Thursday, 29 August 2013

Blurb - "An Outrageously Brilliant Post by One of the Net's Hottest New Bloggers"

"A simple, touching and quaintly appropriate photograph, even if it doesn't actually contain a blurb."
(by TrazomFreak)


Noun. Slang (originally US). Early 20th century.
[Fanciful form by US humorist Gelett Burgess.]

A publisher's brief, usually eulogistic, description of a book,
printed on its jacket or in advertisements; descriptive or commendatory matter.

I got into an argument over a blurb once. I was sitting in my friend's house, looking over his copy of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting. On the cover was (in my opinion) the outrageously fawning statement: "The best book ever written by man or woman ... deserves to sell more copies than the Bible." I commented that such unfettered praise always makes me doubt the credibility of the reviewer and by extension (and perhaps unfairly) the book itself.

"What? You can't accept that this is the reviewer's opinion, and he might just be right and this book could actually be more deserving than the Bible?"

"No. It's just that comparing a novel about a group of heroin addicts from Edinburgh to an ancient book that's the cornerstone of faith to some 2 billion people seems just a tad excessive, regardless of the fundamental merits of either."

And so it went on. And on. All because of a stupid blurb. And no, I've never read Trainspotting, and in my mind it will always be associated with that ridiculously inflated praise (written, I know now, by Kevin Williamson, a fellow writer and friend of Welsh's). Bizarrely, I do think that blurb stopped me from reading it, although it's rather doubtful that Welsh has ever rued this lost custom. Sometimes I do rue not reading Trainspotting though. Very odd.

Blurbs are tricky things, though, and not to be trusted without question. In fact, there have been many documented cases of blurb fraud, both in quid pro quo blurb writing between authors and outright fabrication: the entirely fictitious critic David Manning was quoted as praising such cinematic gems as A Knight's Tale, The Animal and Hollow Man, something for which Sony paid out over $1.5 million in compensation to disgruntled movie goers who felt duped into seeing such tripe by their marketing "hoax" (although, in fairness, I thoroughly enjoyed A Knight's Tale).

Beware of suspiciously succinct blurbs too. A film that carries the blurbs "simply breathtaking!" and "explosive!" might just be doling out unhealthy doses of contextomy, the reviewers having actually written "The lack of acting ability is simply breathtaking," and "While the lead actor is charming, the film on the whole is utter pants." Do reviewers say things like 'utter pants'? I think they do. They certainly should anyway. I was talked into watching The Vow recently, and that was utter pants, and I would have written so had I been a movie reviewer.

Do you pay any attention to blurbs?

Do you trust blurbs?

Did you think that a blurb is just a lazy burp?

Do please leave your most fawningly effusive comments below.


  1. Publishers will naturally only put positive reviews on the covers, so if a critic wants to have his name and authority flaunted about then he has to be pretty darned enthusiastic.

    As for the blurb itself, I've yet to see a blurb of Cinderella which declares it 'a compelling Western featuring squid' but I'm sure it won't be long.

    1. I understand the need for promotion, Sally, and I'm not anti-blurbs; in fact, I think they're rather useful to the reader. I went through my bookshelf while writing this and had a look at a few:

      "Captain's Corelli's Mandolin is a wonderful, hypnotic novel of fabulous scope and tremendous iridescent charm - and you can quote me" - a blurb by Joseph Heller (one I rather like).

      However, I don't like the gushing, "This will change your life forever / best writer since Shakespeare" type blurb, as they smack of insincerity and desperation and insult the intelligence of the consumer (in my humblest opinion as a purchaser of books).

  2. I am a firm believer that humility is the way to go unless, of course, you are a dictator of a small country with international ambitions, a rap artist, or a restaurant critic. If you happen to be all three (Justin Beiber probably hasn't peaked yet), humility would most definitely be a hindrance

    However, if you are none of these, write a book, make it quite good, and for the blurb quote a close relative who says "I suppose it was alright" and then just wait for the money to surf in on an appreciative wave of accolades.


    1. I would definitely have asked my Mum for a blurb had I written a book while she were alive.

      "My boy doesn't half like the sound of his own voice." - Ed's Mum.

  3. Here the most annoying thing is the #1 New York Best Seller List phrase which can be used to according to the situation. The actual book has never itself been on the list, but it's always related to it on some way. That list has lost its credibility if you ask me.

    p.s: Come on Ed, what did you expect from The Vow? It's a pass-the-time romantic movie that would have been much better off without that Channing Tatum guy who seems to be so popular here. The actual story is very moving , though. You can see the real couple on youtube if you're interested. I watched Jobs on Tuesday and it was very disappointing too.

    1. Excuse the mistakes...I only see them after I've clicked on Publish.

    2. I would rather pass-the-time with a good movie than a knuckle-chewingly bad one - The Vow was a knuckle-chewingly bad movie.

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