The Purpose of Blurbs

boneswithblurbs

Illustration by Pat R. Steiner, design by Michael Bailey

When I was a kid, plucking novels from my mother’s bookshelf–first John Grisham, then Stephen King, then others–they were always paperbacks, almost all of them from the 1980s (this would’ve been the early to mid 1990s that the plucking occurred, you understand).

After reading the back cover copy, I’d open the front cover and always-always-always, there’d be blurbs.  From Publisher’s Weekly, and New York Times, and the Washington Post (being a Pittsburgh kid, I’d always grin to see the Post-Gazette and feel a little sad when it was only the Tribune Review).  All of them effusive in praise.  These would fill a page, sometimes two, sometimes longer (I think it was my mother’s crumbling copy of King’s IT that had four pages of blurbs), the first line in all-caps, all of the blurbs these punchy, active verbs of the awesomeness of the book I’m about to read.

It was from blurbs, and not journalism classes later, that I learned how to use ellipses, for example.

It was also from blurbs, when the following book failed to live up to the copy blasted on those browning front pages, the differences of perspective.  No, Los Angeles Times, this book wasn’t an EDGE-OF-YOUR-SEAT THRILL RIDE.

When the manuscript for Bones Are Made to be Broken was taking shape this past summer, my editor, Michael Bailey and I began to think of who to ask to read the book and, if they liked it, would be willing to write a blurb.  For me, I thought of those front pages of my mother’s old paperbacks–the pages yellowing, the edges soft and crumbly–and how effusive they were, and I got to work with Michael, e-mailing colleagues and people we respected, asking who’d be interested and, if interested, who would enjoy the book enough to have their name staked to it.

It was a weird experience but, then again, blurbs are weird themselves.  People always tell you to not judge a book by its cover but, let’s be honest–we do.  We do constantly.  I remember reading somewhere an editor saying that, in a book store, if you get a person to pick a book off the shelf, to look at it, to handle it, to maybe flip through the pages a little, you’re halfway to making a sale right there (hence, my constant sadness at the rise of online-only bookstores and the soft-death of brick-and-mortar).

But, how does that process start?  With a good cover.

And on that cover?  A good blurb.

But, again, blurbs are weird.  Everyone seems to agree that blurbs work–but no one knows how much, really, as mentioned in this article on NPR. Why do they work, though?  Even less is known about that and, with that question, you have the question of trusting what the blurb says…or, as I said earlier, the difference of perspective.

Over on YouTube, Harlan Ellison has a channel (and, yes, I also laughed at the idea of this) and on it are his old commentaries done from the early days of the SyFy Channel.  One commentary deals with the honesty of blurbs, and the ubiquitousness (made-up word?  Ah, go for it–or, when this happens in class, I say “English’d”) of certain blurbers.

Going back to those old paperbacks, a ton of them were blurbed by Stephen King–to the extent that his name, even blared from the top of the Dan Simmons novel Summer of Night, kinda just faded into the background, blending in with the Chicago Tribune or Boston Globe or New York Daily News.  It began to lose the weight that, maybe, everyone hoped for it.

And then there were those instances when I strongly disagreed with the blurbs, made worse when the blurb I disagreed with was King’s.  For example, I would grow to like Bentley Little’s work–some of it, anyway–but I fucking hated his novel University.  And who’s blurb was at the top of the cover?  King, saying, “Absolutely the best…a master of the macabre.”

university

Ugh.

(Again, I’d grow to like Little’s other work, mostly his short stuff, and The Walking is an awesomely good novel, but some of his stuff?  Jesus Christ.)

But, on the other hand, when Stephen King not only blurbed Justin Cronin’s The Passage and then called in to Good Morning America when Cronin was on to give his endorsement on air, I snapped that hardcover up…and enjoyed the hell out of it.  I forgave him for the Bentley Little blurb.  (And, yes, I know it’s common practice to recycle blurbs, so that the blurb you’re reading may not be for the book your reading the blurb on…which is another problem altogether.)

All of which goes to say that blurbs are weird.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes they spark, sometimes they take off, but, hopefully at the very least they elicit a nod from someone who’s read a book and goes, “Yeah, that fits.”

So, anyway, over the past month, Michael and I have been fielding e-mails and messages from writers we/I respected, collecting the blurbs, geeking out and/or squee-ing when a particularly good one came through, and the quotes started to pile up.

It was weird, getting them.  I tend to take the Harlan route–blurbs are only given honestly and not out of some well-I’m-a-nice-person way, so when they started to come in, I breathed sighs of relief and got excited.  I mean, sure, 95% of the book contained stories that had already been sold, published, and appreciated, but those were one-offs.  Not to go too far down the neurotic rabbit hole, but what if a whole book of my stuff was a little bit…well, too much?  So, when blurbs started to come in, it was like getting early reviews and, thank Christ, the reviews were good.

