On blurbs and other ephemeral things

“How is it I can push through writing a +90,000-word book,” my friend wrote in her recent blog post, “but struggle with a 150-word back-of-the-book blurb?”

She isn’t alone. Many writers find writing a blurb challenging, myself included. Note that the above-mentioned fellow author and friend, JP McLean, wrote five very good books (The Gift Legacy I-V). I loved her novels, but of course I don’t remember their blurbs, although I believe they were decent.

Photo by Hieu Vu Minh on Unsplash

I know another author, who, on the other hand, can come up with a good blurb in a matter of minutes. I envy her. It took me several days to write the blurb for my last novella, and I’m happy with it, but someone more blurb-talented would make it spectacular.

Would that hypothetical spectacular blurb trigger spectacular sales?

I think not, unless I perhaps announced in the first sentence that I knew who’d killed the man whose initials I share, and then somehow made it relevant to my modern-day Cinderella story.

My novella has a good cover and good blurbs but it isn’t selling well. People still read it, though, because I’ve offered it for free on several sites. I had about 40 free downloads on Smashwords in one week; in only a few days, 29 people asked for a free copy through Voracious Readers Only (It was a fair deal. Everything was free: VRO offered this mini-promo free of charge if I offered a free book in exchange for a free–and honest–review). I decided to continue this cooperation with VRO for the next few months, for a very reasonable fee. My reasoning–if this is the only way to find readers, I’ll go for it. I’ve been sending 1-2 copies per day to new Voracious readers for the last couple of days. It’s working.

It still has 6 holds on it in my local library (at one point it had 10), without any promo. How come?

It’s free.

The conclusion: My lovely cover and my solid blurbs didn’t do a thing. People read it because it’s free.

And I’m happy and truly grateful to them.

Something else bothers me even more when it comes to blurbs and other ephemera — the fact that those superficial things have become crucial. Blurbs, covers teasers, they don’t tell anything about the book itself. A great book can have a poor blurb and an unattractive cover, and it will still be a great book. And vice versa–no matter how spectacular the blurb and covers are, they won’t turn a bad book into a good one. (Nothing can, not even millions of sold copies, e.g. The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo.)

Yet, we (I’m taking about indie authors) are forced to play those little games because of mass production and ruthless competition. Unfortunately, our chips are not our talent, professionalism or the quality of the writing. At least not only. We have to have fabulous blurbs, pay for expensive covers, find the holy grail of self-publishing, the famous keywords that Amazon algorithms would like, so you’d stay visible for potential buyers, choose pen names that have easy, recognizable spelling. Because readers don’t want to bother to try a few different spellings, or read to the third sentence of your blurb…  Your book has an average of 1.2 seconds to catch someone’s attention.

The sacred connection between books and readers seems to be broken. Books have become a frivolous commodity, like shampoo, or candy bars. And like information and knowledge these days, it has lost its credibility. The more information is available and the easier we can find it, the less we know. The more books are printed, the less people seem to care about them. They check blurbs and covers–the wrapping–but unless you’re an established name,  they prefer to get them for free. The books still have to have a nice wrapping, though.

Indie authors support cover artists, editors, proofreaders, countless dubious experts on writing, publishing, and marketing who’d promise you magic formulas for success, if you take their course or buy their books on this and that. We support an army of free readers.

No one supports the indie authors. We even don’t support each other.

I might be some kind of a literary Don Quixote, but I almost never choose a book only because of its blurb and cover, and I’m proud of it. The greatest books I’ve ever read had only the title and the author’s name on the cover anyway.


About jfkaufmann

Not unlike my characters, I lead a double life: by day I'm a mother, a friend, a colleague, and the queen of my kitchen. When the moon rises, however, I shift into my other self and, as Queen of the Night, I reign the magical world of my imagination.
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1 Response to On blurbs and other ephemeral things

  1. JP McLean says:

    Thanks for your kind words about my books. It’s true that we spend precious time and money on our book’s packaging. Like you say, it’s expected. Besides which, we want to showcase our work as best we can to attract that elusive reader. Personally, I’m a sucker for a good cover, but a recommendation trumps a good blurb or a review any day.

    Liked by 1 person

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