One of the things that sucks about being an indie is that you have to sell your books. I know that seems pretty obvious, but but it’s harder than it looks! In the old days, every book had a blurb on the back of it, or inside the flap on the dust jacket, and that blurb gave us just enough intriguing insight into the book that we bought it.
Here in the US, the word blurb originated in 1907. American humorist Gelett Burgess’s short 1906 book Are You a Bromide? was presented in a limited edition to an annual publishers’ trade association dinner. The custom at such events was to have a dust jacket promoting the work–they did things right in those days! His definition of “blurb” was “a flamboyant advertisement; an inspired testimonial.”
Blurbs can and do sell books.
But what will sell books? Let’s take a look at Wool, by Hugh Howey:
This is the story of mankind clawing for survival, of mankind on the edge. The world outside has grown unkind, the view of it limited, talk of it forbidden. But there are always those who hope, who dream. These are the dangerous people, the residents who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple. They are given the very thing they profess to want: They are allowed outside.
Or F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s classic novel, The Great Gatsby:
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought — frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon; for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.
There are huge differences in these blurbs:
Hugh Howey (an indie) tells us about the plot of his book-and it is intriguing. I bought it based on that blurb.
(Charles Scribner’s Sons) (Fitzgerald’s original publisher) used the opening lines of the book–and that was intriguing as well.
Choosing to use the opening lines for marketing is dangerous–it could be an epic failure, for those who want to know what the book is about.
Back Cover of Mage-Guard of Hamor by L. E. Modesitt Jr.
Even more dangerous than that is the increasing trend toward eliminating the blurb and going with nothing but recommendations mentioning other works by that author. Let me just say now, I HATE THAT! For the love of Tolstoy–talk about the book I am going to buy, please! Any blurb, even a bad one, is better than glowing reviews by paid reviewers.
But this trend just proves to me that the BIG PUBLISHERS are just as much as sea in the this regard as we poor indies are, small comfort though it is.
I will be writing blurbs for my own work again soon, and so I am looking at blurbs on the covers in my library, and trying to see what it was that attracted me to that particular book. I admit that many times it was the cover art, and not the blurb, but when I picked up a book by an author that was unknown to me, I read the blurb, and considered carefully whether or not to spend my dearly earned wages on that book. I was taking a risk–because what if I hated it?
It’s a conundrum. Perhaps I can go with “One ring to rule them all…”
No… I suppose that’s been done…but it’s an awesome blurb, short and to the point….