A Twitter Thread on Book Blurbing

From earlier today, presented here for archival purposes, and also, you know, to make the the point that people are often very confidently wrong about things. The subject at hand is whether I pretty much indiscriminately endorse the books that come my way. Longtime readers here know the answer to that, but it’s always worth repeating.

1. Lol, no. I show off piles of books to show people what’s coming out; I also give authors space on my site to promote their latest books. But the number of books I actually *blurb* – give a quote for their cover – is actually pretty small, limited to books I’ve read and liked.

"Follow John Scalzi and you'll see him get a pile of books every month that he just writes endorsements for, it's not a secret"

2. Nor do I (or the authors I know) engage in simple logrolling. Do I endorse the books of friends? Sure – if I like them. I don’t endorse books of authors I know if they’re not to my liking. And I endorse books of authors I don’t know when they come to me and are amazing.

3. I decline to endorse the large majority of books that I’m sent to blurb. Mostly because I just don’t have time to read them (I warn the editors up front that might be the case) but sometimes just because it’s not the book for me, even if it will be a fabulous book for others.

4. And for the record I have never been *pressured* by an editor/publisher/etc to blurb a book. Several is the time my own publisher has sent me something for endorsement and I didn’t give it. The response is always, “okay, thanks, maybe next time.”

5. Not on this person specifically, but I really get annoyed with the assumption that author endorsements are this corrupt and chummy thing. That’s bullshit. If you see my name on the cover of someone’s book, it’s because I think that book is good and worth a look. That’s it.

6. This “blurbs are corrupt” nonsense is part of a larger narrative of “publishing is fixed, you have to know someone and/or recite a secret password” bad thinking. It’s untrue. Getting published isn’t easy but it’s not just for a pre-determined club. Reductive nonsense, that is.

7. Oh, and, know what? I have a pretty damn good track record with my blurbs. Many of those books have gone on to award wins and/or bestseller status; some have been made into movies or television. It’s correlation not causation! But indicative of me not being indiscriminate.

8. That said: I happily *promote* writers! I retweet their stuff, post pics of books sent to me, schedule Big Ideas, and otherwise help to get word out. Why? Because I have reach and because promoting books is *hard* even in the best of times, which these are not. Glad to help!

9. I can’t possibly read or actively endorse every book I’m sent or know about or retweet. But I can let other people know they *exist,* and I’m happy to do that. If that counts as *endorsement* to you, then okay, I guess. My own distinction is a little more fine-grained.

10. In sum: author book endorsements generally (and certainly mine specifically) are not glad-handedly corrupt. If I blurb something, I actually, you know, *liked* it. Thank you. And now, here’s a picture of a cat to see you all out of this thread.


Smudge, splayed out on his back.

Originally tweeted by John Scalzi (@scalzi) on January 2, 2022.

— JS

29 Comments on “A Twitter Thread on Book Blurbing”

  1. This attitude (which you’re writing about) probably stems from a few earlier authors who were notorious for that. It was a household joke for us how many books had “The best book I read all year! – Marion Zimmer Bradeley” pasted across their cover. Positive blurbing is one thing, but one sentence over and over is ridiculous.

    As a reader I find author blurbs useful. I really enjoy Seanan McGuire’s/Mira Grant’s writing. When I see she has blurbed a book (which she usually tweets about as well), I know it’s something she really liked and I find I generally like those books as well. It’s a good way to find new authors if you trust the author blurbing.

  2. TBH, at this point if I see a positive comment from Margaret Atwood on a cover I take that as a bad sign.

  3. In the mystery field, some people feel that way about Lee Child’s endorsement. Stephen King blurbs a lot of books too.

  4. I don’t pay much attention to the blurbs. It’s the author recommendations on Twitter or from people I know that help me find books. Their tastes match mine, so that’s most helpful for me

  5. Do I endorse the books of friends? Sure – if I like them. [….] And I endorse books of authors I don’t know when they come to me and are amazing.

    To be a bit of the devils advocate: I do believe that this is true. But I also believe that you are (obviously) more likely to read books written by your friends (and/or authors who’s books you have liked before) than the books of some random writer who you never heard about (given that the pitch of the books are the same). This is just human nature and might give people a skewed perspective.

    tl;dr: you are probably more likely to read books from your friends / favorite authors and so more likely to give blurbs to their books, which makes things seem “rigged”

    For the record I don’t really think that the “blurb game” is super rigged in anything other than maybe some edge cases (like mentioned before in these comments for instance).

  6. Pete:

    The books I blurb are sent to me well in advance of publication by publishers/editors/publicists, so no, in fact, the books I might blurb are not weighted toward friends. In fact the majority of books I’m asked to blurb are from writers I don’t know personally (or, at least, don’t know yet).

    I do read books from friends but possibly fewer than you might think, because a lot of my reading is from outside the genre I work in.

  7. Fair enough enough and maybe my assumptions are unfounded here, but the fact that you are sent books way before publication isn’t really a refutation of this. If a publisher/editor/publicist thinks for whatever reason ( you’re (publicly) friend with the author? you previously gave a positive blurb to this author? …) that you like a book they are probably more likely to send a preview copy to you than if the book is not of the kind you have given positive blurbs to before. Again, not saying it’s a huge conspiracy just probably how overall business (and business assumptions) work.

