Friday, August 01, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- Blurbings.com: Another Pointless Author "Service"

Book blurbs--those pithy statements on book covers extolling the wonderfulness of the book--are ubiquitous in the publishing biz. The hope is that a quote from your favorite author, or from a respected expert or pundit, will make you more interested in picking up a book, and possibly actually purchasing it.

Book blurbs are generally acquired well prior to a book's publication date, as part of the pre-publication marketing process. Manuscripts or galleys are sent by the publisher to a list of people whose complimentary words would be desirable. Often, the author has input into the list; sometimes the publisher or the author's agent calls in a favor or two. Many of the people approached for blurbs never do provide one, but usually at least a few blurbs result. Blurbs are used not just on book covers, but in the publisher's catalogs and other marketing materials. And of course, you, the author, can proudly display them on your website, Facebook page, etc.

Do book blurbs work? That's a complicated question to which there are no clear answers. I doubt that many people buy a book just because a writer they respect said something nice about it. But the presence on a book cover of several blurbs from recognizable, reputable individuals suggests to the potential buyer that the book has been seen and approved by people who know their stuff, and thus is a worthy purchase. (To those of us in the industry, it also says that the book is being actively marketed by its publisher, while books with few or no blurbs sadly reveal their place at the bottom of the publisher's priority list.) Like much book marketing, blurbs are done in hope rather than in certainty--because they might work, not because it’s definite that they do.

The above applies to larger commercial publishing houses. What if you are small press-published? Your publisher may make efforts to obtain blurbs, but may have difficulty getting attention from the kinds of people whose blurbs are worthwhile. What if you use a self-publishing company or a vanity publisher? Blurb-finding will be entirely up to you. As an unknown author, and especially as an author associated with a pay-to-publish company, you likely will have even more trouble than a small press.

What's a writer or micropress to do? Enter Blurbings.com. "Put a spotlight on your book!" its website declares. "We offer an inexpensive and accelerated service for long time promotion to authors and publishers through writing and receiving blurbs." In other words, Blurbings makes it possible for you to solve your lack-of-blurbs problem by buying some.

According to the FAQ page, "Blurbings Seekers" post digital galleys of their books for blurb writers to download and read. Writers can then submit a blurb to the book's profile page, if they choose. Seeker packages are priced at $19.95 (10 blurbs) or $29.95 (30 blurbs). If 30 blurbs are not enough, you can add more for just $1.49 apiece. (Blurbings claims that blurbs are guaranteed.) Blurbings will also create your digital galley for $29.95. For blurb writers, a digital book download costs $0.99.

Why is this a good deal? According to Blurbings' About Us page: "Normally, a blurb will cost an author and/or publisher $14 - $23, which includes printing of the galleys, packaging and mailing fees. The standard 30 – 50 blurbs expected per book can range from $420 to $1,150. It is also very time consuming researching and contacting prospective authors as well as conducting follow-ups during the duration of the process."

Uh...okay.

More important--who will the blurbs come from? "Other authors usually write Blurbs," Blurbings' FAQ page explains. "[H]owever, professionals in the field can also write them; for example, a psychologist can write a blurb for a book on stress or disorders. Professors who teach the subject of the book can also blurb books, for example, a professor in sociology can blurb a book on society or a professor in politics can blurb a book on politics. In addition, Owners of websites that deal with the topic of the book can submit blurbs."

And there’s the rub. Not all blurbs are equal. The whole point of a blurb is that the blurber be recognizable to the general public, or else be someone whose credentials suggest that his or her opinion is worth taking seriously. But how likely is it that someone like that will find his or her way to Blurbings and happen upon your digital galley? (And if you contact them yourself, what do you need Blurbings for?) It's far more likely that the blurbs you'll get will come from other site users--i.e., other self- or small-press-published authors--or, possibly, from random web surfers. No offense to Joe Micropress Author or Jane Random Web Surfer...but blurbwise, who cares what they think?

And Joe Micropress Author will be eager to blurb. As Blurbings helpfully points out, "[W]riting blurbs also puts a spotlight on the blurb writer. If you choose to write one blurb per week for a year, you can generate continuous exposure on over 50 different books, websites and profiles. It is a great promotional tool for authors seeking long-term promotion. Putting a spotlight on your name will increase your visibility to readers. Sustaining exposure over a long period of time for one work will lead prospective readers to all future works. "

The idea that you should pay for a bunch of blurbs from people no one has heard of as a promotional strategy for your book is bad enough--but the idea that blurbing itself is a promotional strategy, because you can stick your book title on other authors' books, is even worse.

