Why do we blurb?

Boy, I go out of town for a day, and come back to find a lively discussion burning up my comments section.  Thanks, all, for providing me with the topic for this entry.  First, I want to clear up some confusion about what we’re talking about.  Today’s post is NOT about authors reading unsold manuscripts (that’s a whole different subject, for a different blogpost.)  Today’s post is about “blurbing” manuscripts that have already been sold to a publisher, and are awaiting release.  A comment was made that too many established authors selfishly refuse to help newbies and won’t blurb manuscripts.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Pick up a copy of any debut author’s novel, and the chances are, you’ll find blurbs written by another author.  Right now, on the stands, there’s a book called HEARTSICK by Chelsea Cain, with a blurb by me on it.  Months ago, when I received the galley for that book, I didn’t know a thing about the author.  I’d never met her.  But I gave her a blurb.    I didn’t get anything in return for it; I did it because I wanted to help out.  In years past, I’ve given blurbs to authors who were early in their careers and relative unknowns at the time: Kathy Reichs, Karin Slaughter, M.J. Rose, and Lisa Gardner.  They’ve since gone on to stardom. 

Last month, my husband and I took a four-day vacation to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary.  We had a nice hotel on the beach.  It was supposed to be a romantic getaway with great meals and champagne and sightseeing.  What did I end up doing?  I read three galleys, written by people I’d never met.  I ended up blurbing two of them.

What was my reward for that?  Nothing, except some nice thank-you emails in return.  And a good feeling that I’d helped some authors out.

I receive, or am offered, about a galley a week.  That’s roughly 50 galleys a year.  I’m not a speed reader, so it takes me five hours, I’d say, to read a galley in its entirety.  If I were to read every single galley that’s given to me, that would be 250 hours a year of galley reading.  That’s SIX full work weeks!  Six weeks when I could be working on my own manuscript, or taking a walk, or for heaven’s sake, going on my 30th wedding anniversary and focusing entirely on my poor husband. There is no way I can keep up with that, nor should I be expected to.  I do as much as I think I’m able to, and believe me, there’s no payback in it for me except that nice feeling of helping someone out.  So why do I do it?

Because I’m trying to pay it forward.

Back when my first thriller was published, I received blurbs from some well-established names.  James Patterson, John Nance, Michael Palmer, Tami Hoag, and Philip Margolin all gave me blurbs.  For later books, I received blurbs from Iris Johnasen and Stephen King, For my UK editions, the wonderful Harlan Coben gave me a blurb.  They didn’t have to do it.  They got nothing out of it, except thank-you notes from me.  (And I’m not even sure the notes all got to them.)  But they did it because they were generous people, and I’m forever grateful to them.

Nowadays, I don’t receive blurbs for my own books.  You’ll notice that most established authors have no blurbs at all on their books, because they don’t need them.  So no, it’s not established authors giving each other blurbs.  It’s established authors giving blurbs to newbie authors.  The benefit is all one-way.  And sometimes, you get bitten for it.  Once I gave a blurb to a relative unknown.  And a few years later, that author wrote a lousy review of one of my books for a newspaper. 

There ARE downsides to blurbing books, beyond the time taken away from our own writing and our own families.  If you blurb too many books, you get ridiculed for being a blurb-slut.  I remember seeing a newspaper columnist accuse blurb-happy authors of doing it to see their names in print.  If you blurb a lousy book, and a reader buys that book because of your blurb, you’ll hear back from that reader, who’ll blame you for making her waste twenty five bucks.  On an earlier blogpost, I mentioned an unhappy reader who hated my romance novel, and wrote an angry letter to someone who’d once blurbed me — a letter that generous author certainly didn’t need.

I can’t blurb every book I get.  And I feel I have a responsibility to my readers to NOT give a blurb for a book I don’t like.  Newbie authors think established authors owe them a blurb.  Sorry, folks, but NOBODY owes you five hours and fake enthusiasm.  Most of the time when I don’t give a blurb, it’s because I just didn’t have the time to read the book.  I have the best of intentions, and will sometimes invite people to send a galley, but then it gets lost in the towering stack by my bed.  It doesn’t mean I didn’t like the book.  It just means I couldn’t get to it.

Sometimes, though, I do read a galley and I’m sorely disappointed by it.  Should I give a blurb anyway?  If I don’t, am I a selfish bitch?  Well, think of an analogy in the business world.  You’re an employer, asked to write a recommendation letter for an employee you fired for incompetence.  If you write that letter, you’ve put your reputation on the line.  Everyone who’s later disappointed in that employee is going to think you’re an idiot or a liar.  You try to do a favor to the employee, but instead, you end up having your judgment or your integrity questioned.

