More on blurbs, plus zombies

I am so proud that my serious, soul-baring post about the trials and tribulations of blurbs wound up turning into a debate about whether unicorns or zombies are better. Sometimes I just love my genre people.

This response to Scalzi and me on blurbing also made me smile. I am, indeed, very proud of this sentence:

“How do you tell someone you shot their dog cause you really hate unicorns?”

The writer of that post suggests that it would be amusing to just blurb everything and if you don’t like a book give it an ambiguous blurb of the “I cannot praise this book too highly” variety. Clearly they meant it in jest, but it reminded me that there are writers out there who do exactly that.

Writers of this ilk let you know that they don’t like your book via their blurb:

Justine Larbalestier’s Zombie Dancing is the worst kind of commericial romantic filth. My eyes they bleed! I would rather eat my own entrails than be in the same room with this “book”. Run away as fast as you can!
—Discerning Genius Writer, author of genius books that sell very well thank you very much

It’s only happened to me once (very early on in my career) but, wow, did it hurt. Basically in four sentences this famous (in Australia) writer said they thought my writing sucked and I had no future.


Frankly, I think writing ambiguous, indifferent, or bad blurbs in the real world is passive aggressive nastiness. If you don’t like a book, don’t blurb it. Writers are delicate fragile creatures. Don’t be pouring acid on them!

To sum up, zombies are a zillion, bazllion, katrillion times better than smelly old unicorns, and blurbs are a tricky business.


  1. Rebecca on #

    i don’t like zombies or unicorns.

    wait, maybe i shouldn’t have said that….

  2. bmad on #

    where do we stand on unicorn/pegasus combos? (i’m in favor, but i’m looking for consensus.)

  3. elizabeth bear on #

    What about **zombie unicorns**?

  4. John H on #

    How about zombie unicorns that write bad blurbs?

  5. capt. cockatiel on #

    I don’t normally post here, but now I must say that I have to. On the unicorn/pegasus combo topic all I have to say is this: you can have a unicorn-pegasus, but not a pegasus-unicorn. My friends and I spent our time discussing this matter, and that is the conclusion. Think about it, and you will be enlightened.
    Besides, who needs unicorns and pegasus anyway when you can have zombies?

  6. shana on #

    nice note on the passive aggressive nastiness, miss “famous (everywhere outside of australia) writer”

  7. marrije on #

    yes, well, to get back to the blurbs for a bit: justine, i just had some bad news and some good news, and to deal with both I had to visit a book shop (as one does).

    i bought a georgette heyer novel! i had never heard of the woman before you talked about her, so i’m going to read this because of your blurbs.

    it’s one of her mysteries (the unfinished clue), and i’m not sure whether you like those (the blurbs (hah!) mention Agatha C. as a comparison), but I thought i’d start with the one i found.

    i also got zusak’s the book thief because of john green’s blurbling. well, his review, actually.

  8. Doselle Young on #

    Well, embarrasingly enough, personal experience has made it abundantly clear that neither unicorns nor zombies make the best sexual partners. That being the case, we’re forced to assess both the unicorn and the zombie on their other merits–of which the aforementioned ‘smelly old unicorn’ has few. (Although, for the ambitious Martha Stewart types, unicorns do make a rather tasty, albeit somewhat gamey, chili. )

    1) Fun quotient: Fast-moving zombies beat unicorns hands down. They make more exciting targets, cooler noises and there’s that likely to eat the annoying guy next to you thing, as well.

    2) D.P.W. (Disfunctional Personality Warning) quotient: In this department, unicorns excel. Consider, if you’re over at someone’s home and they have a collection of unicorn merch., you pretty much guaranteed you’re socializing with a nutter, whereas, if you walk into someone’s home and are greeted by posters of zombies, you’re pretty much in for a good time (although you may be expected to listen to a little too much Danzig).

    3) W.W.M.L.W.I.A.F.W.G quotient: Okay. Who would most likely when in a fight with Godzilla? Well, zombies are flesh eating, fast moving humanoids with the ability to work in packs. Unicorns just kinda hang around being, well, fairly lame and pathetic with thei stupid horns, so, while either would like get crushed under Godzilla’s massive feet, there’s no doubt in my mind that unicorns would make some lame, pastel-like splatter as they were flattened into a pancake.

    I’m sure there are other important indicators, as well.


    P.S. To the lovely Elizabeth Bear:

    Zombie Unicorns are infinitely cooler than unicorns because the word ZOMBIE makes just about anything cooler. Other examples include: Zombie Chef, Zombie Figure Skater, Zombie Footballer, Zombie President, etc. Even Zombie Milton Berle. So, when considered in such stellar company, how can a zombie unicorn not be cool, right?

  9. Justine on #

    Rebecca: You get points for not liking unicorns, but they get taken away for not liking zombies. Leaving you exactly where you started. That’s not so bad.

    Bmad: You’ll get no consensus from me a pox on both their houses!

    Elizabeth: You are behind the times. Scalzi suggested that yesterday.

    John H: the horror!

    Welcome, Captain Cockatiel, I am so with you on not needing pegasus or unicorns in the face of the glory of zombies.

    Marrije: Oh noes! I hate Heyer’s detective fiction! It’s awful. So very awful. But remember I hate Agatha Christie and all cosies so maybe it will work fo you? I hope so! It’s her regencies that are my crack. Venetia, Sylvester, Frederica, Cotillion. Sigh. Such yumminess. If you go the amazon route order them of—much better covers.

    Hope the good news conquers the bad news.

    Doselle: Very very well put. That’s it exactly!

    Though I’m concerned by the personal experience part. Ewww!

