To Blurb or Not to Blurb

Nikki GrimesI love a good read. As for a free book, that gets me sali­vat­ing as quick­ly as the offer of dark choco­late. Well, almost! So when a pub­lish­er sends me a book to blurb, my ini­tial response is ela­tion. After all, a new book promis­es the poten­tial of a new lit­er­ary adven­ture. Or it may be intro­duc­ing me to a new author (Yay!). Or it may give me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to sup­port an author that I already know and love. What could be bad about that? Well, hold on there, a minute.

To blurb or not to blurb is not as ele­men­tary a ques­tion as you might sup­pose. At least, it has­n’t been for me.

First, let me say that I’m always hon­ored to be asked to write a blurb. How­ev­er, writ­ing one invari­ably comes at the expense of my own work. It takes time to read a book crit­i­cal­ly, which is what I feel I must do if I’m going to say some­thing intel­li­gent about it. That’s time tak­en away from my own writ­ing and, trust me, there are already a host of oth­er things that do that. Then, once I’ve read the book, I may decide not to blurb it, after all, for a num­ber of rea­sons: I object to the lan­guage; I don’t find the sto­ry hope­ful (for me, a required ele­ment of chil­dren’s or YA lit); I object to sex­u­al ele­ments (feel free to call me a prude. You would­n’t be the first!); I believe the book would ben­e­fit from anoth­er revi­sion; or I just plain don’t think the book is all that good. No mat­ter what rea­son I have for ulti­mate­ly decid­ing not to pen said blurb, the author—often, though not always a friend—is dis­ap­point­ed. I hate that. And it does­n’t much mat­ter that I warned the author and edi­tor going in that there’s no guar­an­tee I’ll write a blurb. Every­one is still dis­ap­point­ed, and I feel bad about that.

But, say the book checks all of my box­es, and I do write a blurb. While it may be used for mar­ket­ing pur­pos­es, it may nev­er show up on the book’s cov­er. And, even if it does, how impor­tant was that blurb, any­way? I hon­est­ly don’t know.

At the end of the day, I don’t want to be respon­si­ble for hurt feel­ings. And if I could offer some­thing use­ful in the way of cri­tique, it’s already too late. Besides, I real­ly need to con­cen­trate on writ­ing my own books. What with the demands that go along with main­tain­ing a career in lit­er­a­ture, as well as the ordi­nary demands of every­day life, I find pre­cious lit­tle time to write as it is.

To blurb or not to blurb? I’ve final­ly land­ed on the only answer that makes sense for me: Not.

One Response

  1. August 1, 2015

    Dear Ms. Grimes,

    I know I am fool­ish for request­ing this because of what I just read—NOT. I can’t help myself. For so many years our school dis­trict has ordered your books for chil­dren from grades 7–12. Your rep­u­ta­tion is ster­ling. You have won so many awards and gained acco­lades that would take a page to fill. In addi­tion, I feel a cer­tain con­nec­tion with you because I have spent many years teach­ing African-Amer­i­can young­sters and because I am from Span­ish Harlem and now live in Los Angeles.
    My pur­pose in life is to help senior high African-Amer­i­can males real­ize the impor­tance of get­ting an edu­ca­tion, which in turn opens up mul­ti­ple future pos­si­bil­i­ties for them. 

    I thought you might appre­ci­ate know­ing that your writ­ing and your many life achieve­ments have inspired me as a teacher and as a writer. 

    I have writ­ten a nov­el –Jamaal’s Journey—with my pur­pose in mind. How­ev­er, it is self-pub­lished (not a good move on my part). Nonethe­less it has been giv­en eight awards, one being The Kirkus INDIE Book of the Month Selec­tion for African-Amer­i­can YA fic­tion for April 2015. The oth­er sev­en are for African-Amer­i­can YA fic­tion and YA fiction. 

    In the com­ing weeks I’ll be try­ing to get a lit­er­ary agent and pub­lish­er. If I am suc­cess­ful, because you’ve been a sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive influ­ence for me, would it be okay to send you an ARC? And if you like it, would you con­sid­er giv­ing me a blurb (brief tes­ti­mo­ni­al) that I may use in my pub­li­ca­tion? This would be a great honor!
    My debut nov­el for young African-Amer­i­can adults—Jamaal’s Journey—stresses pos­i­tive, healthy atti­tudes laced with humor and yet presents a real­is­tic pic­ture of what teens are fac­ing today and how they behave under dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. It takes place in an urban high school in Rock­land Coun­ty, New York.

    I know you must be very busy, but I also know that you prob­a­bly still remem­ber what it was like when you were start­ing out, and I bet you received a lit­tle bit of encour­age­ment from some­one along the way as well. Thank you for your con­sid­er­a­tion and thank you again for all you’ve done for me already. I’m look­ing for­ward to read­ing more of your work and wish you con­tin­ued success.

    John McCor­ma­ck (email: )

    PS. For­give me for being so bold!

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