I've been thinking about blurbs lately. For those of you not in the book biz--I tend to think everyone knows these terms, but that's not necessarily so--blurbs are those quotes from authors or celebrities on the covers of books by other authors. These are different from review excerpts that can also appear on books. I've recently been asked to blurb two books, a short story collection and a novel, by two different friends. I'm reading the books now, in what's laughably referred to around the ranch as "spare" time.
Asking another writer to blurb one's book is always a bit nervewracking. You're afraid they'll say no, but you're more afraid they'll say yes, then read the thing and decide they hate it and can't find one nice thing to say about it. In my experience, I've always been the one to do the asking, although sometimes editors will ask other authors they know who might be appropriate (or whose name alone might move some copies), whether or not the book's author knows the potential blurber. And in my experience I've been very fortunate. Kevin J. Anderson and Christopher Golden blurbed The Slab, and David Morrell, Don Winslow, Christopher Golden (again), Andrew Klavan and Norman Partridge all provided generous blurbs for River Runs Red. I've also been turned down a couple of times, typically with the "not enough time" excuse (which, believe me, is perfectly legitimate--freelance writers don't spend a lot of time sitting under trees with books, but are constantly writing, revising, marketing, schmoozing, and doing whatever is necessary to remain a freelance writer).
People agree to blurb books for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's an act of friendship and/or generosity. I've known writers who would blurb just about anything, often without even reading it, but those are few and far between. Sometimes it's a way for a writer to keep his or her name in front of the book-buying public when there's no new book coming along for awhile. Sometimes it's a way to try to latch on to another writer's readers. It's generally assumed that the person doing the blurbing is better known than the one being blurbed, but that's not always the case. The working assumption behind blurbs is that if you the reader like books by writer A, then seeing that writer's name attached to a "You must read this masterpiece!" quote on a book by writer B, you'll be inclined to give writer B a try. But it can also work the other way--you already like writer B, and when you pick up his new book and see a blurb by writer A on it, you think, Hmmm, maybe I should try writer A.
There can also be a political element to it. If you're asked to blurb a book by an up-and-coming writer, you might agree because you know that in two years that up-and-comer might be the next big thing--and will owe you a favor. Then you can ask for a return blurb.
Finally, every writer tries to come up with a creative, often poetic way to phrase the blurb--because stringing words together is, after all, what we do. Rather than saying "This book is awesome, because it rocks!" we try to describe why it rocks, usually in no more characters than your average Tweet. If our name is going to be attached to the blurb, we want the blurb to suggest our talent even though we're discussing someone else's.
If and when I write blurbs for the books I'm currently reading, I'll post them here. I shouldn't blurb something I'm not willing to also endorse online, right? There's no point in writing a blurb that isn't meant to be read.
One final issue is the effectiveness of blurbs--hotly debated in publishing circles, but like many publishing decisions, probably never researched in any kind of scientific fashion. I know in my reading life, I have picked up books because they were blurbed by authors I respect. Do you?