Book Blurbs

A while ago, I read a blog by another author who complained about the blurbs placed on hardcover book jackets or on the back of mass-market paperbacks, blurbs which are supposed to intrigue would-be readers into picking up and hopefully buying the book. This particular author was not only upset by blurbs that turned out to be misleading, but particularly unhappy with blurbs that were composed of quotes of praise by well-known authors rather than a summary of the plot that might reveal whether a reader might like the book.

I can understand that author’s feelings, but, as is often the case, there’s another side to the “blurb problem,” one with which I’m all too familiar. In my entire career, I’ve never sold a book on a synopsis or a proposal. That’s because I’ve never found a way to accurately summarize one of my books, at least not in few enough words to fit on a book jacket or a rear cover, without creating a summary that wasn’t misleading in at least one major way… if not more, or wasn’t so generally simplistic as to be essentially meaningless. And merely emphasizing the main plot line can often be misleading and deceptive. Even when it’s not, in most good books there’s so much more.

Now… one could immediately conclude that I just can’t write a good summary, except that all of the editors and their assistants who’ve worked on my books for the last forty years have had the same problem, and I’m certainly not the only author with this problem. I’ve never seen a Gene Wolfe book blurb that wasn’t either overly general or highly misleading. Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness doesn’t lend itself to a short and meaningful summary, nor does Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning… or any number of other books.

In fact, I’d be inclined to suggest that most books [but not all] where an accurate summary, and one that doesn’t leave out major aspects of the work, can fit on the book jacket are books that are, shall I say, ones that I’m less likely to be re-read.

Nonetheless, editors and publicists do their best to convey the flavor of a book… and often even that is difficult to do accurately. For just that reason, at times, the editor writing the jacket copy may well feel that quotes from other authors are more accurate in giving a feel for a book than a misleading summary would be. Some books just don’t summarize, and to blame that on the publisher, publicist, or author is often unjustified. And that’s also why there’s just no substitute for reading a few pages.

2 thoughts on “Book Blurbs”

  1. Derek says:

    Honestly, I think the cover artist for the latter half of the Corean Chronicles, Cadmian’s Choice and Soarer’s Choice in particular, probably have done more to sell those books than the blurbs. There’s something just so dynamic looking about that artist’s work.

    1. That’s Raymond Swanland, and his covers are indeed dynamic.

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