Book Blurbs and Pets

Book Blurbs and Pets
Terry Odell

Book Blurbs and Pets

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I’ve been with my current editor since my first Blackthorne, Inc. novel (2007), with only a couple of exceptions. She now has her own small publishing company, but has been kind enough to keep me on in a freelance basis. She asked if I would read one of her debut author’s upcoming releases and provide a one-or-two-sentence “blurb.” She said it was a romantic suspense, which is a genre I’m familiar and comfortable with.

Now, I don’t put much stock in author recommendations. I had to grovel for them for that first Blackthorne book, and dreaded doing it. I was an unknown with a couple of books out from a digital-first publisher. (No Amazon yet.) Who’d want to spend time on me? But grovel I did.

One author acquaintance said, “Sure. Send me three quotes and I’ll cobble something together.” Never even asked to read the book. Another said she’d read just enough to see that I knew what I was doing.

Nevertheless, because saying “No” has always been a monumental task for me, I agreed to go along with my editor’s request.

I was reading along, some hiccups due to my internal editor refusing to shut up, but overall, the writing was clean and easy to read. It was a little slow-moving for my taste, as the suspense element wasn’t brought in until later than I would have expected, but then … about ¾ of the way through the book …

The protagonist, who by now had received threatening emails and phone calls, came home to find a box on her doorstep. Upon opening it, she discovered the mutilated body of a cat. Not just any cat, but a stray she’d semi-adopted.

Mind you, this was not a serial killer, dark mystery/thriller type book. This was, overall, a romance with some suspense elements. And a mutilated cat.

Very early in my writing career (2004 according to my files), I attended my first writer’s conference. At a workshop given by the late Barbara Parker, she said she’d made the unforgivable mistake of having a mutilated cat show up in a box on the doorstep at the protagonist’s house. And, even worse, the protagonist had a young daughter. Parker said readers sent hate mail, and warned that killing a pet was an absolute no-no. Her book was a legal mystery, so her audience wasn’t romance-oriented, yet they still screamed.

I told her my manuscript for the as of then unpublished Finding Sarah included a character with 2 cats, and I had poisoned them (you’ll never know the delight you can light up in someone’s eyes until you holler between your office and the Hubster’s and say, “I need a way to poison a cat.”) My plan was to have one survive. The incident would 1) force my character to deal with emotions he’d denied; and 2) provide a critical clue for solving the overall mystery.

She gave me an emphatic “NO.” — Spoiler Alert— So, in the final version, both cats survived.

I passed this information on to my editor, who said she was warned against harming children or dogs, but nobody’d ever mentioned cats, and that she would bring it up with the author. Whether there are any changes remains to be seen.

At this point, I asked a couple of my best-selling authors of romance and romantic suspense friends what they thought. I knew my editor wanted my quote to appear in the soon-to-be-published book, but I was very uncomfortable putting my name on a book that would likely anger readers.

One said she refuses to blurb books anymore, saying there’s nothing to gain. (She also suggested I have my assistant be the one to tell my editor, but my dog can’t type.) The other author said “never recommend a book that you don’t love madly.” Until the cat incident, the book was good, but I wasn’t madly in love with it.

Ultimately, I told my editor I wasn’t comfortable putting my name on the book, and she said she understood, and another author she’d asked to read it said something similar.

All right, TKZers. Floor is open for discussion, either on the harming pets topic or book blurbs in general. I know of numerous authors, who when asked, “What do you read?” will say, “About all I get to read these days are books my publisher sends for blurbs.” Are their recommendations enough to sway you to buy books? Or do you think they’re writing what their publishers want to hear? If you were asked to blurb a book, where would you draw the line?

Trusting Uncertainty by Terry OdellAvailable Now

Trusting Uncertainty, Book 10 in the Blackthorne, Inc. series.
You can’t go back and fix the past. Moving on means moving forward.

Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

44 thoughts on “Book Blurbs and Pets

  1. Good morning, Terry. Thanks for the interesting questions.

    1) I’m extreme. I’ve said in this place many times before that as a general rule I like dogs (and cats) as a group much more than I like people. I grew up in the “Old Yeller” era and I absolutely cannot stand it a dog or cat dies in a book or movie or whatever. I even broke up with a woman once because she assured me that Tonto made it to the end of Harry and Tonto in the process of enticing me to watch the movie.

    2) I have never read a book as the result of an author’s blurb. That said, I have provided authors with blurbs at their request. I doubt that it got them any traction, but I was happy to do so.

    Have a great day, Terry! I’m off to feed “my” feral.

  2. Great question, Terry. I’m currently working on a middle-grade fantasy series, so my books are filled with youngsters, and pets. The only guy that dies is the antagonist, no cats, no dogs.

    Book blurbs: I read them, but usually I’ve already made the decision to read the book. So I don’t think the blurb influences my decision. And I’m with you on whether or not to write a blurb. If I didn’t like the book, I wouldn’t write the blurb.

  3. Once upon a time, I read a book based on an author’s blurb. Never again. The book was horrible, so I’ll stick with what “I” like rather than what my favorite authors like.

    • Thanks, Karla. After what I experienced with authors from this side of the fence, I’m not sure they actually liked the books they gave quotes for. Yet publishers want them, so they must think they do some good.

  4. A book blurb is like somebody vouching for a blind date. “She has a great personality.” It may get the reader to page 1, but after that the book is on its own.

    Re: pets. Who will ever forget what Glenn Close was boiling in Fatal Attraction? Or what the defiant movie producer found in his bed in The Godfather?

    • Thanks, JSB. One would hope the prospective reader was smart enough to look at a sample before buying based on a blurb. (how’s that for alliteration?)

    • I thought the same thing – bunnies

      And the thought of making a coat out of puppies …

  5. One of my favorite crime authors, Megan Abbott, always seems to blurb books with the phrase “not to be missed,” which makes me think she doesn’t read the books. Stephen King, of course, is infamous for providing glowing blurbs for about 98% of books published today. I bet there are a few cookbooks and gardening manuals he’s blurbed. In short, as a voracious reader, blurbs have never swayed me.

  6. Won’t read a book if I know an animal dies – won’t watch a movie with it. Kill a million people? I’m in. Just don’t hurt the innocent.

    Blurbs. Yeah, I wish readers didn’t care about them. Anyone worth getting a blurb from doesn’t do them anymore. And I get it – I don’t do them either. If the book isn’t up to your standards, you still have to say something nice, and I feel like I’m lying to my readers (the only ones who would be swayed by my blurb).

    No win.

    • Thanks for chiming in, Laura. I’m glad that as an indie author, it’s my choice as to whether I want to grovel for cover quotes. As an unknown, nobody’s likely to ask me, and the request from my editor (who’s not my publisher) came as a surprise.

  7. You did the right thing, Terry. When an author asks me to blurb a book, I READ the book. I know many authors who will blurb just about anything sight unseen, but I am not one of them. As for killing an animal, I did it once and it just about killed me. Never again. I’d rather kill people. LOL

    • Yeah, Sue. Readers don’t seem to mind bodies as long as they’re human. I walked the tightrope with poisoning cats, but at least I was advised in advance that they both had to recover.

  8. Terry, I’ve heard the never-kill-a-cat rule repeated at conferences for decades. Surprised your editor didn’t know about it.

    Animal cruelty is my line in the sand. I still haven’t read Black Beauty and don’t plan to.

    Irrespective of recommendations, the book always has to stand on its own.
    I always try the “look inside” excerpt. If that doesn’t capture my interest, I don’t buy it.

