Book Blurbs: The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious

During the summer I had the distinct honor of blurbing a book. Not just any book, either. Larry Brooks’ new craft book, Great Stories Don’t Write Themselves. I love Larry’s (and Jim’s!) craft books, so I took my job seriously and did what any self-respecting writer would do… I Googled “How to Blurb a Book.” 🙂

The term “blurb” has amassed a number of meanings in the decades since it worked its way into our vocabulary, including a book description. But the true meaning of the word means a bylined endorsement from a fellow writer or celebrity that sings the praises of the book’s author.

There’s only two crucial steps to book blurbing.

Step 1: read the book.

Step 2: write whatever you liked about it.

That’s it. It’s not rocket science. The only way to screw up this assignment is to skip Step 1. Well, that’s not exactly true.

Don’t write the blurb to a fill-in-the-blank formula…

The Zero by Jess Walter

“Jess Walter’s The Zero is a tense and compulsively readable roller-coaster ride fraught with psychological thrills, unanticipated dips and lurches, and existential truths. The novel frightened and fascinated me in equal measures. Walter has written a neo-noirish masterpiece.” — Wally Lamb

This is also not the time to overwrite…

To The End Of The Land by David Grossman

“Very rarely you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling has opened in you that was not there before. David Grossman has the ability to look inside a person and discover the essence of her humanity; his novels are about what it means to defend this essence against a world designed to extinguish it. To The End Of The Land is his most powerful, unflinching story of this defense.” — Nicole Krauss

Nor is it the time to play with adverbs…

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

“To those who say there are no new love stories, I heartily recommend The Time Traveler’s Wife, an enchanting novel, which is beautifully crafted and as dazzlingly imaginative as it is dizzyingly romantic.” — Scott Turow

Although, if you’re as talented and creative as Jordan Dane, you might get away with adjectives…

“Riveting and haunting! Sue Coletta’s page-turning crime fiction is deliciously nuanced with delectable horror and dark humor. Unique and compelling characters make a sumptuous and satisfying meal. Save room for a decadent dessert of plot twists.”

Let’s not forget the blurb master, Gary Shteyngart, who blurbed the world’s worst books. Here’s a small sampling…

Eating People is Wrong by Malcolm Bradbury

“If eating people is wrong, I don’t want to be right”—Gary Shteyngart

Castration: The Advantages and Disadvantages by Victor T. Cheney

“The ballsiest book of the year”—Gary Shteyngart

Alas, I wasn’t that creative. I just told the truth…

“Larry Brooks has done it again!!! In Great Stories Don’t Write Themselves, Brooks delivers a clear, concise, easily digestible roadmap to make our stories work.

“From the initial story seed to concept to a fully formed premise, he walks us through each part of a four-part structure, with unwavering clarity. It’s the perfect craft book to help aspiring writers turn their writing dreams into reality and an excellent refresher for seasoned novelists.”

 

If you enjoyed Story Engineering or Story Physics, you will love Great Stories Don’t Write Themselves. Did I mention Robert Dugoni wrote the foreword?

While you’re stocking the toolbox, might I recommend another fabulous craft book? The Last Fifty Pages by James Scott Bell. Like Larry’s new book, it’s a game-changer.

Too much? It felt a little heavy-handed. Sorry about that. I get so fired up over craft books. Jim and Larry’s teaching style really speaks to me. Can a writer ever have too many books on craft? Not in my world. What about yours?

 

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32 thoughts on “Book Blurbs: The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious

  1. Thank you, Sue, for the kind words! I love it that you love craft books.

    Naturally, then, I do NOT think you can own too many of them, unless shelf space is a problem…but then again, ebooks are here…so, no. From the beginning of my study of the craft my philosophy has been if I can learn just one thing from a book that helps my fiction, it’s worth the investment. As I look back on 30 years of reading craft books, I can think of only two that I didn’t get something out of.

