Don’t Panic About Blurbs

When I was a brand new about-to-have-my-first-book-published baby author I freaked out entirely about blurbs. I was sure I needed them. Or rather my brand new baby book needed them. I panicked and decided I needed to ask every single published writer friend I knew. But then when it came to actually asking them I froze. It was so icky and embarrassing.

“Hello, oh lovely writer friend of mine, so, um, I know we’ve known each other for years and, um, gotten drunk together, even though getting drunk is wrong and neither of us plans to ever do it again, and, um, where was I? Did you hear about them Sparks? Suck, don’t they? Er, why did I phone you? No reason. I was just thinking about you . . . ”

So after several conversations like that I finally screwed up the courage to ask Karen Joy Fowler, who I knew had actually read and liked Magic or Madness and she blurbed it. At the time her wonderful novel, Jane Austen Book Club, was everywhere. Also Karen is not only a dear friend but one of my favourite writers so I was over the moon. The book was published with her blurb on the back.

To this day I’ve never heard anyone tell me they picked up my book because of Karen’s blurb. The paperback went out with a quote from Holly Black on the front. And ditto. No one has ever told me they picked up one of my books because of a blurb.

Here are the reasons people have given for picking up one of my books:

  1. Their sibling or best friend told them they had to read it.
  2. Their librarian or teacher recommended it.
  3. They liked the cover.
  4. They read about it on Boing Boing or Whatever.
  5. It was the only book around.
  6. It was on their course list so they had to read it.

The only time blurbs have been mentioned to me was when a sweet girl wrote to thank me for blurbing Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones. She told me it’s now her favourite book on the planet and she only picked it up because of my blurb.1

There are some blurbs that make a difference. If Stephenie Meyer or Stephen King or J. K. Rowling loves your book and wants to tell the world about it that is a Very Good Thing. But I’m unconvinced that there are many other writers who have that kind of clout. Not in book blurb form though there are plenty who have the ability to move a book when they mention it on their blog.

If you’re a brand new writer and you’re freaking out about blurbs, and you don’t know any published writers, or you do and are too embarrassed to ask, I think you can relax. Scott’s biggest selling book, Uglies, went out into the world unadorned with blurbs and several gazillion copies sold later it continues to sell.

Plenty of books sell great without blurbs.

If you have the time, energy, or inclination, go after blurbs from famous authors but it truly won’t make much difference if you don’t get them. Don’t sweat it. I really wish someone had sat me down way back then and told me to calm down. Would have been a big weight off. I honestly thought blurbs were one of the most important aspects of getting people to pick up a book. Even though I had pretty much never bought a book because of a blurb myself.

My latest book, Liar is my first book without any blurbs on it. And I gotta tell you it was a huge relief not having to ask people to blurb it. Even after five books I still find doing so excruciating. I really hope I never have to do so again.

Blurbs schlurbs! Worry about your next book. It’s far more important to your writing career than any blurb is.

Hmmm, best I get back to doing that myself . . .

  1. Which was replaced on the paperback by a blurb from Stephenie Meyer. As if her blurb will sell as many copies as one from me! What? Oh, she’s the one who wrote Twilight? Never mind. []


  1. Rachel on #

    So is getting blurbs entirely the author’s responsibility or will publishers also do this?

    I know I’m not supposed to worry about it but I’m just wondering… 🙂

  2. Justine on #

    I’ve always gotten my own blurbs. I know a few people who’ve had their agent or publisher get blurbs for them. But I think authors doing it is most common.

    If I could go back in time I’d’ve saved myself the agony and not asked for any blurbs.

  3. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    The only time a blurb sways my buying is if I am considering two books and torn over which to get. If they are on otherwise equal footing (as in, I want them both) and one of them has a blurb by an author I like, then I may be more inclined towards that book. But if I’m just browsing, or feel uncertain about a book, then a blurb won’t make much difference.

    Part of why I don’t pay much mind to blurbs is because book preferences are such an individual thing. No two people are going to like all the same books. Even if I liked what an author writes, that doesn’t mean I’ll like what they read. And even if I have liked books they’ve blurbed in the past, that doesn’t necessarily mean I will like this one, too. So if it’s not a book I already know I’m interested in, then I’m not very likely to base my purchase on a tiny, one sentence blurb.

    I do, however, enjoy checking out blurbs after the fact. It’s fun to see if one of my favorite authors liked the same book I just read and liked.


