Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Effectiveness of Blurbs

I have been reading several agent blogs, and while I've seen some discussion of getting established authors to blurb your books, I haven't seen any discussion of how effective that practice is in the modern day. I know it depends on the author and the field, but is there an updated practice of soliciting authors with a strong web presence and following, in the hope that they'll be inspired to write about books on their blog? Are there authors who make a practice of recommending books online? Most of my readers spend the majority of their time online; they don't really go into bookstores. And they tend to value recommendations from people they know or have some connection with (online, if nothing else) over the recommendation of authors they might respect.

The age-old publishing discussion, what really works and do we know? I think I might have mentioned this before, but for many, many years I never got the point of author blurbs. I would certainly help authors get them and, back in my days as an editor, I always made sure we had one or two for the front cover of the book, but as a reader I never paid any attention to them or saw the purpose. Until one day, not too many years ago, when I was roaming the bookstore looking for something new and saw a blurb from one of my favorite authors. I figured that I liked that author so was willing to give something she recommended a try. For the first time I was influenced by a blurb. Do they work all the time? No, but in this case that blurb sold one book and probably many others as I found a new favorite and made recommendations to others.

What you propose, however, is interesting. When finding blurbs most of us focus on the author’s writing successes. In other words, you want blurbs from bestselling authors who write in a similar vein to what you’re writing. I think when it comes to getting blurbs for nonfiction a web presence and following can definitely make a difference, but I haven’t thought much about how that would work in fiction and I know publishers haven’t necessarily thought that way either. I would suspect, though, that in that case the recommendation would come less from a blurb you would solicit specifically to put on the cover and more from someone who read the book and promoted it on their site. Sort of like Oprah, the authors who make book recommendations on their sites probably do so because they loved the book and not because they were solicited to do so.

The best way to sell a book is buzz and the more buzz you can get through author blurbs, web sites and reviews the more success you’re likely to have. So while I don’t think publishers are looking at the success of an author’s site before soliciting blurbs, it certainly can’t hurt you to be thinking in that direction. The best buzz is created by those who do things a little differently.



Kimber An said...

As a blogging book reviewer, my opinion is to really know you're own readership. I don't think the readers who frequent my blog care about blurbs much. They do care very deeply about the opinions of their friends, online and in real life.

Some subgenres, like Erotica and Science Fiction Romance, are very big online and others are not. Some individual authors are big online and others are not.

Know your own readership, present and potential.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew said...

If I changed my name to Steven King, not Stephen, do you reckon I could sell blurbs to publishers for, say, 1 pence per copy sold?

Or Terri Pratchett? Ian M Banks? Orson Scot Card? J.R.R.R Tolkien? OK maybe not the last one....though how cool would posthumous book endorsments be??...hehe

This time next yeah I could be a Millionaire!!...haha

Word verification - wirte: The act of typing too fast, leading to mistakes

Mark Terry said...

I used to be a lot more influenced by blurbs than I am now. Now I'm more inclined to read them with knowledge of how these people probably know each other--conferences, same agent, same publisher, share time on a blog.

I'm still uncomfortable asking for them, but do anyway. I write profiles for the International Thriller Writers, Inc newsletter, and that's given me more contacts in the business, so when I ask for blurbs I can remind them that, yes, I did interview them last year for ITW, or hey, we ran into each other at...

The Internet has made it a lot easier to contact writers for blurbs, but as a result, most are deluged. It's better to get to know the writer a little bit, whether through participation on the blog, saying hi or buying them a drink at a conference, or whatever.

DebraLSchubert said...

Jessica, Does it make any difference to publishers if you go to them with a debut author who has blurbs lined up from best-selling authors? Or, do they assume the blurbs will come no matter what?

Also, great game last night - go Vikes!

Heidi Willis said...

A very interesting post!

I've noticed a growing trend of "blog tours" among authors, where an author might ask a series of bloggers to read and review their books online - something like one blog a day for a month. I've been asked to participate in a few of these (and have), even though I'm still a few months away from seeing my own book on a shelf.

The point is more of a word-of-mouth campaign, (a broad range of exposure) and getting readers where they spend most of their time - which is on the internet instead of in bookstores.

While I don't know most of my internet friends in person, I respect their opinions much more than an author blurb, which always seems suspect to me.

