Before we start, have a look at the title of today’s post. It combines four annoying traits all in one, like some demented anti-Twix. It jams two words together with no space but with the second word still capitalized, like every tech company that wants to seem urgent (WordPerfect, AutoDesk, CoreLogic). It incorporates an exclamation point, like the advertising promos for Utah! and the brands Yahoo! and Yum! and even ChipsAhoy! (A nice double there, the jam-up AND the exclamation mark. Well played, Nabisco!) And it appropriates the recognizable but irrelevant branding lever “-fest.” It would have been even more annoying if I’d titled it Blurbapalooza, right?
But the worst sin is the use of the word “blurb,” an ugly and awful word that sounds like a fish in distress. (The humorist Frank Gelett Burgess, who coined the term in 1907, said that, “To blurb is to make a sound like a publisher.”) Blurbs are the kudzu of publishing, once imported in small numbers to make a book stand out, now having overgrown the forest entirely. The hit 2018 novel Severance, which I sold for a couple of bucks to a used bookstore after a disappointing read, opens with three or four pages of nothing but blurbs, more than twenty of them! They used to be segregated to the back cover, like the images above. But then one of them got loose and crept around onto the front cover, like this:
After that, they just hamster-bred all over the literary warren, in wriggling litters of a dozen or more. And for the most part, they’re pretty vapid. It’s like the book opens with three pages of Be Excited! Be Excited! Be Excited! They’re an exercise in borrowed vigor, whether that vigor comes from the big-name author who wrote for you (a blurb from Stephen King is a big deal in certain parts of a bookstore), or from the comparison the blurb-writer made to some other book (“Reminded me of Stephen King’s The Stand“). To quote Burgess again, “A blurb is a check drawn on Fame, and it is seldom honored.”
But yesterday, I got a blurb from completely out of the blue. Jim Kucher, a friend of mine from Baltimore, had asked me a few weeks ago for a copy of Slush: Courageous Writing in the Face of All Reason, my book about the wonders and the aches of the writing life. I sent it off, and he responded a few days later with a photo of that book on the arm of his backyard Adironicack chair, a lovely image.
Anyway, Jim has now finished his reading and sent me a marvelously brief message yesterday, which he’s given me permission to quote.
You, sir, are the Anne Lamott of the unpublished. This thing is a gem.
Now that’s a blurb worth having.
As I move forward in my project of releasing my own book-spawn into the vast river, I’d love to fertilize the roe with blurbs like these.
So I now lay down my request and my challenge to you. If you’ve read any of my work (and you have, because you’re reading this, which is part of the work), send me a few words that you think encapsulates your experience. You can talk about a book, if you’ve read one of my books. You can talk about this blog, if you’ve read this blog. You can talk about working with me as a writing coach, if we’ve done that. Regardless of the venue, think about a sentence or two that might encourage trusted others to take a few minutes to explore.
Those words may appear on the soon-to-be-updated version of this website, immortalizing you as a blurb-writer of talent and renown. And you can have the satisfaction of having been among the early adopters, those wise enough to recognize gems before others have seen them.