Blurbings.com is the brainchild of Emily Maroutian and Jenna Peak of The Writers Mafia, a writers' organization/website that engages in a number of different projects, including publishing.

44 comments:

Angie said...

Blurbings definitely sounds like just another scam site.

Even when they're legit, though, blurbs don't influence me much, if at all, to buy a book. In case anyone's collecting opinions -- if I don't know the author, or if I'm only lukewarm about their work, I want two things. First, I want a short summary (which is what I've always heard referred to as a "blurb" before) on the back cover, and I want an excerpt on the inside facing page. If either of those slots, or worse both, are taken up by reviews and praise, whether by actual reviewers or other authors or whomever, I'm likely to put the book down. I don't care what someone else has to say in twenty-five words or less; I want to know what the book is about.

Sticking review copy elsewhere is mildly annoying, but I can just ignore it so long as the summary and excerpt are there. If I want a review, I'll go look up a full review, where the reviewer has space to talk about what they liked and what they disliked and the why of it all.

Angie

Victoria Strauss said...

Not a scam, I don't think. Just spectacularly ill-advised.

Angie said...

Perhaps. I just have a hard time imagining someone who's in any way familiar with the business imagining that this is really any sort of a good idea from the writers' point of view. Considering what they're charging for all this, it's clear who's going to be benefitting.

I suppose it's not a scam, in that people will be getting exactly what was promised for their money. [wry smile] But one could say the same about, say, PublishAmerica. It's all still extremely misleading, at the very least.

Angie

Pam Halter said...

I think maybe an author who has some confirmed endorsements from well known authors on her proposal would cause an editor to notice and maybe not pass it over without at least reading through it.

Is that right?

Victoria Strauss said...

I think maybe an author who has some confirmed endorsements from well known authors on her proposal would cause an editor to notice and maybe not pass it over without at least reading through it.

For nonfiction, I can see that happening, especially with endorsements from known experts in the field. Nonfiction is all about platform, and endorsements are part of that.

But for fiction...not so much. Blurbs are meant to appeal to readers--the fact that Big Name Author X said something nice about your unpublished manuscript doesn't have much bearing on whether the ms. will appeal to the editor. At any rate, obtaining blurbs prior to a publishing contract is not typical practice with fiction manuscripts.

Pam Halter said...

That makes sense. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

You may not read the blurbs off of books, but I certainly do and I find them useful. So do the rest of my self published friends searching for blurbs as we speak.

In fact, I have been looking for something like this for my self-published book. Thank you. I am now going to put my work on Blurbings.com!

Jason said...

What's the big deal? Authors that want blurbs can get blurbs from them and if they don't want or like blurbs then they don't have to. What's so "beware" about this story? If they deliver what you pay for then it's not a scam. So who cares?

Anonymous said...

Ooh, yeah, Anonymous and Jason! You rush right over and do that, because it's obvious to all of us that you are in no way affiliated with the site! No, not you!

BuffySquirrel said...

So the authors pay for the blurbs and the blurbers pay to write them?

Win win!

Jason said...

Oh I see, so if I don't agree with you, I must be the enemy. How closed-minded and shallow.

I can turn that same thing around and say I know its you posting as annon.

Lame.

Jason said...

Oh and I highly doubt the people at blurbings are dying to read your lame ass blog. They probably have better things to do then blog about lame ass material. Who the fuck cares about blurbings? That was my point. You're using scare tactics to get authors to read your blog. You're just as lame.

Victoria Strauss said...

I vill tair-rify you vith my eeevul shcare tacticsss. I vill shcare you so much zat you vill sink your name iss Jason! I vill scare you so much zat you vill haff...to...read...my...BLOG! Zen you vill be ass lame ass me!

Bwa-ha-ha. I am EEEVUL! Buy my booksss!

Jason said...

I sent the url for this blog to Blurbings. I'm sure they'll have some interesting things to say about your article.

Roman J. Martel said...

The whole idea of paying for blurbs seems a bit strange to me. I'm new to the publishing world, but from what I've heard, the author has a better chance of actually networking with other authors in his or her genre and obtaining blurbs via networking.
Of course this requires some work on the author's part. I can see how a service like this is attractive, but at the same time I can't imagine how a genre author would be able to find useful blurbs from it.

Angie said...

