How Much Does Blurbing Help to Sell Books?

From a post on by Nikki DeMarco headlined “The History of Book Blurbing”:

It’s cliche, but books are judged by their covers. For one thing, often the cover lets the reader know what kind of book they are buying. Woman in a gown or a shirtless muscle-bound man: romance. Bright cartoon picture superimposed with san serif: young adult. Dark with silhouetted figure in the mist: mystery. Dripping font titles: probably horror.

So, let’s say you’re a genre reader, have found your section in the bookstore, and are trying to find something new. The next thing to examine are the blurbs. If Neil Gaiman says he’s read and endorsed a book, they will be more likely to give it a try. Haruki Murakami says this book is a must read?

Blurbs are meant to catch a buyer’s eye and encourage them to try something new, maybe a debut author they’ve never heard of, because this name they trust says it is worth their time….New authors, all authors for that matter, are trying to do what they can to stand out. A quote from Oprah or a Reese’s Book Club sticker can go a long way.

Where Do Blurbs Come From?

The term “blurb” was coined by humorist Gelett Burgess on the cover of his 1906 book Are You a Bromide? He defined blurb as “a flamboyant advertisement” or “an inspired testimonial.”…

Walt Whitman, American author, has the first known blurb on the second printing of his now famous Leaves of Grass. Then little known Whitman sent a copy of Leaves of Grass to Ralph Waldo Emerson after its first printing. Emerson wrote back a letter of praise encouraging Whitman in his writing. At the time, Emerson was prolific in America and his opinion was valued. Whitman, being a keen marketer, had Emerson’s letter to him published in the New York Tribune in 1855, a few months after receiving it.

One line in particular was singled out: “I greet you at the beginning of a great career.” Leaves of Grass, now going into its second printing in 1856, had that line from Emerson’s letter written in gold on the spine of the book alongside the title and author’s name. It should surprise no one that Whitman was adept at self-promotion. This was the man who years later would publish a work titled Song of Myself….

Who Are Book Blurbs For?

Sometimes blurbs can be for the authors themselves. In an opinion piece for The New York Times, Sophfronia Scott said she half heartedly sent out queries she thought were longshots for her book, All I Need to Get By,and got back a glowing review from Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr…. “In one blurb he had spoken to my innermost hopes and dreams of wanting to write at the level of a Toni Morrison, and he told me it was possible.” Dr. Gates’s blurb changed her life and gave her confidence to continue in her craft….

Most authors I spoke to agree on blurbs usefulness. Andie J. Christopher, romance author of Not the Girl You Marry, Not that Kind of Guy, and forthcoming Hot Under His Collar, says, “at their best, they allow authors to point their readers towards other writers who might resonate with them.”…

Zoraida Cordova, a YA author and author of forthcoming The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina, a work of fiction for adults, thinks they are useful both with readers and professionally. When readers “see that their favorite author has given a proverbial thumbs up to a book and perhaps might want to take a chance on it” they are more likely to spend money based on that endorsement….

Where Are Blurbs Going?

Today, the most effective blurbs aren’t that much different from Walt Whitman’s. A short endorsement from a trusted author that readers should take a chance on this newbie….

Many established writers enjoy paying it forward by blurbing debut authors. Stephen King and Zadie Smith are both known for blurbing first time authors. Publishers and literary agents think they are worth the time and effort because blurbs keep appearing on books. Just like with any part of a job, there are aspects some people hate that others enjoy, and whether blurbs are a placebo or not doesn’t seem to matter. Just because something is a placebo doesn’t mean the placebo effect isn’t real, proven science. The blurb effect is here to stay.

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