I just wrote a blurb for a book I truly loved, by a writer whom I not only admire but also really like, and it damn near paralyzed me. I'm such an incompetent blurb writer. First of all, it seems so absurd for me to be blurbing anyone. If every single one of the people who buy my books rushed out to buy the book I blurbed, my friend would still have to be sweating his sales. But that's not the real problem. I'm flattered to be asked, and I genuinely like doing it. Not least because it means that someone out there might associate my name with a really terrific book. I.e., they buy the book, love it, and then flip it over. "This Ayelet Waldman person has such good taste," they say. "Let's go buy her books, too!"
The problem is that I suck at it. Michael effortlessly writes these pithy blurbs. They take him thirty seconds to compose and sound not only erudite, but also inspiring. The person he blurbs invariably ends up all choked up with emotion. Me? I sit sputtering at my computer, eking out things like, "Wow. This book rocks." Or "I really loved this book." Or "This book is much better than you might imagine given the subject matter -- I found that I possessed a genuine fascination for the history of orthodontic research, and so might you."
I have to get better at this, because it's all part of the give and take of literary life. Every time you publish a book you find yourself in the hideous position of having to grovel for blurbs. And if you're asking for them, then it's only fair to give them, too. Some writers have a "no blurb" policy, but I've noticed that most of those writers are themselves happy to accept blurbs. Maybe that's not fair. Their books are most likely festooned with blurbs because their editors insist on it. Still, unless you are a professor and thus besieged by students demanding blurbs, I think the only reasonable thing is to reciprocate. Plus, it's a kind thing to do. It's a nice thing to do.
Direct reciprocation, however, could result in ridicule. Remember that Spy Magazine column, "Log Rolling?"
Author I: Author's II's book is the best book in history.
Author II: Never have I read anything as marvelous as Author I's book.
What you really want to know is if blurbs are real, right? OK, so here's the thing. We get dozens of books coming into this house for blurbs every week and we could never read all of them. Actually, it's more relevant that Michael could never read all of them, because they are for him, 99% of the time. The sad truth is that most of the time a writer blurbs because the other author is his friend, or shares his editor, or is a client of his agent. Or is his wife's friend. That doesn't mean that he doesn't like the book -- not at all. It just means that he would never have picked it up absent that connection. Authors almost never "cold-blurb." That's not to say that it's impossible, but just unlikely.
Still, even knowing that, I find myself swayed by blurbs. There is something genuinely enticing about them. Wow, I say to myself, I love Jane Smiley, and she liked this book. So I'm bound to like it, too.