Jason -- LOL! I'm sure the Blurbings folks (assuming they're not already aware) will if anything be rather dismayed at having their scheme outed on Writer Beware. Whether they're scammers or just ignorant, it's never a good thing to have an industry watchdog point their finger at you and shake their head.

It'll be interesting to see whether they slink away, try to ignore it, or come bluster.

Angie, making popcorn

Megan said...

Well, this post has sure gotten insteresting. But, no dis-respect to any of you, I don't think it's a scam or a scheme even.
I've checked out the site and there are blurbs posted on the books. They are giving exactly what they said they would. Plus I really like the idea of digitizing galleys.
I also noticed that it is free to write the blurbs.
(I'm probably going to get accused of being affiliated with the site now as well, which I'm not... but oh well.)

Megan said...

Sorry, one more thing... they don't just provide blurbs.. it appears they also create eBooks that are different than pdf's.

That didn't seem like a scam or scheme either... just saying...

Victoria Strauss said...

For the second time: I don't think Blurbings is a scam. What I think it is, is a waste of money.

Yes, writers get what they pay for: blurbs from people as obscure as themselves. My point is that blurbs like this are completely pointless. Even if you have 50 of them on your book cover, no one is going to care. Plastering your book with blurbs from unknown writers is equivalent to posting Amazon reader reviews on your website.

Is getting blurbs from unknown people a bad thing? No. There's no reason whatever to do it, but it's not bad--as long as the blurbs are free. Paying for blurbs from unknown people, though--that's a whole 'nother ball of wax. I cannot think of one single reason to spend one single penny on it. Inexperienced writers may not know that, though--which is why I wrote this post.

Roman said,

...from what I've heard, the author has a better chance of actually networking with other authors in his or her genre and obtaining blurbs via networking.

This is absolutely true. I've gotten blurbs from well-known authors that way. But the main reason I've gotten blurbs from writers whose names you would recognize if you wrote or read in my genre is because my publisher sent out my manuscript many months before it was published.

By the way, about those ebooks Blurbings creates...if your publisher holds your electronic rights, that's a rights violation.

Angie said...

Just as a data point, when I say "scam" in this context, I mean taking advantage of the ignorance of baby writers, not promising something and then not delivering. The only question in my mind is whether the Blurbings people honestly know that the service they're offering (and charging money for) is worthless.

Angie

Anonymous said...

"an author who has ...confirmed endorsements from well known authors"

That's what I did for my latest book. It was written on spec and part of a series, but I had NO guarantee of an automatic sale to my publisher. Things are tight these days. My agent gave me fair warning!

I e-mailed half a dozen writers in my genre, asked if they might have time to write a blurb, and was delighted that most said yes.

At the office supply I printed a coil-bound double-column magazine format version of the book, put on a card stock cover with a "This copy especially for..." put in the writer's name, autographed it, and included with a big thank you.

It cost a bit (about 14 bucks with the postage), but it struck me as being less cheesy than an e-copy!

I've had e-copies sent to me, and they sit unread in my mailbox.

Now I don't know if blurbs from major names in my genre helped sell the book to my editor, but you can bet they will printed on the cover when it comes out next year.

But to support Ms Strauss's point--my quotes came from known Names. They have more weight than the average Net surfer who likes to read.

Blurbings-dot-com may find a market, but there's no question it should be filed in the "another way for a writer to waste money" drawer.

Yog's Law Rules.

Etiquette Bitch said...

maybe you've come across this one already, but authoronestop dot com seems pointless to me, too. she offers to "represent" you to agents + make connections; it seems to me authors are capable of approaching agents (and other industry-related activities) on their own.

Emily Maroutian said...

Dear Victoria,

It seems as if you are not a fan of blurbs period. In which case I see why you disapprove of our company and/or services.

Blurbings.com was not created for big industry authors or authors, like yourself, who don't like blurbs. Blurbings was created to help self-published authors and small presses receive blurbs for their work. It was created to shorten the process and make it cheaper.

We just officially launched on July 1st so we are a fairly new company. However, we are working to provide the best service we can offer. We are always open to comments, suggestions and questions from everyone. We have excellent customer service and have had no complaints so far. If anyone here has any complaints or concerns, you can use the contact box on blurbings.com or you can e-mail me personally at west[at]writersmafia.org.

If anyone here feels as if our service is pointless then don’t use it. It’s as simple as that. We don’t expect everyone to need or want our services. I wouldn’t go to a store and buy a product I don’t want or need and I don’t expect you to either.

