I have a question of much urgency: if you are an author, what is your policy on writing blurbs for other authors? If you are a reader, how much credibility do you give book cover blurbs? If you are an ethicist, what is your stand on being nice over being honest?
Here’s why I ask: just this week, I’ve been asked to blurb three books by first-time authors, all three published by small regional presses. I’ve been in their shoes, not knowing anyone in the business, needing that snippet of praise to put on the cover of May Day in 2005 so it didn’t look like the self-published loner in the corner. And you know what? I found out that the mystery community is incredibly supportive. Some of my favorite authors agreed to blurb me, an unknown writer, and thanks to their kindness to a stranger, I was able to break into the business with a fighting chance. I’d like to pay that forward, and as such, I’ve blurbed every booked that I’ve been asked to since then. Some were very good and some were just okay, but I could find something honestly nice to say about all of them.
But this time is different. One of the books I’ve just been asked to blurb is bad. Truly, irredeemably awful. In the off-chance that the gentleman reads this blog, I won’t use any direct quotes, but here are representative lines taken from “The Top 15 Bad Romance Novel Opening Lines”:
“"The heaving waves on the vast, ink-black ocean sent a salty spray over the proud bow of the three-masted ship, leaving beads of water on the exposed alabaster skin above the bodice of the tall, raven-haired woman who stood sobbing on the deck, her salty tears mixing with the storm-tossed sea."
"Gentle cascades of vermilion poured over Daphne's heaving, lily-white bosom. 'Call 911, Scooby,' she breathed."
Yup. Throw in a lot of product placement (I counted three businesses mentioned on one page alone: Wal-Mart, Applebees, and Starbucks, as in the main character had to stop at all three and tell us what he bought/ate).
Besides weak (over)writing, frequent grammar and spelling errors (it is an ARC), this one book I’ve been asked to blurb lacks any plot. Supposedly a mystery, I was on page 172 of 212 before a dead body appeared. Most everything to that point was a summary of the backstory peppered with sex scenes too bad to read but not bad enough to be funny.
So what do I do now? This gentleman worked hard on this novel, I know he did. He is also kind, polite, and intelligent. With a good editor and more practice, I don’t see any reason why he can’t improve his craft. And you know what? My first novel sucked, too. It was so bad, in fact, that I never found a publisher for it (thought it was because I was ahead of my time; in retrospect, it was just a shitty book). I want to encourage his dream and his discipline, but I don’t want to mislead an innocent shopper into dropping $15 on this sad puppy. Oh, and he needs the blurb by Friday. Help me! (WWJPD?)