Tuesday, September 16, 2014

On the underbelly of blurbs...

So yesterday, there was this very interesting article on blurbs for books. Overall, I think the article did a really nice job addressing the challenges for authors in both giving and getting blurbs. Admittedly, blurbs are my Achilles' heel in publishing (I'm pretty sure I've discussed them before on different forums). There are a lot of things that I have developed a thick skin about, but for some reason, blurbs are not one of them.

In my opinion, blurbs are the equivalent of having to figure out who to go to prom with, which overall is a mostly losing prospect on either side:

1. The thing is that everyone wants a blurb from someone who is big enough to make a bookseller take note and purchase copies of your book because of being blurbed by X. But the reality is that X only has so much time and frankly can't love every book and also doesn't want to blurb everything in the world because then their name on a book doesn't really hold any weight. Yes, we want to all go to prom with the hottie, but the hottie can really only go with maybe three people and even then it's slightly awkward for the other two people. So all the people ask the hottie, but s/he must choose. Which is horrible for the hottie and everyone who didn't get chosen.

2. The back-up to not getting a blurb from X is to get a blurb from someone you sort of know, who was maybe nice to you at a con once, who wrote you a sweet response email to a question you had about promo, or who responds to your tweets, etc. The quarterback already has a date to prom, but maybe the wide receiver is available, after all, he held the door open for you once. So this is the blurb ask where you think, "maybe I have a shot here", which is sometimes worse than a lack of response or a rejection from the hottie. Because we actually get our hopes up. And when that doesn't pan out because author Y didn't like your book*, is a slow reader and already has 3 books to blurb, has a personal struggle that is triggered by your book, is dealing with their own shit and can't read another YA book at the mo, well, then you're a mess of hurt feelings again. Most of them look like this: "Jesus, my book is so shitty that even Y couldn't stomach reading it or didn't want his/her name on it." Yes, that insecurity looks very nice on us, thank you very much.

3. The back-up to this is to ask someone you know really well. Someone you talk to on the regular, have had coffee with, exchange legit b-day greetings on FB with, etc. This is asking the person to prom who you know doesn't have a date because you talked to them last week and they told you so. This can pan out one of two ways. First, they can say, "Sure, I'll go to prom with you" and then you can spend the next six months wondering if everyone who sees their blurb on your book is thinking to themselves, "Of course that person blurbed it, they're practically besties/that's her cousin." Or this person can tell you "they didn't have a chance to get to it" (which is blurb-speak from these particular friends for 'I can't blurb this book'). Which means that your friendship has to weather your pal not liking your book or not wanting to put their name on your book. These things can be weathered, there is grace and forgiveness and understanding in all of us, but when it's your book baby, it does take a little bit of time. So on either side of this, be prepared for awkwardness. (Side note: if the person you know really well happens to be author X from number 1 above, and they decide not to go with you to prom, that is a really different level of 'ouch' but still stings).

4. The back-up to all of this is to be punk rock about it and say, "Screw you, I'm not going to prom." There's something pretty great about being in this place, as a giver and a getter. Because your policy of removing yourself from the whole thing saves you a ton of grief and worry. Only, as someone who gives blurbs, then you feel like a huge asshole who isn't paying it forward. And as someone who decides not to get blurbs on your books, you are left with that nagging feeling like your mom's voice in your ear saying, "How do you know no one would have wanted to go to prom with you when you didn't bother asking anyone?" (Side note: my favorite thing about the above referenced article was that Gayle has a POLICY in place for dealing with blurbs. I think a policy is a very good idea for everyone because it really does soften the blow in the asking if the reason you aren't being blurbed is because this author only blurbs debuts, etc).

5. I would be remiss in my discussion of this if I didn't acknowledge that BLURBS HAPPEN. And they happen fairly frequently. Whether because someone in scenarios 1-3 said yes or because someone stumbled upon your book and loved it (thank you, Ellen Hopkins) or because you have a friend who knows how much you hated asking someone to prom the first time and decides to ask you first (thank you, Carrie Mesrobian), books can be BLURBED. And this is both amazing and awesome and makes you feel super good if you're the giver that you've helped someone. Only, maybe the publisher decides you're not a big enough name to use as a blurber, or maybe they got a bunch of great blurbs for this stupendous book and your name as the blurber ended up getting bumped. Hi, welcome to hurt feelings all over again.

I know that there are a lot of people who see this as part of the business. There are a lot of people who shrug it off, move on, don't care, think it's NBD. There are a lot of people who deal with the rejection of the blurb process in the same way that they do everything else ("whatevs, I didn't want that guy blurbing me anyway."). But I also know that there are a lot of people who aren't going to prom or are going to prom with their cousin and this experience has been hard. And I'd like to acknowledge that.

So. Should authors who are looking for blurbs be part of the process? For my part, mostly I think no. I think we shouldn't have to compromise our friendships to ask a favor that may or may not sell books. I think we shouldn't be put in a position where if we know no one, we feel that we're at a disadvantage. I generally try to avoid scenarios where I end up feeling shitty and as a rule, I think blurbs tend to put people in that position at least 50% of the time (as giver or getter).  That's my two cents.

*There is no good way to say "no" when someone asks you to blurb a book so you're basically stuck with "I don't have time" or "I'm overcommitted". These are probably legit reasons sometimes, but they can't be ALL THE TIME because we're all swamped and yet we all manage to find time to read. But there's very little room for a "no" other than "I don't have time" because anything else leaves the door open for the person asking for the blurb to start questioning you on why. Which frankly can only go south fast.


Suzi said...

Do you have people that don't know you asking you for blurbs? (I'd love to have a blurb from you, but since I don't have a publisher, or an agent even, I'm a little ways from that. ;) )

I dread this whole blurb thing and won't like dealing with it when the time comes. This wouldn't work for the non-agented/self-published, but it'd be nice to throw the whole blurb request thing to your agent. Let them do the asking and let them do the rejecting. At least they're the bad guy then. :)

I'd be curious to find out how many agents handle that for their clients.

Jolene Perry said...

You know I love every word of this, right?