The blurb race.
If there’s one thing authors love more than procrastinating, it’s praising one another. During the Renaissance, Thomas More’s Utopia got a proto-blurb from Erasmus (“divine wit”), while Shakespeare’s First Folio got one from Ben Jonson (“The wonder of our stage!”). By the 18th century, the practice of selling a book based on some other author’s endorsement was so well established that Henry Fielding’s spoof novel Shamela even came with fake blurbs, including one from “John Puff Esq.”
I get blurb requests about once or twice a week these days, a lot of them through Facebook from people I don’t know. It’s almost as though they’re shotgunning potential providers. I don’t mind throwing a quote out for a mate, but it’s always weird being asked by a complete stranger. If they introduce themselves a long time reader and fan, I guess I get it. But a lot don’t even do that. It’s like, here’s my book, where’s my quote, bitch?
Even the most minor title now comes garlanded with quotes hailing it as the most important book since the Bible, while authors report getting so many requests that some are opting out of the practice altogether. Publishers have begun to despair of blurbs, too. “You only need to look at the jackets from the 1990s or 2000s to see that even most debut novelists didn’t have them, or had only one or two genuinely high-quality ones,” Mark Richards, the publisher of the independent Swift Press, told me. “But what happened was an arms race. People figured out that they helped, so more effort was put into getting them, until a point was reached where they didn’t necessarily make any positive difference; it’s just that not having them would likely ruin a book’s chances.”
I dunno that ‘ruin’ is right, but I reckon the point about not making any positive difference is spot on.