Logrolling in Our Time

Last Sunday, the Denver Post’s Robin Vidimos looked at the time-honored practice of blurbs – and found that they have surprising effectiveness:

Cathy Langer, lead buyer for the
Tattered Cover bookstores, said that blurbs serve any number of useful
purposes. As a reader, she said blurbs "really influence how I see
things," and she believes the store’s customers see things similarly.

"I have the opportunity to observe people as they are browsing, almost invariably people will read the cover, read the blurbs," she said.

It is when she’s making buying decisions,
though, that Langer finds blurbs most useful. "My actual buying is not
so dependent on my reading as it might be on my blurb reading. I read a
particular kind of book, but I buy every kind of book. So I look at a
blurb that is from X (a given) mystery writer about a new mystery
writer to get a sense of who the book is really for, who the audience
is. Also, I will up-buy to aggressively hand-sell a writer who has been
blurbed by someone I love," she said.

Then there’s Michael Connelly’s take:

Connelly takes blurbing seriously and is
selective about those authors he chooses to blurb. He said a blurb is
most useful in the early stages of a writer’s career, and that’s where
he focuses his attention.

His publisher and his agent send manuscripts they’d like
him to read. He said, "I don’t blurb everything that comes from my own
publisher. I might have a harder level of acceptance, the threshold
might be higher for stuff sent by my agent. … I’ve never done a
favor, or asked them to do one for me." He said he’ll sift through more
than 100 books a year to arrive at the 10 he’ll endorse.

I tend to go with Langer’s point of view but that’s because as soon as I see who blurbs a book – or the number of blurbers – I have a ballpark estimate of how much the publisher is supporting the book. Even if it’s only one or two people, the quality of writers chosen is still a pretty good indicator of how much weight said publisher is throwing behind the book. But reading blurbs is fun as a means of guessing semi-hidden relationships, whether the blurb was, in fact, written by the associated writer and other less-than-above-board things.