Blurbs: (Huh) What Are They Good For?

As a reader, I tend to have blinders on when it comes to blurbs. From a consumer standpoint, I think of them as book advertisements. They might not be paid for in a monetary sense, but they’re usually given as way of satisfying a favor. Blurb my book and I’ll blurb yours. Or the authors might share something in common, be it an agent or publishing house. I’ll read them, of course, just to see if I recognize a name or two and if I can make the connection between the blurber and blurbee (truly scientific terms here). It’s like my very own book version of Six Degrees of Separation (Kevin Bacon connections are always encouraged). Even if there’s no professional connection, authors who write in the same genre can quickly become friends. As a voracious reader of romance novels, it’s completely common to see one paranormal romance writer blurb and help promote another paranormal romance writer’s new book.

But despite the exchanging of blurbs or seeing a big name author printed across the back of the book jacket, do blurbs actually do anything for readers? Do they really help in selling a book?

Before, I probably would have said no. That was until I read a blurb that tipped me over the edge of whether or not I was going to pay for a hardcover new release. For those who have been paying close attention to the Peek Over Our Shoulders and the Riot Round-Up posts, I cannot stop talking about The Bees by Laline Paull. The book sounded interesting to begin with and I had been toying with picking it up, but I was nervous because it’s actually about bees. The title isn’t some abstract reference. We’re talking real, legitimate bees here, people.

Here’s the blurb that convinced me:

 “[A] gripping Cinderella/Arthurian tale with lush Keatsian adjectives.” (—Margaret Atwood, via Twitter)

Now I love Margaret Atwood and I loved every descriptor she mentioned in that blurb. Though what really interested me was the fact that it was credited to Twitter. I’d never seen this before and made the blurb seem more like a mini-review than a solicited quote about the book. Curious about its origins, I tracked down the original tweet. Oh how I love living in a digital age.

Oddly gripping Cinderella/Arthurian tale w. lush Keatsean adjectives: The Bees, Laline Paull @4thEstateBooks (Entomology ’tisn’t. Fun ’tis.)

— Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) February 3, 2014

@MargaretAtwood @4thEstateBooks I was so overwhelmed my gushing tweet didn’t send – THANK YOU to my literary heroine, I am beyond thrilled.

— Laline Paull (@LalinePaull) February 3, 2014

@LalinePaull @4thEstateBooks: You’re welcome! I liked the message to the bees at the end…Toby and Pilar approve. #GodsGardeners — Margaret E. Atwood (@MargaretAtwood) February 3, 2014

Aside from Paull being a huge Margaret Atwood fan, I couldn’t really find any additional connection between the two. I was actively looking for a reason to sow doubt in regards to this blurb, though after finishing the book, it no longer mattered. I bought the book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Who cares if Atwood was legitimately intrigued by a debut author and her novel, or if someone purposefully requested Atwood to blurb it? Though I do know which one warms the cockles of my heart more, and it’s certainly made me more cognizant about blurbs

So tell me how you feel about blubs? Do you love them? Hate them? Some Rioters have admitted to picking up books based on negative blurbs by authors.

In a broader sense, does social media add a more genuine aspect to authors promoting other authors? Do you think we’ll see more Twitter blurbs on book jackets?

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