A heed­less quest for mul­ti­ple blur­basm

Sean Con­don boldly goes in search of a cover quote to trans­form his book into a block­buster

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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,

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