John Scalzi has a post up explaining his blurb policy. He even kindly explains what blurbs are.

I think his policy is so spot on that I’ve adopted it (slightly amended) as my own:

1. Yes, I am happy to look at books and if I love them I will blurb them.

I adore reading my peers’ work and getting to read them ahead of publication is particularly exciting. It makes me feel like I’m really part of the Young Adult publishing world with my little ole finger right on the pulse. Not to mention that being asked for a blurb is an honour.1 It says that someone somewhere thinks my say so might be good enough to sell a book. That’s flattering as hell. I mean, Wow.

So far I’ve been lucky: None of the books I’ve been asked to blurb have been bad. And yet I’ve blurbed only one novel. I’ve not blurbed books I thought were pretty darn good because I didn’t think they’d be a good fit with my audience. Or because they touch on certain taboos or bugbears of mine. (You know, like unicorns or negative portrayals of Australians.)

I have now read and not blurbed several books by people I know and like and who’ve written other books I would have blurbed in a heartbeat. It sucks, but not as much as having my name on the back of a book that I feel uncomfortable about. I can’t have my readership thinking I endorse unicorns.

I have to really love a book or think it’s doing something important or new to have my name on the back extolling its virtues. I don’t have the largest readership in the world, but I want my readers to know that if I’m talking up someone else’s book I’m really into it. That way if they read it, hate it, and call me on it, I can in good conscience say, “I blurbed it because I loved it. I’m sorry you don’t agree.”

2. Requests for blurbs should come from the book’s editor or publisher, not from the writer.

That’s the ideal, but sometimes your editor is too busy, or your press too small to do it, and it falls on your shoulders. I understand. I’ve been there.

Scalzi gives lots of excellent reasons why it’s better for the blurb request to come from the publishing house than from the writer. I’ll add another one: it’s really embarrassing for a writer to have to ask another writer to publically praise them.

I’ve had to ask writers to sing the glories of me. Even if I know they like my work, and are likely to be willing, it makes me feel like I’m going to throw up. I really really really hate having to ask. I’d much rather have someone else do that. I’d much rather not know if a writer chooses not to blurb me. I’d much rather not even know who was asked.

And I’d really much rather have writers not know I’ve been asked to blurb their books so it never comes up that I haven’t done so. Having to explain to a friend why you won’t blurb their book is one of the world’s least fun things to do. Me, I don’t even like hurting the feelings of authors I’ve never met! Scalzi’s right, it’s just like shooting their dog. And how do you tell someone you shot their dog cause you really hate unicorns?

I have several writer friends who have a no-blurb policy. I’m starting to think that’s a really good idea. The reason I can’t adopt it is that so many people have blurbed me. It would feel churlish not to blurb other people. I know from fan mail that people have picked up my books because of blurbs from Holly Black, Samuel R. Delany, Cory Doctorow and Karen Joy Fowler. While I don’t have anywhere near their audience, if a blurb from me will help someone new whose work I love, than of course I will blurb them.

The other scary thing about blurbs—and let’s face it they’re a whole lot of terror for a writer—is that they’re really really hard to write. Seriously it’s easier to write a whole new novel than it is to write a good blurb:

“You should read this book. It is really good. I liked it. Heaps.”
—Justine Larbalestier, author of books that must really suck if that’s her idea of a good blurb.


  1. Though who gets asked is a mystery to me, seeing as how I get asked to do it so much more often than Scott “New York Times Bestselling Author” Westerfeld does. What’s up with that?


  1. jon spencer on #

    A old quote “I thought I saw a unicorn but I was mistaken, something had knocked one of the horns off the horse”

  2. veejane on #

    Alex Irvine’s novel, One King, One Soldier, had a blurb on the front — I don’t remember by whom — that said, hare-brainedly, “If you like Dan Brown, you’ll love this book!” Or something silly to that effect.

    It was like seeing the blurb process at work: blurbinator thinks, “I liked this book; I have no idea what to say about it that would be concise; here is something wacky that will help Alex get his book into those little drug store racks, from which millions and millions of copies are sold!”

    Which is — not subtle, but probably effective!

  3. robin on #

    Okay, I have to know: What do you have against unicorns?

  4. scott w on #

    I get asked to do it so much more often than Scott—New York Times Bestselling Author—Westerfeld does. What’s up with that?

    The trick is to constantly publicize your shingles. (You guys know I had shingles, right? I got them from a unicorn.)

  5. holly on #

    Seriously, you don’t like unicorns? What kind of person doesn’t like unicorns?

  6. John Scalzi on #

    There’s only one way to get shingles from a unicorn, you sick freak.

  7. sara z. on #

    I think your policy is great. As an author, I truly would not want a blurb from anyone who didn’t LOVE the book. But I don’t think I could ever institute a no-blurbing policy, either, for the reasons you cite.

  8. Carl V. on #

    I laughed the whole time I read this, visions of some old Muppet Show sketch with disgruntled unicorns running around in the background.

    I think Scalzi has a great idea about how blurbs should be handled. I think blurbs are very important, there are many books I have picked up because my favorite authors have blurbs on the cover and I have been delighted every time. These are books that I may not have discovered otherwise. Authors like Jonathan Carroll, James Blaylock, Robert Sheckley…just to name a few…are authors whose books came home with me because of author blurbs. I think if they are done with the kind of integrity that both you and Mr. Scalzi are espousing then they are a benefit for the readers that cannot be overlooked.

  9. scott w on #

    I think the relations between blurbers are interesting in their own right, much like those in writers’ acknowledgments.

    Someone should do a Six Degrees of Blurbification site, where anyone can enter blurb relationships found on a book. That way we can all see how many blurbs we are from, say, F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Hint: If you’re an sf writer, all roads lead through Jonathan Lethem.)

