Really, I’ve always liked the word “blurbage. Then my brain connected it to “babbage,” and then connected it to the “babbage difference engine” (see William Gibson & Bruce Sterling’s novel The Difference Engine), the precursor to the modern computer, and a nifty steampunk prop. Beyond that, the word “difference” in the blog title really applies. Because a good blurb? Well, it can make a difference.
What’s a blurb? I’m not referring to the text on the back of a book (or on the inside flap of a hardcover dust jacket) that describes the book, although I’ve heard it called a blurb before. If you go to the book description for The Ultra Thin Man on my site here, you’ll see that kind of blurb, which describes the book’s basic premise.
When I’m talking blurbs, I’m talking about quotes from established authors, given to writers to help promote a book. On the same book description page, in the right hand column, you’ll see “PRAISE” and, to date, three blurbs. More are forthcoming. What prompted this post was receiving a fabulous new blurb from Hugo Award-winning writer Robert J. Sawyer, author of Red Planet Blues (his newest) and many others, including Flashforward and Triggers. Mr. Sawyer is a well-known, well-respected, and well-read SF author. Red Planet Blues, as a matter of fact, is a SF noir/mystery novel, and it was an easy decision for me to ask him if he might like to see the novel for the purpose of blurbing it.
Most of us buy books for any number of reasons, not just because a well-known author has praised it. But I’ll admit to looking at blurbs, particularly when I’m somewhat undecided about whether to buy a book or not. Obviously, there are levels of blurbage. The idea is to aim high. If Stephen King writes a positive blurb for you, and it’s printed on the front cover of your novel, that ain’t a bad thing. If Neil Gaiman blurbs your book and says it’s the best thing he’s read in a decade…well, this is likely to lead to some extra book sales you never might have made otherwise.
It’s the same thing with reviews. I’m going to see good and bad reviews of The Ultra Thin Man. I’m bracing myself now for the bad ones. You can’t please everyone all the time, but half the battle is getting readers to pick up the book. A good cover will do that. A good review will do that. A bad review will do that, sometimes. And of course a fascinating, well-placed blurb will do that. And once a reader physically picks up a book in a store, they’re more likely to buy it.
The more positive, high-level blurbs an author garners, the happier the author will be, and the happier the publisher will be. My editor is very happy about the blurb from Mr. Sawyer, and for the others to date. We’re brainstorming a list, and more than a few requests have gone out. The earlier Tor can get good blurbs, the better that will influence the marketing department, and the book reps and book buyers at the bookstores. Those I’ve sent the book to so far for possible blurbs received electronic copies from me. At a time ahead of publication, (possibly February or March for mine), there will be bound galleys (advance reading copies, or ARCs), and many of these will be sent out to other potential blurbers, and also to reviewers. Some readers only want to read a physical copy.
I’m extremely humbled when an established writer has good things to say about the book. I can’t thank them enough, ever.