How do book blurbs work?

Obviously, I know the basics: famous author reads book by another author in the same genre, makes a nice short quote recommending the book, blurb gets printed on book’s cover.

But how does it work behind the scenes? Do authors just start receiving books for their blurbage when they reach a certain level of fame? Do authors put the word out to agents and publishers that they’re interested in providing blurbs? Who controls the flow of books and collects the blurbs? Are authors expected to provide a blurb in exchange for a book or do publishers just throw a lot of unsolicited books out there and hope some good blurbs will come back? Do authors get anything out of this other than a bunch of free books? Is there an understanding that you’re expected to say something at least halfway nice as your end of the deal? Do authors just send a one-liner back or do they write a longer review and the publishers excerpt out the part they like?

A friend of mine is a successful author, and she sends her almost-final drafts to author friends of hers she’s met on the circuit, who provide quotes for her. I imagine her publishers (worldwide) have similar genre authors they can call on to do the same thing. Presumably she also provides quotes for them.

My husband has recently starting a career in writing novels (five books sold to date, first was published about six months ago, second to be published in September).

He has been responsible for getting the blurbs himself, by contacting people and asking them if they will blurb his book. He then agrees with his publisher which blurbs will end up on the cover and inside. His publisher encouraged him to get as many blurbs as he could, so that they could pick and choose. As you can see, for his first novel, he got a shed load of blurbs - http://www.adamchristopher.co.uk/books/empire-state/

He’s still gathering blurbs for his second book (http://www.adamchristopher.co.uk/books/seven-wonders/), but has been able to reach a higher level of author for those. Most of those authors will tentatively agree to do a blurb, then will only blurb if they genuinely like the book, whereas for his first book, whilst he got some higher level authors, quite a few of them were at a similar level as him and were done on a ‘I’ll blurb yours if you blurb mine’ basis.

His third book is being published by a bigger company (Tor), so it will be interesting to see if they follow a different process.

I hope it’s okay to have included links to the pages on his website, they are not intended as advertising, I just thought it might be interesting for you to see if you were interested in ‘blurbage’.

There’s some implicit logrolling involved, at least with some authors. King and Koontz did it for years.

I just asked her. Yes, she does.

When the book is in production, the editor may ask the author for suggestions. The a book is sent to those, as well as to other authors who might be willing to blurb.

Sometimes the blurbers read the book; sometimes they don’t. They send their favorable opinions (no one writes a bad blurb, since it would never be used) to the editor, who chooses what goes on the cover, usually picking the authors who would be best known to the audience for the book.

I got asked to do a book blurb once. I’m a software dev, not an author, and the book was about an open source project I worked on.

The author contacted me to ask first. The publisher sent a PDF draft, and offered free copies of several books (but was clear there were no strings attached). I liked the book so I gave them a couple of quotes and they used one.

I’m sure a lot of blurbs are gathered from the review copies that are sent out in advance of the book’s actual publication (which is why the first edition can contain blurbs that are drawn from reviews).

For the paperback edition of my book, I provided the publisher with copies of reviews that had appeared about the hardcover edition (they didn’t print and distribute a pre-publication review edition of my book), from which they drew the positive blurbs. The back cover of the original hardcover edition was blank.

Interesting trivia: The word “blurb” was coined by onetime engineer, later cartoonist and writer Frank Gellett Burgess, who wrote (among other things) The Purple Cow. He was an undergrad at MIT, which explains a lot. I have no idea where he got “blurb” from.

I know at least one author (Patrick Rothfuss) who contacts authors or their agents directly to offer blurbage if he finds their book worthwhile. I am also nearly certain that he gets ARCs in order to make that time-frame work out correctly, so even though he’s offering, they DID initiate contact by sending him the book (probably hoping that blurbage would happen).

Yep.

Never that I’ve seen, although I bet an author who really loved a book might contact the other author’s editor/agent to offer a blurb for the next one.

The editor. With a smaller publisher, the author might be expected to do it, I don’t know - but with bigger publishers, it’s generally the editor’s job. There are exceptions; if the author has a specific contact, then he’d obviously be the one to get in touch, and if the asking author really loves the target author’s work and wants to say so, he might do the emailing, or he and the editor might both do it.

They just throw a lot of unsolicited books out there and hope. Sometimes they email the target author or his editor in advance, to ask whether he’d have the time/interest to read the book, so they don’t waste an ARC.

Not really. They do get the publicity bump from having their name on another book, but I’m not sure that does much. And the free books aren’t that great, because often they’re in ARC form, so they haven’t been copyedited, don’t have their final covers, etc.

This isn’t like a review, where you’re being asked to give your opinion no matter what is it. With blurbs, anything not-nice won’t be usable, so there’s no point in saying it. Most authors just stop reading if they’re not liking what they read. Everyone knows that most high-ranking authors get way more ARCs than they can read, so it’s not a big deal if they don’t blurb one.

