Thursday, March 22, 2012

Blurbs - What are they good for?

(Apologies to Edwin Starr)

A few months ago, my publisher asked me to supply a list of authors who might want to provide a blurb for my book, The Midwife’s Tale: A Mystery. After a few missteps (“Oh, she’s dead? That complicates things.”), I submitted my list, but I began to wonder:

Do cover blurbs sell books?

I have to admit that I began life as a blurb skeptic. In my experience (sample size 1), if I’m not already inclined to buy a book, no blurb is going to make a difference. Moses could come down from the mountain and tell me he liked Twilight, and I’m still not going to read it. And I’m going to read David Abrams’s Fobbit, whether or not there’s a blurb on the front from Joseph Heller. (He is alive, isn’t he?)

So, what good are blurbs?

It turns out the blurbs are for an audience beyond the book-buying public. (Oh, I said. I had no idea.) These people include:

Reviewers and Bloggers. Unless your publisher is going to pay for a national media buy, some of the responsibility for finding reviewers is going to land in your lap. But it’s a competitive world out there, and you are going to have to sell your book to someone before they’ll take the time and energy to review it. This is where the blurbs come into play. As fellow BPer Sophie Perinot put it, “A couple of bloggers I pitched to review my book (and I mentioned endorsements in my pitch) said, ‘you had me at Michelle Moran.’” In this case, you’re not convincing readers to buy the book, but you’re convincing someone else who might convince the readers.

Librarians and other Book Buyers. These folks are overworked and underpaid, and are having to make a ton of decisions in an increasingly-crowded marketplace. Blurbs situate a book among its peers, and will help librarians and other buyers know what kind of book it is, and to whom it might appeal. If a library’s clientele is primarily old, conservative, and devoutly religious, a blurb from Chuck Palahniuk won’t do you much good. But if you have one from Pat Robertson you might be in better shape. In this case the blurb keeps the buyers from having to buy a book sight unseen.

Another BPer, Amy Franklin-Willis, made the excellent point that a blurb can help if you have a book that straddles genres. Nancy Bilyeau’s book, The Crown, is both a thriller and historical fiction, and she was able to land blurbs from writers as diverse as Deborah Harkness (Discovery of Witches), M.J. Rose (Book of Lost Fragrances), and Katherine Neville (The Eight). It’s not going to pull a reader or buyer all the way over the fence, but it can demonstrate that you book has broader appeal than might appear on the surface, and once again this is something that the buyers will want to know.

So while I started the day as a blurb skeptic, I walked away convinced that they do make a difference, just not in the way I expected.


  1. Fascinating! Previously, as a browsing-the-library-for-my-next-book reader, I ignored blurbs, but it's true: since I started book blogging, I have taken note of who has blurbed the book. If it's an author or blogger I like, then I'm more inclined to get excited about the book. I'm now a blurb-y convert!

  2. Great post Sam! Blurbs are more important than I thought!

  3. I read blurbs. They aren't the only thing I look at, but if a writer whose work I like has good things to say about a writer whose work I don't know, I'll take a closet look. Great post

  4. Ha! That's a closer look - typing with 1 finger on my iPad. I'll take that look right out in the open!

  5. I'm a reader who will buy a book I've never heard of if the blurb is from one of my favorite authors. Fabulous post, by the way!

  6. I have to admit, I picked up "I capture the castle" by Dodie Smith because J.K.Rowling said in a blurb that it was her favorite book growing up, and I was curious. I'd read "101 Dalmations" and the sequel "The Starlight Barking" of course, when I was a kid, but I had never heard of this book, and I loved it! I think blurbs can work for readers!