    That said, I don’t really read book blurbs at all so I have no idea what you have sent in :). Just my personal reflection as a person who try to read a lot of books but wants to read a lot more.

  8. … and, also, trying to think of what my personal reaction would be if I got sent a lot of books to read and give comments on, and which ones I would choose. Also my personal reactions on getting sent a lot of papers / PhD theses (some of which written by my friends) to review, which is not really rhe same to be fair.

  9. I haven’t really done a deep dive to see if it’s on here, but I would be interested if there is a “hey I like these books” page.

    I have seen a few of the interviews you’ve done where you’ve stated books that you’ve read at an earlier part of your life that you liked.

    Other than walking through a book store and looking at every cover- I do have some free time on my hands but not THAT much – is there some other place where I can find the blurbs?

  10. I show off piles of books to show people what’s coming out…

    I wondered about that. I couldn’t figure out how you were reading those stacks of novels in a month!? I thought you had an unreal reading speed.

    Thanks for that and the other tidbits. Good to know.

  11. Oh Thank the Maker you took my advice and included a picture of one of the scamperbeasts! And Smudge. I am thrilled. In fact, I feel like this is your way of endorsing my suggestion.

    I’ll also change the name of my book from “Scalzi Endorses Me or How I Piggybacked Off His Major 2015 Deal” to “How a Hard Science Fiction Author Made 2015 Opening Ceremonies Delightful and Other Stories Not Lost To Post Concussion Syndrome”. Hmm, kind of long. Eh, fix it in post.

  12. I’m somewhat surprised that people thought you were endorsing ALL those books. Especially since almost every lot of them include at least one written by members of the dolorous juvenile canines.

  13. Okay okay you’ve covered blurbs. But what about the cat pictures? Do you expect us to believe that you’re publicizing these cats for free? I bet your accountant turns white as a sheet when the IRS shows up dot at you.

  14. I don’t think I’ve ever paid attention to who has blurbed a book. I pick up recommendations from friends, blogs, reviews, etc etc, but I don’t recall ever paying attention to the blurbs. Even in the used shops where I’m looking at the physical item and not a web page I look at the summary (if there is one: books with no summary I take a pass on until I can find out more about it to decide if I’m interested).

    No offense, but just because I like what you write doesn’t mean we have similar taste in reading and I may have no interest in the things you like to read for fun.

  15. Re. #7 Dear Lazywebs, which ones [that Scalzi has reviewed] have been made into movies or television?

  16. I’ve never gotten the feeling you weren’t “blurbing” books insincerely but based on comments by other writers and publishers over the years, I don’t think your experience is universal.
    Berni, when I worked in a bookstore I had the same reaction to Stephen King blurbs you did to MZB: pretty much every new horror author had something gushing by King (“He’s better with his first novel than I am now!”) or the like.
    My favorite story about blurbs, from a book on mystery writing and publishing, was about a hardboiled mystery novelist notorious for never blurbing unless he loved a book. But as he thought all the other hardboiled authors were crappy writers, his recommendations were never for books like his own. Readers got confused.

  17. I personally am very thankful for the Big Idea book promotions. It has alerted me to a lot of great stuff.

  18. Do you have a running list of books you have blurbed that you can link to?

    Obviously you have your “Big Idea” as a space to highlight other author’s work, but I don’t think that is quite the same as an endorsement by you personally.

  19. So you’re not an asshole.

    Some people reflexively assume that everyone is. I’ve found, by and large, those people are themselves assholes.

    Whether or not I am is a state that cannot be observed from inside.

  20. Thank you for the cat… And, sometimes the books you retweet are interesting, sometimes not. But I don’t have the time or energy to hunt through the stacks at my fav bookstores and library, so thanks for the heads ups… (did I thank you for the cat?) Okay. Have a great year… Also, nice church building. Have fun with it.

  21. John, I wonder if any reputation you have as an indiscriminate endorser comes from people confused by your posts with the pictures of piles of recently arrived books, and the frequent Big Idea posts by guest posters. You intend those as informative, rather than as your personal endorsements, but perhaps some readers don’t recognize the difference between that and a blurb.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve found that a really interesting Big Idea post is more likely to get me salivating over a book than a blurb is. It’s curious, too, that some of my favorite authors seem to have different tastes in -reading- than I do, so a favorite name on a blurb may not do much for me.

  22. I keep reading this as A Twitter Thread on Book Burning and thinking … that takes a thread? I’m pretty sure he’s opposed to it.

  23. I’ve always been confused by people thinking there’s some vast conspiracy afoot that determines who gets published and who doesn’t.

    To me, the overall (low) quality of published material suggests that, rather than being run by enigmatic gatekeepers, the industry is more open to new entries than ever before. Not to mention the existence of self-publishing. Anyone who wants to put out a novel or a story for sale, or for the audience’s reading pleasure, can do so, with zero costs involved (I believe).

    Whining about “cancel culture” doesn’t hold water for the same reason, but that was never grounded in objective reality anyway.

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