Of books and blurbs

By Allison Brennan

Book Two in the Lucy Kincaid series, KISS ME, KILL ME, went on sale Tuesday, the same day as J.T. Ellison’s SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH, of which I bought two copies — one for me, one for my mom. I gave my mom her copy today at my book signing and she will probably finish it long before me. (Probably? Most certainly, because I still have THE IMMORTALS to read . . . now I have both staring at me from my To Be Read Next shelf.)

I read J.T.’s debut book, ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, as an ARC. I don’t remember exactly how this came about, except I think she asked me if I’d read it when we met at the first Thrillerfest in Arizona.

(As an aside, I would love to have a reunion Thrillerfest in Arizona. There was something about that conference that was so magical, I want to do it again.)

I remember where I started reading the book–in an airport. I don’t remember why I was in the airport, or where I was going, but I vividly remember drinking a beer while quickly flipping pages wanting to know what happened next. J.T. had me hooked.

I never offer a quote to books I don’t read, which means I don’t blurb a lot of books because I don’t have as much time to read as I used to. Too many times, I’ve said, “No promises, but send me the book and let me know when you need a quote” . . . and then the deadline passed and I never made it. I feel bad, but what can I do? I can’t quote a book I haven’t read, and J.T. is the primary reason for this rule.

More of my readers have THANKED ME for recommending J.T.’s book than any other book I’ve blurbed. They tell me they picked it up because of my quote, and were looking forward to the next.

I hadn’t been sold on the power of blurbs until I had multiple emails about J.T. I think it helps that we write in loosely the same genre (suspense) with a strong female protagonist. Readers who like my stories would be naturally attracted to J.T’s Taylor Jackson. But it also brings home the fact that if I don’t read a book and know what’s between the pages, I can’t in good conscious tell my readers it’s a great book. Because if it’s not, they’ll be disappointed, and the next book I blurb they won’t trust my recommendation, which doesn’t help anyone.

Anyway, while I haven’t read SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH (yet), I’m confident that J.T. has written a story that is as good or better than her other Taylor Jackson books.

I’ve been blessed by three generous authors who have given me a quote: Mariah Stewart on my debut novel THE PREY, Lisa Gardner on SUDDEN DEATH, and Lee Child on LOVE ME TO DEATH. I appreciate all of them for taking the time–I know how valuable a writer’s time is.

KISS ME, KILL ME is my sixteenth novel, the second in my Lucy Kincaid series. Writing a series is a lot different than writing loosely connected books with different heroes and heroines, but I’m really enjoying the change. I can grow Lucy and her boyfriend Sean Rogan over time, not needing to wrap everything up in a neat bow at the end of the book. Since the suspense plot is always primary in my stories, having this freedom with character is invigorating. I’ve already done two “firsts” with this series. In book one, I wrote my villain in first point-of-view. In book two, I didn’t go into the villain’s POV at all–a definitely first for me, because I love writing the villain’s point of view. And now I’m in the middle of book three, IF I SHOULD DIE, and while still a romantic thriller, the story backbone is more a true mystery . . . and there’s no serial killer. (Yes, someone . . . or some two . . . die, but no serial killer. SEE NO EVIL, TEMPTING EVIL and FATAL SECRETS aren’t serial killer books, either, so this isn’t a “first”, but it still feels different.)

Now, a little blatant self-promo for my new book . . . RT Book Reviews gave it four-and-a-half stars and said, “Lucy Kincaid’s saga continues in the second installment of Brennan’s riveting new series. This time Brennan tests her heroine’s emotional and intellectual strength on a missing-teenager case that horrifically intersects with a twisted serial killer. Lucy continues to be a fascinating and enticing character, and her ongoing development adds depth to an already rich brew of murder and mystery. Brennan rocks!”

And, two weeks ago, LOVE IS MURDER, my digital exclusive novella, hit the New York Times e-book list. I was stunned, but of course thrilled.

And the winner of Season One JUSTIFIED DVD set from my blog two weeks ago is . . . TRACY NICOL! Congratulations. Please email me at allison@allisonbrennan.com and I’ll ship a set out to you!

Now my question of the day: what was the last book you bought because of an author blurb? Have you ever bought a book because of an author quote only to be disappointed? Have you discovered a new favorite author because of another author’s recommendation? Comment for a chance to win a copy of LOVE ME TO DEATH, the first book in the Lucy Kincaid series.

22 thoughts on “Of books and blurbs

  1. Barbie

    I don't really buy books on blurbs. Mostly, I'm really picky with what I read and I *mostly* only take recommendations by people who know me very well and my tastes. Having said that, I did find a new favorite author by another author's recommendation. ONCE. Of course, that was Roxanne St. Claire because *you* recommended her to me. I think I'll owe you forever for that one!!! 🙂

  2. Catherine

    I first had Laura Griffin recommended to me by a librarian friend. However when I was standing in a bookstore and saw the blurb 'Top-notch romantic suspense!' – New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan…it did clinch the decision to buy 'Unspeakable'.