We all want to be liked.  Most writers are generous people, who try to do favors and expect nothing in return.  It’s not a heartless system.  It’s just that we have too few free hours and we get too many books sent to us.  I’ve left so many galleys unread, and have a stack so big, that now I’ve been forced to get very picky about which ones I’ll invite.  Because to take delivery of a galley, and then not blurb it, for whatever reason, leads to yet more negative feelings directed at me.

And all because I tried to be nice.


42 replies
  1. Sue
    Sue says:

    Interesting. I always wondered about those blurbs… how they came about. I really enjoy your blog and getting a bit of insight into how these things work and how one of my favorite authors (yes, you) thinks. Thank you for sharing this part of yourself with us.

  2. joeschreiber1
    joeschreiber1 says:

    Tess, your blurb for EAT THE DARK made my whole week. No, my month. And it is weird to think about the whole blurbing dilemma and how it can backfire…blurb-slut versus selfish established author. (Not to mention that author you blurbed who came back and slammed you…the audacity!)

    Anybody who would have negative feelings about your decision not to blurb a book, based on maintaining your integrity, is probably just as likely to judge you by some other equally small-minded criteria. You’ve got it absolutely right, though: the moment you start promoting things that you don’t believe in, is the moment when the promotion itself starts to mean less

  3. ec
    ec says:

    There are many reasons, none of them “excuses,” why an author might decline to read and blurb a galley.

    Oftentime these galleys carry a short turn-around time. If you’re on a tight writing deadline, you may have to choose between writing your book and reading someone else’s.

    Sometimes the subject matter just doesn’t interest you. Or the request letter is badly written. Or you visit the writer’s blog and read a sample chapter and, for whatever reason, don’t like it. If you have a good reason to believe that you can’t give an enthusiastic and honest endorsement, you’re better off staying away.

    Every now and then a request carries a strong sense of entitlement, or the writer has an enormous chip on his shoulder. I have actually received request emails in which writers, usually self-published or very-small-press authors, complain about the selfishness of other authors who have decline to blurb. I don’t respond well to veiled emotional blackmail. If I felt in need of a guilt trip, I’d call my mother. (Just kidding, Mom….)

    Your publisher might ask you not to endorse books by competitors. ::shrugs:: That has never happened to me, so I can’t vouch for it actual fact, but I’ve heard authors mention this particular deterrent.

    An author might have physical reasons why he or she cannot read your galley. A couple of years ago, I had a long spell of very bad headaches and was diagnosed (inaccurately, to my relief) with macular degeneration. After taking steps to reduce eye strain, I was able to work (and read) again, but if you sent me a galley during that time, you may have concluded that I’m a selfish bitch who isn’t willing to help newbies. I was too depressed, and too terrified by the spectre of encroaching blindness, to have much interest in explaining why I couldn’t do this or that.

    The thing is, you don’t always know why an author turns down a request. Why assume the worse?

  4. SandraRuttan
    SandraRuttan says:

    You’ve covered the gamut, however I have to say that although it is certainly true that many authors are very generous, not all will blurb. I just went through this on two levels. A friend of mine who is with a solid NY publisher, with his second book coming out (the first was blurbed by Lee Child, amongst others) asked me if I knew anyone who might consider blurbing his second book. I asked some authors I knew on his behalf. A few agreed, and others sent me explanations of why they’ve decided not to blurb anymore. I understand, and it’s their right completely… But a lot of the authors I know have reached 8, 10, 15 books and won’t blurb. Or will only blurb friends, and have publicly admitted it. I won’t even consider asking someone who says they only blurb friends.

    But I went through the same thing myself with newer authors. Put simply, I feel extremely uncomfortable asking authors to even consider blurbing my work. You either feel you have a strong enough rapport that if the person says no it won’t be an issue, but with some you just know they’ll put distance between you because they’ll think you’re just after them for favours. And I’ve had that feeling myself via Spinetingler (the number of requests I get from people to help them find an agent/publisher/other magazine to take their story/critique it/wanting me to interview them/review requests is excessive). I’m a slower reader than you – more like 10-12 hours for the average book. And so I really feel it when I have to ask. I know what I’m asking of someone.

    But I still had to do it for the new book with Dorchester, and I froze up. I asked some newer authors, who themselves had received a lot of generous support in the blurb department, and got lengthy explanations of their blurb philosophy with a long list of potential content that would exclude the book from blurb consideration, followed by ‘you don’t need my blurb anyway, so it doesn’t matter’. By the end, I managed 5 new blurbs, one from an online reviewer, two from people who write outside my subgenre and only one of the blurbs I got was from a woman. Not sure how to interpret that, but then, I only asked two female authors.