Still, I'm looking for those blurbs for my own book. It can't hurt to cover all the bases, right?

GhostFolk.com said...

Occasionally, the content of a blurb can be much more compelling than the (any) name of the author providing the blurb. These are the ones I find effective when I am browsing.

Here’s one I’m waiting to see: If you only read two books this year, read this one twice! I’ll buy that book.

Someone who has lots of time should (well, they should for my enjoyment, anyway) compile an on-going list of FAINT PRAISE blurbs by famous authors.

You know the ones that sort of say Some People Like This Sort of Thing – You Might Be One of Them.

Cara Powers said...

Blurbs are leaving me more and more cold. They get edited down, only the good ones are included, and really no author want to put himself on the line by saying something bad about a peer. Basically, the blurbs on the book mean nothing. I'd much rather have good jacket copy and cover design. Leave the blurbs off.

christicorbett said...

I am currently pursuing authors for blurbs and have heard it is a good idea to solicit for blurbs outside your genre with the hopes of increasing the variety (and reach) of your readers.

Example: I write historical fiction and I'm currently going after a sports writer and a mystery writer for blurbs.

I find it weird but since I'm new I'm doing everything I can to get readers.

Does anyone else find this weird and think maybe I've stumbled across bad advice?

Thanks for your input.


Vivi Anna said...


I think you've gotten some misinformation there.

Say if I'm a romance reader and I pick up a book that has a huge mystery author's quote on a book, but I have no idea who he/she is, that blurb will mean nothing to me, but if I pick up a book and see Nora Robert's quote or JR Ward's quote on the book, I KNOW who they are and would be more inclined to believe that quote.

Now if you write romantic suspense, getting a big time author in the suspense or mystery or thriller field may be worthwhile. There is crossover in readership.

Anonymous said...

I am turned off by blurbs from fellow authors. Partial quotes from a review, I will take notice of, but blurbs from authors have absolutely no credibility with me, and that was true even before I became a writer myself.

fatcaster said...

Do blurbs "work" (= sell books)?

The sole blurb on the cover of Michael Herr's "Dispatches" is from John le Carre: "The best book I have ever read on men and war in our time." Did I buy "Dispatches"? Of course. It is, without question, the best book I've ever read and I couldn't count the number of copies I've given as gifts, saying, "You've got to read this."

My proposals include people I plan to tap/have tapped for blurbs. I believe in blurbs. Blurbs sell books.

Anonymous said...

I get irritated when I only see blurbs from new authors I don't recognize, but no mention of plot.
To me, it clutters up a book's cover and dustjacket, esp if they're relatively unknown. Who cares what they think?

My suspicion is that they're just doing it to be "nice," and that they never in fact read the book at all. I'd rather see one strong quote from a top reviewer or author than a bunch of blurbs from no-name newbies. IMHO

Kate Douglas said...

Two points from an author's perspective--my editor said that blurbs from well known authors help build interest for booksellers, the ones who order your book to stock their shelves, so in that respect, they are important for your initial orders.

Also, when I've been asked to blurb a book, it often means I'm reading a new author. When I find a book I really like, I generally recommend it to my readers through my newsletter and/or on Facebook, lists, etc, so I'm helping that author build an on-line buzz. My readers know I'll only recommend a book I really like, and they've learned to trust me, so I know my comments have brought new sales and readers for some authors.

Of all the advertising we--as authors--can do, something that builds a "word of mouth" buzz is always going to be the most effective.

Kate Douglas said...

christicorbett: I think that's terrible advice! LOL...I ask for blurbs from authors who write in a similar vein in order to show readers who love their books (I try to go for NY Times authors, who obviously have lots of readers!) that they might like mine. Hence, my newest series debuting in March has blurbs from Alyssa Day, Jayne Ann Krentz, Angela Knight, Virginia Kantra and Stella Cameron, among others.

Andrew said...

I try not to do serious but I will add something here.

There is actually some information in the blurbs if you look at it very cynically...

For example, a fantasy series I read was quite gripping and the world well constructed. However, the writing was akin to the ramblings of a drunken horse and several characters were TSTL; I could rant all day about their threadbare motivations and the liberal use of deus ex machina.

