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The art of the blurb

One of the confounding things that happens after a writer has published a few novels is being asked to write blurbs for new books.  We have to decide, then and there, whether to blurb because we're asked or to blurb because we really like the manuscript.  This can be tricky, as we want to maintain good relationships with friends and with editors, but we also--at least I do--want to maintain my integrity.

I always recommend book buyers read blurbs with a slightly skeptical eye.  Well, except this lovely one:

When you read the first few pages . . . you think you're headed in familiar SF territory.  you couldn't be more wrong.  The place you're going, under Louise marley's gifted guidance, is one you've never been before:  a world of troubling mysteries and even more troubling answers, of lost colonies and lost souls.  It's a revelation.  And a journey you won't want to miss.

That's Connie Willis--the great Connie Willis--blurbing my novel, The Child Goddess.  As I admire and try to emulate Connie, I have to believe she wouldn't have written it if she didn't mean it.

On the other hand, when you read blurbs like this one:  A welcome new voice in the fantasy field.  Or this:  If you loved Dune, this novel is for you.  . . you would be wise to reserve judgment.

The first time I was given a manuscript to blurb by an editor I like very much, I called my agent in a panic.  "I hate it!  It's awful!  What do I do now?"  He talked me down, and we came up with a polite way to beg off, and I learned not to be too quick to say yes--not until I've read the work in question.

It takes a lot of work to read a manuscript and write a blurb.  It's not something you toss off in an hour.  So I wish that we could trust them more, that blurbs carry the weight that they should.  For example, I hope the blurb on the front cover of this first novel by Patrice Sarath (blurb written by that rascal Toby Bishop) will be taken seriously by book buyers:  A strong first novel, full of real people, some very real horsemanship, and utterly convincing warcraft.
It was fun reading that manuscript, and so it was easy to blurb it.

And this one, too:  Kay Kenyon has created a dark, colorful, richly imagined world that works as both science fiction and fantasy, a classic space opera that recalls the novels of Dan Simmons.  --Louise Marley

It's all about marketing, of course.  Sales departments try to get blurbs from authors who represent the readership they expect for the new books.  And it's always nice to give a colleague a boost, and it's lovely, and much appreciated, to get a boost from another author.   I'm not sure we know how much they help, but I can't imagine a book cover without one.

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Hilarious topic!

Over the years I have seen a lot of abuse regarding blurbs --and even took part in such abuse once: Very early in my newspaper career, when I was making pathetically little money, I was approached by a friend of one of the Mercury Seven astronauts. The astronaut had been asked for a blurb for a certain thriller by his friend the novelist. But the astronaut didn't want to actually have to read the book himself. So I read it for him and wrote some material for him to send to the author.

I bow my head in shame, but note that confession is good for the soul.

The biggest piles of creative blurbing I have seen have come from certain leaders of certain writers groups. Maybe a novelist does a one-year term as president of the group, and during that year churns out enough blurbs of books written by the group's writers to refertilize the Sahara. There is a certain good-heartedness about that, I think, although I can tell you that as a reviewer, I look askance at such blurbs.

My own reviews have been blurbed quite a bit, but less so since the continuing eclipse of newspaper Books sections.

If blurbs from my reviews helped sell a few extra copies of Gregory Mcdonald's "Flynn's World" or J.M. Hayes' "Prairie Gothic," then I have done some good in this world.




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Toby (Louise),You look like

Toby (Louise),

In your Red Room photo, you look like a diva . Curious, do you write any music?