Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon


Blurbing

Posted in Books,Japanese literature,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the November 21st, 2010

One of the things on my to-do list this past week was to compose a blurb for a forthcoming book on modern Japanese literature. I get asked to do this once or twice a year; often it is for a title that I’ve already reviewed as an external referee, meaning that I’m already quite familiar with the work. I’ve even had a publisher approach me once for permission to use a blurb they had composed by patching together key phrases from my referee’s report. In case you were wondering, we don’t get paid for supplying blurbs, though the publisher usually sends us a free copy of the book once it appears.

There’s an art to writing a good blurb. If you’re too effusive, you lose credibility and might even offend the potential reader you are trying to charm. I remember many years ago reading a blurb on a study of Japanese literature that asserted ‘there is no comparable study in any language.’ The arrogance of this pissed me off: had the reviewer really read all the books on Japanese literature published in Polish, for example, or Swahili? Through no fault of the book’s author, I acquired an unfavorable gut feeling toward the work.

Another time, I was thinking about buying one of Thomas Pynchon’s novels. When I picked up the thick paperback at a bookstore, a blurb on the cover proclaimed it “a 747 of a novel.” I immediately put the book back down and left the store. I hate 747’s. Why would I want to read something that would remind me of stale air, crying babies, bad food, smelly bathrooms, and crabby flight attendants?

In other words, it’s important to find the appropriate tone. Sometimes, I think I get it right — like here, for example, or here and here. The one I submitted this past week was only so-so, I’m afraid.

What’s the worst experience you’ve had with a blurb–either writing or reading it? Or, conversely, has a blurb ever single-handedly sold you on a book? I’d love to hear your stories on this: comments, please.

One Response to 'Blurbing'

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  1. Michael B said,

    on November 22nd, 2010 at 10:59 am

    A cautionary note on blurbing I’ve just discovered: “The reaction to the book has been so heated that two chefs whose praises for the book appear on its back cover have distanced themselves from their own remarks, something almost unheard of in publishing.”

    Full article:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/05/dining/05doug.html?_r=1&ei=5090&en=035b31f2661b1227&ex=1286164800&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=all