Blurb Etiquette

Recently several friends have been on the receiving end of some very bad blurb etiquette and they have requested that I set the world straight about how blurbage should actually work. I live to serve.

What is a blurb? It’s the little quotes that typically appear on the back of a book saying how wonderful it is. For instance here is what Libba Bray has to say about How To Ditch Your Fairy:1

Justine Larbalestier has a super-cool writing fairy, and I am vastly jealous! Thoroughly entertaining, totally enchanting, wickedly funny, and 110% doos, How To Ditch Your Fairy had me grinning from page one (when I wasn’t laughing out loud). And as soon as I can figure out how to do it I’m going to ask to swap fairies with Justine.

—Libba Bray, New York Times Bestselling author of A Great and Terrible Beauty

A while back I talked at length about my policy on blurbs. The short version is: Yes, I am happy to look at books and if I love them I will blurb them.2 Turns out that there are other aspects of blurbage that I did not cover. Mostly because I did not know these things happen. But apparently they do.

  1. Never offer to swap blurbs with an author. “Hey, I have a book coming out. If you blurb it I’ll blurb your book!” This is a terrible idea. I may be a blurb purist but all the authors I know only blurb books that they enjoyed reading. They do not blurb books because that person blurbed their book and they especially don’t do that for someone who has never had a book published before and therefore has no track record. Blurbs are supposed to help to sell books but they’re useless if no one knows who the blurber is.
  2. If the author who agreed to look at your book does not get back to you DO NOT bug them. There are several reasons for not blurbing a book such as not liking it, not having time to read it, and losing said book. Putting the author in the position of having to explain which reason applies is not fair. No author wants to explain to another why they didn’t like their book well enough to blurb it. Just assume it was lack of time.
  3. There is nothing wrong with receiving a blurb from a friend unless of course that’s the only reason they’re doing it. I blurbed Cassie Clare’s City of Bones because I could not put it down. I loved it. The reason I know some of the wonderful writers who have blurbed me—Karen Joy Fowler, Samuel R. Delany, Libba Bray, Holly Black—is because I love their writing. They are my friends because of writing. None of them would blurb my books if they weren’t into them. It’s not worth our reputations to blurb books of varying quality. Every author I know has said no to blurbing a book by a friend. It’s awkward, but not as awkward as having your name eternally on the back of a book you don’t love.
  4. Never claim to have a blurb from an author if that is not the case. If the author in question has agreed to look at your book with the possibilty of providing a blurb that DOES NOT mean they are going to blurb you. I looked at several books last year and blurbed none of them. The author has agreed to read your book NOTHING more. If you go around boasting that you have a blurb when you don’t odds are it will get back to the author, who will then be much less inclined to blurb you. This is a very small industry. Word gets around.

This last point leads to a bigger point: Anyone who advises you that lying: claiming blurbs you don’t have, doctoring your publications list, claiming non-existent connections etc. etc. is a good way to get “your foot in the door” is full of it.

Don’t do this. Not ever.

Finding out that someone you have NEVER met is using your name to get ahead is vastly cranky-making. Also in the age of the internet it’s almost impossible to get away with these shenanigans. Google knows when you lie.

I think that about covers it, but if I’ve missed anything do please let me know.

  1. My apologies for the skiting, but I love this blurb. []
  2. In practice I do not blurb many books because I do not love very many. []


  1. N C on #

    Thanks for writing that. I used to wonder about blurbs! And I just wanted to say that it was partly your blurb that convinced me to read City of Bones. And your blurb did not lead me astray. City of Bones was great!

  2. aden on #

    All solid advice, and I’d imagine that last remark is apropros for more than just blurbage. Even though information density keeps skyrocketing there’s always someone keeping track of these things.

    (“Blurb” showed up so often that it started to look funny, so I looked up its etymology. Coined in 1907, it was originally meant as mockery of book cover praise. Oh well. The more you know…)

  3. rebecca on #

    “and I’d imagine that last remark is apropros for more than just blurbage.”

    ditto times a thousand. it’s pure dumbassery to do stuff like that.

  4. e. Lockhart on #

    I love that LB blurb! I can’t wait to read How to Ditch Your Fairy.

  5. liliya on #

    There a whole discussion on the rights and wrongs of blurbs here.

    scroll down (about half way) for the comments on Jonathan Franzen’s blurbs – made me laugh

  6. Laini Taylor on #

    Love the title of the new book and can’t wait to read it! As for blurbs, thanks for this. It’s such an awkward business, trying to get “famous” people to read your book. The thought of bugging other writers makes me want to curl up in fetal position. Yet, I really pay attention to blurbs when I am book shopping, so I think they’re really important marketing.

  7. Carrie on #

    Great post! Thanks for going through all this — I feel like you touched on a lot of things that aren’t always talked about.

  8. maureen johnson on #

    justine should be in charge of everything. but I always say this.

  9. Bill Clark on #

    An historical note of interest: Walt Whitman sent a copy of the first edition of “Leaves of Grass” to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote a letter back saying, “I greet you at the dawn of a great career….” Whitman promptly put out a second edition using Emerson’s quote, sans permission of course. Needless to say, the nose of the Sage of Concord was considerably out of joint, and history records no further correspondence between them….

  10. sara z on #

    Another little tip: if an author happens to mention on her blog something positive about your book, it doesn’t mean that you should immediately go update your web site to include, “I read it on the plane on my way home from vacation and ejoyed every second of it.” – Suzy Blogger, Pulitzer Winning Author of CUPCAKES SHOULD BE FROSTED. It feels really weird to see your name with a “blurb” that you never meant to be a blurb, just a passing mention. I don’t think it’s cool.

  11. sara z on #

    p.s. Just saw Bill’s comment, and yeah, that’s like the 19th century version of what I’m saying.

  12. lizza on #

    I love it…”Google knows when you lie”
    Great blurb..applicable to so many areas of life.

  13. maureen johnson on #

    how did someone quote me, as me? someone is being sneaky, because I didn’t do that!

  14. Patrick on #

    Ping back – MJ – Ping back.

  15. limeywesty on #

    I don’t like spoiler blurbs. They are… spoilers. And they completely spoil the story. That’s probably why they’re called spoilers, but you’re a lot brighter than me and probably realised that ages ago.

    I don’t read blurbs anymore, and since I’ve stopped, I’ve began to enjoy the whole book a lot more. Not just the section in the second half that hasn’t been ruined by the blurb!

Comments are closed.