Thanks for posting this entry. So many people think that once you get published everything is easy. From the blogs I've seen of published writers, I know it isn't, I'm still shooting for it though. I don't believe I've read anything about this particular subject from one of the writer's I follow (and like).
It's...one of those things we usually don't write about openly. In conversation with trusted friends whose work you do like, it comes up..."I really like so-and-so, but I can't stand his/her books and he/she keeps wanting me to blurb them..." and "This is so awkward--you know what I think of X...but dammit, that new book of his/hers is brilliant, and I blurbed it, and then I got this fulsome thank-you and invitation to one of his/her anthologies about [hot button topic.]"
I am, as it were, opening the closet door on this one, partly because people coming into the field need to know this will happen to them, and partly because, after some days of digging things out, I had emotional baggage to shed. I may get thumped for it, too.
Well, I for one, appreciate your honesty. I'd rather people be candid than sugar coat things. Writing is work and a hard career. I've been working to become a published writer for over a decade. I haven't submitted very much, don't have an agent, and frankly I don't want to until I've gotten some polished novels to send out. It's nice to know some of the other pitfalls that are lurking out there at the end of the journey towards publication (aka the start of another journey equally treacherous).
Eeeeuw!! My sympathies.
Robertson Davies (Canadian author, for those who don't know the name--not in genre) wrote in one of his essays that people who find they don't have enough talent to write should not be dismayed, because so many writers are really not very nice people, and it's easier to be a nice person if you're not. (I'm doing this from memory as once again I can't find the book, so I may be off a little, but not much.) Writers who think being a writer makes them a Special Snowflake, and that therefore they have no need to practice common courtesy (or uncommon courtesy), that they are above all the social niceties, that they are Entitled...are indeed a PITA of the first order.
This is true in most creative fields, though. I can tell you it's true without a doubt in video games. They push a game out the door and suddenly everyone involved thinks s/he is a Special Snowflake entitled to respect and accolades everywhere they go...even if the product bombed, even when expressing opinions in no way related to their own area of expertise, even when they are blatantly and obviously uninformed about the topic at hand.
It's very silly, and watching a bunch of game development geeks get all pretentious is just funny enough to keep a saner person from throttling the lot of them. ;)
I know it's true of some composers--when I was a kid, reading about composers (and had never met any) it was appalling to discover that though I might love so-and-so's music, I'd have hated so-and-so in person. For some reason I thought writers would be different.
I guess with people who aren't in the arts, we're less likely to form (or be asked for give) an opinion of their work...we're neither the employer nor the usual recipient of the work...so we can just like them or not like them as friends.
I hate blurbs for all these reasons. I don't trust them when I see them on books for all these reasons. Sigh.
From what I see on a variety of other forums where readers comment, the majority of readers don't trust blurbs either. Or they trust blurbs from only a few people.
They know perfectly well that editors can excise words from a blurb (where those ellipses come from) to make it sound better in the advertising sense and that "This book is a huge pile of stinking excrement" can appear on the cover as "This book is...huge" (although personally I don't know an editor who would go that far, but this is just an example, OK? (Shrinks from being pounded, or worse, blackballed, by editors.)
I saw too many authors blurbing really bad books for their best friends to take blurbs seriously. Kind of like Amazon reviews. What's real? Too often, not much.
I tend to treat blurbs the same way I'd treat recommendations from friends - if the blurb is from an author who's done a blurb on several other books I've liked, I'll lend credence to it, otherwise I tend to ignore it.
Precisely. When one of my friends is gushing about a movie, saying I HAVE to see it, I ask them why... And often their reasons for loving the movie are irrelevant when it comes to my taste in movies. When they're gushing about a book, I listen to the review, and then I ask them what other books they'd recommend for the same reasons that they're recommending the current gush-book. This all tells me whether to ignore the recommendation or not.
Of course, I ignore most recommendations of movies because I just don't have the time AND brainspace AND free companions often enough to go see one :)
If I ever wrote a book that you don't like (as if I will ever write a book at all), I would prefer that you tell me the truth. Kindly and gently, but the truth. Something like, "I tried reading it, but it's just not my kind of of book. Sorry."
I might sulk, but I'd survive and so would our friendship.
I'm glad of that, because when someone gives me seeds of native plants, I don't want to alienate her. (As if that were the only reason we're friends...)
Hmmmm. Interesting insight into a topic I'd never considered.
I had to laugh at your comment, "Robertson Davies (Canadian author, for those who don't know the name--not in genre) wrote in one of his essays that people who find they don't have enough talent to write should not be dismayed, because so many writers are really not very nice people, and it's easier to be a nice person if you're not."
Yeah, it's true, but, then, most occupations have their share of "not nice people," don't they? But occupations that capture public attention probably have more opportunities to inflate egos in susceptible personalities.
Thankfully most of my favorite authors seem to be pretty down-to-earth types. But then, that's probably reflected in their characters... which may be why I'm drawn to them in the first place.
Oh oh do I know this feeling. Eek! Hopefully no one I know will see this if I've read their books. Would have to make anyone paranoid. lol. A very hard thing this... Eek!
I guess I should add that I have been on both sides of this fence. Had people I was very nervous about (cause theyy're awesome peeps and authors!) getting my books and not daring to ever ask if they liked it or not, just in case. Eek! (Lol)
I never asked people if they read my books or liked them. I figured they would tell me if they did and I didn't want to put them on the spot if they hadn't/didn't. I've never understood that, and I've also never understood asking someone to rec me to their agent. When I was looking for an agent, I made sure people knew it. If they wanted to rec me, that was wondering. If they didn't offer, I always assumed that was intentional and never put them on the spot.
I guess I'm just odd that way, but to me it's an embarrassing position to be in, on either side.
When I read blurbs, I look for details, not general glowing formula. "Intriguing characters", "fast-paced plot", "slowly-unraveling friendships". I also enjoy slow-paced plots, but details like that show the reader enjoyed the book enough to finish and think about why she enjoyed it. (This assumes authors never outgrow the habit of seeing what makes other authors' stories work.)
Authors had better never outgrow the habit of seeing what makes other authors' stories work...because the blindness will spread to their own.
some writers I only buy in used bookstores.
2009-12-04 09:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the info. I'd often wondered about the reliability of such recommendations. When did author blurbs supplant reviews from, say, the NYT?
I was amazed to see the same thing on books for young children. Why destroy the back cover (and sometimes the front) of a board book? Heck, the blurbs provide more text than the books contain.
I do have to say that a book blurb gave our son's preschool staff (and me) one of the funniest incidents ever. Our son learned to read before he could talk clearly (as some autistic kids do) and one day at preschool, overhearing another parent complain to staff about her difficult day and the people she'd had to deal with, he came out with "A novel of romance and intrigue." It cracked everyone up, including the parent involved.
Another one wasn't the blurb but the title. He'd been benched for some misdeed, and one of the staff asked him, as they asked all the kids, if he understood why he had to sit on the bench. According to them, he said "Crime and Punishment."
Most blurbs from book lists are collections of the the words marketing says are trendy. The only thing that's unique is the datestamp on the throw of the dice that determined which of the words to use. I trust reviews with non-trendy words more.
"...Why can't their work be as icky as they are???"
I have been laughing about this all day.
My work here is done...(giggle)
This is an incredibly good piece of advice on writing, and is something that just doesn't get covered very often. One of the nice things about my family not really being into specfic other than my brother is that I'm used to my nearest and dearest not liking my stuff. :-D Doesn't mean they don't love me or I don't love them -- my work is just not their cup of tea.