  10. Diana on #

    you’re evil.

  11. marrije on #

    who is evil, diana? justine? scott? or mr scalzi?

  12. Kevin Wignall on #

    Much on my mind at the moment. I was lucky to have Jeffery Deaver blurb my first book – he’d met me at a dinner but our joint agents and publishers asked him. A few years later he told me he read a lot of books but only blurbed those he truly wanted to tell people about, a good policy.

    i’ve blurbed books just because authors asked me and i didn’t want to say no, even though i couldn’t imagine a blurb from me being worth anything. in the process, i’ve blurbed books i probably shouldn’t have blurbed and i’m toying with a no blurb policy, but there’s the rub…

    now my new editor is asking if i can solicit blurbs for the new book. not nice, and this post has made up my mind – i won’t do it.

    by the way, john, you assume scott was the instigator of the shingles-inducing encounter, but if the unicorn was the instigator that would explain justine’s aversion to said mythical beast.

  13. Justine on #

    Robin: My dislike of unicorns goes back to childhood but I cannot discuss that trauma without becoming further traumatised.

    Holly: What kind of a person doesn’t like zombies? What have zombies ever done to you?

    I cannot comment on the shingles unicorn incident except to say that my husband is innocent!

    Also I am not evil. Diana’s the evil one. And unicorns of course.

    I ask you, Marrije, why, if they’re so sweet and innocent do unicorns have sharp pointy horns?

  14. Diana on #


    Justine is evil. But then, so are unicorns.

    Scott, to hear it from Maureen Dowd, it’s all a big, blurbin’ daisy chain in genre fic world…

  15. marrije on #

    but why, diana? or is that between the two of you? confusion!

  16. Justine on #

    Oh, I see, so you’re all for the use of unicorn products. Are you thinking about having a unicorn coat made for yourself as well? I wonder how PETA feels about your unicorn-exploiting ways . . .

    Not to mention that zombies don’t have diseases. I’m appalled that you would spread lies about them.

  17. holly on #

    Zombies shamble. I disapprove of shambling. And bits that fall off. You never see a unicorn behaving that way.

  18. Justine on #

    I shamble. Bits fall off me all the time: Hair, skin cells. Are you saying you disapprove of me?

  19. cherie priest on #

    But Holly, if you ask nicely, a zombie will give you a piggyback ride even if you are not a virgin.

    And that is why zombies win.

  20. Justine on #

    See, Holly? No one holds with your zombie-hating ways.

  21. holly on #

    But the horn of a unicorn can cure diseases! Possibly the diseases you might get from accepting a piggyback ride from a zombie.

  22. cherie priest on #

    Oh. Oh that’s just COLD, Holly. Now you’re hatin’ on zombies over something they’ve got no control over. They can’t help it that they’re germy and shambly. They didn’t choose to be infectious undead!

    Why don’t you just point and laugh at orphans, widows, and 3-legged puppies too, while you’re at it?

  23. holly on #

    In addition to the many diseases that contact with their decomposing flesh could give you, one could argue that zombie-ism is a communicable disease all on its own.

    Oh, and I would so wear a unicorn coat. I have the perfect place for it in my closet, right next to the one made from Dalmation puppies.

  24. Justine on #

    Cherie of course is talking about American zombies, while I am discussing Australian zombies who are famous for their cleanliness.

    Oh, and I would so wear a unicorn coat. I have the perfect place for it in my closet, right next to the one made from Dalmation puppies.

    Holly! You monster!

  25. cherie priest on #

    Well. I think the whole “unicorn coat” thing underscores quite nicely what sort of people are prone to Unicorn Love. I do believe that their fan club makes yet another irrefutable strike against them.


    And also in the Superiority of the Undead column: you can play leapfrog with a zombie. That’s just one more reason why zombies are cooler than unicorns.

  26. holly on #

    Leapfrog with a unicorn is a more demanding sport. An Olympic event, even.

    And while you may well deride my desire for a unicorn coat, no one, but NO ONE wants a coat made from a zombie.

  27. cherie priest on #

    And that’s yet another reason that zombies will eventually conquer all the unicorns. No natural predators — not even man. Top of their food chain, they are.

    zombie pride 43va!

  28. John Scalzi on #

    I propose a meeting of the minds:

    Zombie unicorns.


  29. scott w on #

    In my next fantasy novel, there is a race of winged zombies who fly around pissing on unicorns from a great height. So ubiquitous are these zombies that the word in Standard Tongue for “unicorn” translates literally to “yellow-coated annoying creature.”

    Zombie unicorns are cool, because they only allow people with shingles to touch them.

  30. holly on #

    …and we all know you love to touch unicorns, right scott?

    I predict a lot of shingles in your future.

  31. Diana on #

    I have a unicorn coat. So soft! So warm! And completely impermeable.

    I also know a few zombie unicorns. They aren’t a bad sort, once you get used to their man-eating ways.

  32. Chang, in space! on #

    IF we let the unicorns give us piggybacks, then the zombies win. But then, IF we give the zombies piggybacks, don’t they and the unicorns win? Because the zombies love eat brainz and they’re closer to them brainz when on piggyback and then the unicorns laugh at our folly.

    I think zombies AND unicorns win and then humanity loses.

  33. Lenna on #

    justine, i’m on your side with the zombie-ness.
    I have Unicorn issues…they go way back to my little pony days
    [gah..shuddering…dry heave]
    as for zombie unicorns?? thats a taaad on the odd side, but i’d read a book about it if the blurb on the cover was good like “if you enjoy reading author blogs with inter-author arguments on mythical creatures, you’ll love this book!”

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