  9. I can’t read or watch anything about horrible things happening to animals, whether real or fictional, even if I don’t like the species of animals. If there is a news story about something bad happening to animals I won’t look at that news website for a few days until the story is gone. If something bad happens in a tv show/movie I will close my eyes and plug my ears if unexpected, or walk out, change the channel, or not even go if I know in advance. In books it is enough of a turn off that I will skip the scene, or stop reading the book altogether.

    I’ll give an example. When I started to read Suspect by Robert Crais I was convinced that something horrible was going to happen to that dog and it was going to die a horrible death in the first chapter. I was distraught. I love RC’s books. I named two of my cats Elvis and Joe. I nearly stopped reading it, but because it was RC I skipped over a lot of that first bit. I’ve never read that bit to this day. I picked it back up right after that opening. Of course, anybody that has read the book knows Maggie (the dog) didn’t die. By the end of it even I, confirmed cat person, wanted a German shepherd like Maggie.

    Had that book been written by an unfamiliar author I would have just put it down forever.

    But fictional humans and blood and guts and zombies? Bring it on. I don’t know why I’m like this, but I know I’m not alone.

    NB: I did not get a dog. I don’t think my Elvis and Joe, or my girls, would approve. But they all think it’s time for a new RC novel as it had been over two years. Sigh.

    • I’m a big Crais fan, and I knew that Maggie couldn’t die, because the book was about her–oh, and some cop was in it, too.
      But there were a couple of places where Crais left doubt on the page.

  10. Hmm…I’m not sure I pay as much attention to blurbs for fiction as I do non-fiction. Nor do I see blurbs used as much for fiction. I’m not likely to be asked for a blurb, but if I were, I’d have to read the entire thing before deciding whether to attach my name to it. When you do read blurbs, you can usually tell when the blurbers are luke-warm about the project and just using blurb-speak to fulfill their blurb duty.

    RE: kids/pets: I can’t say 100% that I would never use that in a story because who knows when there may be an appropriate circumstance. In fact, there was a news story several years ago locally about some (major expletives here) jerk who went around shooting horses for no reason. If I can ever overcome my anger, I’d like to bring justice through fiction in a way I don’t think was ever delivered in reality. Thus far, I remain too horrified by the event to address it in fictional context.

    As a reader, with regard to animals especially, chances are high I will not continue on with a book that deals with them cruelly. But again it depends on the author and their story. Often times that kind of stuff seems to me like it is merely inserted for grotesque sensationalism (kind of like overuse of blood and gore in film). But if the author is masterful enough, convincing enough to show how necessary such things are to the story, then I’d probably continue on.

    A very interesting discussion. I look forward to seeing other comments on this subject.

    • Thanks for your comments, BK. I thought my initial “let one cat die, but the other lives” approach had compelling enough plot/characterization issues, but after listening to Barbara Parker, I decided it wasn’t worth the risk, especially for a debut novel.

  11. I would like to say that your stock went up in my book after reading that.

    I get asked once a week for a blurb or quote from another author over social media. I cannot figure out why? Right now I’m a nobody and my name carries no weight. Makes no sense unless you subscribe to the struggling artist theory of desperation.

    Even more so, I’m not in the mood to put myself out there like that if I’m going to focus on branding. I feel that I’m carefully building something that I don’t want to lend out to just anyone. After reading your post, it made me happier with my own decisions.

    • Thanks, Ben, and glad my decision carried weight with you. I was having issues with the “not madly in love with the book” side of things, but the cat was the definite deal-breaker. And I doubt my editor will ask me for a blurb again.

    • Whenever I was asked for a blurb, I told them my name had no value. I wasn’t even known beyond a small circle of fans, fellow writers, and reviewers who were fans. The story of my career.

      If an author needs an early blurb and they don’t know a “name” author, they need to get early reviews and use one of those as a blurb quote. These days, the reader reviews at Amazon carry more weight, anyway.

