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On Blurbing Books

posted by Scot McKnight

Blurbing is a delicate art. Publishers seek recognizable names that will raise the credibility of the book and its author; publishers also seek diverse blurbs in order to widen the readership. Blurbs, so it seems to me, are there to get potential readers either to purchase the book or at least to open the book in order to inspect it more carefully.

Blurbers, on the other hand, probably enjoy the flush of notoriety that breezes through one’s mind and heart when a publisher requests the blurb. The flush and the notoriety don’t last long.

When I pick up a book, I look at the blurbs and if I know someone who likes the book I will probably look inside. If don’t know the blurbers, I may or may not look inside.

How about you? What do you think of blurbs?

Some thoughts about blurbing:


My first piece of advice to blurbers: please don’t summarize the book. The publisher is supposed to do that. Instead, say something sharp and insightful about the value of the book.

Avoid blurbing books entirely out of your field … I confess to having blurbed a book or two either just beyond my reach or outside my reach, and I did so because the author was a friend. I doubt this helped the book or the friend. But thanks all the same for a free copy.

Avoid blurbing too many books … and I don’t know when enough is enough but here are some thoughts. Kris and I have agreed that I will blurb six academic books and six non-academic books per year. I try to follow those guidelines.

Avoid blurbing books you disagree with … even if the author is a friend. This is not to say that one has to agree with everything in order to blurb it.  I once chose not to blurb a book that had a strain of open theism in it and I chose not to for this reason: If I want to draw swords on open theism I’d rather do so on my own turf rather than someone else’s turf. Some reviewers, which I happen to think is poor taste and poor form, will subject a blurber to scrutiny for a blurb and even suspect that the blurber believes everything in the book. Pick on the author, not the blurber.

Some authors or publishers can be a bit pesky about blurbs and blurbers. Recently a publisher bugged me more than five times for a blurb. I didn’t like the book and I tried to tell the publisher in a way that was sensitive and indirect. Like “You might think of another blurber more qualified or convinced.” They didn’t give up. I didn’t give in. Sometimes I tell them up front and simple: “I don’t like this book.” But it’s not always that easy.

My advice to publishers and authors: ask once and remind only once. Sometimes we blurbers simply don’t have time and sometimes we don’t like the book. Ask and then, when the due date approaches, write the blurber to remind them of the due date. Then drop it.

One more piece of advice for publishers: avoid copying a ms, bundling it up, and then paying shipping fees unless the potential blurber has agreed to consider the blurb. I get an unbound ms a week at my office unsolicited. They go straight to the recycle bin.



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Mason

posted January 2, 2009 at 7:59 am


“Avoid blurbing too many books … ”
Yes, please.
I do pay attention to blurbs. In part that?s because there are a handful of authors/scholars whom I respect to the point where I’m willing to take their word for it that a book is worth reading. But mostly it?s because I don’t have time to read everything I’d like to and so blurbs (along with book reviews and the always hard to pin down ‘buzz’) help me narrow the field.
However… the blurbing too many books issue is a big deal for me. There are a handful of authors who I like their work, but their name is on the back of about a third of the books at any Christian bookstore.
Since A. They seem to like every book ever published, and B. I highly doubt they have the time to read all the books they blurb for so it was probably summarized for them by an assistant, I tend to completely ignore those endorsements.



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Your Name

posted January 2, 2009 at 8:27 am


Blurbs are generally very important to me although I discount some?I think J.I. Packer must have a blurb ghostwriter. I first look to see who published the book. There are a few publishing houses that dependably produce pedestrian drivel. Secondly there are some popular authors that have been worth reading but after 4 or 5 books it seems like they simply recycled the earlier books?forget it! (Scot McKnight is not one of them!). Finally there are a few select blurbers by whose very appearance as a blurber on a book make my decision?they endorse the book and I will read it.



