December 4 – 10: “Are author blurbs as effective today as they used to be?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5This week we welcome ITW Members Tim Tigner, Colin Campbell, Matt Coyle, Carole Price, Khaled Talib, Lynn Cahoon, Jon Land, James L’Etoile, Douglas Wynne, Victoria Gilbert and Luke Murphy as they discuss whether or not author blurbs are as effective today as they used to be? Scroll down to the “comments” section for this can’t-miss discussion!

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Victoria Gilbert, raised in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, turned her early obsession with reading into a dual career as an author and librarian. She has worked as a reference librarian, research librarian, and library director. A member of International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, and Mystery Writers of America, she lives in North Carolina with her husband, son, and some very spoiled cats.

 

Tim Tigner writes fast-paced conspiracy thrillers with the tagline: Devious Devices, International Intrigue, and the Deadly Mistake of Messing with the Wrong Guy. His stand-alones include international bestsellers Coercion, Betrayal, and Flash. His recent focus had been on the Kyle Achilles series, which includes Pushing Brilliance, The Lies of Spies, and now FALLING STARS. A Soviet Counterintelligence Specialist and Veteran of the Green Berets, Tim worked out of Moscow throughout perestroika, Brussels during the formation of the EU, and more recently Silicon Valley as a startup CEO. Tim began writing thrillers in 1996 from an apartment overlooking Moscow’s Gorky Park. Twenty years later, the view from his desk is a vineyard in Northern California, where he lives with his wife Elena and their two daughters. Tim earned a BA in Philosophy and Mathematics from Hanover College, and an MA and MBA from the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Ex army, retired cop and former Scenes Of Crime Officer. Colin Campbell is the author of British crime novels Blue Knight White Cross, and Northern Ex, and US thrillers Jamaica Plain, Montecito Heights, Adobe Flats and Snake Pass. His Jim Grant thrillers bring a rogue Yorkshire cop to America, where culture clash and violence ensue.

 

Matt Coyle knew he wanted to be a crime writer when he was fourteen and his father gave him The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler. His debut novel, Yesterday’s Echo, won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, the San Diego Book Award for Best Mystery, the Ben Franklin Award for Best New Voice in Fiction. Night Tremors was a Bookreporter.com Reviewers’ Favorite Book of 2015 and was an Anthony, Shamus, and Lefty Award finalist. Dark Fissures, the third book in the Rick Cahill crime series, was a finalist for the Macavity and Lefty awards and was a 2016 Top Pick for Bookreporter.com. BLOOD TRUTH is Matt’s fourth novel. Matt is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and lives in San Diego with his yellow Lab, Angus, where he is writing the fifth Rick Cahill crime novel.

 

Carole Price is a Buckeye! Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, she attended Ohio State University. She worked for a national laboratory in northern California before turning to writing mysteries. Carole fell in love with the Bard after attending plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. She graduated from the Citizens Police Academy and is an active police volunteer for the Livermore Police Department, a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She actively promotes her books at conferences, literary groups, and many other venues. Carole and her husband reside in the San Francisco Bay Area in the middle of wine country.

 

Khaled Talib is a former journalist with local and international exposure. His articles have been published and syndicated to newspapers worldwide, and his short stories have appeared in literary journals and magazines. The author, who has written three novels, resides in Singapore.

 

 

Lynn Cahoon is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling Tourist Trap cozy mystery series. GUIDEBOOK TO MURDER, book 1 of the series, won the Reader’s Crown for Mystery Fiction in 2015. She also pens the Cat Latimer series. A Story to Kill and Fatality in Firelight are available in mass market paperback. She lives in a small town like the ones she loves to write about with her husband and two fur babies.

 

Jon Land is the USA Today bestselling author of 43 books, including eight titles in the critically acclaimed Caitlin Strong series: Strong Enough to Die, Strong Justice, Strong at the Break, Strong Vengeance, Strong Rain Falling (winner of the 2014 International Book Award and 2013 USA Best Book Award for Mystery-Suspense), Strong Darkness (winner of the 2014 USA Books Best Book Award and the 2015 International Book Award for Thriller) and Strong Light of Day which won the 2016 International Book Award for Best Thriller-Adventure, the 2015 Books and Author Award for Best Mystery Thriller, and the 2016 Beverly Hills Book Award for Best Mystery. Land has also teamed with New York Times bestselling author Heather Graham on a new sci-fi series, the first of which, The Rising, was published by Forge in January of 2017. Jon’s nonfiction titles include Betrayal (2011), winner of the 2011 International Book Award in True Crime and Takedown (2016) which won both 2016’s USA Best Books Award and the International Book Award in True Crime. His latest nonfiction title, No Surrender, was published by Post Hill Press on July 4. He is a 1979 graduate of Brown University and lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

