What’s a Book Blurb Worth?

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Blurbs, which are short celebrity endorsements or excerpts from a review that appear on a book’s cover, are viewed by publishers as an important element in promoting a book. But are they as valuable as we’ve been lead to believe?

What makes a blurb effective?

  • The celebrity is not only well-known but also influential. If a notorious politician, who had to resign due to illegal behavior, suggests I read the latest political memoir, I’m unlikely to hand over $25 to buy a copy. But if a political figure I admire (um, can’t think of one at the moment) writes a compelling blurb, I might consider reading the book.
  • The blurb writer actually knows something about the book’s category and is a logical person to write an endorsement. Should John Grisham write a blurb for a YA romance, I wouldn’t give much credence to his thoughts on the book. But if John Grisham wrote an endorsement for a debut legal thriller, that would hold much more meaning.
  • The endorsement offers something specific about the book. I’m bored by such Girl readingcommon blurb phrases as “couldn’t put it down,” “kept me up late into the night,” “compelling,” engaging,” etc. Many endorsements might just as well consist of “blah, blah, blah, signed, Famous Author.”

Let’s take a look at snippets from longer reviews/blurbs for JoJo Moyes’s Me Before You.

“A hilarious, heartbreaking, riveting novel . . . I will stake my reputation on this book.”
—Anne Lamott, People

“When I finished this novel, I didn’t want to review it: I wanted to reread it. . . . an affair to remember.”
New York Times Book Review

“An unlikely love story . . . To be devoured like candy, between tears.”
O, The Oprah Magazine

“Funny and moving but never predictable.”
USA Today (****)

“Masterful . . . a heartbreaker in the best sense . . . Me Before You is achingly hard to read at moments, and yet such a joy.”
New York Daily News

“Funny, surprising and heartbreaking, populated with characters who are affecting and amusing . . . This is a thought-provoking, thoroughly entertaining novel that captures the complexity of love.”
People Magazine

Which, if any, of these blurbs is the most arresting to you? Which would cause you to consider reading the book?

Here’s one for another Moyes’s novel, One Plus One:

“Safety advisory: If you’re planning to read Jojo Moyes’s One Plus One on your summer vacation, slather on plenty of SPF 50. Once you start the book, you probably won’t look up again until you’re the last one left on the beach…[a] wonderful new novel.”
The Washington Post

To me, that’s another version of “I couldn’t put the book down.” Yawn. But it does lead to my next point. A blurb is effective if:

  • The endorser seems to have actually read the book. Vague endorsements full of laudatory words but no details within the book that the blurber highlights suggest to me that the book might not have been read. That’s what I think of as a cheat. Influencers shouldn’t lend their names to books they haven’t read and actually liked. Each endorser who does so devalues endorsements.

Here are two endorsements for The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown:

The Boys in the Boat is not only a great and inspiring true story; it is a fascinating work of history.”
–Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea

“For years I’ve stared and wondered about the old wooden boat resting on the top rack of the UW boathouse. I knew the names of the men that rowed it but never really knew who they were. After reading this book, I feel like I got to relive their journey and witness what it was truly like earning a seat in that Pocock shell. The passion and determination showed by Joe and the rest of the boys in the boat are what every rower aspires to. I will never look at that wooden boat the same again.”
– Mary Whipple, Olympic gold medal–winning coxswain, women’s eight-oared crew, 2008 and 2012

The first one is nice but vague. Nothing noteworthy in it. Did the guy read the book? I can’t tell.

But the second one is heartfelt and specific. The kind of endorsement that can make a reader dive into the book.

  • An effective endorsement is one that doesn’t oversell. When a blurb compares the author to Shakespeare, I’m not buying it–neither the blurb nor the book.

A funny blog post on overwrought endorsements appeared on The Guardian’s website. Check this link to read it. The blogger challenges readers to try their hand at overdone blurbs by writing one for The DaVinci Code.

This one left me in stitches…so to speak:

The DaVinci Code didn’t make me miss my train, it made me step in front of it, so engrossed was I by its intricate spell. When the doctors pieced me back together, they explained that I would need extensive reconstructive surgery before I’d stop scaring kids. I told them I wanted my new body to be modelled on the description of Robert Langdon and bless them, they complied.

I am now 80% tweed.”

I actually had other points I wanted to make about blurbs (like statistics on how effective blurbs are at selling books), but really, I can’t top The DaVinci blurb. So I’m just stopping here. Now it’s your turn.

Tell us, in your opinion, which of the Me Before You blurbs is the best and why?

Can you recall a blurb that caused you to read a book? If so, what about the blurb convinced you–something in it, or the person who wrote it?


What makes a book blurb effective? Click to tweet.

Writing book blurbs that work. Click to tweet.

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