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“(author’s name here) is awesome!”

I suck at blurbs. If I really love something, I feel woefully inadequate to say anything meaningful and if I don’t love it, well that’s a whole other world of suck. Unfortunately, blurbing is not optional in this business. We all need blurbs, and you can’t turn down other writers and expect to get any yourself. That being said, there have been times when the deadlines and the pressure to actually produce something to put a blurb on has been so intense that I just didn’t have time to read and blurb anything, good, bad or indifferent. But I do try to get to them when I can.

Example: I recently got a copy of DONNYBROOK by Frank Bill. I read it and loved it. That’s not a blurb, just the way I felt about it. Now comes the hard part. I need to come up with something brilliant to say about it. Preferably something better than “Frank Bill is awesome!”

When I first started reading this book, I made a kind of off-the-cuff comment about it on Twitter and Facebook. (Hard to be anything but off-the-cuff on Twitter.) Said it read like Larry Brown on crank. Now that’s theoretically a nice, punchy, blurb-worthy line. Except it’s meaningless to anyone who hasn’t read Brown, and more importantly, it hardly does justice to Bill’s powerful and unique voice.

So what did I like about the book? Well, I really loved the fight scenes. Writing good fight scenes is harder than writing good sex scenes and just as prone to overwrought and unintentionally funny cliché. Reading one of Bill’s fight scenes reminds me of the first time I saw a John Woo shoot out. Sure, I’d seen a million cinematic shoot outs before, but Woo took it to another level. Turned it into bloody ballet. That’s what Bill does with written fight scenes. He takes a scene where two guys are punching each other and turns it into a kind of gritty, visceral poetry. Maybe poetry’s the wrong word, because it sounds a bit pretentious and this book is anything but. But you get the general idea.

So there’s a big, lump of rambling, undigested thoughts on this book. All I gotta do now is figure out how to turn all that blather into a cool punchy blurb. I have a deep, seething envy for writers who good at this. Who give out blurbs like candy and never break a sweat. How the hell do they do it?

Meanwhile, two questions for the virtual hive mind: Readers, do you ever buy books because of blurbs? Writers, how do you feel about blurbs, giving and getting?



( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2010 03:07 am (UTC)
I have to say, as much as I enjoy the book and short story reviews I post here (and on Amazon, and Facebook, etc), you hit on one of the reasons they also give me heartburn. I tend to write them off-the-cuff and try to give cogent thoughts without actually giving a synopsis or spoiling the twists and endings, but I always fear I'm rambling or being too vague, etc.

In answer to your question about blurbs, I have purchased books on the strength of blurbs from writers whose work I like. It doesn't account for anywhere near the majority of the books I purchase, but seeing a blurb from Neil Gaiman, for instance, makes me more likely to pick it up. Also, I look for blurbs from writers who don't blurb everything in creation. I love Stephen King, but his blurb on a cover is not the automatic selling point it is for others.
May. 27th, 2010 05:39 am (UTC)
I have bought books based on them, and then on occasion wondered what those authors were thinking. There are also some authors who may give them out a little too freely.
May. 27th, 2010 06:20 am (UTC)
I've never purchased a book based on blurbs. There seems be an economy of backslapping attached to it that's always made me ignore them completely. I usually know what I'm going to be getting when I get to the bookstore or I'll be ordering online where all I see of the book is a crappy cover JPEG and customer reviews.

(And really if there's one thing I find more worthless than a blurb, it's the asinine "reviews" you find at Amazon.com and other e-retailers. Alas, another rant.)

Recommendations from friends whose taste I trust usually push me to purchase. I'm also a sucker for good book design and have purchased many a book just because the typeface looked sexy on the spine.

Interesting how the books that usually look the best are ones more concerned conveying the themes of the book visually than making space for blurbs.
May. 27th, 2010 10:18 am (UTC)
I've had the pleasure of reading Frank Bill's DONNYBROOK and your thoughts here are spot on. He's one of the top up and coming writers around. A real edge to his prose.

Frank has another story called "Acting Out" in the upcoming BEAT to a PULP: Round 1 anthology that delivers a likewise punch.

-David Cranmer
May. 27th, 2010 10:54 am (UTC)
A blurb only means anything to me if I'm a fan of the writer doing the blurbing. Or sometimes, if the writer "over-blurbs"-- like Stephen King did a few years ago-- it doesn't have any value anymore.
May. 27th, 2010 07:46 pm (UTC)
I've learned not to trust blurbs. I've bought too many books based on blurbs by authors I like, only to find I really hate the book. Because authors have to say nice things about other authors. So if a book only has nice things said about it from other authors and not from published reviews, I put the book down and don't even read the first few sentences.
May. 27th, 2010 08:51 pm (UTC)
You can make a decent blurb out of what you've written here. "Frank Bill's voice is unique and powerful. His fight scenes are like bloody ballets or gritty, visceral poetry." Tweak as needed.

As long as you've said something nice and reasonably cogent, don't sweat it too much. As other commenters have noted, authors, editors, and publicists care about blurbs a hell of a lot more than most readers do.

Edited at 2010-05-27 08:51 pm (UTC)
May. 27th, 2010 09:09 pm (UTC)
When I read a great blurb, it's like I'm on a high octane thrill ride that spells SUSPENSE in big red letters on the inside of my eyes!

May. 28th, 2010 07:20 am (UTC)
For some reason I've been asked to do a lot of blurbs lately. I don't mind doing 'em for books I really like (my one rule of thumb is to make sure it's not a generic-sounding blurb, so I try to include some specific reference to the book or its characters or whatever)...but nothing's worse than reading a book for blurbage and realizing it just sucks. I won't blurb a book I don't like, so I've come up with a variety of clever (and not so clever) ways to get out of blurbing 'em. But I still don't like having to do it.
May. 28th, 2010 09:52 am (UTC)
Blurbs and other thoughts
I think blurbs are useful, but one thing I notice about blurbs is often times it's a type of "mutual admiration society" and you often see it's done as a trade on the 2 parties most recent books they are touting. In which case, unless I already liked the author it tends to turn me off.

Now seeing an attractive woman with sexy hips in a short skirt sitting next to Charlie Huston??? WOW, then I want to get that book right away.
May. 28th, 2010 01:32 pm (UTC)
I second, third, and fourth what the other people here said about Stephen King being a blurb whore; but special mention should be made of Harlan Ellison as well, whose taste in literature seems to be very hit or miss (hit: William Lindsay Gresham's Nightmare Alley; miss: Gerald Kersh's Night and the City), and whose introductions for other authors' works can come off as a bit too close to being ungracious.

Yes, I've been burned by blurbs before. It helps if you have a better idea of an author's taste rather than simply buy something that the author recommends because you like his (the recommending author's) work. I mean, Dashiell Hammett gave big love to the work of M.P. Shiel, and it's hard to imagine two authors with more diametrically opposed styles: anyone who picked up some Shiel hoping for more Hammett-type goings-on would've concluded that Hammett had succeeded in drowning his remaining brain cells with bootleg booze....
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )