Monday, 30 May 2011

List | Top 5 Silly (but nevertheless common) Descriptors in Blurbs

We're told not to judge a book by its cover (well, we generally ignore it. But I'm informed the telling is the important part). But surely we have to judge books by their blurbs? In the spirit of the endeavour, here's my top five blurb irritants:

1. Comparisons to Tolkien
Every fantasy writer is compared to Tolkien in some way - or at least contrasted. Great as he was, fantasy has moved on, and a comparison to Tolkien isn't just cliched - but a little self-defeating: if you're looking for original worldbuilding, a comparison to the trend setter of fantasy probably isn't a good idea. Comparisons, on the other hand, don't have to be bad. If I ever see a book with, say, this:

"As upbeat and sympathetic as Thomas Covenant! At least half the laughs of Hardy! Less Cthulhu than Lovecraft!"

On the back, I'll read it. For sure.

2. 'Page-Turner'
What do I need to say? If a book isn't making me want to turn the next page, there's probably something wrong. Calling a book a page-turner isn't bad... It just gives a hint of being damned by faint praise.

3. Mentioning a Prophecy
This might just be me. (Well, I'm fairly sure it is me). Prophecies have been done well, but for me, if the book starts, ends, and is described by a prophecy, it's not a selling point. Starting a blurb with a prophecy gives me that impression!

4. Characterisation by Cliche
It's good that a blurb tries to get across a sense of character: after all, that's why we're reading the book. When limited space means that side characters are characterised solely by one/two-word stereotypes and cliches, it's my time to get wary. Especially 'hot-tempered'. No, I don't know why.

5. 'Book One of Seventeen'
There are authors who can pull this off. However, when a blurb starts by introducing the book as a rather lengthy prologue... A book should be a story on its own merits first, rather than using the sheer numerical scale of volumes to impress the reader with the sense of an epic. To give a good example, Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings might in turn be an introduction, but its blurb sets us up with characters and situation rather than scale.

Any pet peeves you've got? Comment below and tell me.


  1. I try and avoid read the blurbs! Too mnay of them contain spoilers or are just plain misleading. Don't ask me how I decide I want to read a book, I think my reading patterns are a bit erratic!

    I do regularly do surveys for book marketing people that concentrate on blurbs and cover designs. Hoping I make a small difference, but so many of them are dire!

  2. Well, I'd have to say the same for mine! Though largely I read on recommendation now, sometimes a blurb just catches my eye (say, the Metrozone books: 'You are now leaving the London Metrozone. Please do not leave your baggage unattended. Any nuclear weapons will be confiscated. Mind the gap.').

    You probably do make a difference - there's just a lot of dire to go round :P (Ancient evils, bah)

  3. When blurbs compare a book to an already published and even famous book (or more), I get concerned. One shouldn't have to compare their book to another possibly popular book just to get buyers. That troubles me because a book should stand on its own without comparison to others. Leave the comparing to the readers IF they want to compare a new book to old ones that might be similar.

  4. True, although I do sometimes find comparisons helpful in selecting a book that matches my tastes: while a comparison to Tolkien says nothing, saying the book's got a Sanderson-esque magic system is likely to interest me. When the comparison is extreme, though, or with a -very- popular author themselves, I generally think the same way.

  5. I never read book blurbs written by other authors or those that describe anything other than the basic plot. I like to know what the story's about before I read it but that's about it.

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