I have thought for some time that it must be fairly easy to get a job as a book blurb writer* because you don’t have to be very good at it. Most of the blurbs I read either give away so much of the plot it’d be pointless to read the book after having read the blurb, or they completely and utterly fail to describe the book at all. Anyone could do that right?
Of course I was wrong.
Blurb writers are f***ing brilliant at their jobs. The reason I thought differently was because I didn’t understand what their job was until recently. Their job is not to accurately summarise a book or tease you with early snippets similar to what you might expect if you read the book. Their job is to sell you the book. They don’t care a damn whether or not you read the book once you’ve bought it, or like the book once you’ve read it. All they care about is that you buy it and they’ll pile on as much spin as they have to get you to do it.
My epiphany on this issue came to me when I was reading the other reviews for Box 21 (a.ka.a. The Vault) at Good Reads. I had finished reading the book and written my own review and, as is my habit, I started to browse the other reviews of the book. Quite a lot of them concurred roughly with my own views (the book was ugly and sad but brilliant) but quite a few of them were scathing. On closer inspection most of the ones in this category were upset because their reading experience did not match the expectations set by the book’s blurb writers and sticker-putter-onners.
As is the case with virtually anything coming out of northern Europe these days Box 21 was sold in America being similar to Stieg Larsson’s millennium trilogy. Of course anyone who has actually read that trilogy and Box 21 will know that likening the two makes about as much sense as comparing a sofa to kitchen sink but the blurb writers know that lots of people liked the Larsson books and the odds are that those people would buy something similar. The blurb writers don’t care that their claim for similarity is not true as long as the claim gets people to buy the book. And it worked. Plenty of people bought the book expecting something similar to the Larsson books they enjoyed and were disappointed (in the same way that you would be if you bought a sofa but the store delivered a kitchen sink).
Now that I have woken up (however belatedly) to the reality that blurb writers don’t give a damn about readers I understand why the back of my edition of Camilla Lackberg’s The Preacher says “chilly…just like the icy environment it describes” despite the fact the entire book takes place in a sweltering Swedish summer and the heat is mentioned approximately 817 times throughout the story (people sweating, buying electric fans, fainting with heat exhaustion, being on summer holidays….). But in blurb-writing land Scandinavia = cold so a major plot element is ignored and not allowed to get in the way of a good, book-selling blurb.
It can be dangerous, or at least expensive, to make threats on the internet these days so I won’t share my fantasy in which all the world’s blurb writers are collected together and set atop a giant bonfire. I’ll just suggest you stop reading their blurbs. They’re bullshit.
*for the purposes of this post I am lumping all people who put things on book covers/jackets (blurbs, stickers, pull-quotes) under the umbrella heading of blurb writers (it’s more polite than the collective noun I use in my head).
hat tip to Karen of Euro Crime for the pics