I’m unsure as to why some of the comments were full blown attacks. It seems as if we are being unfairly attacked by writers who have not used our services. As writers ourselves, we know full well (some from personal experiences) about poetry.com and PublisherAmerica and all of those other fraud sites that take your money and offer your nothing or little. We don’t promise what we can’t deliver and if for some reason we can’t deliver, we offer refunds.

Commentators please don’t attack our company without proof of any wrong-doing because making false accusations is defamation and illegal.

Jane Smith said...

Emily, I didn't notice Victoria attacking you: what she did do was to point out that the service you offer is not worth much.

Blurbs are used to sell books. They're an endorsement: a statement by someone that the book is good, and worth buying. Now, if that someone is known to the idle book-browser, either personally or by reputation, and they're generally seen as up-front, honest and true then their opinion will be valued, and it might just persuade the idle browser to pick up that book and buy it.

If, however, the blurb is written by an unknown, then there's little value attached to their opinion. Further, if the blurb serves to plug the blurber's own book too, then that's plain tacky.

Rather than objecting to well-informed people forming educated opinions, perhaps you could show that your service has resulted in a reasonable increase in sales for the writers that have employed it. If you can't demonstrate that, then perhaps Victoria has, once again, got a point.

Jill Elaine Hughes said...

A blurb by an unknown author on a self-published book is useless from a marketing perspective. But as we have seen on these comments, there are plenty of gullible people out there willing to pony up bucks for something useless.

Pathetic.

Victoria Strauss said...

Emily, thanks for your comment.

I'm not sure what I said to give you the idea that I'm not a fan of blurbs. That's not so at all. Blurbs are an important component of book marketing, and as such, I'm all for them.

You said,

Blurbings was created to help self-published authors and small presses receive blurbs for their work. It was created to shorten the process and make it cheaper.

See, it's the cheaper part I have a problem with. Or more accurately, the notion of paying for blurbs at all. Blurbs are not something you buy. Yes, there can be some expense associated with the getting of blurbs, if the publisher or the author chooses to mail a paper manuscript or galley. But that's a targeted marketing expenditure that will hopefully yield a desirable result--not at all the same thing as buying a set-fee service whose results not only can't be known in advance, but are unlikely to yield anything worthwhile.

And that, I think, is the root of the differing perspectives here: Burbings owners and users believe that blurbs are worthwhile in and of themselves, regardless of who gives them--whereas those of us with a bit more industry experience know that the worth of blurbs is entirely dependent on the identity of the blurber.

BuffySquirrel said...

Last I heard, defamation was still a civil matter.

It strikes me that at the root of this 'service' is the assumption that self-published writers are so used to paying for things that they won't mind paying for blurbs--in fact, they probably expect to.

Heather B. Moore said...

I might pay for a blurb from Harlen Coben. LOL. Since I write historical fiction I try to get "experts" or scholars to blurb my books. I've often thought that some of the national reviews we see are part of a good ole boys club. The books are so highly praised, then I buy them and then . . . well, some I've tossed in the trash. This just takes it to a whole new level. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

Give a blurb to get a blurb!


Dear John Grisham,

I M a 15 yo student who wants 2 blurb ur novel so I cn help yr sales.

In turn wuld u plse do 1 blrb 4 MY new Authrhse novel?? Its rlly gud, even my mom thinks so an she nevr reeds!!!

PS I need a movie deel to pay 4 college, plse send me Steven Speeelburks addy?

Tnk u! XOXO yr BFF,

C.D. Kid

The Self-Publishing Review said...

This seems to be yet another web-based "service" that there's no real need for, started by people who don't really understand the publishing business--at least, not the commercial, make-a-living-by-being-a-writer side of it.

As Victoria said, not a scam, just spectacularly ill-informed.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Re: Blurbs and their uses

I DO pay attention to Blurbs...

If Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett Blurbs something by an author I don't know, I'll often give it a go...

On the otherhand, if an author I DETEST blurbs something, i'll pass....

And if the blurbs come from no-names, I usually assume noone actually had anything good to say about the book and pass......

So, I'd have to side with Victoria on this one-- unless your Blurb is a big name, it probably doesn't help...

AND a big name blurb may hurt you with readers that don't like that author...

But I see blurbs as a way of providing more infor to the bookbuyer on the fence. If the plot is intriguing, the first page or two is well-written AND the blurbs are from good authors.... then it tells buyers the book is worth the money.

