on Jul 29 in Writing by

“Don Silver’s richly imagined and exuberant novel of the 60s is as groovy, brilliant and exact as a kaleidoscope, and shows that he possesses a startling, often blazing talent…” Well known writer who told my editor he would like to be anonymous.

There is this curious little sub-industry to publishing; namely, the production of blurbs by credible people for other not-yet-credible people. It’s a version of the old Vance Packard notion of “bandwagon” endorsements. Lance Armstrong uses ABC Anti-Jock Itch Cream, therefore you should too.

Here’s how I got the one above. After writing and revising my novel, I sent the manuscript to the literary agent who represents one of my heroes. She read it, liked it, and placed it with a publisher. Shortly thereafter, my editor sent it to some of his friends, including said hero. To my delight, that writer liked my book. Naturally, I was thrilled to have this endorsement, even though it came with this one restriction: we could not publish it, either on the cover or in print ads. The reason being (so I was told), this writer does not, as a rule, write blurbs and therefore, does not want his or her name out there as a blurber.

This got me thinking of the untapped potential of the blurb as a form of commerce. Someone well connected could start an agency farming out blurb requests to established writers. The agent could request a fee from the publisher, call it in an honorarium, and take a percentage — because after all, a lot of work would have to be done to find writers who are inclined to stop what they’re doing and read a book not to mention composing a snappy little sentence or two that will not only cast the book and its author in a favorable light, but will also make the blurber look intelligent. This could be a cottage industry. Someone could anthologize blurbs by famous people, dead people, fantastic blurbs about books that flopped, blooper blurbs…you see the potential.

There are downsides. Blurbflation, which is neither a pretty word, nor a pretty concept. You can’t look at a print ad for a book anymore, without writers between books gushing effusive, without shame or restraint, about somebody you’ve never heard of. Blurbs are getting to be a dime a dozen. Blurbcerpting — the removal of one or two words that can be construed positively from an awful quote. And credibility. Why are writers so willing to blurb each other? Are we trolling for future favors? Keeping own names in the news? What if blurbing spreads to other fields like proctology and politics. “Simply the best rectal exam I’ve ever had. Rarely, if ever, have I been so moved by a filibuster speech.

If there is a hierarchy though, the unattributed blurb would be at the bottom, which gets me to my point: an anonymous blurb on a blog isn’t worth the paper it’s not written on.

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