    I'm in a slight tangle at the moment as a heap of good paperbacks have come out all in the same week( Allison's and JT's being at the top of my need it now list)…as I start my master in library science. Maybe it will help motivate me to more efficient time management practices.

  3. Grace

    I haven't found new writers through blurbs, I have found them through some of my favourite writer's recommendations however, either on their website or blogs. Blurbs on book jackets don't entice me because, as you mentioned in your post it's something you would never do, I suspect sometimes the author of the blurb hasn't read the book and is supporting (understandably, I'm not judging here) the marketing system.

  4. Laura Jane Thompson

    I'm not big on author blurbs, either, for the reason Grace mentioned. When I hear about a new author I usually track down his or her web site and read excerpts (when available). If the writing is good and the premise intrigues me, I'll buy the book. Otherwise, I pass.

    When no excerpts are available I try Amazon, and if that fails I'll read the first page in the bookstore. That tends to be my measuring stick, and so far it works the majority of the time.

  5. Stacy McKitrick

    The blurb worked opposite for me. I am a fan of Meg Gardiner's work. After devouring all her novels, I went looking for more. Then I noticed the blurb on her book by Tess Gerritsen. I figured if Tess liked Meg's books, maybe I would like hers. I did. And reading her books led me to this blog and more authors to discover!

    So – blurbs can work. Maybe not in the way you expect!

  6. Allison Brennan

    Barbie, Rocki is a terrific storyteller, as you well know!

    Thanks Catherine, and I know Laura thanks you too. She is hugely talented. When her editor asked me to read for a quote, I asked my mom first, and she said she loved Laura's books, so I decided to read it. I loved it so much that when we had an opening at Murder She Writes, we begged Laura to join.

    Grace, I had once heard that authors didn't read the books, but most who I talk to do read them. The way I look at it is my name is especially my brand and if I say I like something when I never read it, it can dilute the brand. I'll admit, though, that I often give my mom–who reads far more than me (a book a day!) an arc and ask her to read it first and tell me if I'll like it, then I'll read it if she says either it's something I'd like (even if she didn't–my tastes are a bit darker than hers) or if she says she loves it.

    Laura Jane, I know SOOOO many people who judge the book on the first three pages! I did a blog on this once, and then Alex's blog yesterday about the first chapter hits home, too. But I suspect it's more about voice than anything else–do you want to spend 4-6 hours listening to this "voice" in your head as you read?

    Stacy, what a great story! My mom also loves Tess and Meg. In fact, if it weren't for my mom, I would never have read either author (well, I might have, but she gave me copies of their books years ago.)

  7. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I used to rely on author blurbs, but that was when I didn't personally know about a thousand authors. Now they tell me, "Hey, I know a great book you should read…," which amounts to a very personal blurb, I suppose. I also cannot write a blurb unless I really, really believe in the work, because my name on a book's cover represents me and my taste and a level of trust that a reader has in my opinion. But, when I love a book, I wave the flag hard and high. I blurbed Tim Hallinan's "The Queen of Patpong" and John Vorhous' "The Albuquerque Turkey" quite vigorously. Finding time to read books to blur is a whole other story.

  8. Kim C

    Never bought a book due to an author blurb, but I have bought several due to author recommendations on blogs. Wait, actually that's not exactly true. I have found a few new authors due to their blurbs on books by authors I love, though that would seem to be the opposite of how a blurb is suppose to work.

  9. Alafair Burke

    Nowadays, I usually know a lot about the books I buy, but I used to choose books based on blurbs, if only because the identity of a blurbing author is usually a pretty good signal about the tone of a book. As you note, readers who like you might also be inclined to enjoy JT"s work, so your blurb is not only a strong endorsement but also a way of describing the book.

  10. Nancy

    Hi Allison,

    I was idly going through the stacks at my local bookstore when I came across "The Watcher" by Brian Freeman. It was the title that got me first, then I looked at Michael Connelly''s blurb, "This guy can tell a story." I laughed out loud because it was so refreshingly frank.

    It turned out to be a great book, and I bought his second one too (name escapes me now).

    I've been lucky with books recommended by Lisa Gardner and Tess Gerritsen. So, I do read the blurbs and they do have an impact on my buying.


  11. Debbie

    What I read depends on both my trust of the author, and my belief in the connection when authors within the same genre are compaired. Said another way, I expect a connection between a person endorsing a book, or the person's writing to whom the author is being compaired. I might read the book for that reason or, conversly, I might finish a novel and then read novels by the authors who endorsed it, looking for more of the same.

