No Different Than Anything Else

July 18, 2014 § 14 Comments

Just a wee snack before dinner

Just a wee snack before dinner

One of the things you’re supposed to do between the time you finish writing a book and when it’s actually published is solicit blurbs. Blurbs are the fawning quotes printed on the covers of most books. You know, like this one, from my mother: “To my immense surprise, Ben Hewitt’s new book is actually halfway decent.” Or the following, from dear old dad: “Whilst I did doze off in the midst of the second chapter, it was only for a short while and I was able to finish it off without further somnolence.” (he’s always been fond of big words like “somnolence”)

I’m pretty uncomfortable asking for blurbs. For one, I know how busy most writers are, and I do not relish asking for their time. For another, I occasionally run into the issue of writers who write blurbs without actually reading the manuscript. One author I approached wanted to see only a couple paragraph synopses and the table of contents, presumably because she didn’t have the time to actually read the material but also wasn’t comfortable simply saying “no.” Honestly, I’d rather hear “no.” And that’s the other issue: There’s a bit of an unspoken agreement between writers that we’ll write complimentary blurbs for one another, whether we actually like the book or not. Whether we actually read it or not. It becomes a bit of a blurb factory, a system of quid pro quo back scratching that can feel vaguely icky, as if the person whose back you’re scratching forgot to shave it first (try getting that image out of your head!). My friend Rowan and I once joked that it’d be fun to write the exact same blurb for one another’s book and see if anyone notices.

Despite all this, I can’t just pretend that blurbs don’t matter to potential readers. I think they do, at least a little. I know that if I see that a writer I admire has nice things to say about a book I’m perusing, I’m more likely to actually buy that book. Or at least get it from the library. And that’s even with me knowing how the blurb game is often played. I mean, just imagine the power of a good blurb over the ignorant, unwashed massed who actually thinks it means something!

Except, sometimes I think it does mean something. I feel like I was incredibly fortunate with my blurbs for Home Grown, because it was really clear to me that the vast majority of those I asked for blurbs actually read the book. Charles Eisenstein and I had a fairly extensive back-and-forth exchange before he agreed to look at the manuscript; he’s gotten leery of writing blurbs for exactly the reasons I mention above and originally declined my request. “There’s no integrity in it,” is what he said, or something like that. To which I replied, perhaps a bit presumptuously, “there’s exactly as much integrity as we bring to it.” Ultimately, his blurb is perhaps the one I’m most fond of, in part because I know Charles wouldn’t have offered it if he didn’t truly mean it.

I really appreciated Richard Louv’s blurb, because I know he also read the book. Richard put me off, and then put me off again, and just when I’d about given up on him, his blurb appeared along with a real nice note. Honestly, I didn’t expect it. He’s a wicked busy guy with a NY Times Best Seller to his name. He didn’t have to do it. Scratching my (butter smooth) back wasn’t gonna do him a damn bit of good. And Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, actually called me after he read the manuscript. We talked for something like an hour-and-a-half.

Anyway. I got a lot of blurbs for this book from people I greatly respect. I appreciate all of them, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have found authors who seemed genuinely unwilling to play the blurb game the way it’s too often played. Because I think what I said to Charles – however presumptuous it may have been – is true: There is exactly as much integrity as we bring to it.

Which, if you think about it, makes it no different than anything else.

§ 14 Responses to No Different Than Anything Else

  • Eumaeus says:

    I’ll generosity enable you 50 bucks if you can get a printing of your book done with your ‘mom’s’ blurb on it…

    that would be like sticking it to the hairy backed man, something i love

  • amy says:

    That is quite blurb-i-ful. (i know, i’m clever. pat me on the back)

  • Tres Jolie says:

    Whoa! That fat almost distracted me from reading your blog. I kept looking at it and wondering what in the world it could be used for!


  • Michelle says:

    I am really looking forward to the book Heather Bruggeman told me she got an andvanced copy and I am so jealous. About the blurbs, I don’t think I have ever read one on any book I have ever read. :)

  • ncfarmchick says:

    I always wondered why some blurbs didn’t seem to have much to do with the book they were supposed to be complimenting. Now, I know! All the blurbs for Homegrown are wonderful, particularly Eisenstein’s. I have found his talks and essays on “deschooling”, in particular, to be extremely enlightening. Can’t wait till September 9th!

  • J. Marie says:

    Those are some good names–I’m betting on good blurbs.

  • CJ says:

    My 2 cents on blurbs – They are just like movie reviews on the DVD jacket – never read them for the reasons stated above. I’d rather see selected passages from the book so I can get a sense of whether I want to read it or not.

    Two thumbs way, way up for ditching blurbs!

  • sue says:

    I ignore blurbs – I look for reviews from other publications, NY Times etc. Blurb shave always smacked of “I’ll promote your book if you’ll promote mine”

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      Unfortunately, there are very, very few outlets doing book reviews anymore and those that do tend to review the big name authors and big launch titles. My chances of landing a review in the NYT are incredibly small. Which doesn’t negate your point about blurbs.

      • Eumaeus says:

        How would this work anyway? Do you just send them a free copy of your book and say please? Does the publisher or agent or someone else ever pay for a review? Which outlets have you approached in the past? I’m thinking on entering this business, kinda.

      • Ben Hewitt says:

        yeah, it’s just a polite ask. No money. At least, I’ve never paid for blurbs. Maybe it happens.

        How do you enter the blurb business?

      • Eumaeus says:

        No, I’m talking about reviews. I’d be interested in getting into the review business. Not sure how it would look and I may be off my rocker, but it is an idea I’m pursuing anyway, because (so far) I like it. I’ll show you later…

  • Peter H says:

    Blurbs seem to be a necessary game, and I am grateful that you, Ben, have the courage to play it, thus being willing to reach out to the masses which include me. Incidentally, perhaps they seem all the more unattractive because they seem to resemble burps in more ways that one.

  • Charlotte says:

    My personal favorite blurb was found in a very recent popular book and the blurb was written by an author who has been DEAD for about ten years. Sure, she coulda written it about the pre-published manuscript, but really??

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