Blurb – it’s not a nice word. Neither are they nice things to write: you’re trying to give both a summary and the flavour of the book and you’re trying to sell it (blurbs are essentially advertising, a sub-genre with its own rather tedious conventions), and this is a lot to do in a very few words.
Who needs ’em anyway? I mean, blurbs considered as the para or two on the back cover or the inside flap. Readers buying online see just an image of the front of the book, not the back, so don’t see the blurb at all; they get blurby things when they scroll down, but these can be configured quite separately from the book itself. And if I’m browsing in a bookshop, all I really want to know is whether the author can write, can turn a good sentence, can make me want more. I’m interested in the thing itself, not the advertising. Almost every unpremeditated purchase I’ve made in a bookshop has been made because I’ve flicked through the pages and found a paragraph, a passage of dialogue, a few lines of a peom (that’s how I constantly type it, and then have to go back and correct; ‘avaialble’ is another one, I stumble over my fingers, but this is for another riff, another post) I want more of.
Puffs from other writers, yes. And quotes from reviews, fine. There may be a name, a place, that I trust and am drawn in by. I’m nattering here just about blurbs. And given that the CBe covers already have a puritan bent, dispensing with (eschewing: there’s a word) images (there’s the occasional exception), I’m thinking of dispensing with blurbs too. Just, on the back of the cover, some lines quoted from what you’re going to get more of, if you like them and buy.
Some years ago, when I was chained to a Faber desk, among other daft things I was doing was processing the editor’s blurb on a book through to proofs (‘baselines’, did we call them?), and I half-seriously thought of instituting an annual in-house prize for the most ludicrous blurb. ‘Tour de force’ was vastly overused. One of my favourites included: ‘Her characters are short but sturdy.’ And now I’m footloose, the idea still holds. An annual Crap Blurb prize. Along the lines of the Literary Review’s annual Bad Sex prize, and the Bookseller/Diagram prize for the most ridiculous title. I think this will run. I hereby and herewith copyright and trademark the whole thing.