To Blurb Or Not To Blurb

By Fredric Price on May 29, 2020

Guest blog from Anonymous: 

I’m all things bookish and Jewish: author, editor, book club leader, blubber, and reviewer. I’m tough on myself, having set standards that other editors whom I admire impressed upon me when I was younger and just starting out as a writer. It’s helped me enormously; I walk away from my own words for days at a time, thinking about what a third party might say, and then, and only then, rework a manuscript, as if it weren’t mine, as if I were being paid as an editor. It’s hard, and it requires a lot of discipline, but it’s a worthwhile approach. And I stick to it — no cutting corners. 

I’m paid as an editor, so I have no qualms about giving criticism (the intention is always to be constructive), since I want the end product to be as good as it can be. For the most part, I’ve received warm receptions from authors, because I don’t just strike something I find substandard. I offer my view on how the sentence or paragraph or chapter should be re-worked, sometimes even rewriting significant parts of it myself. There have been occasions when authors have bristled, but only twice in these many years has it resulted in a cessation of work and a disruption in a relationship. I’ll take the >99% positive reactions and not take umbrage at the <1% who thought I was off-base.

And, as a reviewer, I’m usually given enough space to find something that I can laud, even if the whole work suffers from some serious flaws. 

Now blurbs, on the other hand, are different for two reasons: 1. There’s  only a limited amount of space that a publisher will allow; and 2. When the manuscript is truly not good, there’s not enough room to tease out even a modicum of positive news. What’s a blubber to do? I enjoy blurbing for really good books, as it’s a helpful form of promotion. And, frankly, it’s good to get my name in front of the reading public. But what about bad books? I don’t want to be associated with them. However, I don’t want to give up blurbing. 

It’s even more difficult when the author is a friend or an acquaintance. How to handle? After several  false starts, I decided to borrow the approach that many selective colleges use when they send a notice to an applicant, saying, in effect, the competition is fierce, the odds are not high for anyone to be admitted, so don’t get your hopes up. When I get a request for a blurb from an author whose work I don’t know (but whom I might know personally), I send a variation of the following email: “While I appreciate your asking me to write a blurb for your book, let me tell you that I only write a few per year, which is a small percentage of the number of requests that I receive. If you need a blurb within three months, I regret to say I can’t accommodate your request.” (This usually filters out a large majority of inquiries). “If this isn’t a deal breaker, feel free to send me a summary or synopsis of your manuscript, along with the first and last chapters. I’ll do my best to get back to you as to whether I’d like you to send the completed manuscript within two months.” This works even with people I know, as an explanation of the difficulty in the process goes a long way to assuage negative feelings if I decide not to offer a blurb.