    I swear, if I never have to ask for blurbs again I will be so happy. Doing this twice this year (for myself and my friend) really reinforced that.

  5. BernardL
    BernardL says:

    I can understand blurbing every book you can to get your name out there. As you mentioned a couple posts ago: you are in the sales business, like it or not. Every time you blurb a book, a whole bunch of people see your name. It would have to be a book you like though. Blurbing bad books leads to tenfold unhappy people, who will never pick up one of your own books in a store.

  6. tuttle
    tuttle says:

    Ahhh, the ironies of being nice.
    But most times ‘paying forward’ is a nice spot to be in. Wether its doing author-ly stuff or simply opening doors for strangers or other such trivial everyday niceties.

  7. Tess
    Tess says:

    I don’t think ANY author should be placed in the uncomfortable position of having to ask for a blurb. It should be done by her agent, editor, or publicist. That way, the blurber can comfortably turn down (or accept) the galley through a third party. New authors have enough anxieties as it is; poor things shouldn’t have to go begging, either.

    All the blurbs I received as a new author were requested by my editor or agent.

    And when I do take on a new galley, most of the time, I’m approached by the editor, not the author. I strongly suggest writers ask their editors to approach the blurber. A good editor will just take the bull by the horns and do it for the author. Or will just send out the galley without asking the blurber first. I dont mind getting them blind in the mail. It leaves me with absolutely no obligations. And sometimes, I end up loving the story and giving a blurb — even though I never expected to get the galley in the first place.

  8. ec
    ec says:

    I can understand blurbing every book you can to get your name out there. As you mentioned a couple posts ago: you are in the sales business, like it or not. Every time you blurb a book, a whole bunch of people see your name.

    Actually, the reason most authors are approached for blurbs in the first place is that readers, even if just in a particular genre or sub-genre, ALREADY KNOW their names.

    It’s a lot like athlete endorsements. You aren’t likely to buy tickets for the Augusta Open because the Nike shirt you purchased introduced you to Tiger Woods. Nor are you likely to become a Yankees fan because you drive a Ford Edge (in Blazing Copper, just like Derek Jeter’s!) Nike and Ford see an advantage in having their products associated with well-known names, and they’re willing to pay very well to accomplish this.

    Writers, on the other hand, don’t get paid to read galleys and write blurbs. Apart from the satisfaction in contributing to the writing community, the benefit flows almost entirely in one direction–to the person whose book is blurbed.

  9. Shane Gericke
    Shane Gericke says:

    From last year’s debut to this year’s second book, I’ve had the great good fortune to be blurbed by a number of top-flight thriller writers. To a person, they were gracious, accommodating of my deadline needs, and came through.

    I am humbled by that, and extremely thankful. As Tess so rightly points out, they don’t get a thing for doing it except knowing they helped out “the new kid.” They don’t get money, because they aren’t paid to write blurbs. They don’t get glory, because they’re already so well known, their being on my book doesn’t help them, it helps ME. That authors blurb at all for ANYbody points to the exceptional good nature of the writing business, and it’s something I deeply appreciate. Time is the most valuable commodity any of us has, and they’ve shared it freely, at least with me.

    Blurbs DO make a difference, which is why us new folks beg, borrow and steal to get them. I’ve heard from more than one readers at my book signings, “Oh, I love Douglas Preston’s books! [Or Lee Child, Gayle Lynds, Alex Kava, John J. Nance, John Lutz, etc.] If Doug says your book is great, I’m gonna buy it.”

    So thanks, Tess, for bringing up this subject. It gives all us new writers the chance to say thanks to all of you who lend the hand when you don’t have to.

  10. JMH
    JMH says:

    I’ve asked named authors for blurbs, very politely. 60% do not even answer the email. 20% say they have no time. 15% fire back a rude reply (“did you read the fine print on my web page about not asking for a blurb?”), and occasionally someone will say, “send the MS and I’ll take a look.”

    Although establshed authors will blub newbies on occasion, it is almost always because the newbie has been brought into the loop by an editor or agent or other author with connections.

    I still believe that there are almost no random acts of kindness between established authors and newbies without connections.

  11. ec
    ec says:

    I still believe that there are almost no random acts of kindness between established authors and newbies without connections.

    Geez. Not TOO cynical.

    Although establshed authors will blub newbies on occasion, it is almost always because the newbie has been brought into the loop by an editor or agent or other author with connections.

