Justine Larbalestier on Blurbs

The divine Ms. Larbalestier talks about the etiquette of asking people to blurb your work — and of telling other people who you’ve asked to blurb — over on her blog. Apparently, the proximate cause of the entry is that some of her writer friends have been on the receiving end of bad blurb manners, and Justine wants to help the neo-pros before they do anything stupid, too.

Of particular interest to me is this piece of advice:

  1. Never claim to have a blurb from an author if that is not the case. If the author in question has agreed to look at your book with the possibilty of providing a blurb that DOES NOT mean they are going to blurb you. I looked at several books last year and blurbed none of them. The author has agreed to read your book NOTHING more. If you go around boasting that you have a blurb when you don’t odds are it will get back to the author, who will then be much less inclined to blurb you. This is a very small industry. Word gets around.

This last point leads to a bigger point: Anyone who advises you that lying: claiming blurbs you don’t have, doctoring your publications list, claiming non-existent connections etc. etc. is a good way to get “your foot in the door” is full of it.

It’s really interesting to me how many new and wannabe writers actually need to be reminded of this — I guess the idea is that ambition excuses all dickheadedness in the long run. Sorry, it doesn’t. Justine notes that “finding out that someone you have NEVER met is using your name to get ahead is vastly cranky-making”; this is true, but Justine, because she’s a nice person, doesn’t go far enough on this. What needs to be said is this: When you lie about someone blurbing your work (or recommending it, or being your friend, or whatever), what you’re doing is dragging their good name along with your opportunistically lying bad name. When they find out — and they almost certainly will, since these are the sort of lies that only work in public — they’re going to react the way most people react when lies are told about them in public. And that’s not going to work out well for you.

Certainly if I found out someone was lying about my association with them, I would go out of my way to make sure everyone knew what a lying sack of crap they were. And at this point I have a fairly loud megaphone. Other people might (might) be nicer about it than I would be, but the ultimately the end result is the same. Best not to shoot one’s career in the foot is the general idea here, especially when what you should be doing is putting your best foot forward.

In any event, go over to Justine’s read the whole entry, and take heed of her words. She is wise in the ways of blurbing.

39 Comments on “Justine Larbalestier on Blurbs”

  1. Blurbs. Blurbs.

    Funny word. I know what it *is*, but just working off the sound of it, it comes across as a name used by some SF author for a future illegal mood-altering drug.

    “Justine [is] on blurbs.”

    Yep. Funny word.

  2. Blurb:

    “You couldn’t write your way out of a used wet tissue. Quit sending me this crap or I’m getting a restraining order! –John Scalvi”

  3. As a wannabe writer, I always thought it would be amusing to get permission from some good humored authors to blurb my book with blurbs that had nothing to do with my book and something of a sinister edge to them.

    “Your book is fantastic. Now please return my cat.”
    “What part of stay fifty yards away at all times was unclear to you?”
    “Get out of my house!”
    “Please, I have a wife and children!”

    It could just be me though…

  4. Tully@2: John’s not that harsh, that sounds more like Harlan Ellivon.

    The best word on blurbs comes from Fred Pohl on how to write them: “The adjective adjective adjective noun that will verb you, verb you, verb you!”

  5. “Certainly if I found out someone was lying about my association with them, I would go out of my way to make sure everyone knew what a lying sack of crap they were.”

    My good friend John Scalzi says the same thing!

  6. hmm…this sounds an awful lot like a passive-aggressive warning to some poor idiot that’s been dragging your good name around – enlighten us.

    Anyway, it is interesting and the very fact that she felt a need to write that post is rather disappointing. I guess the world is full of stupid people.

  7. “I couldn’t put this book down fast enough. It was just like a massive roller coaster ride running over my head. Read this book at your own risk“.

    Is that permissible? :D

  8. Reminds of of the Anita Blake comics. When the first collection came out they used a quote from Chris Sims (who absolutely trashes the books regularly) that, taken out of contest, could easily be confused with praise. IIRC they then sent him a free autographed copy. He seemed to get the joke.

  9. Nathan,

    I’m pretty sure that’s how every Hollywood movie blurb was/is done. I wouldn’t be surprised if it rang true for other media as well.

  10. Dear writers:

    Conversely, if someone asks you to blurb their book, please have the common courtesy to give a response, ESPECIALLY if you can’t or won’t give one. Because asking for a blurb, and then not getting a response of any kind, makes you think that the person isn’t polite. (Among other things).