 

James L’Etoile has twenty-nine years of experience in prisons and jails across the country. As experienced associate warden, chief of institution operations, hostage negotiator, and director of parole with a master’s dredge in criminal justice, L’Etoile draws upon his background to bring his crime fiction to life. This is his second Detective Penley Mystery.

 

 

Douglas Wynne wrote his first dark fantasy novel at the age of fifteen but has never found the courage to take it down from the attic and read it. After a long detour through rock bands, and recording studios, he came full circle back to fiction writing and is recently the author of five novels: The Devil of Echo Lake, Steel Breeze, and the SPECTRA Files trilogy (Red Equinox, Black January, and CTHULHU BLUES). He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and son and a houseful of animals.

 

Luke Murphy is the International bestselling author of Dead Man’s Hand (Imajin Books, 2012) and Kiss & Tell (Imajin Books, 2015). Murphy played six years of professional hockey before retiring in 2006. His sports column, “Overtime” (Pontiac Equity), was nominated for the 2007 Best Sports Page in Quebec, and won the award in 2009. He has also worked as a radio journalist (CHIPFM 101.7). Murphy lives in Shawville, QC with his wife, three daughters and a pug. He is a teacher who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing and a Bachelor of Education (Magna Cum Laude). WILD CARD, a sequel to Dead Man’s Hand, is Murphy’s third novel.

 

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17 Comments
  1. It’s somewhat difficult to separate my own evolving perception of this as a reader and writer from what may or may not be an objective trend in the industry.

    I think a lot of writers start out thinking that if they could only get that coveted blurb from a superstar author, it would transform their career and change their life. But with experience, you learn that no blurb can give a book a success that it hasn’t earned. That’s not to say that a blurb from John Grisham, Neil Gaiman, or Stephen King doesn’t still launch careers. But while readers may buy a book on the strength of high praise from one of their favorite authors, there’s still no guarantee that they will like the book, review it favorably, and contribute to the grassroots word of mouth that success really hinges on. Each book still has to earn that with each reader, starting with any potential star endorsements.

    It seems to me that the reading public has become a little jaded with author-on-author hype. It’s still helpful to have some social validation in the form of review quotes on a book’s back cover or Amazon page, and I’m grateful to every more established author who has ever taken the time to blurb me, but I see big publishers using fewer blurbs unless they’re from truly big names in support of launching unknown new authors, and I suspect that a great hook goes farther. My son will still buy a middle-grade fantasy book on the basis of an exciting quote from someone he’s never heard of, but I find that adult readers are more impressed by a quote from Publisher’s Weekly or a trusted review site specializing in their favorite genre, because they feel it’s more likely to be honest than a line from an author who might owe an editor a favor.

  2. I believe that blurbs are still quite useful. If I respect an author, I am likely to respect their judgement concerning another author’s work. Which means that a positive blurb by an author I respect and admire will entice me to check out a new or unknown author’s work(s). I don’t believe that most authors would be willing to praise something if they truly did not fell it deserved praise. I know I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing so.

  3. Reactions to author blurbs on a book cover range from pure joy to resentful jealousy. We’ve all seen the blurbs we wished we had—the one-liner from that noted, name-brand author that promises the keys to the publishing kingdom, or the blurb that commands legions of loyal readers to read this new author’s work.

    I’m thrilled when I see a blurb on an author friend’s book. I know how much work they poured into the novel—all the time and the creative energy invested in the project. It’s recognition, of sorts. And I’m happy for them when a nice blurb rolls in for them.

    But, I’ve seen the dark side of the blurb. When blurbs are used as a debt to hold over another author, like ”I did this for you, now you owe me.” Or, the bandwagon blurber who said, “I blurbed her book, now she’s gonna be really big.” Dude, you didn’t write that book, she did, and she deserves every accolade coming her way because of her work.