    As Tess pointed out, most requests for blurbs COME FROM agents or editors. Every profession has its conventions, procedures, and protocols. Perhaps you might ask your agent and/or editors to handle this matter for you in the future? If you haven’t yet signed with a literary agent, that might be a reasonable approach to consider.

    That 60% estimate surprises me. Most writers I know (or read about) try very hard to respond to all emails. Granted, I don’t respond to every email people send me, but that’s because I don’t GET every email people send me. Spam filters, firewalls, and other gatekeepers are known to make mistakes. And some authors get so much email that it piles up, so I’m willing to bet that some of them didn’t read your requests until it would do little good to respond. Also, not every author READS his or her email. Some are screened by publicists and assistants. More gatekeepers. I’m willing to bet that J.K. Rowling, Steven King, and Dan Brown don’t see every email from every self-published newbie who wants them to read a ms and supply a blurb. But 60%? That seems high. I strongly recommend that you consider other possible explanations for this rate, something a little to home than industry-wide ennui and selfishness.

    The 20% who tell you they don’t have time probably…don’t have time. It might be just that simple. You may be one of the two or three or 200 requests a year they have to regretfully decline. Or maybe they’re offering you a polite evasion because they don’t care for your writing, your subject matter, or your attitude. Hey, it happens.

    As for the rude 15%, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for authors to assume someone would take the time to check an FAQ page before sending a query. After all, you’re asking them to take several hours of their work time to read your manuscript. Complaining that THEY expect YOU to check THEIR websites for posted policies before querying? Yikes.

    But finally–an issue on which we agree! Posting a private email is pretty shaky. Not having read the email in question or the snarky commentary, I can’t comment except in general principal. But I think this much is safe to say: if you’re being ignored, refused, and mocked, maybe you should take another look at that email. And maybe consider a different approach.

    ::shrugs:: Bowing out now. I’ve said (more than) enough on this topic.

  12. Tess
    Tess says:

    There’s another possibility why an author might keep getting turned down for blurbs (aside from the fact that it’s usually the editor who asks for them.) And that’s if the book is self-published. Early on, I used to read every galley that came my way, and didn’t really pay much attention to who the publisher was. It soon became apparent that the self-published books were, quite honestly, bad. Uniformly bad. After wading through a dozen of those, and then being forced to break the news to the disappointed authors that I just couldn’t give a quote, I finally just stopped taking on any self-published books.

    My feeling is, if the author didn’t go through the normal screening process of an agent and editor, if the author couldn’t manage to develop his skills and polish his manuscript to the point that it would be taken on by a regular publisher, then even a great quote from an established author could not save that book from (perhaps well-deserved) oblivion.

    I have nothing against small presses, and in fact have read some fine books from them. But if I’ve never heard of the publisher, I tend to suspect it’s self-published. Most of the time, I’m right. And I’m more likely to refuse to take those galleys, too.

    Just a thought as to why some novelists can’t get anyone to read their galleys.

  13. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    what could be the origin of the word “blurb”?it sounds like what a baby has on their chin after an encounter with cereal and milk-hey tess i just found your book in the supermarket at a great price-and all i went there for was paper towels and margarine-your author photo doesn’t look as “mysterious” as the one on the last few books-see if l.l. bean would like to use it and get some royalties 🙂

  14. JMH
    JMH says:

    “It soon became apparent that the self-published books were, quite honestly, bad. Uniformly bad. .. if the author couldn’t manage to develop his skills and polish his manuscript to the point that it would be taken on by a regular publisher, then even a great quote from an established author could not save that book from (perhaps well-deserved) oblivion.”

    Well, it’s refreshing to see that another debate has ended with yet another proclamation by an established author that self-published authors suck. I’ll take my leave at this point and won’t be back.

    Good luck to all of you.

  15. drosdelnoch
    drosdelnoch says:

    Thanks for letting us know about the blurbs and how they come about Tess, whilst not an author I do get asked to read and review a lot of books, now I have quite a voracious appetite when it comes to reading. However I have been asked by people to read and review some independent books who because they had taken the time to write to me and send me the book automatically thought that it entitled them to a good review even though the book was full of cliches and didnt do anything either for the genre or for the writer.

    To be blunt, it was dire, badly written, full of cliches with the author thinking that they were the new Tolkien and that the publishers didnt see thier genius so much so that they had to self publish. Needless to say when I pointed out the problems rather nicely, I might add, I was slammed and they wanted to know why I didnt give it a good review after they spent the time sending it to me. What can you do?

    Likewise when I interview authors from publishers, some still think that because I interview them it entitles them to a favourable review. Yet again a wrong conviction but the point is when I do give something a favourable review, I assume its the same as an authors reasoning, I enjoyed the book, yep, plain and simple reasoning.

