Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Blurb Game

There’s always been debate about the value of blurbs. I tend to believe they are more valuable for small presses and authors trying to establish themselves because it’s more likely that the blurb has been given to the author in question out of real interest in his or her work, rather than as a quid pro quo between big New York publishing houses, editors, agents or authors.

But if the value of the blurb in some sense corresponds to the level of sincerity behind it, a “sincere” blurb for a relatively unknown author at a small press is no easy thing to obtain. As Otto Penzler has pointed out, best-selling authors are constantly besieged by others trying to prize a few words out of them for the covers of new books and they have developed a number of coping strategies, from claiming that they are too busy, simply ignoring the request, or giving a bland, meaningless blurb that conveys no judgment of the quality of the book.

Mark Goes Begging

After Bleak House accepted Candy from Strangers, I began the process of soliciting blurbs. My first step was to make a short list of authors whose work I admired and was similar enough to mine that someone who read and enjoyed one of their books might also be interested in mine. Since my book was a private eye novel in the hardboiled vein, I tended to focus on fellow PI or detective writers, or writers who wrote in a more hardboiled style.

Everyone I contacted was very polite and professional, and no one simply ignored the request. When I got a “no,” the reason most often cited was lack of time—particularly because of a looming book deadline—and two well-known authors told me they thought they’d given too many blurbs and didn’t wish to continue because they felt the value of their endorsements had been diminished as a result.

I got four yeses: two from writers with whom I had some personal connection and two with whom I didn’t have any connection, apart from reading their books and attending their signings. The two writers I knew were David Corbett and Marcia Muller. David and I had met while attending the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop, and in the interest of full disclosure in the quid pro quo line, it must be said that I gave David a blurb for his first novel, The Devil’s Redhead. However, why he would have ever wanted a blurb from me in the first place is beyond me. As an Anthony, Barry and Macavity nominee, David came right out of the blocks as a leading crime writer—and one with a more literary approach to the genre at that.

Marcia and her husband Bill Pronzini I came to know through Bruce Taylor, who was the original owner of the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore. She was also the chairperson of the Shamus Award committee that nominated The Immortal Game for best first mystery, so I had some hope that she thought my writing was okay.

Michael Connelly and Joe Gores were the other two writers who agreed to give blurbs. All I can say is both were extremely kind and very generous to an author who they didn’t know from Adam.

Although there are shortened versions on my website, I’ll put up the full text of each of their quotes in the next four posting.

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