Wednesday, May 23, 2012

All About Blurbs

So, in the past week or two I was asked to blurb THREE, literally, one a day for three days in a row, which made me feel like the most popular person in the universe (okay, not really, but it was flattering) and also made me think perhaps I should do a post on blurbs, because they are a part of publishing that, well, can still take me a bit off guard.

What is a blurb?
A blurb is, of course, those wonderful compliments that appear on many book jackets that say things like: "Swoony romance and a strong heroine, this novel has it all"--Famous Person

How do you get blurbs for your book?
Sometimes your editor or your agent will solicit blurbs for you. Other times, you will be asked to get blurbs yourself. With Magic Under Glass I had a little of both, but the blurb we got was one that I asked for, from the lovely Carrie Ryan. It is a terribly awkward position, to have to ask author friends and acquaintances you admire to take the time to read your book, but if you've chosen well, they will probably be delighted to have an early read and a chance to help you out, or deeply and genuinely sorry if they're too swamped or the book doesn't quite click for them.

How do agents/editors/authors decide who to ask for blurbs?
Usually people will ask you to blurb books that seem like a good fit--that are kind of like your book. I've been asked to blurb books that mostly either have a fairy tale bent of sorts, and/or a strong non-white protagonist...Zoe Marriott's Shadows on the Moon, for example, was a book I blurbed that had both. Shadows on the Moon was actually a book Zoe sent me in ARC form (we traded ARCs) and after I wrote a rave review on my blog she asked if I'd blurb it. I was happy to, since I only review things that are a strong 4-star or 5-star read for me, but it is a reminder for published authors that you shouldn't write flattering reviews of books just to be nice because you might end up being asked to blurb and you don't want to have to say, "Er...well...actually...I didn't like it THAT much" or endorse a book you don't really love.

There is also an author hierarchy of blurbs, of course. Editors don't want to launch a book they think will be "the next big thing" with a blurb on it from an author no one's even heard of. At this stage in my life it's unlikely I'd be asked to blurb anything purchased for hundreds of thousands of dollars with a marketing budget to match. I have been asked to blurb some books that have probably gotten more hype than mine, though. This happens. You just don't want HUGE disparity.

As a published author, when will I be asked to blurb something?
If you're a much-hyped debut author you may be asked to blurb someone else's book before yours is even out. But chances are it will come later. You don't have to be a bestseller or anything. But if you've never been asked to blurb anything, it doesn't mean you are an unpopular failure. Many of my requests for blurbs have come from being with a rather large, children's book oriented agency, so if you have a solo agent you might not get as many, I suspect.

As a published author, is there a benefit for my career in blurbing a book?
Besides the obvious goodwill you build with the author you've blurbed, there certainly can be personal benefit in blurbing a book. Some readers might pick up your book because they saw your name on the cover of a book they liked. And perhaps most directly, if you love a book an editor has worked on and you write them a genuinely gushing email that "yes, I would LOVE to blurb this book, ohmigod, it is SO GOOD, I was up all night reading it, IS THERE A SEQUEL?", the next time your agent has a book of yours to shop, she might send it to that editor and that editor is likely to remember you fondly.

What do blurbs do?
I'm not really sure. I've been told that booksellers like them. I think there is a certainly undeniable subconscious psychological impact from seeing words of praise on a book's cover. As a kid, WHO was writing a blurb meant nothing to me. The content of the blurb didn't mean much either, unless it implied romance. When I was young, the YA genre as we know it didn't exist and it could actually be quite hard to find books that had romance in them but not sex scenes (which, to this day, make me laugh more than they turn me on 90% of the time). I spent hours, cumulatively, at the library scanning jacket flaps for books that looked romantic. Especially for boys in somewhat tortured circumstances. Teen me would have been soooo happy nowadays.

Do blurbs do anything for you?

How do you write a good blurb?
The first time I was asked to write a blurb I struggled mightily, because no one gives you instructions on a good blurb. There are no books or websites or Miss Snark for blurb writers, critiquing and analyzing what makes a blurb good. I will tell you that almost everything you write will sound stupid and about as familiar as the formula for a movie trailer. There are only so many ways you can say "this story made me cheer!" or "heartfelt/captivating/romantic/beautiful etc. and haunting/riveting/hilarious/smart etc., this story will stay with me long after the pages are shut" or whatever.

I still have no idea, really, what makes for a "good" blurb and how to write one. Ideas welcome!

That's all I can think of. If you have any other questions about blurbs, shoot!


  1. Hi, Jaclyn,
    I'm editing a collection of essays for a writer acquaintance of mine (who I think is very good, of course!) who is self-publishing the book. She has asked me to write a blurb for the back cover. As it's self-published, does this matter? I do think very highly of the writing and could easily write one, but is it "OK" to do so as the de facto editor of the book?

    1. Well, it is a little unconventional, but if you feel comfortable doing it, you certainly can! I think what makes a little odd is just that if you're editing, you're heavily involved in the project, so it's almost like the writer saying their own book is awesome. Some potential readers may be turned off by this and feel it looks unprofessional. Of course, it also depends on whether you're being acknowledged as the editor. Some books don't even say who the editor is, so readers wouldn't even know!