Either one. I don’t think they’d usually send more than, say, four sentences.

Famous authors get requests for blurbs all the time. Usually far too many to respond to even if they wanted to. If they want to take the time to read the books, even less. Some become notorious blurb whores. Some stop blurbing entirely. Most scale back and blurb only for friends or books that really impress them.

I’ve never heard of this. It wouldn’t mean much if I were to tell people that I’d be willing to do it. My name has some value, but for a limited range of books. Applying it randomly wouldn’t help anyway. That’s true for almost all authors up to the King or Rowling level. Publishers want blurbs from indisputable celebrities or experts in the field, thereby guaranteeing that the reading experience will be a good one, sort of the equivalent to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

The author is normally responsible. It’s part of the larger promotional package for a book. A book proposal these days is supposed to come with a plan about how the book will be marketed. This wasn’t true even recently, when it was thought to be the publisher’s responsibility and writers weren’t considered to have any expertise along these lines. Reading a “how to write a book proposal” book makes it seem like you can’t sell a book unless you have your own tv show, website, and political party. You should darn well be able to provide a measly blurb. That’s not reality, but publishing left the reality tracks in panic many years ago.

There are no fixed expectations. Some publishers will send out a truckload of books at random but most understand that it’s an imposition and require a list of names. As I mention often, publishing does no research. Nobody knows if a blurb actually sells books. The use of blurbs waxes and wanes at publishers and across different publishers as marketing people with different philosophies come into power. I’d read hints that the thinking now is that a strong description of the book is better than blurbs. Since the mainstream press puts out 50,000 books a year that leaves a lot of leeway for varied options and opinions.

Sure. You get your name put out there as a big shot. That’s free advertising. Publishing realized much earlier than the Internet that expecting people to do things for the exposure is much better than actually paying. After all, writing is what writers do, isn’t it? [sarcasm]

The understanding is that you do 11 on a scale of 10.

Most writers know what a blurb is and will write for the space. Obviously, they can’t know how many blurbs or how much of the back cover will be used so there’s not an issue if some judicious editing is done. Comedians’ blurbs are often one-liners but that’s rare elsewhere.

Still, you can get surprised. I once sent back what I thought was a standard one-paragraph blurb for a book in my expertise. I was told that it was too long. OK, cut it down I said. Turned out the reason they wanted just a few words was that they used it as a rare front-cover blurb, the kind used when the blurber’s name is much bigger than the new author’s. It’s the ultimate accolade.* Very cool. But that was rare and totally unpecxted.

  • OK, I suppose the Nobel Prize in Literature might be more ultimate-y. It’s still a big deal.

Yup, and not just review copies, but also manuscript referee reports.

I’ve been sent book manuscripts in my research area for refereeing: that is, the publishers get an interesting-looking manuscript or book proposal from an author and start collecting opinions about whether it would be a good idea to publish it. Then if they do go ahead and publish it, and I happened to say something quotably enthusiastic in my referee report, they’ll write back to ask my permission to use it for a blurb.

Editors often act as blurb vectors in this way. That is, they tend to ask authors that they’ve already worked with for blurbs on a book by a new author.

An amusing exception to that rule is the blurbs for Ian Banks’ first novel, The Wasp Factory. In the edition I bought, all of the blurbs were very negative indeed and quite sincere in that negativity, obviously deliberately chosen for that. I remember one was something along the lines of ‘this book is juvenile garbage that would only appeal to those with a taste for purile depravity transparently used for shock value’ or something of that sort. :smiley:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wasp_Factory

Wow, Greg Rucka was pretty nice there. Maybe. Possibly weaselly.

Is is my imagination or are publishers relying more heavily on author blurbs and less on snippets from published reviews these days? I used to be a blurb snob and was much less likely to take home a book if it only had author blurbs, but I wouldn’t have much to read now if I did that.

I actually feel a bit the opposite - reviewers are nameless faceless minions of the reviewing agency, whichever one it may be, and their tastes are generally unknown, especially for the review venues which don’t let their reviewers have a by-line.

On the other hand, an author who has written quite a few books that I enjoy, or who has a blog where there are usually links to be found that strike my fancy, or other indications that we share a taste in cultural artifacts - that’s useful to me.

Yeah, when I’m wearing my big librarian hat I look at reviews and I like to know the “official” reputation of any given book that I’m spending government money on, but for me personally? My taste doesn’t often run towards the NY Times Bestseller list, so I prefer blurbs from names that I recognize.

What I worry about is fakery - authors just name-checking each other as a way of trading favors or to make themselves more noticeable.

My husband wrote all the blurbs on his book. Of course, the persons that the blurbs were attributed to (CEOs or presidents of some very major corporations) had final approval over their blurbs and did make some suggestions, but I doubt a single one of them actually read the book.

Heck, I haven’t even read it and I’m married to the guy. In my defense, it’s non-fiction about something I have no interest or knowledge in and I did give it the old college try.