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. []

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.


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?