It Appears It Is a Good Time To Remind All and Sundry of My Blurbing Policy

And it is thus (scroll down on that page just a little). If you’re an author who wants me to blurb your book — or an editor/publisher/publicist who considering telling an author to ask me to blurb a book — you really really really really really need to read that link. Because, and this is not a joke, I automatically turn down authors who ask me for a blurb, whereas I will at least consider blurbing if I am asked by editors/publishers/publicists.

Yeah, I know, this makes me a dick. Still this is the way I do it, so work with it, please. There’s a link to the policy on every page of this blog, so it’s not like I’m trying to hide it from you. Still, the occasional shout-out to it via front page post seems to help. Here it is.

40 Comments on “It Appears It Is a Good Time To Remind All and Sundry of My Blurbing Policy”

  1. Man, I really think you’re passing up a huge money-maker, John. You could spend all day writing blurbs at $250 to $500 a pop and I bet you’d be turning business away! And you don’t have to compromise either – just append a “This blurb was solicited and paid for by the author” to your blurb. Heck – that right there might suffice! No, I’ve not yet figured out how you’ll meet and maintain all of your other obligations when implementing the above program. Maybe hire one of those overseas personal assistants? :)

  2. I wonder what you do with people who self-publish their books?
    They might qualify as publishers and disqualify because of being authors… Do they have a chance for a half blurb, or an anonymous one?

    And no, although I selfpublish, I do not ask you for a blurb – I only write and publish in German, so your only blurb would probably be “I can’t read this” :-)

  3. Steve Davidson: Who says he has to spend all day writing blurbs? He can write one blurb and just keep sending it out to anyone who asks. “I loved it. It was much better than Cats. I’m going to read it again and again.”

  4. DG Lewis and Steve Davidson are onto a potentially fun and lucrative idea. Just create a Mad-libs style of blurb and sell it to all and sundry:
    “This (type of writing) by (author’s name) is the most (action-related adjective) (type of writing) I’ve read in (time period)s. It has it all: (favorite animal), (favorite activity), (favorite food), and (favorite color) (favorite vehicle)s! The only reason not to read this is because you are (gerund)!”

    Why, I’ll bet he could sell two or three of these a year! At $5 a pop, pretty soon, you’re talking real money!

  5. John! I have this great idea for a book. You could, like, write it, and we’ll split the profits! My name will go first on the cover, of course…

    (sound of shotgun being cocked)

    Well, yeah, never mind.

  6. Nah, self-published authors aren’t really really real authors.

    Scalzi, keep being a dick and we loyal Trojans from Arcanum will travel over to Bradford Railroader territory and plant our flag in your yard.

    Self-Pubbers unite! Viva La Revolucion!

  7. Jason Baker:

    “Nah, self-published authors aren’t really really real authors.”

    Nonsense. I’ll treat a self-published author who approached me personally about a blurb just like I’ll treat a traditionally published author who did the same thing: By telling them no.

  8. Hmmmm I just read that and it sounded dickish. To be clear, I don’t think your policy makes you a dick, but you said it did.

  9. Yeah, I can see why you wouldn’t be up for that after reading a few links inward on this subject in your blog. Specifically, this blog of yours, Reason #4. Very true. If you’re going to ask the question be prepared for the answer. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but more often than not it’s truthful–and that’s top value. A lot of people don’t get that.

    And, anyway, if you’re writing that much material on a continual basis how in hell could you find the extra time to write blurbs?

  10. => John Scalzi:
    Ah, the hybris of the establishment :-)
    I see, I would need a pseudonym if I were approaching you.
    Unfortunately, Gollum might cause copyright problems, although it would be fitting for the split personality of publisher&author in one person (although I’m not sure, who’s the worse part, but it’s all about “my precious”)…

    But never mind, I wonder how important cover blurbs are, anyway (especially if compared to Amazon reviews or retweets). I’m always suspicious if someone tries to sell a book to me with a quote or preface from some more or less famous person who probably got paid for it (maybe not in cash, but in “You help me, and someday, I may help you”). At least, I never rejected a book because of someone who wrote a blurb, but I bought books because of your reviews.

  11. John Scalzi:

    And I’m totally cool with that; It’s your blog, your house.

