A heedless quest for multiple blurbasm
Sean Condon boldly goes in search of a cover quote to transform his book into a blockbuster
EARLIER this year my wife was reading a novel called Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. On the front cover, Jonathan Franzen declares he ‘‘ tore through this book with heedless pleasure’’. My wife also went through it pretty quickly — perhaps even heedlessly — and while she was doing so I kept staring at that cover quote and thinking, ‘‘ I don’t much like Jonathan Franzen’s books but plenty of other people do and he’s a highly respected, awardwinning writer, so if he likes this one it must be pretty good. I’ll read it!’’ So I did and I found it ‘‘ funny, smart, engaging and well-written’’ (Sean Condon).
This was a few months before the release of my novel Splitsville, itself a funny, smart, engaging and well-written story about a Manhattan company that breaks up relationships on behalf of people who can’t do it themselves. It occurred to me that it might be helpful to sales and my perennially fragile authorial ego to have an endorsement of the book, so I sent a polite personal email to Maria Semple asking if she’d be interested in reading the galleys and perhaps saying something blurbable about it. (I also mentioned what a big fan I was of her book, because authors always like to hear that — whether it’s from J. Franzen or J. Blow.)
I waited two weeks before sending a followup email, this one also polite and full of compliments about her ‘‘ thoroughly excellent writing and charming, unforgettable characters’’ (Sean Condon, author of Splitsville).
In The New York Times last year, Stephen King wrote: ‘‘ I think blurbs can sometimes help quite a lot . . . but one thing I’d never do is blurb a book just because a friend wrote it.’’ As a lifelong non-friend of Mr King, I wrote to him right away, making sure to mention how much I enjoyed his ‘‘ thoroughly excellent’’ latest book, which I tore through pleasurably and without heed.
I also sent another 30 emails to writers (or their agents) and other people whose work I admire. I understood my request was not insubstantial: I was asking busy people to stop what they were doing, read my book and then tell the world how great it was. But I also knew that every one of them had done it before, and every one had had their own work blurbed by another writer who’d taken the time to read and praise it.
And so I waited . . . not for the blurb (too presumptuous) but for any kind of response at all: a simple ‘‘ no thanks’’ or ‘‘ all blurbed out for now’’.
I’ve had a few author-admirers before (David Sedaris called my writing ‘‘ very very funny’’; Bill Bryson enjoyed my first book ‘‘ immensely’’; Richard Ford is presently ‘‘ reading’’ a manuscript of mine) but none of their remarks was appropriate as a cover quote on my new book. I wanted something fresh and dazzling.
But not too dazzling. Sometimes an excessively effusive blurb can backfire. In 2010, Nicole Krauss gushed out what is considered the most overwrought blurb of the modern age for a book by David Grossman: ‘‘ A few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. [He] may be the most gifted writer I’ve ever read because he has access to the unutterable, because he can look inside a person and discover the unique essence of her humanity. To read it is to have yourself taken apart,