    I suppose what Im taking the long way round saying is that a blurb from an author should only occur where the author has enjoyed that novel and feels that not only their fans would enjoy it but believes that its a good thing to help promote the genre, you never know in the future it might come back to help you. LOL

    Anyway, all the best with it Tess and I look forward to picking some of your recommendations up.

  16. Kyle K.
    Kyle K. says:

    Don’t listen to him, Tess. He’s being ridiculous and hormonal.

    Traditionally published books are in a completely different league than self-published ones. Why should people like you or Stephen waste your time on people who are little more than line cutters? I think you’re absolutely right not to read them. Concentrate on the people who actually take their craft seriously and continuously work to better themselves and their stories. Agents and editors are a perfect filter for all of that.

    Self-published or not, JMH should realize how much time and energy is spent writing a book. How much would YOUR books suffer if you just bowed to the riffraff and read every galley sent to you? It would be insane, and your fans would be the ones to suffer.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, Tess. We know you already do more than most.

  17. Tess
    Tess says:

    I’m sorry if I hit a nerve. I have no idea who’s self-published and who’s not, of those who post here. My comments were general, and were just an attempt to give a reason why authors might refuse to read a particular galley. If you took them personally, or if they were relevant to your situation, I’d have no way of knowing ahead of time.

    And if any published authors have a different view about blurbing self-published authors, I’d like to hear from you. I’d be happy to give those comments equal time.

  18. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Tess was kind enough to write a very nice blurb for my new book, and I really appreciate the fact that she took time out of her busy schedule to do that for me.

    I must say that I was a bit intimidated when I finally mustered up enough nerve to ask her if she’d consider the idea. I was intimidated because we’ve never met in person. We’ve exchanged a few emails over the past couple of years, but that was the extent of it.

    Anyway, I believe Tess’s blurb has helped the sales of my book. It’s also a real honor to see her words in a book that I’ve written.

    Thank you again, Tess.

  19. GerritsenFever10
    GerritsenFever10 says:

    That kinda sucks though because you won’t be able to “blurb” on, say, a King novel or a Palmer novel, etc. Solely because they are already established, well-known authors. It’s like ya’ll are all in a little clique and nobody can be let in but the massively talented (well, that’s not altogether true, because I’ve read some awful crap that should’ve never been published). But anyway, haven’t gotten your novel yet, but I’m working on it haha (still a po’ college kid!)

  20. Felicia Donovan
    Felicia Donovan says:

    Thanks, Tess, for another great blog topic. I think you’re absolutely right – the effort to get a blurb should fall on the publisher, not the author. It is awkward enough as it is and a delicate matter best left to the “behind the scenes” folks. Just today, my publicist sent me an e-mail saying, “Remind me again why you didn’t ask her for a blurb?” when I forwarded an e-mail from a bestselling author. I explained that I simply wasn’t comfortable asking.

    One thing I’m really proud of is that for the most part, we give new meaning to the word “community.” This community of writers is forever reaching out to newbies like myself, offering advice, wisdom, encouragement. With book one hitting the shelves, book two prep underway, and book three and four in progress, I still have a lot to learn. But I have already learned the importance of “paying it forward” and that’s one lesson I will never forget.

  21. Jude Hardin
    Jude Hardin says:


    You’re one of the most generous writers I’ve “met” since I started writing fiction four years ago.

    I got some very encouraging news from my agent this week.

    Fingers crossed.

    If I do get a book deal, I would be absolutely honored and grateful to get a blurb from an author of your stature. I do understand protocol, though, and if a request comes it will be through my agent or editor. And, if you can’t oblige for whatever reason, I’ll truly understand.

    To all the writers who feel they’re entitled somehow just because they inked up a ream of paper:

    This is business, people! There’s no conspiracy against you. If you’ve tried to find and agent and can’t, it’s probably because you need to work more on your craft. Stop blaming other people and write a better book.

    If I don’t get a deal my first time out, you can bet your ass that’s what I’m going to do.

  22. ec
    ec says:

    To all the writers who feel they’re entitled somehow just because they inked up a ream of paper:

    This is business, people! There’s no conspiracy against you. If you’ve tried to find and agent and can’t, it’s probably because you need to work more on your craft. Stop blaming other people and write a better book.

    Jude, I love the way you think! I did a quick Google search on your name and was disappointed to discover that you’re pre-published. But I’ll remember your name, and I’ll be on the lookout for books with that name on the cover.

    Just saying.

  23. ec
    ec says:

    Two more observations about blurbs.

    I think one of the reasons people might not succeed in getting blurbs is that they query “too far above their station.”