  4. Lizzy-wa on #

    justine-la! oh my goodness i am soooooooooo hopefully coming to see you on tuesday! joyousness! hehehe

    -lizzy-wa 😛

  5. Ben O. on #

    I actually pay a bit of attention to blurbs – not so much the blurb itself, but who is doing the blurbing (although if the blurb says “In the tradition of…”, that’s usually the kiss of death).

    If the blurber (is that a word?) is from an author whose writing I really enjoy, it usually tips the scales a bit. However, if the blurber is someone I regard as an arrant hack (names withheld to protect the guilty!), then the chances of a purchase generally decline. Blurbs from newspapers, websites, Publishers Weekly, etc. don’t really sway me one way or the other (unless its from Locus, which can be a plus). But all in all, blurbs are pretty minor consideration.

  6. Ellen on #

    “If Stephenie Meyer or Stephen King […] loves your book and wants to tell the world about it that is a Very Good Thing.”
    If both of them love it, you might be Suzanne Collins >.>

  7. Tasha on #

    I dunno, I actually made a friend of mine pick up a book that was blurbed by both Scott Westerfeld and Neil Gaimon, it must be pretty good, lol.

    If a blurb is going to make me pick up a book, it’s probably going to be a set of blurbs from authors that I already respect as having good taste.

  8. Dawn C. on #

    To be honest, I would be less likely to read your book if Stephanie Meyer blurbed it. I do read blurbs though. I think it can be interesting, especially after reading the book, to look at them to see if you agree or disagree with their assessment. Some author’s opinions would sway me if I was undecided also; I bought Emma Bull’s War For The Oaks on the strength of Neil Gaiman’s opinion and I am glad I did.

  9. john cash on #

    Perhaps there was a blurb of text taken from the story, perhaps not. But I read the first page to make up my mind about books. I fell for Reason after her first three sentences.

  10. Heidi R. Kling on #

    Another excellent post. Thank you. =)

  11. lindsay eland on #

    Wonderful Post! And thanks for the reassurance…my book is blurb-less and I’ve been freaking out a tad…or maybe it’s a tad bit too much!


  12. wandering-dreamer on #

    I remember I actually picked up a book at Boarders because I saw a blurb by Tamora Pierce on it and then found out I had actually already read the book! XD But if an author I like talks about a book on their site (I know that Scott used to do interviews with other authors about new books) then I will definitely keep an eye out for it. My friends don’t read as much as I do so I can’t get recommendations from them, my family doesn’t read the same stuff I do, so it’s onto the people who write stuff I like!

  13. Chris S. on #

    A blurb by a much-loved author has never made me buy a book straight off the shelf, but it has made me read a few pages. If I like what’s inside, I feel doubly happy. Not only do I have a new book, but also my opinion of the blurbing writer is confirmed.

    Sadly, however, if the book is substandard, my opinion of the blurbing author’s taste is dented. Not unforgivably (more fender-bender than three-car-pileup), but dented.

  14. Jennifer on #

    I had the impression that blurbs were a mandatory thing, i.e. the publisher made you round them up no matter what.

    I don’t like them. I especially hate books with no plot summary anywhere and nothing but blurbs to sell it. The one time I bought a book based on a blurb I was brutally disappointed in it, and in the blurber for thinking it was good.

  15. Australian Online Bookshop on #

    I think the cover is what makes most people pick the book up in the first place. Blurbs are great but i don’t think they have a whole lot of imapct on the decision to purchase.

  16. Rachel on #

    Thanks for the answers!

    BTW I am influenced by blurbs in the following instance: if i am interested enough in the book to pull it off the shelf and investigate, but wouldn’t be interested enough to actually get it, i may change my mind if there’s an all-time-favorite author blurb. i also figure that if Bob Someone’s blurb was put on a book, the people-in-charge must think the book will appeal to Bob Someone’s fans… so if i like Bob someone I’ll take a look.

    Well, that’s my two cents!

  17. Karen on #

    As a new author who been fretting about having to do this I thank you for the infomation

  18. Beli-wa on #

    Actually i picked up the book Skinned (Robin Wasserman) because it had Scott’s quote in it 😛 lol. Although lemme tell you this much: I would buy the hard cover of city of bones(I’ve been meaning to read it…)just to see your blurb on it. Actually i would never buy the paperback BECAUSE stephanie meyers’s blurb is on it. I hate herr. and all things twilight of course… because they ruined amps for meh. I will never enjoy Scott’s book Peeps the same way EVER again!! :'(
    haha. hahaha.

  19. Summer on #

    Um….I picked up Magic or Madness because of the blurb…..I’ve picked up a LOT of books because of Phillip Pullman/Holly Black blurbs…(I’m kinda embarrassed now..)

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