  11. Timely, this post.

    I was honestly getting ready to search the Whatever archives for John’s thoughts on blurbs. Freaky.

    Anyone have Bono’s contact info? I would love for him to blurb my book.

  12. People ask strangers to blurb their books? I always thought it was a matter of looking to one’s friends, but that seems naive now. This, and the “megaphone” remark of John’s, though, suggest that being a writer — maybe being a genre writer, but there are many genres — seems much more public a business than it did to me when I was young.

  13. neth:

    “this sounds an awful lot like a passive-aggressive warning to some poor idiot that’s been dragging your good name around”

    Nope, no one would do this to me.

    Seriously, nothing to do with me at all.

    Jess Nevins:

    “Conversely, if someone asks you to blurb their book, please have the common courtesy to give a response, ESPECIALLY if you can’t or won’t give one.”

    I always say “no” to writers who ask me directly. Per my blurb guidelines, I insist blurb requests come from editors and agents. That way if I say no, it’s not taken as a personal rejection.

  14. John–

    Bless you for that. They ask, you give them a direct response, they’re not left hanging, and they know where they stand. If only all authors were as courteous as that.

  15. I often wonder how much blurbs help sell books. Now, I’m not talking about blurbs coming from major publications like Time Magazine or from someone with real name recognition like Stephen King or some famous journalist, I’m talking about blurbs like this:

    “This book is really great!!”

    — Joe Blow, author of The Snoodersnickle Chronicles

    If you have to tell me what book Joe Blow wrote, then chances are he doesn’t have enough name recognition to actually sell books.

  16. Jess, are you talking about asking a writer out of the blue to blurb you? In that case I don’t think it’s rude if they don’t. In that situation you’re imposing on a perfect stranger to take time to do you a favor. And you’re probably not the only stranger doing so.

    It’s really interesting to me how many new and wannabe writers actually need to be reminded of this — I guess the idea is that ambition excuses all dickheadedness in the long run.

    I think it’s more that a common way to fleece newbies or to make oneself seem like The Guy With The Answers is to tell them that lying and dishonesty is the only way to get ahead; that in This Industry, that’s how things are done, and people who don’t play that way get laughed at, run over and spat out, not necessarily in that order. (Remember what’s-his-face, the writing professor who told new writers to lie about getting awards?)

    This game isn’t limited to the publishing industry, of course. On discussion boards for people enlisting in the military, there are *always* threads about recruits being told to lie about or spin unfavorable information because the military expects you do, that’s how it’s done, nobody puts *that* on their forms, etc. All false, of course, and sets up the naive recruit for a world of hurt down the line when the lies are uncovered, as they always are.

  17. If any of you would like to send me free copies of your books, I will be happy to blurb them for you.

  18. Common sense, like common courtesy seems to be less common than we would hope. Don’t lie. Well duh. Don’t lie about what someone said. Double duh. Lying about what someone said sounds like a good way to find yourself on the wrong side of legal action.

  19. Also, why would you trust advice from someone who would tell you to lie? How do you know they aren’t lying about the need to tell a lie?

  20. #7 Alex “Certainly if I found out someone was lying about my association with them, I would go out of my way to make sure everyone knew what a lying sack of crap they were.”

    My good friend John Scalzi says the same thing!

    I was thinking the exact same thing when I read the blog.

    And, I’ve never really understood a lot of blurbing anyway. What someone writes isn’t always the same thing that they read. I’ve seen Orson Scott Card blurbs on books that I’ve thought were pointless wastes of pages.

    I mean, there are only a few people out there I know well enough to give me suggestions on books that they think I’ll like, and I can call most of them at home.

  21. Check out the blurb I got about my latest creation: “This is the best book ever written in the history of the universe. I want this book to have my babies so badly that I was sent to the hospital with multiple paper cuts. Old Man’s War was a terrible hack job compared to this.” – Jon Scalzi

  22. You should see what the world of academia does with blurb infractions. To paraphrase a notable line mentioned in “The Android’s Dream- “fuck me running.”

  23. “I think this book is among the greatest creations of man in the history of the world. In fact, I suspect that this book by [Spherical Time] is derived from divine influence, and I will correspondingly worship it and the author for the rest of my natural life, forsaking any other religion as but a pale imitation of this work of prophecy. In fact, I insist that you convert as well. Praise be to [Spherical Time] and his work!” -J. Scalzi

  24. Mythago–

    You misunderstand. I don’t believe it’s rude for a perfect stranger not to blurb my books. I know many of the reasons why they wouldn’t.

