Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Blurb It Forward, by Jess Lourey

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 image 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”:

“Claire felt swept away by this dark stranger, a helpless dust bunny imagein the roaring cacophony of his gas-powered leaf blower.”

“"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 image 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?)


Robin Allen said...

Oh, Jess, this is an awful spot to be in! And all of us are going to be there at some point. I haven't been there yet, but in this case, I would say something like, "This book seems to have a lot of romance elements in it that I don't feel comfortable with and you would be better served by an author who writes romantic mysteries."

Good luck,

Lois Winston said...

Jess, Robin's example is a good one to use. I know you'd like to pay it forward, but you can't do so at the risk of your own career. Remember, your name will be on that cover. People who read your books will see that as a stamp of approval. If the book is so bad that you have qualms about giving a quote, then don't give the quote.

Jess Lourey said...

Robin, that is a really gracious suggestion. It's honest, and it's kind. Thank you.

Lois, I feel the same way you do, on the one hand, but on the other, I know a handful of very famous authors (and less famous) who blurb *everything* with the idea that even if they didn't like it, there is someone out there who will. I think there's some merit to that, as long as you can think of something honestly nice to say.

Anonymous said...

I love Robin's idea. I don't know why he would even ask a Mystery author to do a blurb. If I was to write a romance, *gag*, I wouldn't find a Mystery author to do my blurb.

I would take it as a compliment that he asked, and do what Robin said.

Jess Lourey said...

Thanks, Bernie. I think he thinks it's a mystery and not a romance, which is why he sent it to me. So how much weight do you put on blurbs when you're deciding whether or not to read a new author?

Beth Groundwater said...

Jess, I feel for you, but I also think you have to be honest. I'm someone who values honesty highly. Also, I think that if you end up providing blurbs for books you really can't support, that erodes the value of your blurb--and of your own integrity. Readers will read the book based on your blurb and either think you have poor judgment, you lied, or your own writing sucks just as bad as his.

I think you have to tell him that you're very sorry, but you just didn't fall in love with his writing and you can't honestly blurb it.

It's situations like these that make me turn down most blurb requests I get. First, I'm too busy to read the whole manuscript, which is what I feel I have to do to give an honest blurb. Secondly, if I'm not already familiar with the writer's writing, I'm afraid I won't be able to blurb it. I HAVE given blurbs to writers whose writing I do love, and I feel my blurbs still have value and meaning as a result.

Alan Orloff said...

"Some of the most colorful adjectives I've ever read!" or "I thoroughly read this book!"

Good luck!

Jess Lourey said...


"I thoroughly read this book."

Thanks, Alan. :)

I could use Groucho Marx's line:

"From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it."

Jess Lourey said...

Beth, you're right of course. I heard of an author, can't remember who, who has a standard line:

"Give me your book. If I have time to read it and really enjoy it, I'll email you a blurb. If you don't see an email from me in a month, assume I didn't have time to read it."

That is a good saving face line for both parties, and I should have adopted it. It's not too late to start, right?

But what do you do if a friend asks for a blurb?

Terri Bischoff said...

Hey Jess -

This is something that I go back and forth on all the time. Yes, there are authors who blurb anything and everything. And after a while, readers stop paying attention to those blurbers. I had customers that would buy books based on blurbs. And some that said blurbs were BS. Some shoppers only looked for PW, Kirkus, Booklist or Library journal reviews.
I agree with everyone else, it is probably better to politely decline.

Terri Bischoff said...

If it's your friend, blame it on your editor. I just sent you some revision requests that need to be back ASAP.

Jess Lourey said...

Thanks, Terri. I definitely look at blurbs when considering a book but usually discount blurbs made by other authors.

Still, as an author, there feels like a sense of duty to help other writers. I suppose it ultimately goes back to Beth's point about integrity.

Jess Lourey said...

Ha! Thanks, Terri. ;)

Terri Bischoff said...

Yes, there is a sense of duty. I totally get that. It's why I am so far behind in submissions. I say yes when I shouldn't. :)

But seriously - and this goes for all the Inkers - if you are in a jam, blame it on me. I'll be the bad guy for you. Just let me know what I said!! :)

Alan Orloff said...

Terri, I've been blaming stuff on you for months. Thanks for being such a hardcase!

Darrell James said...

Jess- It's like being a doctor and having to tell the patient they have two months to live. Prescribe a second opinion (then move far-far away.)

Kathleen Ernst said...

Jess, I know just how you feel. Lots of people helped me along the way, and I definitely want to keep passing that vibe along. I usually don't agree to consider a blurb unless I know the person at least slightly. I also add a truthful caveat that I'm very busy and despite my best intentions, I might not be able to get to it.

At Malice 2010 a big name author I admire added another caution: reading a ms before publication can leave an author open to later accusations of plot-stealing, etc. This author tried to do someone a favor and later got sued, and although she was exonerated completely, it was not pleasant.

I like Terri's solution best of all. :>)

Robin Allen said...

Jess, you obviously don't want to blurb this book, so go with your gut. It's a moment of angst against a lifetime of regret. Like Lois said, it's your name and your reputation. Once it's printed, you can't take it back.


Jess Lourey said...

Haha--good recommendation, Darrell. I like it. :)

Kathleen, I never even thought of that perspective. Jeez Louise. It's a tough world, isn't it? I'm glad I have everyone's helpful advice.

Alice Loweecey said...

Jess, what Robin said. Good luck.

Jess Lourey said...

Thanks, Alice! :)

Jessie Chandler said...

Great quandry that I'm not just reading, Jessie 1. I hope you figured out how to handle it in balance with how you feel about doing blurbs as a whole, and your gut instincts. YUCK! Terri...you love being the bad guy! BG!

Keith Raffel said...

Jess, I was going to send you that Groucho line but I see you already got it.