    Yeah, I know that sounds like an out-take from a Regency romance, but I consider it a pragmatic attitude. If you’re unagented, unedited, and self-published, it’s unrealistic–and more than a little presumptious–to expect the top ten names in the genre to read and blurb your book. People in every profession are expected to pay their dues and learn their craft. Instead of getting bent out of shape because John Grisham and Robin Cook declined to blurb your first book, why not ask your editor or agent to approach promising authors in your genre who have published a couple of really good books? You may find that folks who are just a couple of steps ahead of you have fewer demands on their (limited) time than writers who’ve achieved a higher profile.

    Second point. I love small press. Some very interesting work is being done on a small scale, and some of the editors are the equal of anyone I’ve encountered at major publishers. One of my favorite editors is William Horner of Fantasist Enterprises. He’s enthusiastic, meticulous, and professional. And BECAUSE he’s a professional, he has the sense to approach midlist and rising authors when it comes time to request an anthology introduction or a blurb. I think that’s a sound approach.

    In addition to my writing projects, I’m currently editing an anthology of Lilith tales that will be published not just by a small press, but a TEENY press. The gentlemen who run this (teeny) business are long-time industry pros. Although I’m a first time editor, I’ve published over 20 books and I’ve hit the NY Times list. None of those credentials strike me as an excuse to approach major writers for a Lilith anthology blurb. This anthology is a first step. If there’s to be another step, it has to be earned.


  24. BernardL
    BernardL says:

    I self published five novels, and I never thought to ask for a blurb from a published author. I know it’s vanity press. You have to have a thicker skin, JMH. Self publishing is what it is. We don’t have to be ashamed of it, but we do have to admit what it’s not: real publishing. This blurb post was really informative. Thanks for the comment ec, I’ll keep that in mind.

  25. struggler
    struggler says:

    Tess, thank you as always for this fascinating insight. You have reminded me of the one and only ‘blurb’ that made me smile a few years back. I won’t mention the book title or the author, but I will mention the blurb by Val McDermid, who said, “A sometimes disturbing thriller that *****’s writing lifts above the average. Well worth a read? Definitely.” It may be the cynic in me, but while this looks at first glance like one of the many literary blessings the said thriller received from well-known authors, knowing the highly acerbic wit of Val McDermid I looked at her words again and considered the subliminal messages: “sometimes”, “average” and while she could have simply said “Definitely worth a read” she instead constructed it as a rhetorical question, so as to imply a degree of doubt. As it happens, I enjoyed the book very much (it was a debut novel) and sensed that Val wasn’t quite as enthusiastic, but her clever and economical use of words enabled her to create a suitable impression of recommendation yet mask a degree of reservation that only her own readers might detect. Now, that’s very clever blurbing! (but it might just be my cynicism, I do acknowledge)

  26. Craig
    Craig says:

    I thought I would chime in because a) I’m not nor do I intend to be an author and b) this has nothing to do with anything discussed on this topic. 🙂 We have a weekly paper/magazine here called the Oklahomna Gazette and there is a brief article/discussion with Douglas Preston in the latest issue. My introduction to Mr. Preston was his book The Cabinet of Curiosities co-authored with his some time partner Lincoln Child. Most of their books involve the continuing adventures of Agent Pendergast, sort of an extremely educated and literary Kolchak the Night Stalker. May the following never happen to any of you established or aspiring authors:
    Preston said some fans show up at signings with their entire collections of his work, and apologize for doing so.
    “And I’m like, ‘No, not at all!’ I’m happy to sign anything,” he said.
    He’s just happy people turn out.
    “I’ve had a signing before where the only person who showed up was Linc’s mom,” he said. “That was depressing.”

  27. Craig
    Craig says:

    Oh yes, the final returns are in. The Oklahoma County Library System has 68 copies of the Bone Garden available with 17 large print editions and 7 compact disk audio books on order.

  28. Pam Halter
    Pam Halter says:

    I’ve been a lurker for quite a while, but enjoy your blog, Tess, and all the comments. Especially when people get stirred up. 🙂

    I’m a published children’s author, so I won’t be asking for a blurb. Picture books don’t have them anyway. But I’m stepping into Middle Grade fantasy and have already had 2 bestselling authors tell me they would endorse my book when it gets picked up.

    This came about from attending writer’s conferences. I think meeting authors and editors in an informal setting is priceless. I’ve learned much of the inner workings of their jobs and how publishing works. I have respect for what needs doing and understand when I have to wait for months to hear back from a query.

    Unfortunately, self published authors have no clue. It really does mean something to have come through the ranks.