    However, a self-published author usually doesn’t have a traditional editor (we hire that out or vet through our peers, etc.) or publicist. Self-published authors are the point of contact. So: hypothetically if a self-pubber were to try to solicit a ‘shout out’, he or she could not because he or she wouldn’t have the mentioned ‘street cred’ so to speak.

    Fair enough. I get it. Again, it’s your house.

    I do not believe my statement is nonsense. Judging by your voice on this blog, I’m inclined to believe that you have a less than favorable opinion of indie authors. Just my opinion.

    That said, as a fellow Darke County resident, I’m mostly proud that we have a Hugo-winning author in our county.

  12. I see you count self-published as unpublished, isn’t that a bit 2010. Many “published” authors would kill to have the sales that Wool has had for example. Although is that because of the whole don’t want to say no to blurb requests from authors even if they are the publisher? Convoluted a tad, bit it is your time/effort and there are people that won’t accept no for an answer, especially when it comes to their literary baby.

  13. “I see you count self-published as unpublished, isn’t that a bit 2010”

    Even if it were, I don’t particularly care. If one goes the self-published route — which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do in certain circumstances — then one resigns one’s self to the fact that one will be told “no” if one asks for a blurb from me because I find it uncomfortable to tell an author to his or her face that I didn’t like their work enough to blurb it. There are other authors who don’t have this hang-up; I’m sure; they’re better candidates to ask a blurb from.

    Beyond this, the suggestion that my blurb policy suggests self-pubbed authors aren’t “real” authors is an artifact of one’s own assumptions, not mine. It’s merely a publishing route that makes it difficult to ask for blurb from me.

  14. I don’t know anyone who buys books based on blurbs. I see them as a waste of space before I get to reading the book. It’s not like someone has ever published a book where the blurb said, “This is garbage. Don’t buy this book.” or “He tried for War and Peace and wrote Unreadable Crap”

  15. Blurbs are definitely time-consuming to write.

    @Jason: Blurbs have launched careers. Consider Stephen King’s “I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker.” They can also serve a more general purpose of “If you liked my work then you may also like this.”

  16. John Scalzi,

    I’m writing a book about how cool a writer John Scalzi is and how he’s just an all-around awesome dude called “How cool a writer John Scalzi is and how he’s just an all-around awesome dude”. Can I get a blurb?


  17. @jason It definitely matters who the blurb is from. There are authors I personally respect enough that their blurbs may, in fact, have an impact on my decision whether to buy a given book. Others, not so much.

  18. People who self-publish are giving up the hassles of finding an agent, finding a publisher, and so on . . . but they’re also giving up the advantages. One of those advantages is having a disinterested agent, editor, or publisher who can say, “This is worth your time.” Yes, there are many self-published works that are fine entertainment, well worthy of a reader’s attention. There are also the rest. (This is equally true of traditionally published books, for what that’s worth.)

    I think John’s policy of “I’d rather disappoint an author at one remove” is entirely reasonable.

  19. As far as blurbs not being a selling point, the main reason I bought “A Simple Plan” by Scott Smith was the blurb by Stephen King. Well worth it, too. Blurbs often (but not always) tip the balance for me, IF I trust the blurb author.

    (which makes me think, maybe I need to start looking for the books that John HAS written blurbs for!)

  20. @Mike and @rochrist…. point taken and agreed. It acts as a testimonial if we compare it to other marketing concepts. And as John D points out some people use bad reviews as advertising as well.

    If I know and like the author giving the blurb it might tip me into buying.

    I’m just saying I don’t usually pay attention to blurbs especially if it’s on pages after the title page. So if Mr. King does give a blurb… I guess it’s best to put it on the front cover? Probably in lettering only slightly smaller than the title… :)

  21. Interesting that the only posts by self-pubbers who take offense at this policy (which is, by the way, taking offense that someone won’t do you A HUGE, TIME-CONSUMING FAVOR), are poorly-written and full of typos. That’s not saying that ALL self-published authors are bad writers, but the better ones also tend to behave in a professional way all around, rather than in a defensive and entitled manner.

  22. I, too, have bought books on the strength of blurbs, especially if the blurbs are from authors whose work I like. Similarly, I’ve bought books after reading their “Big Idea” entries on “Whatever”.

    Those who disapprove of turning down random requests from strangers to do work for free are invited to help pick up trash after U.Ga. home football games. Y’all come!

  23. I, personally, skip over all blurbs and stick to recommendations of people I actually know. I’m not saying a published author won’t have a good opinion, but my brother/sister/ best friend knows me a lot better.

