Book Cover Blurbs Should Die

As we gear up to release Uncommon Stock, our first FG Press book, we just had an internal discussion about book blurbs. The concept of a blurb was apparently invented in 1907. The origin story of the blurb is amusing – according to Wikipedia:

“The word blurb originated in 1907. American humorist Gelett Burgess’s short 1906 book Are You a Bromide? was presented in a limited edition to an annual trade association dinner. The custom at such events was to have a dust jacket promoting the work and with, as Burgess’ publisher B. W. Huebsch described it, “the picture of a damsel — languishing, heroic, or coquettish — anyhow, a damsel on the jacket of every novel” In this case the jacket proclaimed “YES, this is a ‘BLURB’!” and the picture was of a (fictitious) young woman “Miss Belinda Blurb” shown calling out, described as “in the act of blurbing.”

While the history lesson is cute, the blurb has long since ceased to be useful. As a reader, I’m incredibly suspicious of them because as a writer, I know how they are manufactured. More on that in a bit, but for now, take a few minutes and check out some #HonestBlurbs.

Our internal back and forth on whether to include blurbs on our FG Press books resulted in the following rant from me.

I think endorsements like this are bullshit. I’m literally getting asked daily (5 times / week – sometimes more) to endorse books. I used to do it, now I say no unless it’s a friend, and even then they usually write the endorsement.

It’s an artifact of the publishing business that existed before “earned media” – blog posts, reviews, etc.

I’d love to just BLOW UP blurbs.

I think we should be focusing on real earned media, real reviews, real substantive support, rather than marketing nonsense the industry has been pushing since the early 1900s.

We had a little more back and forth but the more I thought about it, the more I have no interest in blurbs. I’ve been saying no to a lot of the requests I get recently, after having my name on probably 50 blurbs for other books in the last few years. At first, I always read the book before writing the blurb. Then, I started skimming the book before writing the blurb. Recently, I’ve been either asking the writer to send me a draft of the blurb they’d like, or I’ve just said something generically positive but non-substantive.

I’ve watched the other direction work the same way. It’s similar to press release quotes – it ends up being manufactured PR stuff, rather the authentic commentary. The idea that a static, short, manufactured blurb from a well known person as an endorsement of a book is so much less authentic than Amazon reviews, GoodReads, and blog posts from people who actually read the book.

When people send me a note that they liked my book, I ask them to put up a review on Amazon if they are game. When someone writes with constructive feedback on a book I’ve written, I ask them to put up a review on Amazon, with the constructive feedback, if they are game. I appreciate all the serious feedback – both good and bad. Sure – I get trolled by some people who say things like “Feld is a moron, this book is another stupid thing he’s done.” I ignore that kind of thing, and feel that most rational humans can separate the signal from the noise.

So, at least for now, we aren’t going to do blurbs on FG Press books. Instead, we’ll ask people to put up reviews on Amazon, GoodReads, their blog, and other sites that make sense. And, when someone requests a blurb from me, I’m going to start passing and defaulting to writing a review on this site and putting up the review on Amazon on GoodReads, like I have for many of the books I’ve read.

  • Ricardo Barrera

    In academic publishing, blurbs are completely out of control.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Same in business publishing.

  • http://www.joshuamaher.com/ Joshua Maher

    The real reviews on the web (GoodReads/Amazon) are so much more useful – you get all the thoughts (good & bad) from well known readers and not so well known readers. Most people are buying from a digital location already so the cover comments are an after the fact validation that you made a good purchase?

    Not to mention the increasing change in books to digital format… those readers never read a cover blurb.

    Leave it blank or put something else in that space that is more useful to someone who has already made the decision to buy the book.

  • http://www.eliotpeper.com/ Eliot Peper

    Alright! Uncommon Stock will now be the experiment in returning to blurb-less books! Let’s get some real, earned reviews/coverage instead. As the author, I couldn’t be more excited for getting readers’ ACTUAL feedback. Bring it on!

  • http://www.kineplay.com/ben Ben Milstead

    What about extracting blurbs from legit [pre]reviews? Still hype-like, I reckon.