    That being said, I’ve seen some self published books that were great and some that were painful to read. The difference, I think, is when a SP author hires a professional editor before they have a book printed.

    Thanks for your time, Tess. I’m anxiously waiting to read Bone Garden, too.

  29. Lorra Laven
    Lorra Laven says:


    No matter how kind and generous you are with your time (and blurbs), it looks as if there will always be someone who expects more of you, who believes, that somehow, you owe them.

    You can’t please everyone. Still, it’s great that you still make time to read as many gallies as you do. Sounds exhausting to me.

  30. BookBitch
    BookBitch says:

    Tess, this is a great blog and great discussion. I do have one tiny bone to pick with you though…you said, “And sometimes, you get bitten for it. Once I gave a blurb to a relative unknown. And a few years later, that author wrote a lousy review of one of my books for a newspaper.”

    I know you’re not suggesting that the author should have written a rave review as repayment for the blurb. But please bear in mind that reviewers don’t always get to pick what they review, and to be less than honest, despite whatever relationship exists, would be just as wrong.

    As I’ve developed relationships with authors, it sometimes presents a challenge when I don’t care for one of their books. I have no say in the matter for Library Journal, although I have total control with my own website. But I still feel I need to be fair to my readers too – so if I’m ambivalent about a book written by someone I consider a friend, I just may pass on reviewing it – but I’ll always let the author know how I feel. If I really hate it, I won’t even read the whole thing and I won’t review a book unless I’ve read every page, so that problem solves itself.

    But when LJ comes knocking, I have to do what is expected of me for my job, as that author did for the newspaper review. I may not like it – and I’m pretty sure we’ve discussed my aversion to writing bad reviews, I just agonize over them – but sometimes you just gotta do it.

    Although I will say that were I in that author’s shoes, I would have declined the review if at all possible.

    I’m looking forward to Bone Garden. My library has about 135 copies, all of which are checked out, not to mention all the reserves that are waiting…

    Best always,

  31. Tess
    Tess says:

    I don’t expect any reviewer to give a rave where it’s not deserved. However, I’d expect a reviewer to recuse herself from reviewing the book if she had benefited from the author in the past. And that’s to prevent the opposite happening — an undeserved rave review because she felt she HAD to pay back a favor. Likewise, if the reviewer had an old feud going with the author, she should also decline to write a review.

    At any rate, it put me off giving blurbs for a while.

  32. SandraRuttan
    SandraRuttan says:

    What a conversation this turned into!

    I completely agree that, in an ideal world, requests for blurbs will come from agents and editors. All I know is that the majority of new authors I’ve talked to had to go after blurbs themselves. I think it’s the result of overworked editors trying to stay on top of things.

    As struggler astutely pointed out, there’s a language within blurbs. The more people you know, the more interesting it all is.

    In my own experience, the requests I’ve had to blurb books have also come from authors. And never self published authors – always authors with respected publishers I’m familiar with. It may be that this is something that’s shifting within the industry. As more and more promotion falls to the authors, the blurbing has also fallen to them. Authors well-known and established don’t need the endorsements, and maybe some newer authors get that kind of support from in house, but not everyone.

    And saying no right off when you’re just forging a relationship with your editor and agent is a pretty hard thing to do. Nobody wants to be thought of as difficult, so when you’re asked to do it, you do it. (And the concept behind KY’s adoption by the ITW supports that more debut authors are faced with this responsibility, as MJ Rose said: Instead of the classmates asking for blurbs we’re asking for them. So if someone says no, it stings a little less.)

  33. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    my daughter was recently paid to review a technical book in her field-i asked her how a company putting out a book could pay for their reviews and she explained that people in the field were paid to “review” the book,but not for public consumption-it was for the publisher to decide if the book would be useful and effective

  34. Tess
    Tess says:

    that’s a different kind of review your daughter was paid for. I think it’s the equivalent of a “reader” in a publishing house or lierary agency being paid to look at a manuscript and present a report for the decision makers. That’s a real job, just like being an editor’s a real job, while blurbing is a favor done for free.

    I often think that being a reader for a publishing house would be a wonderful gig — being paid to read!

  35. ec
    ec says:

    Yesterday my husband and I drove down to the city to attend a (really terrific) Yankees game. We were meeting people at the entrance to the executive office, which is directly across from the players’ parking lot. The crowd there was enthusiastic and knowledgeable–some of them announced players’ approach based on a glimpse of an approaching vehicle. And to my surprise, after Jorge Posada arrived, the crowd melted away. This puzzled me until Bill suggested that they were probably keeping count, checking Yankees off a mental checklist labled Active Roster. Mr. Posada must have been the last man to arrive.

