Is This Really Necessary?

Endorsements. Blurbs.

One often sees these on the back cover or the front pages of a book. One tends to see this more on books by new authors, usually in the form of praise from more well known sources, or sometimes from reviews in newspapers or journals. All of these effuse praise for the book or author, maybe summarizing a key aspect of the book that might be attractive to the reader.

I sat down this morning with a book this morning that I had requested for review because the idea of the book looked interesting to me. I hadn’t seen these comments before obtaining the book. I discovered that there were six pages of these endorsements, half of which were from people I didn’t know, nineteen in all! This was followed by a four page foreward that really was a more extensive endorsement.

I found myself thinking, “is all this really necessary?” I actually found myself becoming more suspicious that this really wasn’t such a good book after all if the publisher felt it necessary to find so many people to tell me that it was. I also wondered, did all these people really read the book? And it occurred to me that this wasted ten pages of paper (maybe recycled).

I get that all of this is the publisher’s attempt to give me sufficient reason to buy this book, particularly if it means trusting an unknown author. And I would say that a few of the endorsements were by people who had “street cred” with me. But I found myself wondering (and I would genuinely love to know what others, including those involved with publishing think), do people really use these “blurbs” as the primary criteria in deciding to buy a book?

That made me reflect, what influences my decisions to buy a book? Here are some thoughts:

  • I’ve read a review that brought it to my attention as having something distinctive to say about the subject or that it offered a narrative that promised to be a good read.
  • The back cover description, the table of contents, and a scan of the early chapters suggest that the book will be interesting and/or helpful.
  • A friend’s recommendation, usually from a friend whose past recommendations were helpful. Often I follow up by looking at what is written online at Amazon and Goodreads as well as other reviews to see if this gets at something I care about and does it well.
  • Sometimes, I will buy a book if it keeps coming up in conversation, or is referenced by other things I’m reading. That tells me that it has some influence.

What I realize as I reflect in this, and maybe I’m peculiar, is that all those “blurbs” have nearly zero influence on my book-buying. Most of the time, I only notice them after acquiring the book, and then usually in a negative way–all these pages before I get to the actual book!

Some things I wonder:

  • If publishers do this, would one page with three to four endorsements by people likely known by the book’s target audience make sense and squander less paper? More than that feels like overkill to me. It also seems that putting these on the back cover is critical for those instances where people are browsing a book in a physical bookstore, or online where they can look at the cover.
  • I do think authors and publishers have to think about the online strategy of marketing the book. I suspect this involves more than publicizing your book on Facebook or some other social media source. I see a lot of this and just ignore it. Instead, I wonder if some of this starts with establishing a platform of people who really like one’s writing, and then moves from there to getting the book read by those who give it visibility beyond your own network. (I discussed this in a recent post on “the bookternet”).
  • I wonder if it could be a great resource to writers breaking in to develop better indexes of communities of interest around different kinds of writing, both physical and virtual. These seem both invaluable, and also seem to take a great deal of effort to find.

How influential are these “blurbs” or “endorsements” in your book buying decisions?

10 thoughts on “Is This Really Necessary?

  1. In my (admittedly limited) experience, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the number of blurbs praising the book and the quality of the book. I think that collecting a large number of blurbs seems to have more to do with people declaring loyalty to the author and their standing in their subculture than anything else.

    • Rebecca, thanks for your comment. I think this is often the case, but sometimes, I’ve seen this with good young authors whose books are quality but they are not well known. Like you, I’m suspicious if this is overdone.

  2. Marketing people rule the publishing world including Christian publishing. So blurb avalanches will be with us for the indefinite future. As part of the publishing process, writers are always asked who they might know who would be a “name” to endorse the book. Also, once one is published, the author often becomes a part of a potential pool of endorsers for others publishing with their company. I agree that an abundance of blurbs raises my suspicions as to the quality of the book. Many times it only tells who the author’s friends are. Especially for new authors, they often do better with a few carefully selected recommendations and I specifically bought one book because Eugene Petersen blurbed it and I know he does extremely little of that.

    • Sadly, this is true. Reminds me of the political calls I get from the party I’m registered with for voting. The more they call, the more they disenchant me. In the work I write about, they could have stopped with the first endorser whose stature I respected.

  3. I get really annoyed when the endorsements completely replace the back cover description, which is generally what I check first. How good can it be if the blurbs are more significant than the content of the book?

    While I admit that I’ve been drawn in by blurbs written by people I respect, their impact is diluted when I see the same authors endorsing more and more books. On occasion I’ve actually been turned off a book by blurbs written by people that I don’t respect. And I worry that being positively and negatively swayed this way reflects some degree of tribalism in my thinking, and that publishers are reinforcing this by the way they publicize books.

    • It does disturb me that books by Christians are focused on “market segments” instead of the broader church. You are right about the tribalism and others have commented about deciding not to buy books based on endorsements. i do wonder when the same people endorse many books whether they’ve read them. Thanks for your post!

  4. This reminds me of a very blunt article written by Steven King, who said that his motto, shared by many best-selling authors, is “Don ‘t read what you blurb and don’t blurb what you read.” He went on to describe the politics behind blurbs. It was an enlightening article, though sad as well.

    • I’ll have to look that up. Probably a good motto for authors–except that it confirms my suspicion that the blurbs are written by people who haven’t read the book!

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