  24. John’s explanation was spot on.

    Sorry Plotnik for the poor writing. I was in no way asking for a free blurb, by the way.

  25. All of the large format Doonsebury books feature quotes saying bad things about the author and his strip.

  26. On the flip side, I can think of several authors whose publishers have been running the same blurbs for years if not decades.

    On the one hand, I can see where a classic quote from a well-known author nailed the colors to the mast for all time and deserves to be permanently attached to the book itself. (See Robert Heinlein’s blurb for Harlan Ellison’s PAINGOD: “This book is raw corn liquor. You should serve a whiskbroom with each shot so the customer can brush the sawdust off after he gets up from the floor.”)

    On the other, seeing an author credited over and over as “the new XXXX” when XXXX has been dead for over twenty years and the blurb has been used multiple times even prior to XXXX’s shuffling off this mortal coil (ringing down the curtain, joinin’ the bleedin’ choir invisibule, etc), on every single book they publish, gets a bit boring.

    And I have to ask: given that Amazon et al. tend to reprint only reviews from Publishers’ Weekly and similar in their online entries – how much good does a modern blurb (in the classic printed-on-the-cover style) actually do?

  27. Just farm out such blurb requests here on open threads.

    “This book reminded me of Kale, basking in the morning sunlight, dreaming those leafy dreams of planty greatness, growing in a cultivated field planted by an amoral sentient bipedal mammal apex predator.”

  28. It may be that I’m an introvert, and tend not to talk to stangers, let alone ask them for favours in general (1), but….

    Every time I read one of your posts on how you deal with commercial and fan interactions (this one, and the stuff you touch on in ), I get amazed at some of the responses I see. It could be depressing to consider that there are people like that. I mean, I would have thought this kind of post was common sense… Except that these entries are probably (certainly ?) written because enough people lacked the common sense in the first place :)

    The most I can reasonably expect is to HOPE you keep on entertaining me in the manner to which I’ve grown accustomed !!

    (1) there was that one time I asked you to move to Australia so I could get my Human Division fix a day early. Perhaps I should mention that the family (including animals) are welcome as well.

  29. @Don Hilliard:

    And I have to ask: given that Amazon et al. tend to reprint only reviews from Publishers’ Weekly and similar in their online entries – how much good does a modern blurb (in the classic printed-on-the-cover style) actually do?

    Well, I know someone whose daughter wasn’t a big dystopian SF fan, but bugged her mother to buy her The Hunger Games simply because of Stephanie Meyer’s fulsome cover blurb. So, I guess it’s not a total waste of time if that happened enough to build up word of mouth among Twilight devotees.

  30. I think that Clive Barker blurb might be the only one to work to any great degree (I sure checked out Barker because of it) King is known to blurb just about ANYTHING. The freaking LEFT BEHIND series got a blurb from him.

    Your policy sounds a bit more honest. “I find it uncomfortable to tell an author to his or her face that I didn’t like their work enough to blurb it” implies that you’ll only blurb stuff you like, which strikes me as more honorable than the way I always assumed these things worked: as units of exchange with other authors, or saying generic crap without reading the book because the contributor wants to be nice.

    Anyone really interested in the subject is directed to Neil Gaiman’s afterword to AMERICAN GODS, where he discusses the topic in far more detail than you might think the subject warrants, but you’ll read it all anyway.

  31. Was it AC Clarke who had the semi-famous “sod off you sheepshagger” style form letter for these situations?

  32. @wiredog:

    I don’t know but Evelyn Waugh used to have a pre-printed postcard he used to reply to unsolicited begging letters of all kinds:

    “Mr Evelyn Waugh deeply regrets that he is unable to do what is so kindly proposed.”

    Edmund Wilson’s was more verbose, but still a hum-dinger:

    Edmund Wilson regrets that it is impossible for him without compensation to:

    read manuscripts
    contribute to books or periodicals
    do editorial work
    judge literary contests
    deliver lectures
    address meetings
    make after-dinner speeches

    Under any circumstances to:

    contribute to or take part in symposiums
    take part in chain-poems or other collective compositions
    contribute manuscripts for sales
    donate copies of his books to libraries
    autograph books for strangers
    supply personal information about himself
    supply photographs of himself
    allow his name to be used on letter-heads
    receive unknown persons who have no apparent business with him.

    So there!

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