No Different Than Anything Else
July 18, 2014 § 14 Comments
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.