    I believe it’s rude not to give any sort of response whatsoever, and to just leave the person hanging. Common courtesy demands a response–not a positive response, but a response, if only of the “Thanks, but I can’t do this right now” variety. If someone sends you an invitation to a party, manners require a response of the Yes/No variety. You aren’t required to explain your response, but you are required to give one.

  25. Jess, I disagree. Imagine that you’re Stephen King, and you receive a thousand unsolicited invitations to a party every day. Do you really feel that you’d be obliged to respond to each one? (In fact, I’m already busy enough that I don’t respond to most of the Evites and other solicitations for my time which I receive, many of which are from strangers who have somehow gotten me on their e-mail lists, along with a thousand other people. I also don’t expect refusal responses to my Evites, though the acceptances and maybes are definitely helpful.)

    The problem is that the initial ‘request for blurb’ is, by its nature, a bit rude and something of an intrusion. You’re interrupting someone’s life to ask them to do you a favor. No matter how polite you are about it, you’re still invading their life. And you don’t know how many other people may be similarly invading their life every day, with the same sort of unsolicited request.

    Even leaving aside the busyness/time issue, many people feel particularly awkward about rejecting others, especially if they don’t have practice doing it as editors. So when you insist on a written response, you’re essentially asking them to do something that will make them upset.

    Given that, I think the courteous thing for you to do if they don’t respond is to accept silence as implicit refusal and move on. You’ve already upset them by asking for a favor they don’t feel comfortable giving; don’t make it worse.

  26. That reminds me, I need to go through my mail queue and answer the mail from random folk.

    I do agree that after some indefinable point, it becomes more difficult to answer all of one’s mail. This is another reason I have all requests come through editors/agents — trims down the number of requests.

  27. Funny, I’ve just recently been asked to blurb a book and I’m doing just what Jess Nevins says I shouldn’t. The book isn’t my cup of tea and I think anyone who reads “Hope liked this book” on the back of it is going to be misled. On the other hand, it is a perfectly nice little book and I feel like a jerk for not blurbing it, especially after all the nice things people have done for me.

    So I am waffling until I know the problem will go away. Okay, not a very grown-up response. John, how do you decide whether to blurb a book or not? What are your conditions?

  28. Mary Anne–

    “Thanks, but I’m afraid I can’t do this” and “Thanks, but I’m afraid I don’t have the time right now” don’t take that long to type, so the time issue wouldn’t be a problem, even for a Stephen King (who I’m sure has an assistant to handle such requests).

    As for being upset by having to issue a refusal…I’ll fall back on Miss Manners: rudeness shown to you is no justification for you displaying rudeness in turn. Even if you are upset that someone has presumed to ask you for a blurb, that doesn’t give you leeway to treat that person rudely–which is what a lack of response is.

    But I think I’m repeating myself, rather than expanding on my point, so I’ll shut up now.

  29. Jess Nevins: I know it’s horrible not getting responses to your emails. Happens to me too. But I really don’t think it’s necessarily rudeness on the part of the person you’ve written to.

    As Mary Anne says lots of writers (hell, people) are really busy. I’m not anywhere near as famous as Stephen King and I’m around six months behind with my email. I haven’t answered the last few letters my mum wrote me, let alone email from people I don’t know. I’d love to catch up but I have so many other more urgent matters to deal with–like the books that are due and rent that has to be paid.

    Most writers even quite famous ones cannot afford assistants.

  30. Even if you are upset that someone has presumed to ask you for a blurb, that doesn’t give you leeway to treat that person rudely–which is what a lack of response is.

    Tell me, Jess. Do you ever hang up on unsolicited telemarketing calls? Do you always answer the phone and listen to the entire sales pitch or do you sometimes let it hit the answering machine? Do you call them back to tell them you are uninterested?

    I just want to understand if you are ever rude, by your definition.

  31. This happened to me several months ago, and I was furious when I found out.

    We were supposed to blurb each other’s portfolios in a (high school) poetry class, and somebody forgot to ask me to do his, so he invented a quote and attributed it to me. (To add insult to injury, I did not even think he was a good poet, and the quote contained outlandish and flowery praise.)

    I consider it a sort of reverse plagiarism. Remember “Othello”?

    “Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
    Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
    Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
    ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
    But he that filches from me my good name
    Robs me of that which not enriches him
    And makes me poor indeed.”