    As an author on the receiving end, the blurbs from authors you respect mean everything. The encouragement, the acceptance and that shot in the arm to go and do it again, are priceless. Booksellers have held my book and gone straight to the cover blurb.

    As a reader, I do look at the blurbs on the front and back covers, especially if the author isn’t known to me, yet. A blurb from an author I’ve read and enjoy will sway me to take a chance on an unknown writer. The power of the blurb in the digital book market isn’t diminished. With millions of choices in front of readers every day, a single, well-placed blurb on the digital cover, or on the Amazon page, will make that work stand out—hopefully enough to get noticed above the noise.

    The burden—blurb, or not, is that we have to write good books.

  4. The blurb today is even more important than it used to be. Not only do readers have more books to spend their money on, but with so many selections to choose from, a captivating blurb needs to hook reader interest or they will look for one that does. With the rise of ebooks, it is not the cover image they click on, but the book description.

  5. NO. Blurbs are far less effective than they used to be — if you define effective as leading to sales.

    The reason is that the shopping experience is not what it used to be. In the past, when you bought a book, the only information you had at the point of sale was what was printed on the cover. Now, with even fewer characters than a single quote occupies, you can get the the collective opinion of all the book’s readers.

    Which will lead to more sales? A clever “I loved it” from a hallowed author, or 1,000 reviews averaging 4.5 stars? We don’t need to guess the answer, it’s abundantly evident in the rankings on Amazon.

    I’ll go one step further. Awards have also lost their luster. The virtual bookshelf is full of dusty award-winning books, many with enviable blurbs on their covers.

    The reason, I’ll wager, is that people trust the collective crowd more than they do any one individual or organization. And, speaking as one with insider knowledge of how blurbs and awards are obtained, I’d say they’re right to do so.

  6. Author blurbs – Are they effective? I don’t know. My friend had an amazing author blurb, but since it wasn’t in the same subgenre, it didn’t do much. I’ve done author blurbs for other cozy authors and it’s done more to connected me to the other author than increase the sales of that book.

    I’m selective in who I blurb for, but I’ve never seen it as a bartering chip. I blurb for books I love and authors I respect. Hopefully that’s in the same book. For me, I have so little reading time, I won’t give it up for a book I’m not enjoying.

    Maybe we should look at it more as a networking tool than a sales tool. Does one of my readers care if I loved a book? I’m not sure. We talk a lot about what we’re reading on my Facebook page. Maybe they do consider a blurb effective.

    Thoughts?

  7. I didn’t know much about this blurb thing until my first publisher advised me that I needed them. I realized being an unknown from Singapore and a newbie author, a blurb is necessary for credibility. It’s also important to me because I want to know my own standards of writing. So, if I send it and an author endorses it, then I know that my work has credence.
    I’ve now written three novels, and I still think blurbs are necessary. I am aware that some successful novels, especially self-pub ones, do not have blurbs. But for me personally, its important for many reasons. To have an author you admire and whose work you respect endorse your own book gives you a sense of accomplishment. It makes you feel good. It also makes you feel like you are now part of the fraternity. Like a badge of approval…

  8. Probably my favorite part of the publishing process is seeking author blurbs for my books. There’s nothing like the feeling of receiving approval/recognition from your peers to really give you confidence and make you feel good about your work. For me, I think author blurbs are extremely important for authors, and I truly believe that readers look at author blurbs, especially if they are given by bestselling authors or the reader’s favorite authors.

    I know that I, as a reader, am more apt to purchase/read a book that has been recommended by one or more of my favourite authors.

    I believe that if newer, less-experienced authors are able to secure five-star blurbs from established authors, it can help catapult their career and get them on the right track to success.

    Here are a few of the blurbs from NYT Bestselling authors I’ve been able to acquire for my novels:

    “Dead Man’s Hand is a pleasure, a debut novel that doesn’t read like one, but still presents original characters and a fresh new voice.”—Thomas Perry, New York Times bestselling author of Poison Flower

    “Luke Murphy scores big with this deep psychological thriller.”—Tim Green, New York Times bestselling author of Unstoppable

    “The twists and turns kept me guessing to the very end.”—Christy Reece, New York Times bestselling author of Nothing To Lose

    “All the danger, treachery, and action a thriller reader could wish for. Luke Murphy has the touch.”—Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The Lost Order

