Edit: Unofficially this is a Bookish Topic Tuesday post, even if it was posted on a Monday!
I did say I wanted to do a different post for Christmas Eve, but it has nothing to do with Christmas (though books are a great Christmas present, though it is a tad late now!). It has to do with the beginning of Chapter 17 of The Stone Key (by Isobelle Carmody). And more specifically what is on the blurb.
Now when I introduce the books I am reviewing for this blog, I talk about the cover, the title, the history, but I try to steer clear of the blurb. For a very good reason. If you look at the blurb of The Stone Key, it has an excerpt from the beginning of Chapter 17, where the Herders find Elspeth (the main antagonist) in the wooden locker. It is a big event. Elspeth has been captured by the Herders who are terrible, fanatical people. And it seems like there is no way out. After that it gives the overview of what the book contains, and there are events mentioned which don’t even happen yet! We are around a third through The Stone Key, but that is over 300 pages. And I think that basically spoiling this event, that happens so deep into the book, isn’t right. Which is why I try to avoid blurbs, because they give a lot away.
At the same time, they serve a tremendous purpose. Other than a blurb, all you have to go on about selecting a book is the title and the cover (though the author can also have some sway as to whether you read it or not). When you pick up the book, you can see the cover, and read the title. Having the right title is crucial, especially when on library or store shelves, because you can only see the title on the spine. The title needs to be appealing, otherwise people won’t pick up your book, and take a look at the cover. And following a look at the cover, comes a glance at the blurb. The titles don’t give much away about what happens in the book, and we don’t want to spend money on a book (or waste time with a book) when we know nothing about it. After all, what if we hate it? Though finding books you dislike is a journey in themselves, since you know what things you don’t like.
So blurbs are obviously important. They have to draw you in, and make you want to dive into the narrative written on the pages in your hands. And usually blurbs have a combination of three things. They can have a passage of the book, usually a important scene or a highly dramatic scene, an overview of what is going on, usually concerning with a broad summary of the plot for the first part of the story (they don’t want to give everything away), and finally they can have testimonials in the form of quotes from other authors or critics (they sometimes can be found inside, on the first few pages). Those testimonials also puzzle me, because how do authors get them? And when you see big names, did they get given the book, and then they decided to put their name on it? Or did they literally stumble across it and went out of their way to give a quote? Unlikely, but I’m sure it has happened.
I have always wondered who writes blurbs, which made me go to the source of information, Google. Is it authors? Editors? Publishers? Or some team of trained monkeys? Apparently it can be anyone (alright not the monkeys). Usually though, it is someone from the marketing department of the publishers. Now that makes sense, a blurb is a huge statement about a book, and marketing is about getting people to read the books, and a blurb is key. So of course blurbs are grandiose statements about the story, and whether they are factual or not, isn’t key. I’m sure there are some atrocious blurbs written by people who haven’t even read the books they are writing about. To me, it would make sense that the author writes the blurb, after all, they write the story, and know what not to give away. But clearly publishers trust marketing people more than authors when it comes to selling books. And I wonder if authors would even want to do such a thing. They are after all, condensing endless hours of work, into something that is a few hundred words long, if that. So they would have an immense time trying to decide what to write, or maybe they wouldn’t since they know it so well. But it seems to me, that authors really have a lot less say than I thought they had. I thought people just wrote a story, submitted it, it got edited, and then a cover appeared out of nowhere and it was on shelves. Clearly there is a lot more involved than I thought! (If someone knows a lot about the process, feel free to enlighten my on the intricacies)
But all of this gives rise to an important question. How much of the plot should you give away on a blurb? If you give away too much, then people will be satisfied just reading the blurb, and won’t bother with the hundreds of pages in the cover. And if you are too mysterious, or don’t have a blurb, then people have nothing really to go on other than the title, and as I have said, people aren’t willing to gamble with books too often (though sometimes going in completely unprepared is an amazing feeling).
And then there is another good question, is the blurb a spoiler? Clearly it is the barebones of the plot, but sometimes (just like on The Stone Key where I think a bit too much is revealed) it hints at things that clearly spoil. But even if you do know of these things, you don’t know the details, which are so important. Obviously sometimes you want to be shocked and surprised (and hopefully the blurb doesn’t ruin those too often), but with the broader outline, does it matter? I guess it only matters if you want to go in not knowing much about what is going to happen. But as humans, we don’t like walking into the unknown, we much prefer having an idea of where we are going. After all, isn’t it the journey that counts, and not the destination? But there are different levels of spoilers. Some are just hints at thing, and don’t ruin the experience in the slightest, but then there are some that are near unforgivable. But even then, it has to be pretty major to ruin the experience, and if it does, maybe it is you as a reader (or watcher) that is so hung up on the fact, that you are missing the journey (though I do understand the trauma and pain and ultimate sadness that spoilers can create).
Ultimately, I say, watch out for blurbs, they can be explosive, but after all, what else makes you just want to sit down and read from start to finish than a particularly shocking blurb? But don’t judge a book on its blurb, that’s what the cover is for.