I came across this blurb the other day. It’s not perhaps the most positive start to a sales pitch:
‘This book represents a radical new departure for Jürgen Moltmann, not least in the lucidity of its writing.’ In other words, for the first time you might actually understand one of his books. One gets the feeling that the blurb writer wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the new Moltmann blockbuster.
Blurb writing is one of the banes of an author’s life. When I started out, publishers had People To Write the Blurb. Nowadays they get the cleaner to do it, or failing that, the author.
The problem with that is that when the time comes to write the blurb, you’re normally only halfway through writing the book, a point at which you generally feel that life is meaningless, all mankind is inherently evil and that the author of Ecclesiastes was, if anything, over-optimistic. (And if its a Wednesday you feel a bit worse). So if you actually wrote the blurb to reflect the way you’re feeling it would run something like:
This book was intended to be a masterpiece but has simply revealed the futility of the author’s aspirations and the massive gap between his aims and his ability. Avoid it like the plague.
Or words to that effect. But, of course, that is just the normal author’s despair. So, instead I try to focus on what’s different about the book, how I felt about it when I first came up with the idea, and what effect or outcomes I’d love the book to have. That way it not only better reflects what the end product will be, it also cheers you up a bit as well.
And the blurb matters. Book Marketing Limited found that the blurb makes 62% of consumers buy a particular book. The blurb is an advertisement and as such should tell me what’s special about your book, what’s different and why I should buy it.
So I like blurbs. We should work hard on blurbs. Blurbs are good. I’m less fond of endorsements which tend to be written by a mate and which suffer from blurb-inflation. The Guardian has a story about ridiculous over-the-top praise for David Grossman’s To the End of the Land. One reviewer wrote
Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before. To the End of the Land is a book of this magnitude.
No, it isn’t. I mean, I haven’t even read the book, but there’s no way it can live up to this billing. I’ve noticed this in Christian publishing as well, particularly among folk who you might think would take a more sober view. Richard Foster wrote of Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy:
Like Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling, [this book] is a masterpiece and a wonder.
No, it isn’t. It’s quite good, but hardly in the ‘great achievements in art’ class. Still in Foster territory, on the back of the Renovare Study Bible I noticed this quote from John Ortberg:
The names of Foster, Willard, Brueggemann and Peterson may not last quite as long as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but they are our modern day heroes of mind and spirit, and they have developed the most spiritually impactful Bible of our time.
No, they haven’t. And nor does it do them any favours to compare them to the writers of the gospel. It just makes everyone involved sound a bit silly.
In America endorsements seem to matter a lot more and books are covered in so many it’s like a book jacket version of Tourette’s. I never pay any attention to endorsements myself, but publishers seem to like them so I suppose they might work. Indeed, it is a perpetual source of woe to my publishers that they can’t find anyone to endorse my books although I do point out that this is largely because no-one has ever heard of me.
Still, at least it stops anyone comparing me to Michelangelo.