  12. I really dislike seeing pets harmed in fiction. Obviously, real life is far worse, but when a cat or dog is killed in a novel, it’s beyond gut wrenching for me. If the story turns on it (as in Old Yeller), okay, but I’m still not going to be happy. YMMV of course. I think one reason this turns off and, in some cases, angers readers, is that we’re responding, not only to seeing creatures we love injured, but visualizing innocents being harmed really hits hard. Even more so with young children.

    As for blurbs, they don’t sell a book to me as a potential reader—they might make me look a little further. I have seen a few cases where a book’s cover was utterly festooned with blurbs praising it to the skies, which set up unrealistic expectations in this reader and which the book failed to deliver on. Definitely limit blurbs to three IMHO. Personally, if I were asked to blurb a book (unlikely at this point as an indie), I’d make sure I’d read it beforehand, like you did.

    Have a wonderful Wednesday!

    • Thanks, Dale. When writing/editing my big question for every scene is “Does it advance the plot?” While it’s possible harming a pet might, for me, there ought to be another way to make that point.

      Maybe we ought to let publishers know we as readers don’t care about blurbs, and maybe their authors could read for pleasure again. 😉

  13. This is an informative and entertaining post! It mirrors my quest for back-cover blurbs. It helps that I belong to writing groups such as Women Writing the West, and Facebook’s Readers Coffeehouse. I interact with members online, which opens a door to getting blurbs from some more established authors.
    Judging books in the Romance Category of a Western Writers of America year-end contest garnered me a requested blurb from an award -winning author. Blurb fishing made easy!

    • Thanks, Carole. But do you think those blurbs help sell books? Do readers hold stock in them? So far, none of the comments here would indicated they do.

  14. I hate blurbs, especially when they came first and I have to dig for the actual plot of the story. Also, the author-meets-author bit doesn’t work for me either, so I honestly don’t understand why agents want it.

    As for pets, I’m not an all-out animal lover, but I don’t really care for undue cruelty, either to humans or animals. The issue really boils down to how useful the one who had to die was for the forward motion of the story. Example: In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Hedwig the owl just got hit by a stray killing spell, while Dobby the house elf died rescuing everyone. Deaths are sad, so it was a sad moment, but his death felt much more worthy than Hedwig’s, and Fred Weasley’s.

    • I guess it boils down to how the author defines “undue” for that particular book. And, the manner of death is also a factor. Mutilation or old age–two different issues.

  15. Blake Snyder’s “Save The Cat” is a mainstream screenwriting resource. There’s a reason it’s not called “Save The Woman”. Happy blurbing, everyone 🙂

  16. Last night, I was listening to Reddit stories, and the person telling his story had fallen in love with a narcissist. The first thing he did to please this monster was get rid of the elderly dog he’d had since he was a kid. I thought, “Oh, h*ll, no. He deserves whatever he suffers at the hands of this horrible woman.” The comments section was even less kind about what he deserved.

    Many years ago, RWA decided to set up a cover blurb group. Their well-established authors were paired with someone with a first book, and they were paired with a better established writers for a blurb. I don’t know what the NYT bestseller types gained from this beyond good karma points. I’d sold my first book, a romantic suspense/adventure novel, to a small paper publisher, and I was paired with an up-and-coming romantic suspense author. I dutifully send her a hard copy, and a few months later, she send back a nasty letter that I wasn’t worthy of her time to read since my publisher wasn’t in NYC, and I must be a garbage writer because of my publisher. I hope that b*tch was equally screwed by the NYT bestseller. This must have been common practice because the service died very quickly.

    • I wasn’t aware of that service from RWA. I did a favor for an author friend who was doing well with her then new career, who said, “You’ve got your first book blurb.” Then, when I needed one to please my publisher, she said her publisher wouldn’t let her blurb any books they didn’t publish. The whole thing seems like a strange game to me.

      • This was around 20 years ago, and my first sale had just happened so it was at the perfect time for me to get involved in this sh*tstorm “service.”

