Blurbs: What they are; what they mean, how to get them.

A “blurb” is one of those endorsements that appear on book jackets, kind of like the one line movie reviews we see in movie ads. “A captivating ride!” is the kind of thing you might see. “Brilliantly written, engaging … will keep you up all night!” might be another.

The most useful blurbs are provided by the A-list authors: the Stephen Kings or Lee Childs, for example. The idea is that if Stephen King says he was “riveted” by a book, a reader will be, too. The A-list authors don’t need blurbs anymore to help their sales, but those of us starting out do. Or at least that’s the conventional wisdom.

A lot of people think blurbs are paid advertisements. That isn’t true.  I don’t know of anyone who gets paid to blurb a book. Reading a book takes time. Frankly, there are a lot of published authors out there who wouldn’t have the time to do it even if you paid them.

The busier and more successful the author is, the harder it is to get them to blurb your book. Which is why a blurb from a Stephen King or a Lee Child is so great — but also so hard — to get.

I’m at that point now where I get asked from time to time to blurb another author’s book, most often by my publisher, although I’ve been asked by other publishers to blurb their authors’ books too. I almost always say yes, because I love to read, and I figure it can’t hurt to have my name showing up on someone else’s book jacket. It’s another way of getting my own name out there.

Sometimes I offer to blurb a book I’ve really loved without being asked because I love to promote other authors whose work I really like. Those are easy. The harder ones to blurb are where you like the book well enough but aren’t blown away by it. You don’t want to be tepid in your praise (that’s kind of like seeing a really ugly baby and telling its parents how wonderfully interesting it is), but you don’t want to oversell it either, since a blurb reflects on your own credibility.

I usually try to find something to say in a blurb that expresses what I really think.  A book that’s “a great read at the beach” didn’t have me thinking about it for days or months later; one that’s “action-packed” may not have a lot of character development but  could be perfect for the reader who likes that kind of thing.

So how do you get a blurb? You can ask; if you don’t ask, you’ll never get one. But don’t be disappointed if an author you admire says no. Be grateful if you’ve had a chance to interact with them (most don’t respond at all)  and that they’ve taken some of the time from their busy schedule to respond. If they say no, it’s not personal.

Asking for a blurb is a lot like querying, and you can expect to be rejected most of the time so get used to it. You’re usually asking people who don’t know you to do you a major favour. I remember getting a request for a blurb turned down by Jeffrey Deaver who was so kind in his “I’m sorry I don’t do blurbs anymore ” response that it was several days before I realized he’d said no. Lee Child’s assistant was terrific, too: Lee was too busy to blurb books anymore, she said, and besides, in a year from now, I wouldn’t need a blurb; the book would do so well. (Really, how sweet was that.)

By contrast, Henning Mankell’s assistant indicated to me that if he had time, he would read The Beggar’s Opera but would only provide a blurb if he  liked it. I sent off the book, and never heard a word. I’d like to think he ran out of time ….


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