  2. For me, screamers !!! like your three exclamation points early on turn me off. I’d rather the enthusiasm be shown in the words that follow. I usually take blurbs with a slight grain of salt but they are a necessary evil and of course get the name of the blurber out there as well. (is blurber a word?)

  3. Gotten em, given em. Not easy, the latter. And not easy asking for one, either. I once worked up the courage to ask Robert Parker for one (he was GOH at our SleuthFest conference and I was chair). He said, “I’ll do it, but only if I like it.”

    He did. :). And from what I could tell, he read at least the first four chapters.

    • Funny you mention that, Kris. I ran across a blog post by a writer who’d finally worked up the courage to ask a well-known author for a blurb. She was so excited when the author said yes. Then, after sending her the book, the author backed out, saying, she couldn’t put her name on it because she didn’t like the book. She’d stopped reading after the first few chapters due to “too many eye-roll-worthy moments” — and the devastated writer blasted her out on her blog!

      • Yikes! How not to win friends and influence authors in our small community. I dunno…maybe the well-known author could have been more diplomatic but the other person was way out of bounds with the blog retort. imo that is.

      • Wow, what a wasted opportunity. That’s where you profusely thank the other author for giving you a chance and maybe ask if she might tell you a couple of the places where she rolled her eyes. If you can’t get a blurb, you might as well try for some advice.

  4. Thanks for the shout out, Sue, and for taking the time to do the blurb with integrity. Your post today is good stuff about blurbs, given the degree of cynicism surrounding them. Get ready, with your success more blurb requests will be coming your way.

    • My pleasure, Larry! Loved the book. I hope others take advantage of grabbing a copy. It’s the perfect compliment to Story Engineering, Story Physics, and StoryFix.

  5. When writing a long professional review, back in the days when I did that, I always tried to have at least one sentence that could be pulled out for a blurb. A truthful compliment with a nice metaphor or action element usually worked.

    I was asked to donate a story for a charity anthology many years ago, and I decided to promote my story since I hadn’t received a copy of the book so I made up my own blurb to use as my email signature line for reader lists . It read: “I’ve read some weird stories in my time, and this is one of them.”–The Author’s Mother. Yes, that’s what my mom said after she read “The Werewolf Whisperer.” The anthology is long gone, but my story is on my website.

    http://www.marilynnbyerly.com/page9f.html

  6. No! I don’t think you can have too many of any kind of book. Except maybe cookbooks. Once I garnered 20 years worth of Southern Living’s Annual Recipes, I made myself stop.

    How shameful about the writer who called out the honest author on her blog. I hope she did not sell a million.

    If I really like a book, I delight in giving pithy, enthusiastic reviews. A recent one for THE DESIRE CARD: “Lee Matthew Goldberg has created a Bonfire of the Vanities for a new generation.”

    I’ve gotten so many generous blurbs over the years. A few people have said no, but I only hold it against one of them! One that I particularly love:

    “Deliciously malevolent–Laura Benedict’s writing is like a beautiful, poisonous flower.”–Alexandra Sokoloff

  7. I was honored that Larry Brooks asked me for a blurb for his STORY FIX in 2015. Here’s what I came up with (maybe a bit of overwriting?):
    “Larry Brooks tells it like it is! If your goal is to write a novel that sells, enthralls readers, and garners great reviews, you need to pore over this writing guide, marking up the pages and absorbing the insightful analysis and astute advice. Then read it through again, using Brooks’s gems of wisdom and case studies to amp up your premise, plot, and characters and hone your storytelling skills.” –Jodie Renner, editor and award-winning author of Fire up Your Fiction, Captivate Your Readers, and Writing a Killer Thriller

  8. It is so nice to see Larry Brooks and Jodie Renner in the comments. I miss reading your regular posts. I agree that one can’t have too many craft books. I believe I have all of JSB’s and Larry Brooks, except for this last one which I will remedy right away!

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Rebecca. I plan to come back with another guest blog post soon. And yes, I love all of James Scott Bell’s writing guides and also Larry Brooks’ books. As you say, one can never have too many books on the craft of writing fiction! 🙂

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