Monday, August 8, 2011

Do Blurbs Really Matter? IE: Do You Buy Books Off Blurbs?

First, today's striking prose:

It might could be true there's a curse on that home.  It's up a mountain cove not many know of, and those who do know won't talk to you about it.  So if you want to go there you'll have to find the place yourself.

When you find it you won't think at first it's any great much.  Just a little house, half logs and half whipsawed planks, standing quiet and gray and dry, the open door daring you to come in.

But don't go taking such a dare.  Nor don't look too long at the three-different colored flowers on the bush by the doorstone.  Those flowers look back at you like faces, with eyes that hold your eyes past the breaking away.

In the trees over you will be wings flapping, but not bird wings.  Roundabout you will sound voices, so soft and faint  they're like voices you recollect from some long-ago time, saying things you wish you could leave forgotten. 

If you get past the place, look back and you'll see the path wiggle behind you like a snake after a lizard.  Then's when to run like a lizard, run your fastest and hope it's fast enough...

From Who Fears the Devil, by Manly Wade Wellman - collection of Silver John short stories.

I discovered Manly Wade Wellman's iconic folk hero, battler-of-evil, Silver John the Balladeer in the Whispers anthologies.  Loved him right off.  Like a mountain-man, guitar-picking version of Repairman Jack, except he doesn't charge much more than room and board, and often nothing at all...

****
Combining two posts in one today.  Got some more work-for-hire to do after this, plus Zack is home sick today.  I have some updates on Zack and general family updates, but will post on that later this week, hopefully.

So.

Blurbs.  Author endorsements of another author's work; IE. their opinion why readers should buy and read said author.

A sensitive subject.  One I shall tread upon carefully, but it's something that's stuck in my craw for a real long time.  The nature of them.  Whether they've become meaningless.  And if I actually trust them. 

So, again.

How to begin?

As a book reviewer these past seven years, I've encountered LOTS of blurbs.   As a reader trying to expand his palate, and a writer trying to expand his education, I've taken a lot of blurbs on faith when I've ventured out into new genres or venues.  As a young writer, I remember how I felt when I received MY first blurb, and that nervous email I sent out to other authors, seeking blurbs for Hiram Grange.

And, I remember that white-knuckled fear I felt when a publicist grabbed a snippet from one of my reviews to use as a blurb, and I thought: "Oh. My. God.  What if EVERYONE disagrees with me and absolutely HATES this book?  What will they think of me?"

Undoubtedly, blurbs are important.  Stories abound how just the right blurb from just the right author made all the difference in a fledgling writers' career.   But I can't COUNT how many times I've reviewed/read/purchased a book based on a "trusted" author's blurb, and came away REALLY disappointed.   Now, that's not anything so ground-shaking.  What says that author's opinion of said book has to be uniformly shared by all?  Nothing.  You have to allow for difference of opinion and taste.

Even so....author blurbs of author's works....these days, the whole "machine" - if you will - seems to have run amok.  Maybe it's because of the proliferation of micro-small presses desperate for recognition and standing with that all coveted blurb, or the masses of folks rushing headlong into the self-publishing market, getting that all coveted "author blurb" to make up for the fact they've got no following, no track record, no history, nothing that would really make them stand out from the hundreds - or thousands - of OTHERS hurtling into the self-publishing fray. 

Now, again...I remember when I received my first blurb from author Tosca Lee, for my first piece of published fiction, a novelette published in the first edition of The Midnight Diner.   Thing was, I'd sent the collection with my story in it to Tosca for her feedback and advice, because of how much help she'd been to me up until that point.  Her ensuing review on Amazon and her blurb was not solicited, and completely out of the blue.

And I'm not looking down my nose at the folks who blurbed Hiram.  I'd like to think I sent Hiram out to qualified folks who know their stuff.  In fact, I know I did.  However, I also purposely gave it to folks I knew would be tough on it, mercilessly, (one used to go by the name of Horror Wench or something like that, another one of my former Borderlands instructors), and though the latter mixed his/her response with praise AND insightful critique, all in all,  the results seemed similar: I hadn't screwed up, and hadn't sucked.

But, let's be brutally honest.  There's quality fiction.  And there's fiction that's substandard. BOTH are being published in the small press and midlist.  And, far as I can tell, both are blurbed equally, seemingly - from my point of view - quality irregardless.

To me, this is a separate bit from reviews.  Reviews are done by readers only, readers & writers, editors, book critics.  A huge spectrum.  Author blurbs, however, are assumed to carry more weight, to speak with authority.  And, most of the time - a disproportionate amount of time - they just don't seem to match up with reality. 

And, going back to whole "let's be honest about quality thing"?  I've seen it.  Authors stamping their name on work that's sub-standard, at best.   

So as a fledgling writer, it's made me a bit "meh" about the hunt to get folks to blurb my work.  Not to say I'm not or won't be tickled if an author does blurb my work in the future, I've just given off that whole list of coveted authors I'd had in my head that I'd love to someday give their "stamp of approval" on my work.   And when it comes to buying....

Well, I gotta be honest.  Only a few authors' whose word I'll trust.  Pretty much will buy ANYTHING endorsed by Peter Straub.  That's always proven golden for me.  Same thing for a recommendation by F. Paul Wilson.  Charles Grant's blurbs always seem right, too (you can tell I've been roaming the used book store stacks).

Do I want someone big to blurb me, someday?  Course I do.  But I don't want it be because I begged or asked a favor.  In fact -depending on whatever publisher I work with again someday - I'd almost rather not know AT ALL who my publisher sends my stuff to for blurbs...

So.  What about you?  Do you trust blurbs for your reading material? Got an author whose blurb you always bank on? Share 'em if ya gottem...