  10. jenny d on #

    i do like agatha christie and all those 1930s-style detective novels, but i do not think heyer’s are any good, the character development is very poor & what seems charming in her regency fiction is simply weak in the contemporary setting…

  11. jessiegirl on #

    maybe i’m in the minority here but i don’t read blubs. ever. i know they are important in the writing/publishing world but as a reader the effort is lost on me.

    1. vampires.
    2. zombies.
    3. all other magical creatures.
    4. unicorns.

  12. marrije on #

    well! let’s hope the zusak lives up to its reputation then, eh? at least i got the book from a charming independent bookstore with lovely bookstore ladies.

  13. Justine on #

    Jenny D: That is what I feared.

    Jessiegirl: Obviously, you mean vampires second, zombies first and rather than the number 4 you should put “last”, but other than that I am with you!

    Marrije: I haven’t read the Zusak, but I can tell you that John Green is utterly sincere in his love of it. He doesn’t shut up about it. Seriously, every time I see him he’s on my case to read it. No matter how many times I tell him that I can’t read it cause I heard it has unicorns—he still keeps going on and on and on about the glories of that book. Sheesh!

  14. Theo Black on #

    Smelly old Unicorn? Honestly. Unicorns might be old but what can smell worse than someone who has lost half their flesh and spends there free time eating brains.

  15. Salokin on #

    Technically, wouldn’t zombies be smellier? At least in a decaying sort of way.
    But better than smelling like sunshine and rainbows. Although rainbows actually might smell quite good. Something with the sensory perception of colours.
    I liked Jewel, the Unicorn from the CoN. But I think that was just because of the imagery of blood on a diamond horn.

  16. Justine on #

    Theo: Did Holly send you over? Sheesh! The smell of zombies is the world’s greatest perfume. Mmmmmm . . .

    Salokin: Sweet, sweet smell of decay. Unicorns smell of farts. Nasty farts.

  17. Diana on #

    Actually, unicorns smell of [redacted].

    I *cannot* believe someone gave you a bad blurb! What’s wrong with, “I’m sorry, I’m not going to be able to do this…”

  18. Rebecca on #

    hmm….to be quite honest, i don’t pay attention to blurbs. i bought a book that was blurbed by an author whose book i didn’t really like all that much. and vice versa.

    i am curious, justine–what are your feelings on narwhals?

  19. Penni on #

    I’m not so much into the author-on-author blurbing. I thought it was nice that in Australia for my first novel the publishers used reviews from 13 year old girls as the blurb – my actual target audience. And bless Meg and Cara for their lovely words. “Someday I will repay you, unless of course I can’t find you, or if I forget.” (Other people with three year olds will recognise that as a quote from Shrek 2. The rest of you can just think I’m sad. What was with puss in boots anyway? No narrative arc.)

  20. Ez on #

    1. If you haven’t already written a novel titled Zombie Dancing, please do so 😉

    2. I think I’m getting “blurbs” confused with “review quotes”. I thought a blurb was “something on the back of a back explaining what the book’s about”, and that review quotes were “the protagonist is a pain in the arse, but the plot’s intriguing, lalala”. Will you clarify, please?

    Thanks, and have a lovely day! 🙂

  21. Justine on #

    Diana: Some people are just mean.

    Rebecca: I guess I rely on blurbs more because I had such good luck with them as a teenager. I was always finding books that my fave authors had blurbed. That’s how I discovered Lisa St Aubin de Teran. And now that I’m part of publishing gossip land I have a pretty good idea of what blurbs are sincere.

    Narwhals are fabulous!

    Penni: That’s a fantastic idea. I wonder why more publishers don’t do that.

    Ez: “Blurbs” are the quotes from authors or chunks from reviews.

    “Cover copy” is the description of the book. Also known as “jacket copy”. Or just plain “copy”.

  22. A.R.Yngve on #

    One thing I know: never let zombies write blurbs (or cover copy).

    “Book… not braains… braaaains…!”

  23. carrie on #

    zombies win. they’re just so dedicated to their cause. I like that kind of dedication.

    do unicorns even have a cause?

    in a fight i’d put money on the zombies. they just have the numbers.

  24. John M. Burt on #

    Regarding Zombies and/or unicorns vs. Godzilla:

    Unicorns are famous for killing animals many times their size, including elephants. Godzilla is a good deal bigger, but remember, unicorns have been described as running around carrying an impaled elephant. At the very least, if Godzilla tried his usual STOMP maneuver, he’d go hopping away yelping after he took two feet of needle-sharp curly horn in his instep.

    As for zombies, I suppose a zombie owner might command his slow-moving, dull-witted slaves to attack Godzilla, but I doubt they’d fare even as well as compos mentis Japanese military personnel.

    Oh, and by the way: zombies don’t eat human flesh. In fact, they don’;t eat meat of any kind. Look it up.

  25. kasa on #

    I don’t believe this has been mentioned (if I missed it I am terribly sorry), but the correct term for a unicorn/pegasus hybrid is a “pegacorn.” They are majestic creatures, indeed.

    That is all.

  26. John M. Burt on #

    I’ve heard the term “pegacorn”, and I certainly wouldn’t want one to peg me, but I prefer Piers Anthony’s term “alicorn”.

    Properly, an alicorn is a unicorn’s severed horn, but it could also be read as a horned animal (“cornu”) with wings (“alis”).

    Hey, why not?

    As for blurbs, it’s true that they can hurt worse than an alicorn through the duodenum. My wife and I once reviewed an album, saying “They’d be Spirit if they were better”, and got an angry midnight phone call in response, demanding that we take it back. So we followed it up by saying, “They’ll never, ever be Spirit”, but that didn’t seem to be the right thing to say either.

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