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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.