So, for your edification, here’s what people are saying about Bones Are Made to be Broken, which will be out in mid-November, as well as my running commentary because god forbid I shut the fuck up for five minutes:

“In Bones Are Made to be Broken, the characters suffer and yearn as their beautifully wrought worlds shatter. Both universal and achingly personal, Anderson’s stories are moody, compelling, and drowning in wonder.” – Erinn Kemper

Like that?  Here’s another:

Bones Are Made to be Broken delivers chills, heartbreak, nail-biting suspense and horror. Paul Michael Anderson gives us a truly superb collection of deeply unnerving short stories.”–Jonathan Maberry, NY Times bestselling author of Patient Zero and Whistling Past the Graveyard

That one made my day.

“If your mantra is Bones Are Made to Be Broken, then you can expect suffering and guilt, death and destruction, dark destinies with little hope of survival. But in this powerful collection by Paul Michael Anderson there is also beauty and nostalgia, love and fulfillment, justice and heart. Nothing worth having ever comes easy, as these gothic narratives show us, in all of their horrifying glory.”—Richard Thomas, author of Breaker and Tribulations

You notice a theme beginning to emerge?

“Paul Michael Anderson writes like no other writer in dark fiction. His premises, plots, and story structure are unique. Every story in Bones Are Made to be Broken follows this pattern, and are intriguing and very good. Simply, he writes a Paul Michael Anderson story–the highest compliment any serious writer can hope to achieve. Highly recommended.” – Gene O’Neill, The Cal Wild Chronicles

I hope “a Paul Michael Anderson story” becomes a thing.

Bones Are Made to be Broken is a deftly told, beautifully written collection of horror and humanity. It’s obvious to me that Paul Michael Anderson has stared down the barrel of pain and come back to share these broken tales with us. This is a must-read collection.” – Mercedes M. Yardley, author of Pretty Little Dead Girls, Nameless, and Beautiful Sorrows

This one means a lot to me; I point out in the book’s introduction that I don’t write autobiography, but I pulled things from my own life–example: the apartment in the title novella was where my mother and I lived in 1991–to help me create a good sense of verisimilitude.  Also, Mercedes’s collection Beautiful Sorrows was fucking awesome.  Go buy it.

“Intense and emotionally crippling, Anderson’s stories are not for the faint of heart.” – Stephanie M. Wytovich, author of Brothel and The Eighth

Stephanie’s my sister from another mister; I had the honor of beta-reading and blurbing her last poetry collection, Brothel.

“What a pleasure to read these fresh and darksome tales! Anderson’s style is tensely exciting. His stories are never quite what you think they are going to be about and his endings resonate with fear. He gives us new horizons in horror that are futuristic and psychical. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but ‘Baby Grows a Conscience’ is simply brilliant! You’ll have to read them all. This collection is a treasure for any horror or dark SF fan’s library.”  –Marge Simon, Bram Stoker Award winner, VECTORS: A Week in the Death of a Planet

Trivia: Not my most-lauded, or most-recent piece, “Baby Grows a Conscience” is still my wife’s favorite story of mine.

“With notes of classic King, Anderson’s Bones Are Made To Be Brokenis filled with stories of the terrible things we see when we close our eyes. Anderson has a talent for rendering nightmares into words, and what he’s collected here are stories that creep inside and make a nest of your innards.” – Kristi DeMeester, author of Beneath

Both Kristi and I are parents, and reading this, I immediately thought of “All That You Leave Behind”, which deals heavily with that.

Bones Are Made to be Broken challenges the mind and punches the gut.” – Craig DiLouie, author of Suffer the Children

Craig’s quote has a nice bit of symmetry for me; it was on the strength of two blurbs on his novel, Suffer the Children, that pushed me over the edge to buying it.  My wife read it first, found it horrifying, and that made my need to read it a near-mania.  It was as gut-wrenching as my wife had said.  One of my students read it and then the book got passed around among my classes like contraband–“This is the book that terrified Anderson!” “Something terrified Anderson?” “Holy shit, dude!  this is messed up!”

The two blurbs?  They were by Jonathan Maberry and the guy below:

Bones Are Made to be Broken is a dark carnival of rigorous intelligence and compassion, the title novella alone of which is well worth the price of admission. But there’s not a weak sister in this generous bunch. These stories hurt the way only tough-minded character-driven stories can — the human element is never missing.  Anderson writes with a sure, steady hand, and I’ll be watching him closely from now on in.” – Jack Ketchum

Ads for Bones recently began playing on The Horror Show with Brian Keene, and Michael Bailey wrote copy that featured Ketchum’s quote.  On the first airing, Keene interjected about how good the blurb was.  Later, I got tweeted at by someone who’d heard the ad (I hope the dude also pre-ordered the book).

And that’s the goal–I hope–of good blurbs (and I got very, very blessed with some awesome blurbs by awesome writers): someone reads a blurb by someone they respect and they pick up the book.

I mean, hey, it worked for Craig DiLouie.

And, if any of those people above made Bones Are Made to be Broken seem interesting to you, you can pre-order the eBook/TPB or extra-fancy-expanded hardcover here.

 

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One thought on “The Purpose of Blurbs

  1. Pingback: Bones Are Made to be Broken is released!…Tomorrow! | The Nothing-Space

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