        My publisher crashed and burned before I needed a blurb, and that author actually decided to submit a too-out-there-for-NYC series to my ultimate first publisher. The publisher mentioned her in the author chat, and I told my story in a just-the-facts manner. The publisher didn’t want to deal with that kind of drama momma and didn’t buy it. Another example of a be-careful-who-you-screw situation in this incestuous business.

        A majority of blurbs from bigger writers, these days, are courtesy of either the publisher or agent of the new writer. I seriously doubt that author’s publisher would turn down a blurb from Nora Roberts. The traditional publishing industry can be such snobs.

        • I can’t remember when I first joined RWA. Early on, for sure. Given what’s been going on recently, I have no regrets that I let my membership lapse several years ago.

  17. I also don’t like reading about cruelty to animals. I’d put a book down if it went there. However, I have to say I’ve read Jack London’s works through to the end.

    I’ve asked other authors for *honest* endorsements for both my novels. I would not put anyone in a position to fabricate nice words about a work they didn’t truly like.

    I was asked by my editor to read a debut novel of another of her clients and provide an endorsement *if I liked the book.* I did, and I did. I’m horrified that some people will provide an endorsement without reading the whole book. That’s cheating.

    • I’ve offered author friends (and reader friends) copies of my books more for reviews than blurbs, and that’s only because the algorithms of visibility take reviews into account. I’ll clip the money quotes for my website, but never put them in or on my book.
      Besides, with ebooks, the cover is usually seen in thumbnail, and any quotes look like blurry squiggles. And inside, if they’re front matter, they’re just keeping the reader from the story.
      And, sadly, “cheating” is everywhere these days, even though I agree that it’s unethical to praise something you haven’t tested, be it a book or a blender.

  18. Over the years, I’ve received more than a few reviews or letters/emails from readers who picked up one of my books for the first time because of Author X’s blurb. So, they work, at least at one level.

    I do blurb books, but I insist on reading them first. I won’t always read all the way to the end before blurbing because I’m a slow reader and deadlines are often tight. I want to make sure I won’t be leading readers astray.

    A story about harming animals in fiction: Fifteen years ago, give or take, I was writing a movie for Warner Brothers called “Young Men and Fire”–a heavily-fictionalized adaptation of Norman Maclean’s book by the same name. The story was about smoke jumpers and a fire that grows out of control. My research showed that one of the primary ways that forest fires spread is by burning animals that cash across fire breaks. I included that bit of business in an early draft, and the studio execs pooped pickles. They told me that I could kill as many firefighters in the script as I wanted, but if an animal was put in jeopardy, I had to show it healthy and well in a later scene.

    • Thanks, Mr. Gilstrap. It’s good to know there’s some effectiveness, and kudos to you for not wanting to lead readers astray.
      I also think there’s a difference between wild animals meeting their demise in a natural setting versus deliberate harming of a character’s pet. As someone with a background in the biological sciences, I accept the need to leave wild animals alone–something people in our neighborhood don’t always understand as they insist on feeding the deer.

  19. Put me in the big pile. I don’t buy based on blubs. I might read them but two sentences from… just about anyone isn’t putting a book in my cart.

    Thomas Harris kills a few pets in his books. His bad guys are very bad guys. He probably gets hate mail about it anyway.

    • So far, it seems the most value blurbs provide is they might make a reader take a look at a book they’d not have seen or considered otherwise.

  20. Once I figure out how to be famous, my rule will be to remain completely honest. That way, if a fan gives me a hard time for recommending a book, I can honestly say, “But I loved that book!”

    I don’t expect to say no in advance to editors and other august personages, but if I don’t have anything to say about a book that’s worth using, I can tell them that.

    As for mutilation, et al, I put this in the general category of “telling someone their baby is ugly.” While fiction (and especially crime fiction) involves trifling with the readers affections by heaping troubles onto their beloved characters, there are lines you shouldn’t cross. Well, unless you warn the reader by putting the first instance on page one so they know what they’re getting into. Use a pseudonym while you’re at it.

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