Suggested by Jenny’s Books:
Something I’ve been thinking about lately: “What words/phrases in a blurb make a book irresistible? What words/phrases will make you put the book back down immediately?”
Warning: Over-analysis ahead.
I was thinking about a very similar topic yesterday, and I considered discussing it in a Sunday Salon, but here’s my chance! Actually, I was thinking specifically about asking, “Has a blurb from an author ever caused you to avoid or buy a book?” For example, on the cover of A Reliable Wife, there’s a blurb from Sara Gruen, who wrote Water for Elephants: “Astonishing, complex, beautifully written,and brilliant.” I found this book online, put it on a wish list, and received it as a birthday gift. I never saw the, uh, “endorsement blurb.” Most likely, if I had, it probably wouldn’t have mattered one way or another. I liked Water for Elephants, but I didn’t love it. Sorry, Sara Gruen, and no offense, but your blurb would not make me buy the book.
Now, if a book had a blurb from Lorrie Moore or Richard Russo or Sarah Waters, I might buy it. But I would probably already be picking up the book for other reasons: a review, the author, or even the title. Once I pick up the book (or look it up online), then yes, I base the decision on the blurb–not the author endorsement blurb, mind you, but the “what the book is about blurb,” also known as the publisher’s description. The truth is, you can’t see the author endorsements online, unless the site takes the time to add them to the page. I chose A Reliable Wife because the description was intriguing, and I liked the cover (and to be honest, I think those things happened in reverse order–I liked the cover, and then I read the description).
But to answer Jenny’s question, I am not sure that there are any words or phrases that would make me pick something up or put it down, except maybe “Jodi Picoult (or Stephanie Meyer) loves this book!” But really, that would not be fair, either; just because I don’t like their writing doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate good books, and endorse them as such, right?
I decided to look back at the description in the book jacket of A Reliable Wife and see if I could spot the exact phrase that drew me in, and here it is: “Set just after the turn of the twentieth century…” I’ve been very interested in anything set between 1890 and just after 1945, so that definitely drew me in. But it was the first sentence of the third paragraph of the description, so I was already interested. I suppose, though, that the phrase “Set just after the turn of the twentieth century…” did cinch the deal.
Sorry to go on, but when I started thinking about this yesterday, I realized how very difficult this all must be for authors. They don’t write their own descriptions, they don’t design their own covers, and generally for the endorsement blurb, they have to go with whoever says “yes” to their request. I know that part for a fact, because back when I was in school, I remember one of my professors, Lee Martin (who wrote The Bright Forever, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and is a beautiful book, please please read it!) talking about being rejected by authors when he’d requested a blurb or a forward. Even though he managed to score Amy Bloom to write the forward to his story collection, I think the sting of rejection from other authors still hurt, even if it had nothing to do with his writing, but was simply a factor of time or just plain laziness or self-interest.
And for all that, do we really follow the blurb? Or do we listen to each other? I can’t wait to read everyone’s answers, because I also wonder how much the blurb-factor will change (has changed?) with the advent of e-books and self-publishing. Sorry to hijack your question, Jenny, but it was a good one!