doesn't mean that we won't like the same books.

As far as I'm concerned, quotes and blurbs are wasted space. But, whatever works.

mardott said...

I've never bought a book based on a quote and I generally don't read them. I suppose I've always felt they were done as professional courtesy or mutual backscratching.

But, having been part of a successful online writing group for a couple of years now, I know I would gladly give a quote for some of the other members, because I know they produce awesome work. So my cynicism has tapered off.

BUT - I completely hate it when a book has ONLY quotes on it, and nowhere is there a blurb telling me what the book is about. I see this way too much, and I don't understand what the publisher is doing.

I don't buy those books. I buy a book because I think the story sounds cool. If it's an author I've never read before, I'll read a few pages to see if it might measure up to the blurb. But the quotes don't carry enough weight on their own.

David de Beer said...

As a reader, has a quote ever made a difference in your buying decision?

not once. hardly notice them. I'm more likely to notice if authors I like talk about books they enjoyed reading on their blogs, etc. That makes me pay attention but affect my buying directly?
no.

Jess Granger said...

I use cover quotes to fine tune the subgenre of the book. I assume someone writing with a dark tone is going to seek out writers with a dark tone for quotes, and light with light, etc.

So if the cover art is confusing, and I don't know where a book fits, I look for clues from the quotes to tell me what type of book it is.

I've found that pretty useful, actually.

Jess

Margaret Yang said...

A lot of people here are dissing authors for blurbing too much, or for blurbing carelessly.

However, many kind and generous writers remember what it was like to be starting out, and how hard it was. They are paying it forward.

Blurbs don't work for me when I'm buying a book, but I don't assume the blurber had evil or selfish motives.

Art said...

I read quotes but I don't put much stock in them. Part of it is the often mentioned favor return but also I don't actually know any of these people blurbing. I might really enjoy Stephen King but I don't trust his opinion more than anyone else's. I don't see why I have any real reason to.

When I buy a book, it's always the title that gets it off the shelf because it's the spine that's almost always facing me. Then the cover and the blurb on the back or vice versa. Once a book makes it that far, I crack the thing open and start reading.

At some point I'll get around to reading the blurbs on the first few pages but it's as much a reaffirmation of my good taste as it is seeing what good things Newsday, The London Times, etc. have said about it. I like it when they agree with me that a book is solid.

Venus Vaughn said...

I'm still so raw and new in the business, I'm definitely not building my network for quotes within my writing community. I can't even find a CP yet, much less a famous author to suck-up to.
[I'm so tempted to change that to "...to whom to suck up." but it sounds horribly pretentious and even though there are grammar sticklers out the wazoo on this page, I just cant do it.]

As a reader, I don't give a damn about quotes. I truly don't. What a writer likes in their reading doesn't mean much to me, even if I DO like their writing. It's even worse when I'm halfway through a mediocre book, look at the cover again, see the quote from an author I like and think, "She doesn't have very good taste."

And I have met you Jessica, I like you, I love your energy and I can only hope that you'll represent my novel when I finish the edits and finally write that kick-ass query letter - but in this instance, I think you're a bit too close to the trees and can't see the forest.

You live and breathe the business, you have to, it's your lifeblood. But I've never heard the casual reader say, "Well Writer X is quoted on the cover, so I decided to buy it." I see the quotes on a cover as a quid pro quo where we just don't see what the quo is. Sometimes it's a writer's group buddy system, sometimes merely a networking obligation - but never do I see a quote as a genuine compliment, just a marketing ploy.

Venus Vaughn said...

@selestial -
thank you for the heads up on the Swords of Darkness quote from Sherillyn Kenyon. That was the best laugh I've had all day.

@Diana -
that sort of quote would raise my opinion of the author too, but it would have nothing to do with my buying decision. Like many here, I don't notice quotes until I already own the book.

Jess - in a recent blog Breaking Protocol you even mentioned that agents see impressive endorsements from big name authors all the time and it doesn't have that much impact, it's the writing that sells. I gotta say, the same is true for the average reader ... we see endorsements so often and applied so inconsistently that they have lost their meaning.

Like other commenters, the reviews that persuade me are the ones that don't appear to be solicited. Reader talking to reader, blogger gushing in their own space, repeated mention by many people about the same author in a variety of spaces ... these things pique my interest. Quotes don't even register.

Rabid Fox said...

I never paid attention to the cover quotes in the past, but nowadays I do. If a favorite author, or someone whose opinion I hold in high regard, gives a convincing snippet of praise to a novel, there's a good chance I'll check it out.

That's how I ended up getting David Morrell's "Creepers" ... thanks to a quip from Stephen King.

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