Further Insight on Book Blurbs

We’ve posted earlier about book blurbs and how much they matter if at all. Rob Walker, the “Consumed” columnist for the Times Magazine as well as a blogger and author, recently wrote in to share some worthwhile blurb thoughts. I am interested to know how/if this changes your view of blurbs as a consumer.

As a longtime blurb skeptic, I wanted to pass along two observations:

One is that a person whose judgment on these matters I tend to trust once made the case to me that the real audience for blurbs isn’t really consumers at all — it’s bookstore and particularly chain bookstore buyers. Those folks, I am told, want to see endorsements from recognizable (i.e., successful-selling) names, particularly when a new author is involved. Whether it makes any more sense for those people to pay attention to blurbs than it does for a consumer to pay attention I cannot say. But I thought it was an interesting point.

Two is that yet another reason to be skeptical about blurbs, in my view, is that some blurbers seem to use the process simply as self-marketing, to get their own names out as much as possible. I’ve had suspicions about this in the past. Your post in November mentioned a publisher basically willing to save you the trouble of reading the book and thinking of something to say about it, and I’ve heard similar stories from others; I assume that kind of thing must happen because, sometimes, it works. More recently, a few people have offered to blurb a book I have coming out later this year — without having read it. Mostly this is just friends being nice (still problematic to a consumer reading the blurb, of course), but one or two have been people I barely know. (I politely declined in such cases, of course.) I assume that such enthusiastic and willing blurbers simply want to keep their names in circulation.

(For the record, we’re in the blurb-harvesting moment right now on the book. So all of the above notwithstanding, all my blurb skepticism is currently on hold as we hound various people whose endorsement would mean a lot to us, and possibly a book-buyer or two. And I hereby guarantee to the bookstore browsers of the future that we will be sticking with respectful sorts who have actually read and enjoyed it.)

I appreciate Rob’s candor. I must say, I’ve never had some writer hunt me down and offer to blurb my books — so Rob must be doing something right. And, FWIW, though I’ve blurbed my share of books in the past, I am taking a sabbatical now that the writing of SuperFreakonomics is underway, since I barely have enough time to read my own research much less a galley of an upcoming book. It is no fun to say no to friends who want a blurb but I’ve noticed that they don’t really seem to care if I say no, which probably says quite a bit about the value of a blurb.


Celeste

I have used book blurbs in the past when choosing a new fiction series to start. A friend had recommended a few authors, and when I started browsing the books I took notice of blurbs by authors I already liked. Since I was checking them out from the library, it was a low risk plan. I can't think of anything I've bought based on a blurb.

LL

@Avis II:
I am an occasional smoker, and I was seriously influenced by F1 advertising. The apposition of advertising to F1 also affected my purchasing of wristwatches and general merchandising. I'm not an easily-led person; I just really like F1 racing, and the brand values rubbed off on the products.

Austin

You should have a competition on this Blog for someone to blurb the superfreakonomics book.

Avis II

It's like tobacco advertising on Formula One cars (until recently, when they were outlawed in the EU and teams stopped displaying them). Nobody who followed F1 really cared. They were there to please the sponsors and added to the livery. I haven't seen one study that linked tobacco advertising in Formula One to an actual increase in tobacco sales.

Richard

I'm much rather know something of what the book is about than have a blurb from another writer

Brian

So, since they really don't mean that much, can I write a blurb for "SuperFreakanmoics"?

Olive

I don't rely much on them and tend to read the inside flaps of the cover. Reading the description of the book helps me more. I also note the author's bio and since it is brief I can make a judgment very quickly.

5cott

I have a list of sites I visit every morning when I get to work (as I suspect many people do). On that list, after this website, I go to "Indexed" (http://indexed.blogspot.com/). How coincidental it was today when after reading this story, I go there and find that the top item is the new book Indexed has coming out. Low and behold, whose name is that under the blurb on the cover? Why, it's Dubner. Heh, funny coincidence.

Troy Camplin

I gave a blurb to get my name out there, so #2 is certainly true (if you want to take my case study as confirmation).

Elle

So what is the answer to the prior post on what candidates are not discussing this election??? I am stuck in an office and did not have the opportunity to watch the show.

Although, a colleague (a criminologist) said, "Your freakonomics guy is on ABC... Wow! What a conservative nut! He thinks guns don't matter! He needs to think in more complex ways, such as interactions. Of course guns alone don't matter, but when you take an individualistic society that allows massive poverty and inequality - guns matter."

Just thought I would share his perspective. I am sure there is a valid retort, however. =)

andrew

I think blurbs matter in terms of marketing. They're not the be all and end all, but they do mark the book with a certain amount of social proof than can be helpful. The more you know about an author or the book itself, the less necessary the blurb because you already have the social proof.

Take for example the book, Stumbling upon Happiness. I knew nothing about it and picked up that book in the book store. It has a quote from Steven Levitt on the cover. Reading that and knowing how much I enjoyed Freakonomics, I automatically assumed that it was going to be more in depth sociologically. If the blurb had instead been by Tony Robbins, I would have assumed the book was more self-help and I probably would have put the book down and not bought it.

The blurb helps categorize the book and include ourselves in a particular in-group.

Wyatt

I can only hope that SuperFreakonomics will feature a chapter on the folly of Book Blurbs. Possibly even referencing the book's own blurbs...

The irony would just be too beautiful. The chapter can even have a nice hate-inducing title like, "What do Book Blurbs and Recycling Have in Common? Neither Really Matters."