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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.