Blurb Power: Does it Work?

For the first time in my career, I hesitantly approached a couple of my favorite bestselling YA authors, asking if they'd consider reading SECRET KEEPER and, if they liked it, sending me a quote that could be printed on the cover. Neither accepted my invitation -- politely, for perfectly valid reasons -- so the book will be blurb-free.

Then last week, I was approached by a first-time novelist to be quoted on her book. "I've got sweaty palms," she informed me in her email request, and I knew exactly how she felt. It was hard to ask.

Now I'm wondering -- can a validation from another author on the cover convince a reader to buy or borrow a book?


Kelly said…
Hi Mitali:

As a reader, I have clear views about this issue. Blurbs only have NEGATIVE influence on me. In other words, if an author I can't stand recommends a book, chances are I won't read it. For example, I can't stand A.S. Byatt for a number of reasons (I hated Possession; she trashes genre fiction, even though she wrote historical romance herself). If she blurbs a book and deems it great, I won't read it.

However, if someone I love blurbs a book, it has no effect on me whatsoever. I'd rather read a review by a critic or reader who likes the work of Writer X and makes a comparison than if Writer X makes the comparison herself by blurbing.

Call me contrary, but this is the way it works not only for me, I suspect.
I disagree. If an author I don't like comments on a book, I ignore it. Just because I don't like their work, it doesn't mean I wouldn't enjoy the books they enjoyed. On the other hand, if an author I do like says they liked a book, it does pique my interest. For example, I was recently looking for a good mystery novel to read and I saw one with an intriguing quote from PD James on the back. That did influence my decision to read it in a positive way.
Susan T. said…
Mitali, I always figure that the blurbers are friends of the author. A blurb by someone famous wouldn't make any difference to me. I'm much more likely to go by word of mouth, familiarity with the author, a good review, or a cover I like.
gail said…
I have become very jaded about blurbs. I have rarely read a book that lived up to the blurb-hype on the cover. I've been known to put books back on the shelf if there are blurbs on the cover. I think blurbers have a lot to gain by blurbing. Their names are on another author's book, thus providing them with an opportunity to gain name recognition. Thus authors have a lot of motivation for providing a positive quote. I just finished a book today that had blurbs all over the back cover from some very high profile people. I can't believe we were all reading the same book.

I'm with Kelly. I'd much rather read a quote from a critic about one of the author's earlier works. That gives me a more unbiased idea of what the author's general work is like.
Just as people are influenced by the blurbs on movie ads, people are influenced by the blurbs on books. But since most literary critics do not garner nearly as much fame as the likes of Ebert and Roper, blurbs from famous (or not-so-famous) authors serve the same purpose. Everyone wants to know what the book is "really" about when they look to buy a book. One gleans this information either by looking at the cover, flipping through the pages, or reading the jacket flap synopsis. No one wants to spend money on a book they will not like. That is where blurbs and other advertising comes in. But unfortunately, there is no good way to find out if you will really like a book except actually reading it.
TadMack said…
Hi, M~

I'm never swayed by blurbs one way or the other. I ignore them utterly, just as I tend to ignore long author forwards and the like.

When a person whose work I admire offered to blurb my first book, I accepted gratefully, seeing the gift for what it was -- rare indeed in YA! But I don't feel compelled to get blurbs, and I don't think they convince teen readers that one's book is worthwhile. The buying public includes their parents and grandparents, who might need that encouragement to find that a book is "right" for their child or teen, but I do think Booklist blurbs do more for that than other authors' words.
Mitali Perkins said…
Interesting thoughts, all ... I've noticed that I tend to pay attention to blurbs on non-fiction because of the "expert" factor, but ignore blurbs on fiction because so what if s/he liked this story, I may not connect with it at all.

We bloggers and writers read those blurbs with a bit of cynicism. I wonder, though, about teens who are the "oh-I'd-DIE-if-I met-HER" kinds of fans of the blurber.
Melissa Walker said…
hey, mitali.

i've heard blurbs work on booksellers. as in, if the buyers see a good blurb, they're likely to take more copies of the book to sell. not sure if that's true, but it's one theory...

Jennie said…
Blurbs help me, but not in a "Meg Cabot liked this, and I like Meg Cabot" but it does give me a sense of the type of book it is.

I can't remember what book it was, but it looked dark and scary and very, very serious. But all the blurbs were from light-hearted chick-lit writers AND! Lo and behold! Despite the cover and flap copy, it was light-hearted chick lit!

So, now I look for clues like that.

For nonfiction though, I do look seriously at blurbs.
Mitali, you said;
"We bloggers and writers read those blurbs with a bit of cynicism. I wonder, though, about teens who are the "oh-I'd-DIE-if-I met-HER" kinds of fans of the blurber."
I absolutely agree with what you are saying. I think with todays teens it does make a difference. They are very influenced by the "OMG, It's her!" factor. They tend to seek out books that are recommended by their favorite authors. Teens want to feel connected to the authors they like, this is just another way of achieving it.
Merriwyn said…
I am much more interested in the kind of blurb which gives a synopsis of the story so that I have some idea what it is about. I do find some of the author recommendation things interesting, mostly because I like the way it gives you a bit of an insight into their interests (of course this is only actually interesting if you know or care who they are). I always look for information from the blurb on the back cover, but I'd always prefer a synopsis to a few 'this is great' quotes, whether from critics or authors. Actually, now I think about it I have never been positively influenced
Merriwyn said…
oops, I think I accidentally deleted the end of that sentence! It was supposed to read "Actually, now I think about it I have never been positively influenced by the remarks of a critic". Sorry, it is the middle of the night, which is not a good time for my typing.
Mitali Perkins said…
Thanks, all, here's what I've learned from our discussion:

Blurbs work with non-fiction when the validation of a trusted "expert" convinces us to buy or read the book.

Blurbs might serve to sell fiction to booksellers, to teens, and perhaps to others influenced by celebrity.

Blurbs also help browsers to categorize or classify books if they are familiar with the blurber.

Sound right?