(These things, and trusted blogs, are how I got turned on to Naomi Novik's books, btw....)

Anonymous said...

I believe George RR Martin has said that getting a blurb for A Game of Thrones from Robert Jordan helped no end, but I can't remember where I read it. Sorry.

Joe.

BuffySquirrel said...

I don't pay much attention to blurbs--even to the point of trying really hard to ignore ones from people I'd rather not share anything with. Just because I like (or dislike) an author's work doesn't mean I'll like (or dislike) a book they like.

Taste doesn't work like that.

uclangel422 said...

I think that you are really missing the point as to what this company is about and about the future of publishing. There is a growing trend towards online ebooks and viral marketing. This site is a tool for viral marketing of your book and a way to discover other books in the process. I think the way people are used to reading books are changing. I personally read the reviews of people on Amazon before purchasing a book and that review is more valuable to me than a publisher telling me that Dan Brown liked a book. The word of the people is always going to be more valuable to me and to those of my younger generation than those of a critic. And to those who think that blurbs from real authors on the covers in your Barnes and Noble are truly legit, who is being naive?

Victoria Strauss said...

uclangel422, I think you're the one who's missing the point, but so be it. Your comment demonstrates exactly why sites like Blurbings will probably succeed.

Anonymous said...

In response:

http://writersmafia.org/writingwrongs/archives/105

Conni said...

I'm with Deirdre on this - if an author I like says something good about a book, I'll at least pick it up off the shelf and flip through it. And if one I dislike or find mediocre loves it, I'll be less likely to pick it up.

Victoria Strauss said...

The Blurbings folks have responded to what they describe as "the debate."

At first I rolled my eyes at the idea of a debate, not just because there really is no debate if you have more than three brain cells, but because as far as I knew I was the only blogger paying them any sort of attention. However, the links on their media page indicate that in the past few days they've gotten some (mostly negative) blog attention, as a result of an essay in the New York Times that uses Blurbings as a jumping-off point for a general (and very cynical) discussion of blurbs.

Angie said...

It sounds to me like they're still not getting it; they're arguing with someone else out there, because they're clearly not paying any attention to what anyone here is saying.

If we say that a blurb from a random unknown person is useless, they respond that some people don't think blurbs are valuable and their market is with those who do. Umm, what? They don't want to engage the actual objections, so they're setting up their own straw man and having at it with flaming arrows.

I still don't know if their misunderstanding is wilfull or truly ignorant, but whichever, the argument certainly isn't doing them any good in my view.

Angie

Jane said...

Victoria has had her say.

Blurblings have made their response.

The writer can draw their own conclusions.

'Nuff said.

tai-meyer said...

Neil Gaimen has mentioned that blurbing is a time issue: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2001/04/american-gods-blog-post-36.html

John Scalzi specifically states he'll only accept blurb requests from agents & not authors: http://scalzi.com/whatever/?page_id=85

Am I to believe, then, that they(or other professional authors - or professionals of any field) really have the time to randomly cruise & use a service like Blurbings? Especially to blurb unknown authors?

This brings up a few more questions:

As an author, do I want to market my book with a blurb by a Hugo & Campbell-award winning author or by Jawn-D'oh-Internetz?

Am I going to put my work on a website, hoping that a known author or top professional will magically find & blurb me? Or, am I (& my agent) going to do some work, call in favors, and follow the rules to solicit blurbs from known authors?

As a reader, who am I going to care about as a blurber? Who's going to influence me to part with my money?

Do I think Blurbings is a scam? No. But I put it in the category of "Lose 30 pounds in five days": Knowledge & research shows that it's not going to yield the results I am seeking.

Promotional Pens said...

I applaud Ms. Strauss at the Writer Beware blog at Blogspot for speaking up on this issue. She makes all the same points that ran through my head, and the bottom line is CAUTION.

Anonymous said...

I think blurbings.com is a great idea. And, 20 bucks for 10 blurbs is dirt cheap. For some reason, when a small press uses a service like blurbings.com, it's viewed negatively. Don't some large publishing houses ask authors under their imprints to write blurbs for them? And don't agents occasionally ask for blurbs from authors they've agented? Some might consider that to be unethical in a quid pro quo sort of way, but no one makes a fuss over it.

Victoria Strauss said...

I am less than astonished to report that as of December 1, 2009, Blurbings.com is defunct.