word craft



RoseA very fine editor/publisher, and a very fine friend, sent me an e‑mail: “I have a huge favor to ask—huge not because of the labor involved, but because I know how you feel about blurbing.”

She was ask­ing me if I would write a blurb for one of her forth­com­ing books, and she knows I dis­like blurbs.

What is a blurb? The word, accord­ing to the Oxford Unabridged Dic­tio­nary, “is said to have been orig­i­nat­ed in 1907 by Gelett Burgess in a com­ic book jack­et embell­ished with a draw­ing of a pul­chri­tudi­nous young lady whom he face­tious­ly dubbed Miss Blin­da Blurb.” The OED goes on to define a blurb as “A flam­boy­ant adver­tise­ment; an inspired tes­ti­mo­ni­al. 2. Ful­some praise; a sound like a pub­lish­er… On the ‘jack­et’ of the ‘lat­est’ fic­tion, we find the blurb; abound­ing in agile adjec­tives and adverbs, attest­ing that this book is the ‘sen­sa­tion of the year’.”

Blurb­ing is a very com­mon prac­tice in pub­lish­ing. Pick up a new book and, some­times on the front, more often on the back, are com­ments from a vari­ety of sources. They may be excerpts from reviews. But they are often “ful­some praise,” from an indi­vid­ual. They may well be sin­cere, but I always dis­count such per­son­al com­ments, inso­far as I think they are the writer’s friends. But, as in my cur­rent case, that’s not so. I know noth­ing about the writer whose book I’ve been ask to blurb.

Most­ly, I don’t like to blurb good friends’ books because I fear los­ing the friend. After all, what if I don’t like the book? Or the “ful­some praise,” is not forth­com­ing? So I don’t ask for them, and don’t like to do them. In short, they make me nervous.

That said, I have blurbed books on a few occa­sions, most­ly because I was asked by peo­ple (writer friends) whom I felt I could not refuse. Hap­pi­ly, in those few cas­es, I real­ly liked the books.

As for the cur­rent request, I said yes. In return, my pub­lish­er friend said, “You are a rose.” To which I replied, “Ah, just remem­ber, ros­es have thorns.”

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