One of the things you don’t (or I didn’t, anyway) particularly think about when you’re heading into a writing career is that at some point, if you’re successful, people are probably going to start asking you to consider blurbing their books.
This is awesome and alarming beyond belief. ZOMG! Somebody wants me to blurb their book! ZOMG! Somebody likes me that much! ZOMG! Somebody thinks what I’m writing would draw people into *their* books! ZOMG!
…zomg, what if I *hate* it? It’s perfectly horrible to have to tell someone that you’re sorry, but the book isn’t really your cup of tea. On the other hand, it’d be worse to give a positive blurb to something you didn’t like.
Sometimes the blurbing thing is very easy: you read a book by someone you already know, say, “Hey, I really liked this!” and they say, “Ooh, could that be turned into a blurb?” Generally the answer there is, “Sure!” Much of the time, though, it’s an editor or agent or even the writer herself contacting you to ask if you’d have the time and inclination to read a manuscript with an eye toward blurbing it. (And sometimes books just show up on the doorstep with no prior warning, with a letter from an editor saying, “Please give this a try!”)
But here’s a thing they don’t tell you about becoming a writer (though I think I’ve mentioned it before): writing professionally really cuts into your reading time. The very best of intentions for offering a blurb can go down the drain just because you’re writing your own book and haven’t got time or energy to try reading someone else’s. For me, this is compounded because–unsurprisingly, since I write urban fantasy–I’m most often asked to *blurb* urban fantasy…but it’s probably my least favorite sub-genre to read, because I’m writing so much of it. Reading it is like work, so I rarely get any escape from delving into an urban fantasy manuscript.
As a reader, I tend to expect that I’ll like a book. Unfortunately, as a writer, I’ve become vastly more picky about style, particularly when I’m reading urban fantasy. I’ve read whole manuscripts where I just could not get past sentence structure in an otherwise pretty good book (and I kept reading because I kept hoping I would stop *noticing* sentence structure–usually I do after three or four chapters, if the book grips me enough). I’ve read manuscripts where there’s some element of similarity between what I’m writing and what the other writer is doing, and have been unable to get past how I would do it to appreciate the story I’m actually reading. (This, by the way, is something to watch out for if you’re in a critique group, or editing someone’s manuscript. There’s a difference between not liking something stylistically and it not being good.) And I’ve read manuscripts where the idea pitched by the editor really appealed to me, but the implementation couldn’t get me past the third chapter.
The flip side of this, of course, are books where the implementation exceeds the wonderfully appealling idea (Laura Anne Gilman‘s FLESH & FIRE, for example), books where I get so caught up that I don’t mind that I’m reading urban fantasy (Mike Shevdon‘s SIXTY-ONE NAILS), and books where I finally get around to reading the manuscript too late and love it, so have to ask the editor to send me a copy of book two to blurb (Nichole Peeler‘s TEMPEST RISING). They’re the kinds of books that make you want to say “Yes! Yes! Yes!” to every blurb request that comes along, because the next book might be That Good.
That way, of course, lies madness. Every writer out there knows it, too, because we’ve all got books of our own to write. And that compounds the whole odd issue of *asking* for blurbs, because as a writer you become so very, very aware of how much you’re imposing. So it remains genuinely delightful when someone whose work you admire is willing to make the time to try one of your books. I think that’s probably one of the on-going neat things about this job, in fact, and some days it’s good to remember the neat bits, too.
(As you might guess, this post was prompted by the fact that this week I’ve been doing just that–asking other very busy writers if they have time and inclination to read something I’ve written, with an eye toward potentially offering a cover quote.)