All the blurbs commented on the quality of the plot and the world, not one said the writing was good. So if you look at it that way, as a reader you're informed by what ISN'T praised.

Lily D said...

I used to think blurbs didn't matter, and as a result didn't make much effort to get blurbs for my first novel. My editor, at a small and struggling indie publisher, found a couple of people, but they were hardly household names. The novel got no major trade reviews and died a quick and ignominious death. I was fortunate to get a second chance with the indie publisher, and this time, I took the blurb process far more seriously. I was able to get the major writer in my subject area to blurb the novel. All but one of the major trade reviewers have reviewed this novel, and one even mentioned the famous author's blurb to the publicist as a reason for noticing the book in her tall pile.

Craven said...

Much depends on who the blurb is from. I cracked the cover of "Water for Elephants" based on a glowing blurb by Stephen King. "Water for Elephants" is literary fiction, not exactly King's genre, but I respect King's writing ability. So anything he recommends, I pay attention to. In the ccase of "Water for Elephants", the blurb got me to crack the cover, the first page sold me on the writing, and I bought the book.

So do blurbs work? Yes they do, depending on who they are from.

Does the blurb have to be from someone writing in the same genre? No, not if the person doing the blurb is widely recognized for his/her writing ability.

Jemi Fraser said...

Thought provoking post! I don't always use blurbs, but like Jessica, have tried several new authors based on a blurb from an author I like. I haven't been disappointed yet. :)

Mira said...

Interesting post.

I'll admit I always notice blurbs. I'll ignore them if I don't know the author, but if it's someone I know and like, it carries weight with me. I've sometimes bought books based on blurbs when I was browsing. Sometimes I've been disappointed though in the results though. :)

Although, I will say, that reviews at a place like Amazon carry even more weight with me. I know that's sort of a different topic. But I think it's all about having another reader - whether an author or a group of peers - put a stamp of approval on a book that makes me more willing to part with my money.

E.S.Cenote said...

Will take your suggestion and promote an e-book I've had published which combines erotica and science fiction. It's the first of five providing Vayna's story, who is born into slavery and slowly progresses towards the freedom she so ardently desires. The book's URL is www.eloquentbooks.com/Vayna of the Steppes.html The publisher can be reached at marketingmanager@eloquentbooks.com Thank-you.

YA author said...

Well, first of all, I'm not sure I agree with the premise that more people buy their books online. I thought that online buzz and whatnot is what would sell books but I've seen plenty of authors have fantastic success without a lot of online buzz (what helped? blurbs, amazing store support, co-op, book dumps, etc - being the book you tripped over in every store, basically). We're all online so it's easy to think that other readers are like us and they therefore get their info the same way we do. If I'm not mistaken, a VAST majority of books are still purchased in brick and mortar stores.

Second of all, I think blurbs can absolutely sell books and they can also have no affect at all. Depends on who's blurbing, the cover/premise of the book blurbed, etc. I know one breakout book this year that had huge success and also had a pretty amazing blurb - and almost every review of the book (professional or not) mentions that blurb. It was an attention getter (and the cornerstone of the publisher's marketing efforts). I've seen similar books with great blurbs where few people pay attention to them. At the very least, though, blurbs help booksellers place the book (fans of X might like Y because X blurbed Y).

Third, someone mentioned not liking blurbs that don't talk about the plot. I've given some blurbs and let me tell you, it's so much harder than I ever thought it would be and is definitely a skill of its own. Also, when I've mentioned plot in a blurb, the house edited it out (which was fine with me).

Finally, I do agree with the proposition that getting a blurb from someone who has a big web presence can help. Stephenie Meyer mentioned a book earlier this year and the next day it went back to print for 10k more copies. You don't even have to get the blurb, just send an advanced copy to the big mouth authors in your genre and hope that they read it and talk about it. I definitely benefited from having other authors talk about my books when they were on tour and at events. It's a small community and often we're all about helping each other out!

Bonnie J. Doerr said...

When a middle grade or young adult book by a first time author is released (appearing sometimes before major reviewers have seen it) blurbs are likely important to librarians, booksellers, and parents. I hope so anyway, since there are writers and professionals I admire reading my book (Island Sting) with blurbing in mind. I'd hate it if they were wasting their valuable time.