    As we were people-watching the people-watchers, I thought of this discussion, and how baseball and writer are closely related–and vastly different.

    Professional baseball players are the tiny tip of a huge pyramid. As the parent of a very gifted baseball player (who, alas, lost interest) I’ve gone the Little League route. Millions of kids play tee-ball and Little League. Some go on to play AAU, high school varsity, college baseball. A very few are recruited to the minor league. Some of those guys get called up, some don’t. The numbers keep diminishing on the way up, and the people who GET to top work pretty damn hard along the way. They could have dropped out, washed out, broken down due to physical injury, or lost interest at any point along the way: they didn’t.

    I suppose there are a few high school kids emailing Derek Jeter with something along these lines:

    Dear Mr. Jeter:

    I’m a professional ball player, in that next semester I will be paid a scholarship to play for a college team. As a newbie, I would benefit from your endorsement. I will be starting for Smalltown High School’s state playoffs on September 28. Please attend this game, critique my playing, and send a recommendation to the Yankee scouts. I would also appreciate it if you would post a blurb praising my accomplishments and potential on the Yankee page of MLB.com.

    Thank you for your time and consideration.

    The author of one of a thousand similar emails you’ve received today

    I’m sure there are some high school players who have a sense of entitlement this huge, but I’m willing to bet that the percentage is lower than it is among aspiring writers. Kids who’ve gone through Little League to get to that level know you’ve got to practice long hours, develop skills, and work your ass off to beat out the competition.

    Tess Gerritsen is a major league writer. But instead of respecting her accomplishments and striving to emulate her determination and hard work, a lot of writers expect that can and SHOULD be able to skip over Little League, varsity, college and triple A and go right to the big leagues–on someone else’s hard work and accomplishments.

    If the sports analogy doesn’t do it for you, consider professional musicians. Same deal. Practice, study, competition, and the hard work of building a reputation and an audience.

    It it were easy, we’d all be Derek Jeter, Luciano Pavarotti, or Stephen King.

  36. joe bernstein
    joe bernstein says:

    boy-did you hit it on the head with musicians-my sister in law was(maybe still is)married to a “professional musician”who was a legend in his own mind-never mind a day job or anything so pedestrian for the”great man”-nor any formal training-i think my kids made more money selling lemonade in front of the house than this clown did in his whole life-and he could tell anyone how to do their job-and to top it off he had champagne taste on a beer budget-he put my sister in law in the poorhouse with his harebrained schemes of fame with no work input-and she was lucky to have a generous brother to bail her out-needless to say he was never welcome at our house-my wife even threw him out of her mother’s wake

  37. zitalena
    zitalena says:

    Could somebody please explain to me what a blurb is? I am Swedish, and don’t have a clue what you are discussing. What’s a galley? I have read books in English for the last 25 years (I have stopped reading books in Swedish, can’t bear the translations), but I have never heard these words before…

  38. BurlBarer
    BurlBarer says:

    I am far more shy now about asking for blurbs than I was when I first started. As I was the new kid on the shelves, I wouldn’t feel hurt if a well-known author turned down my request. Now, I fear rejection from friends and contemporaries. I am still stunned that my literary non-fiction idol, Jack Olsen, blurbed four of my books. Before he died, he confessed that he only read the first one. “I didn’t have to read the others, Kiddo. The first one was good enough.” I can usually count on Lee Goldberg for a blurb, but that’s because he’s my nephew and I helped him write a sex scene for one of his 357 Vigilante paperbacks. Amazingly enough, his Nana (my mother) could tell which one. “You wrote the one with the ice cream, didn’t you?” Mothers know their sons so well.

  39. ec
    ec says:

    Zitalena, a blurb is a brief comment praising a book and/or writer. These endorsements are usually from better-known writers, and are usually printed on the back or front cover of a book. The theory is that the name of a best-selling author on a cover will catch a potential reader’s eye and prompt him to say, “Hmmm. I don’t know this writer, but if the story is good enough to impress Nora Roberts/Tess Gerritsen/John Grisham, I’d probably also enjoy it…”

    “Galleys” are copies of typeset but not-yet-published books. These are sent to reviewers as well as to authors from whom the publisher wishes to obtain a blurb. Sometimes “uncorrected galleys” are sent, if there’s not enough time in the production schedule to have them proof read before sending out. Sometimes the pages are copied onto letter-sized paper and held together with the sort of cover and binding you’d expect from an office supply store, sometimes they look like a trade paperback, albeit with a simpler cover. A galley is essentially a pre-published book, in a form cuitable for limited circulation.

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