  9. As someone who gets, as well gives, blurbs I find myself agreeing that, like everything else in this crazy business, they have less of an impact than they used to. Steve Berry, as good a thriller writer as there is, credits a great deal of his breaking out to the fact that he was fortunate enough to have a Dan Brown blurb. Speaking of Dan Brown, in an interview a few years back at Thrillerfest, Greg Isles credited a blurb from him making the difference between, literally, a book being rejected and ending up a #1 NY Times bestseller. While it’s hard to envision, in this current insane market for book buying, any blurb making that kind of difference anymore. That said, positive blurbs can still function as part of a greater whole marketing campaign. And let’s not forget that blurbs still have the pronounced effect of building in-house excitement for a book. Remember, a publisher can only successfully sell/roll out a couple titles per month and, if nothing else, positive blurbs can help position an author to be one of those.

    1. Jon, you bring up a great point in the blurb as a tool to build in-house excitement for a book. If the publisher starts to get a sense that the book will be well received “out in the wild” they might put more effort/resources behind that book launch.

  10. As effective as they used to be? I’m not sure how many people buy books purely on the recommendation of a “blurb”, or if that number has gone up or down but I can attest to people looking at a book differently when a big name is displayed prominently on the cover. Of course it depends on the “big name.” Once Lee Child read my work and gave a blurb, having LEE CHILD across the top of the cover legitimized my writing in the eyes of readers. People were prepared to give it a chance. It will get the first page read. But you’ve still got to grab them with the first line, paragraph and page. The writing gets you readers. A top name blurb might help readers find your work.

  11. I think one of the other issues here is that there are some big name authors who are such great people that they are loath to refuse a request to help a fellow author. While this is a wonderful gesture on their behalf, providing too many blurbs dilutes their overall effect because they’re on so many book covers. Look, so many authors have helped me that I have never once refused to provide a blurb myself. I tell people I’m who authors go to when they can’t get who they really want, and I’m fine with that. It’s a true pleasure coming through for others after so many have come through for me. And, hey, blurbs might not have the impact they used to have, but if they had no value I don’t think so many authors would be chasing them. As I said in my comment above, blurbs are just one component of a book’s ultimate success.

  12. I can see both sides of this, actually. I do think a good blurb can help with promotion, but I know — as others have mentioned — that sometimes the blurb is part of a quid pro quo situation. So personally I take blurbs with a grain of salt. However, I think they do help in convincing some readers to at least give a new author or new book a try. I appreciate the ones I have received from other, better-known, cozy mystery authors since A MURDER FOR THE BOOKS is my first book in that genre. I do think it has helped to give an unknown cozy author (me) a little boost in terms of validation and visibility.

  13. I also think there are sales levels to consider here. Blurbs are obviously more important for authors who are starting out because they help establish credibility. But there must be something to them for even top authors because even the author at the absolute top, James Patterson, has a ton of blurbs for his latest single author book. So I’ve got to figure that if an author at that level finds it important, it makes a very persuasive case for the continued importance, however diminished, of blurbs in general.

  14. I have a question for Jon. A few authors nowadays who are starting out, do produce a high-quality edited thriller but choose to self-publish it. How would you respond to a blurb request from one of them? The issue of course is how to gauge the quality of the work and not waste your time on schlock. Or do you only consider commercially published books?

  15. As a reader I do take note of an author blurb on a cover but it doesn’t mean a lot if I don’t know that author’s work even if I know the name.
    Because I’ve only recently branched out into romantic suspense from romance, it hasn’t occurred to me to approach a thriller writer for a blurb. In fact, I haven’t ever approached anyone for a blurb. Too reticent. Maybe I should be brave and ask some of my well known romance writing friends… Yikes.

  16. A final thought on blurbs. Spare a thought for the high profile author who must be inundated with requests to read/blurb a less high profile author. In my early days I mercilessly chased big names to read my work. It must have been embarrassing for them. Some smiled and nodded but didn’t reply and several did give me the all important early push. I did appreciate however, the couple of authors who simply said they did not blurb. Reginald Hill told me he’d read it but would be brutally honest and only give a blurb if he liked it. Thankfully he did. Honesty is the best policy. I have only been asked to read a couple of books (who needs my name on their cover anyway?) and gave feedback on the one I didn’t feel I could blurb. Diplomacy is another good policy. All the best to everyone starting out or climbing the ladder. It’s a tough climb.

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