Blurb me, Baby

Pari Noskin Taichert

Ahhhhh, the sweet smell of imposition . . .

Last week I wrote my first blurb for a book jacket. Opportunities have come up before, but they’ve never worked — didn’t like the book, found the writing painful, couldn’t spare the hours to give the manuscript a good read.

Not this time.

Yeah, I knew the author. But I only agreed to look at her work on the condition of honesty. If I liked it — great blurb. If not, no go.

What a relief to enjoy it so. What a pleasure to craft an endorsement that might benefit this brand new piece of literature (THE GHOST OF MARY PRAIRIE, Lisa Polisar, UNM Press, Spring ’07).

Even though the read took me away from my own writing, I didn’t begrudge a minute of it. This was a chance to return some of the kindness shown to me during these almost three years since my first publication.

Gosh, I still remember reading Tony Hillerman’s blurb for CLOVIS. It took my breath away.

You know what? Doing that for someone else was just as big of a high.

Frankly, most writers in our community enjoy helping each other. When I wrote the blog about that, the response was astounding. However, committing to read someone’s manuscript is a tremendous promise. Perhaps that’s why rumors abound about big-name authors who want to be paid for this gift.

The Pollyanna in me hopes that those rumors aren’t true. If they are, what a horrid taste there should be in our collective mouths. How hypocritical. Even the biggest name writers had to press upon other people’s good will to get blurbs in the beginning, when they were nobodies.

Better simply to have a policy of no endorsement — and to stick to it.

Blurbs have been on my mind because my newest mystery, THE SOCORRO BLAST, has started its long journey through production. Part of the process is getting those praise-sentences to be used for a variety of marketing purposes. Even if I don’t do the ask, my publisher wants me to provide suggestions.

I’ve gone through this twice before. Each time, I weighed the latest discussions on the listservs and at book clubs, the comments from blurb snobs that scoffed at the whole concept and assigned a negative value to each written enthusiasm.

Me? I like to read ’em. At the very least, I get to see what some of my friends in the crime fiction world think of a new work. At best, a hitherto undiscovered writer enriches my life.

I also enjoy getting blurbs. They build confidence at times when my insecurities peak — the months before the book is released.

In the past, writers — famous and less known — have kindly given me their words.  How can I thank Gillian Roberts, Elaine Flinn (before we were on Murderati together), Charlaine Harris, Deborah Donnelly, Carol Luce, and Denise Hamilton for their generosity? Tony Hillerman has come through again; he’s given me a blurb for the new book so early that we can use it on the ARC. What words are there to express my appreciation for that?

In the middle of all of this joy, I have to think about who I’ll impose upon for book #3. It’s daunting this time because I now know the effort it takes to consider and write an honest blurb.

Which leaves me with this: I pray never to lose the deep sense of gratitude I feel toward those who’ve helped me thus far.

And, as my own career progesses, I hope to double this benevolence — to pass it on as long as I can.

11 thoughts on “Blurb me, Baby

  1. JT Ellison

    So timely, Pari. Asking for blurbs is tricky territory. I get that sinking feeling in my stomach when I approach a favorite author, but it must be done. I buy books based on blurbs a lot, and I know how important they are.

  2. Louise Ure

    Well said, Pari. I join you in sincere thanks for those authors who have given me a leg up with their kind words.

    And I appreciate the fact that you won’t blurb a book unless you really like it.

    That’s as it should be.

  3. Elaine Flinn

    So well said, Pari. To blurb, or not to blurb – it’s a tricky situation. And to ask – is even trickier. I’ve been fortunate on both counts – and totally believe in paying it forward. In your case, it was a particular act of pure joy. I love Sasha.

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Blurbs. Part of me thinks they’re only meaningful BEFORE you break in, because once you are in it’s so easy to get your growing circle of author friends and mentors to blurb you. But most of the reading public doesn’t know that, so blurbs are still effective advertising.

    On the other hand, why do I find it so particularly thrilling when a writer I admire writes me to tell me s/he loved my book? I mean, if a writer loves your writing, that’s double praise, right? Which in a way gives author blurbs more cred than reviews.

    I still think that when you read your friends’ work, you “look to like”, as Juliet said: “I’ll look to like, if looking liking move.”

    But as with Juliet – you end up falling in love with who you fall in love with. And, to our credit, most writers aren’t all that good at faking that.

  5. pari noskin taichert

    J.T., Thanks for fessing up to reading blurbs. I know so many people who won’t admit to it. Or, maybe, they really don’t care what other people think.

    Louise, I can’t imagine giving a blurb for something I didn’t truly enjoy. As a matter of fact, I refuse to give a milquetoast endorsement because, to me, that’s truly damning a work. Better to be silent.

    Elaine, I almost used the term “paying it forward,” when I wrote the piece. Yep. That’s important.

    And,thank you so much for your comment about Sasha. We both appreciate it.

    Alex, I do think we look to like — but, I can say that I’ve not blurbed a couple of acquaintance’s works because I didn’t find enough there to love. It was incredibly awkward and a part of me felt bad about it. But, as I said to Louise, a lukewarm comment just damns the work.

    I still don’t know who the hell to ask this time around. I do have friends whom I know would enjoy Sasha again. But, there’s also this need to expand, to find new authors who might want a look.

    Oh, hell.

  6. Louise Ure

    Pari, after the first couple of books, I would have assumed that a well-chosen line from one of your previous reviews would also be considered as a useful blurb for this new work, no?

  7. Sue Trowbridge

    As a reader, I think more authors should be judicious about whom they blurb. When I see someone’s name over and over and over again, I wonder, do they really love all those books, or do they just like seeing their name in print on other people’s covers? It seems that half the books I read this year featured a blurb by a certain British crime writer. If you only blurb a book or two a year, it’ll have more of an impact.

  8. pari noskin taichert

    Yeah, Louise, you’re right. Last time, UNM Press published reviews from no national pubs on my BELEN bookjacket. I couldn’t believe it. This time, I’ll be more proactive about that . . .

    Susan,Your point is one of the reasons I’ve decided to be so selective. Now, there are certain big-name authors who do have much more of a presence. Tony Hillerman is one of them. But, his words do make a difference on book covers.

  9. Rob Gregory Browne

    I just hate asking for blurbs. Especially now that I’m so busy working on my own material I can’t imagine having time to read anyone else’s. And because I know this, I feel just terrible asking.

    But there have been writers who have been so generous in giving me blurbs that I hope one day to either return the favor or give one to someone else, no matter how busy I might get.

    The generosity of this crowd never ceases to amaze me.

  10. pari noskin taichert

    Elaine,You’re such a sweetie. Thank you. I’ll make sure that UNMP displays those two nominations prominently.

    Rob,I know what you mean about time — and feeling guilty. That’s probably why people blurb in the first place: someone, somewhere, did it for them and they now feel compelled to return the favor.

    And, yes, the generosity of the mystery community is staggering. I remain astounded.


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