Thursday, April 30, 2009

Blurbs or Bust

Question of the day: how much of a difference do you think blurbs actually make?

This is a much-debated question here at Ask Allison, as we've raised this discussion a few times before. Now, with some perspective after a few books, I can tell you that I don't think they have as huge of an impact as some authors think they do. But I'm open to being convinced otherwise. Maybe I'm just old and jaded. :)

When I was a debut author, I stressed, stressed, stressed about blurbs. OMG, was I frantic about them. Partially because yeah, I thought it would help book sales, but in hindsight, I suppose I also wanted some validation from my peers. Fortunately, I got it: I got six glowing blurbs from well-known authors, all of whom I am still grateful to today. Really. I still buy all of their new books as my way of a thank you. Did their blurbs help sell actual books? Who knows. They did certainly help excite my editor and publicist and likely gave me some legitimacy when it came to wooing magazine placements, but in terms of sales, I have no idea. Which isn't to say, of course, that they didn't help: a good blurb is always better than nothing, and in this industry, you can use every leg up you get, but did they make or break my book's success? No. No, no, no, no, no.

Interestingly enough, I solicited fewer blurbs when it came to Time of My Life. I wasn't as frantic, though sure, I wanted some choice quotes for the back of the jacket cover. And rather than six, I had three. And you know what? That book sold the hell out of itself. Was it the blurbs? Well again, I'm sure that having these wonderful, wonderful authors endorse my work didn't turn people off, but at the end of the day, The Today Show and People Magazine and strong word of mouth is what generated sales.

So my conclusion? Yeah, get those blurbs if you can but have some perspective: they're a small part of the package. A nice one to have, but so many other things go into the success of a book, that a few more (or a few fewer) likely won't tip the scales.

But I'm open to changing my mind. What say you?


Kristina said...

This is why I like them: "They did certainly help excite my editor and publicist and likely gave me some legitimacy."

I have informally polled my non-writer friends and they all said a blurb would make no difference whatsoever in whether they buy a book. They seemed to be barely aware of the quotes until I reminded them. "Oh yeah, those..."

They said they used personal recommendations, mostly, in making their decisions.

That said, from my own experience I'll admit a cover blurb might grab my attention, more for its content than its source. If someone compared a new author to Anne Tyler and Anita Shreve, that would snag my attention for sure.

I also suspect those same friends who said they don't notice might be influenced more than they think, as far which title snags their eyes from the shelves/tables, even if it doesn't actually make them BUY the book.

But I wasn't frantic. Fortunately, I know many wise writers who have been at this longer than me to know better than to be utterly frantic.

I'm pretty darn happy with the blurbs I got, anyway. :)

Kristina Riggle

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Kristina quoted the same key point I would have. Will good blurbs give your publicist/etc more tools to work with, or perhaps even motivate a publisher to put more towards your marketing?

I've had one blurb sway me in a purchase, because it was by one of my absolutely favourite authors, who I've never seen blurb, praising a debut novel, so I thought I'd give it a whirl (caveat: I still haven't gotten to that book in The Pile).

I've actually had a few blurbs evoke the opposite reaction, where a blurb comparison to another work (I recall one comparing the heroine to Scarlett O'Hara) made me snort. It turned out to be a pretty good parallel, but it sent me into the book critical of the main character to see if she would measure up.

Michelle Gable said...

It's hard to say, but I know when I'm browsing the store for books and if I'm deciding between two (or, usually, trying to narrow down to a reasonable # from the 15 I'm holding), I will look to see who blurbed it. It won't even matter what they said really. A book could have the equivalent of a Facebook thumbs up from a couple of writers I admire and I'll pick that book over others.

Anonymous said...

As a reader I have to admit I do read them and think that books that have lot's of them must be good or all those famous people wouldn't be recommending it...even though I know authors solicit them;)