  • http://www.repeatablesale.com/ Scott Barnett

    I hadn’t thought about blurbs in this way, but reading your points, I agree! We feel the same way about small business feedback and are working on a platform to address this. I had been thinking about running the idea by you, and this post clinched it. A lot of the same rationales… I’ll send you an email this week.

  • Philip Smith

    I would suggest your blurbs consist of your rants. Can you imagine those on all FG Press books,
    People would begin to have a real reason to read blurbs again . . . basic humor.

  • http://www.themusingsofthebigredcar.com/ JLM

    .
    Blurbs are like neckties. Tough to explain but everyone is wearing one. When you accommodate someone with a blurb you are creating social capital.

    Be nice to everyone on the way up because you never know who you may need on the way down.

    JLM
    .

    • http://www.startupmanagement.org/ William Mougayar

      Agreed JLM, but I think Brad’s point is about the authenticity of such blurps. The current publishing model manufactures them, and they aren’t authentic. They are marketing-speak oriented.
      So, we’re trying to attack that issue, for e.g. by exposing online reviews instead.

  • http://www.cornfedsystems.com/ Frank W. Miller

    You know what should die is two part titles, particularly with colons. I don’t like how the book has its title and then you need some silly phrase to tell people what the title means. A few examples off the Amazon best sellers list:

    The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength, and Other Ways to Love Your Amazing Body

    The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind

    Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers

    How about just The Body Book, The Future of the Mind, or Grain Brain as the entire title?

  • Blaine Berger

    As long as blurbs help sell books, they’ll continue to be one of many horses that publishers bet on. FG Press can generate attention for their catalog by going blurb-less which is both brilliant and an experiment worth watching.

  • http://WWW.FAKEGRIMLOCK.COM FAKE GRIMLOCK

    IF SELL BOOK STILL RELY ON SOMEONE SEE QUOTE ON COVER, YOU DOING IT WRONG. #SOCIALMEDIA

  • http://jasoncrawford.org/ Jason Crawford

    When Scott Berkun (self-)published his fourth book, Mindfire, he only had one blurb—and it was from himself:

    “You are smart enough to buy books for better reasons than a famous person you don’t know saying you should. And if you’re not, you will be after you read this.” –Scott Berkun

    (From “The Secret Life of Blurbs”: http://scottberkun.com/2011/the-secret-life-of-blurbs/ )

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Love it!

  • RBC

    Brad, by going blurbless you are pursuing Seth Godin’s ‘purple cow’ approach. Separately, what will the color of your cover be? Go have a look at a large book store, specifically the color of the romance novels, vs. mystery, vs westerns … odd conventions live on in many ways in the publishing industry.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      We have a variety of colors and different cover designs.

  • Nadia McDonald

    Could suppose bring me up to speed. I am new to this forum.

  • Nadia McDonald

    I am currently working on my first novel. There is a lot I can learn from this debate. I am also an avid reader. I will sit back and listen to the comments. When I have gain enough information on this platform, then I will voice my opinions.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      Good luck on the novel. Take a look at FGPress.com for more context.

  • http://www.feld.com bfeld

    Right on the money comment I got via email:

    I think you are right on with this. When I go to buy a book online, I look at the customer reviews. I look at a few of the best rating reviews (5 stars) and a few of the worse (1-2 star commentaries) and then finalize my decision about making the purchase. If the 5 star and 1 star rating reviews are full of noise (friends of author or enemy of author), then I hardly pay attention to what they say and read some of the other reviews. And you’re right the consumer can see right through all of the blurb bull shit.

  • http://www.pointsandfigures.com/ pointsnfigures

    What about thoughtful forwards? Or Preludes that aren’t included on the binder of the book, but are actually the beginning part of the book? America 3.0 is one book that had a nice forward which set up the premise.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      I like Forewords. And, as my friend Seth Godin has schooled me several times, it’s “foreword”, not “forward.” The history (at least from Wikipedia) is kind of fund. “The word foreword was first used around the mid-17th century (originally used as a term in philology). It was possibly a loan translation of Dutch voorwoord or German Vorwort, themselves calques of Latin praefatio.”

      • http://www.pointsandfigures.com/ pointsnfigures

        haha, thanks for the forward thinking lesson on forewards!