Putting the spin on books

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

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12 Responses to Putting the spin on books

  1. Norman says:

    Bernadette I totally agree.
    It was one of Lackberg’s books that came with the word “heartwarming” as part of the blurb, [which I suppose referred to the romance between Patrik and Erica] , as the vast majority of the book was about the search for a paedophile, and spousal abuse, I thought it was somewhat misleading.
    These blurbs are usually not the responsibility of the author, but they are the ones facing the disappointment of readers, when the Larsson sticker appears on their study of The Sinking of the Vasa 1628, or stamp collecting in Gothenburg.

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  2. JoV says:

    I had fun reading this, as usual, you make more sense than the average blurb writers who obviously didn’t read the book before they wrote the blurb. Until you smashed this assumption that the blurb should tie up with what’s in the book, I wouldn’t have sit up and take notice. I am wiser because of you now. 😉

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  3. Bernadette – Oh, how right you are! I completely agree. The whole point of writing a blurb is to get the reader to buy a book. And those examples you’ve shared are absolutely priceless! I couldn’t have written this post better :-).

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  4. Dorte H says:

    The problem with you is that you are far too clever for your own good.
    Bernadette, the blurb killer has struck again 😉

    (Back to exam work, but this is so much funnier).

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  5. Maxine says:

    Although like you I despise the sticker, lazy approach “if you liked [top seller x] you will love [author of this book], I hate even more the actual blurb because it inevitably reveals far too much of the plot – usually everything except who did it and sometimes even that. I’ve read books by authors in the upper sales echelon, eg Michael Connelly, where a crucial plot twist occurring half way through the book was given away in the blurb (an event in Nine Dragons). If even MConnelly can’t control them for his own books (and I think he’s the top selling series crime author in the US?) then who can?

    My own happy sticker moment occurred on the book I have (finally!) just finished, The Dinosaur Feather by Sissel Jo=Gazan. “if you enjoyed The Killing, you’ll love this”. If you ignore the fact that one is a TV series and one is a book, you might just as well say “if you like pastries you will love mermaids” (as all are Danish).

    I never write reviews with spoilers in them, so I know that it is perfectly possible to write an enticing teaser without giving anything away. And yes, I am sure you are right that the aim of the marketing dept (blurb writer, cover design etc) is to sell that one book, but if the net effect is reader disappointment at inaccurate or spoiling descriptions, then they are going to lose out eventually as you can’t do this too often….

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  6. Kathy D. says:

    Unfortunately, the whole aim of book blurbs, stickers, back cover quotes from “famous” authors, et al., is to sell the books. It really doesn’t matter what it says.
    The terms “the next Stieg Larsson,” or “If you liked Stieg Larsson, you’ll love (fill in the blank), even if the authors are totally dissimilar, should be banned. Stieg Larsson comparisons should be illegal with heavy fines if violated.
    Every writer really is different. Each should be read for their individual style, characters, plotting, and judged on the merits as individual writers and books.
    But everything is feared to sales. It’s such a big money, competitive, cutthroat situation out there in the publishing world. If there aren’t huge sales of books, the authors are dropped, the books remaindered, sold en masse to warehousers and wholesalers.

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  7. Kathy D. says:

    Correction: Meant to say, “But everything is geared to sales.”

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  8. Bill Selnes says:

    Bernadette: I think you should run a contest on writing good blurbs. I am sure it is possible.

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  9. Barbara says:

    Provocative, tantalizing, gripping . . . as kick-ass as Lisbeth Salander, fiery as Three Seconds . . . with heartwarming yet scathing brilliance, Bernadette once again delivers a punch, with a twist at the end that will leave you hanging. (Gee, I wonder what her fantasy might be 😉

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  10. Cliff says:

    Possibly slightly off topic – refers to back cover publicity rather than blurbs per se.

    I’ve been caught before by quotes from published reviews that don’t specifically refer to the actual book between the covers. It’s a common ploy – the following is just one example:

    ‘Reichs doesn’t put a foot wrong in this tense, tough investigation.’ Woman and Home.

    This has appeared on the back covers of at least two different Kathy Reichs novels. Of course it’s possible that the reviewer used exactly the same words on two occasions, but unlikely.

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  11. Surely there must already be an award for the worst book blurb

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  12. Pingback: More book spin nonsense | Reactions to Reading

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