Friday, October 23, 2009

Second guessing

I've been having an odd email exchange with someone. His replies seem to have an intangental relation to what I'm trying to convey. So, for example, I originally asked whether he would consider contributing a single paper to an academic journal that would form the basis of a forum where other people would then comment on the paper. He replied that he'd be delighted to put together a special issue consisting of several full papers. It was a couple of days until I replied as I was travelling, so I started by apologising for the delay and then explained that I wasn't looking for several papers but just a single one. His response was to say he was looking forward to my reply when I got the chance. I think he's just skimming the first line of my emails, guessing the rest and replying. It's kind of annoying as I have to start all of my responses by correcting his misreading.

Anyway, this has got me to think about backcover blurbs as I think the same phenomena might be happening with them. There have been a few books I've read recently where the blurb seems tangentally related to story the book tells or has fairly basic factual errors. My sense is that they have been written by someone who has at best skim read the book or wrote it after an editor tried to describe it to them after a few drinks down the pub. Some of the backcover blurbs for my academic books have been awful and I now insist on writing them. I guess what I'm wondering is, 1) who writes these blurbs and are they expected to have actually read the book? 2) do authors get to see them, and if so, why don't they get them altered?

4 comments:

Uriah Robinson said...

A very wise decision to write your own Rob.
I had some fiery feedback from a well known author when I mentioned that blurbers might possibly skim read a book and gave an example of one of her blurbs.
I don't think authors have the opportunity or authority to alter blurbs and sometimes a young author will suffer from a blurb that leads the reader to expect a different kind of book or a more exciting plot.

Bernadette in Australia said...

I don't read blurbs any more - or at least not until I've finished the book so I can have a chuckle. I found they were making no sense at all and were hindering my reading choices.

Kerrie said...

I've read blurbs that have actual story errors in them Rob. Makes you wonder who proofs them doesn't it? I have read others that are real spoilers and reveal at least half of the plot. Or ones that don't mention story hooks that I thought were important

Rob Kitchin said...

Given that the supposed importance of the blurb you'd have to wonder why they don't try and get it right. When I demanded that one of mine get altered so it that actually corresponded with the content I was told that it had been written to try and maximise sales. Fine, but one assumes that the person who bought the book was expecting the book itself to at least tangentally align to the backcover blurb. If it had been left as the publisher wanted the reader would have got something quite different.

The three things I insist on - I have a hand in cover design, I write the cover blurb or get to edit it, I do the index (you wouldn't believe how bad an index can be if left to someone who knows nothing about the topic). The only exception to this was the encyclopedia I edited - there was no way I was going to try and index a 5 million word tome!