Burned by blurbs

As my reading habit has gotten serious in the last decade, I’ve gotten good at picking books. I don’t read that many blurbduds.

What helps me find the things I want?

Blurbs from other authors have become hugely important for me.

For example — Jim Butcher blurbed Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series. I hadn’t even read Butcher yet (I was late to that party by a few years) but I knew what sort of thing he wrote, so I picked hers up. I’ve been a fan ever since.

Only in my last few choices, blurbs have left me down.

Unnamed new book number 1 is blurbed by mystery writers. I’ve read some of their works. Others are in my TBR pile and some of the authors may be among people I’ve met. Their blurbs talk about tension, page-turning plot and anfantastic main character

Unnamed book number 2 is also blurbed by a mystery writer, this one among the NYT Bestseller several times over crowd. His opinion to me should be like a guaranteed deposit for success. This blurb too promises a gripping read.

And yet. In both cases, I’m finding myself wondering if the blurb-ers actually read the blurbee’s book. What I read and what they said about it don’t line up. At all.

For book number 1, I was on antibiotics and wanted to mainline cough syrup so I wasn’t sure my perspective was entirely clear. Stacie stepped in, started the book, and had the same reaction. The plot was forgettable. The main character was ordinary instead of being tortured or multi-faceted and I felt like the character was the hero because the author wanted him to be the hero. The twists were predictable. I finished the book; she didn’t. Not a page-turner.

For book number 2, I stuck with it because the premise is good and I was hoping it would turn around. But it never did. Even with less than 100 pages, I seriously contemplated walking away. I did notice the blurbs were for this author’s first book in this series, so I’m wondering if book 2 suffered from the sequel slump, but the author has written a number of other books, so that seems somewhat unlikely.

I’ve certainly heard that authors get asked for blurbs, sometimes in overwhelming numbers, and may only read a section (if any) of it before providing a blurb. I certainly understand that authors are readers too and what appeals to them may not appeal to me. But in these particular cases, the blurbs are disappointing.

What about you? What’s your reaction when the blurb doesn’t match your perception?

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7 thoughts on “Burned by blurbs

  1. A couple of things. I have a friend who, when he was a kid, wrote Groucho a really long letter and asked for a signed photo. Groucho actually wrote him back, by hand, and included a picture inscribed, “Dear Ed, Sorry, I never sign autographs. Groucho Marx”

    Since blurbs have betrayed you as trustworthy markers, for what do you now look? Or have you modulated your assessment of those assessments? I’m a film guy, and I used to be really good at seeing through the editing and music in a trailer to tell what a movie was likely really going to be like. It helped that someone was actually trying to get some kind of an idea across, and now that many trailers are mere strobing kaleidoscopes with flashframes from the film, I’ve lost that. We’ve also lost most of the kind of movie critics we can actually get to know and trust, or at least evaluate, probably a better comparison to the blurb. So what has this realization caused you to do?

  2. Bethany K. Warner says:

    Dunno. This just happened with the last two books I read, so I haven’t had time to totally reevaluate. I might suspect a period of reading things from authors I already know I like or that come from the personal recommendations of friends. I will not be using Goodreads reviews, that’s for sure.

  3. I prefer word of mouth when looking for new books. And I like series so if I can get recommendations for series, I’m set 🙂

  4. Interesting take, B. I almost always ignore the blurbs, having been burned before. Still, I, like you, rarely wind up reading a dud. I recently finished an advance that, while easy to finish, really stimulated my “mean” gene. I briefly considered rereading it with an eye toward pulling all of the howlers that a kind and caring editor could have avoided. Now, this well known journalist (but first – time novelist) will be made a laughingstock.

    I did allude obliquely to this writing disaster at my Riffle page. It is one of the few books on my recent list that did not get a recommendation. I won’t mention here, noting your apparent reluctance to name names, but if you can’t find it and want to, email me.

    Paraphrasing, here are 2 examples. “As she walked toward me, looking fabulous, I tried hard to appear nonplussed as she slid into the wooden banquet.” And this spelling- chotchkies.

  5. Oh, shoot. Meant to mention what a treat you are in for. Saw Daniel Suarez on your bookshelf here. Great read if you haven’t yet read it. Sequel is essential, too.

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