  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Your blurb for THE UNSEEN made ME want to read it! 😉

    I used to be cynical about author blurbs but now I know that blurbs really are sincere recommendations. We all read each other's books and I know my own friends only blurb books they truly enjoyed.

  13. JT Ellison

    Goodness, what a lovely surprise! I just popped on, taking a break from copyedits, to check in here and I am so truly touched. Thank you, Allison., You've been a huge, huge part of my career from the very first – literally you were the first person I met at Thrillerfest, and I was already such a huge fan. I always will be, and I think you've done something incredibly unique with Lucy. I love her pluck, and love her determination, and her ability to rise above her past and succeed. She epitomizes a strong heroine, and I can't wait to read KISS ME, KILL ME. It's on it's way – not sure why it hasn't arrived yet, as I bought it on release day. Damn it.

    I do think that blurbs matter. I can't tell you how many people have mentioned your blurb and Lee Child's on my book.

    Thank you. You really made my day : )

  14. JJ

    I tend to note blurbs but they don't always sell me. For instance, there's a writer who's been blurbing like popcorn lately so I tend not to 'listen' anymore. On the other hand, I discovered a great new writer because his agent went on and on about him on her blog, so I bit. That was a pleasant surprise. The most fun I ever had being turned on to new writers was in a bookstore once. An author was onsite for a signing but was there early so he shopped. I kind of followed him around (stalked? horrors!) and decided to try the same books he bought. The man reads some really good writers — and just by following impulse I discovered writers I'd never read before. That was a delightful bit of serendipity.

  15. Reine

    Hi Allison,

    Congratulations on your latest release.

    I always pay attention to author quotes, because I think most authors won't put their name on a blurb they don't believe in. So far I haven't been let down.

  16. Allison Brennan

    JT, you are more than welcome!

    Stephen, I agree–once I published and met authors, I get so many recommendations I don't have time to read that many books! But the books I really love, I do tend to talk up a LOT.

  17. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Allison

    Congrats on the new book. Can't wait to see it and you in Sacramento next month – and at M is For Mystery. Should be a lot of fun.

    I do read blurbs carefully, I confess. I've certainly gained readers from the wonderful blurbs very generous authors like Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver, David Morrell and Tess Gerritsen have done for me. I would always agree to read a book if asked, but will only burb it if I really genuinely enjoyed it. I've read too many 'this is the best thing EVER' blurbs on books that blatantly didn't deserve such praise, I guess.

    Oh, and can I be cheeky and say I'm guest blogging today over on Kaye Barley's blog Meanderings & Muses http://www.meanderingsandmuses.com if anyone would stop by and say 'Hi!'

  18. CarlC

    I had an experience similar to Stacy's, sort of the "reverse spin" on a blurb. A few years back Alafair's newsletter mentioned that her upcoming book (can't remember which one now) had received a blurb from Harlan Coben that her publisher thought was too coarsely worded (think it was "kick-ass") to use on the jacket. My thought at hearing this: Hey, if this guy likes Alafair's work so much, maybe I should give him a try. Sure enough, he has become one of my favorites. So, writers, keep on blurbing (when you can do so with sincerity) and you just may pick up some more devoted readers.

  19. Allison Brennan

    Whoops, I forgot about the captcha thing and many of my comments never got posted! Sorry, folks!

    Zoe, I am so looking forward to our signing! I'm going to call in all my favors from old friends in the bay area . . . 🙂

    Carl, I love that story!

  20. Allison Brennan

    So I asked my daughter to read this blog and post a comment because she has a lot of opinions about blurbs. She said, "I don't!" And then paused, and said, "Okay, maybe I do." But she didn't post her comments.

    She's nearly 15 and reads a lot–mostly YA. (I am just SO jealous of the teens today who have HUGE choices in reading material. There was really no YA books when I was younger. I moved from Judy Blume and Nancy Drew right into Stephen King and Dean Koontz. A lot of the authors I read like Ray Bradbury were in both the teeny Young Adult section of the library, and adult.

    Anyway, she said that there is an author who she read the first book of her series and hated it, though it was widely popular, and this author blurbs EVERYTHING. She will intentionally not pick up a book with this author's blurb. Then, she said that Libba Bray, one of her favorite authors, rarely blurbs, so when she does, Kelly always gets the book and says she always likes it, but it's never as good as Libba. Then she paused, and said, "Well, Melissa Marr blurbs a lot of books, too, but so far I've liked all the books she's recommended." Overall, she definitely looks at the blurb.

  21. Nancy

    Hi Allison,

    I forgot to mention that I already bought the first book in Lucy's series (it was great), so if you draw my name, go to the next one 🙂


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