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Peggy

posted January 2, 2009 at 10:31 am


Great post, Scot! I totally agree with asking blurbers not to summarize the whole book. I hate being told the summary … and sometimes find that someone else’s “summary” is not MY summary. So, as you say, blurb what was striking about the book and let the readers be inspired to read–or not!
By the way, I thought of a chapter in a book last year by a certain blogger formerly known as “professor” and smiled … you are now also a blurber, blogger and professor! ;^)



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Kevin Sweeney

posted January 2, 2009 at 11:51 am


Blurbing is a great marketing tool…Look at me. I used part of a gift card I got for Christmas to Borders to buy the book “Stories with Intent” because Scott nominated it for one of his books of the year! Maybe that wasn’t the only reason…



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dopderbeck

posted January 2, 2009 at 1:23 pm


I enjoy seeing how “blurbing communities” form around certain authors. If I see Scot, John Franke, Andy Crouch, and/or Pete Enns have blurbed a book, I have a sense of the perspective, as opposed to blurbs by Al Mohler and D.A. Carson. What I like the best though is when there are cross-over blurbs — a conservative and a progressive blurbing the same book. Then you know you’ve got something.



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Tyler (Man of Depravity)

posted January 2, 2009 at 2:30 pm


Great great stuff Scot. I do quite a few blurbs and I always am tackling how best to do them, so this is really helpful.



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Clay Knick

posted January 2, 2009 at 6:22 pm


Blurbs are a good guide to a book and the content inside.
I look for them all the time and use them as one of the
ways I decide if I’m going to buy a book.



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Dan

posted January 2, 2009 at 7:16 pm


So doperbeck, what exactly is your point about Mohler and Carson? You don’t like their blurbs because they’re conservative or because they don’t read the books or offer inacurate blurbs? I’m not trying to start a fight, I’m just puzzled by your response.



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Terry

posted January 2, 2009 at 9:17 pm


Scot,
You offer some helpful wisdom in regard to blurbing ? when and how. One point at which I hesitate to say ?Amen? is regarding the suggestion that one should not blurb a book with which one disagrees. I grant that it can be risky, as I discovered when I wrote a blurb for an Open Theist book. But I think there is a place for it. If a book is well written and deserves to be seriously considered, perhaps particularly by people who are predisposed to disagree with it, then I think that people who disagree with the conclusions of the study are right to recommend it for its strengths.
On a couple of occasions, I suspect that I have been asked for a blurb precisely because authors or publishers knew that I didn?t agree with the conclusions of a study. Similarly, I have suggested blurbers for my own writing whom I knew would not agree with my conclusions but whose assessment of the worth of my work I valued. Some of them felt the need to say that they did not agree with all I had said, or even with my basic orientation, but were still prepared to commend the work to readers of varying theological persuasions.



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Tim Schultz

posted January 2, 2009 at 9:25 pm


Yes, blurbs are important. Scot McKnight is a “blurber” I have taken note of, and it seems Brian McClaren has made blurbing a second profession! Go to your local store and see his name on so may books. I think the helpful thing about blurbs is that they orient a book for me: whether the book is conservative, liberal, or moderate, for instance, based on those who provide blurbs. And some blurbs are quite profound and well-written. Maybe someone should do an article or book based on the creativity of blurbs.



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Your Name

posted January 6, 2009 at 4:02 pm


“Tom Wright has out-Reformed America’s newest religious zealots–the neo-Reformed–by taking them back to Scripture and to its meaning in its historical context. Wright reveals that the neo-Reformed are more committed to tradition than to the sacred text. This irony is palpable on every page of this judicious, hard-hitting, respectful study.”
Above is Dr. McKnight’s blurb for NT Wright’s forthcoming book, a response to John Piper, DA Carson, etc.
I agree that “blurbing is a delicate art.” Perhaps insinuating that Piper and Carson are “religious zealots” relies too heavily on the artistic aspect of a good blurb and not nearly heavy enough on the delicate side?



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Clearly

posted January 6, 2009 at 4:04 pm


I wrote the above comment and did not intend to leave the name blank empty.



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Aaron

posted January 6, 2009 at 5:51 pm


Scot, here is your latest blurb for N.T. Wright’s new book defending his position on justification (re: New Perspective on Paul), particularly to criticisms from John Piper, et al:
“Tom Wright has out-Reformed America’s newest religious zealots–the neo-Reformed–by taking them back to Scripture and to its meaning in its historical context. Wright reveals that the neo-Reformed are more committed to tradition than to the sacred text. This irony is palpable on every page of this judicious, hard-hitting, respectful study.”
Would you say that this follows your criteria you lay out above?
I like Wright. But I also like Piper (et al). I also like McKnight. I don’t see these groups as mutually exclusive, but I think they can complement one another.
Do you have any thoughts for your readers on your blurb in light of your above posted comments?
A sincere reader,
Aaron



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