Sunday, August 24, 2008

No Point in Whispering when You Want a Shout

OK, so I looked up, the service providing book blurbs (by which they seem to mean puff quotes), which has apparently caused some outrage. And thanks to Tania Hershman I found the hilarious article by Rebecca Johnson on exposing the fact that nothing could be more potentially corrupt than the traditional way that such cover quotes are obtained. tells us:
Normally, a blurb will cost an author and/or publisher $14 - $23, which includes printing of the galleys, packaging and mailing fees. The standard 30 – 50 blurbs expected per book can range from $420 to $1,150. It is also very time consuming researching and contacting prospective authors as well as conducting follow-ups during the duration of the process.
Notice any figure missing? A fee to the poor 'blurbing' author! As Rebecca Johnson says, it's also a time-consuming business for the endorsing author, who is expected to do it for free. Once, I remember, the winning novel of a competition for which I'd been on the judging panel, which was now to be published by a small publisher, was sent off for a quote to a famous novelist well known for her left-wing feminist views. How amazed and shocked the publisher was when she wrote back that she didn't do quotes for free. But you know, in reality, it's their shock which is shocking.

Here's my own recent cringe-worthy experience, my search for a cover quote for my recent story collection. Would I ask people I knew? Would I heck! How could I live with myself (and them afterwards) otherwise? So what did I do? I sent initial queries to the agents of short story writers I didn't know personally but whose work I respected. Guess what? Back came nice polite letters from the agents telling me that their clients were fiendishly busy but wished me all the luck.

What next? OK, I would bite the bullet and ask a well-known short story writer I had met not so long ago. But I wouldn't put her on the spot by ringing her up, or suggesting the coffee we had vaguely mooted. Instead I sent her a postcard, in which I insisted (repeatedly) that she must refuse to do it if she didn't want to etc etc, she didn't even need to answer this card if she didn't want to.

Guess what? She didn't answer the card. I didn't get a quote, and yet I still may have spoilt a beautiful potential friendship...

What next? Well, there's that mega-famous author who's really close friends with some really close old friends of mine, and I've met her at their house more than once... that wouldn't be so bad, would it. I mean, it's pulling strings, but I can hardly be said to know her, and she wouldn't feel obliged to give a good quote whatever... So I email my friends and ask them what they think. Well, they'll read the stories first and decide whether to ask her. I email the stories. One of my friends reads them over a week on his train journey to work. He really likes them, he thinks his friend the mega-famous author will like them. He'll contact her and ask.

Days go by. Weeks. A month, two... I give up. (Nine months later, when the book is published, I'm at a party at his house - the mega-famous author isn't - and he tells me she never answered his query.)

Meanwhile, I have caved in completely. I have rung up my good friend who has agreed to look at the manuscript, and there I am in his kitchen on Sunday afternoon, handing it over and cringing inwardly, not nearly as sure as he seems to be that he'll like the book when he reads it... But then we're saved the embarrassment: for my publisher decides it's better he doesn't do it anyway, since he's already just provided a quote for another of her books.

I was lucky in the end. I walked into the foyer of MMU for a reading, and Livi Michael, writer of wonderful novels for adults and children - and of brilliant short stories, one of which we published in metropolitan - came sweeping across the tiles to greet me. Livi! Perhaps I could ask Livi! But does she know my work? Would she hate my work? How could I put her through the embarrassment of saying no if she didn't like it? No, I can't ask Livi!

She sees the look on my face. 'I know what you're going to ask me,' she says, 'and the answer is Yes!' Turns out she did like my work already: turns out she loved the book.

Even so, it's not the easiest thing in the world, coming up with a quote that sums up and yet does justice to a book. Wouldn't surprise me if Livi, like so many of my writer friends, has since declared herself a blurb-free zone.

And I did only manage to get one shout.


Tania Hershman said...

This would all be funny if it wasn't so riduculous and painful, eh? I think I must have been really really lucky... I didn't actually realise how lucky til now. I have four blurbs - one from a writer who had awarded me second prize in a comp, one from a writer whose collection I had reviewed years ago (and who ranted about how he didn't believe in blurbs but then very kindly agreed to do it anyway!), one from a writer who taught me on a writing course, and the fourth from a first-time novelist I had never been in touch with but that I read about in Poets and Writers talking about her book. What she said resonated with me, and so I found her website and emailed her, and she was delighted! Luckily, when I actually read her novel - after asking her to blurb me - I loved it. But it's scary, the way this has become the be-all-and-end-all. A naked book? A book that "only" contains the work of fiction that the publisher paid for? Well, we couldn't have that now, could we.

I can't believe about the blurb payment. Call me naive... well, I must be. What next? I dread to even imagine. Maybe we should start a blurb-free campaign, a movement whereby authors don't even look for blurbs for their books. The Naked Book Movement! What do you think, FB? You in??

Emily Maroutian said...

Dear Fiction Bitch,

You make a very good point on how time consuming and sometimes exhausting it can be to get blurbs for your work. That is exactly the same reason why we wanted to find a way to help authors receive blurbs.

Thank you for taking the time out to look up Blurbings and our services. Most blogs on the web right now are misinformed about what it is that we actually do. So we'd like to thank you for the time you took to look into the services we provide.

Emily Maroutian
CEO and Co-founder
Blurbings LLC

Elizabeth Baines said...

Tania, I wish I could be so brave. I'm not sure I can...

Emily, I certainly found your website interesting.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Tania, PS: Re payment to blurbing authors. I think it's usually done for free - and the point I was trying to make is that it's a pretty onerous thing to do for free. However, point out that blurbing is a way that authors can advertise themselves. Not sure about that one: could be a potential source of corruption, I suppose, but then who wants their name endorsing a crap book, or a novel which isn't in one's own genre?

I think the author who declined to blurb our prizewinning novel was being rhetorical...

adele said...

Years ago, Anne Fine told me she NEVER gives quotes for covers because it means that when asked, if you agree, you kind of HAVE TO like the book. I decided that was a good policy. But anyone is free to quote any review I write or anything that I put up about a book on my website. This policy has saved me lots of time and for PAYING for a quote, don't like that idea a bit.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes, Adele, it' the best policy. And I agree re paying for quotes - that's certainly where corruption could creep in.

Elizabeth Baines said...

To clarify: I wasn't advocating payment to puffing authors - god forbid (drat that irony of mine). No, I was trying to point out that it's one of the things which makes the job onerous - the fact that it's such hard work yet do it for free - as I'm sure the declining author was, and therefore one of the things it's so difficult (impossible) to ask your friends to do. The other, even more difficult one is of course the one Ane Fine points out: that you're putting your friends in an impossible situation by asking them: how can they NOT say they love you book once they've agreed to puff it - unless they're prepared to risk the friendship?