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Blurb Your Enthusiasm

November 22, 2009

A friend and I were jokingly discussing blurbing in the way aspiring novelists often do. We made a list of authors we wished would blurb our books and validate our impressive talents. We made the pact – you know the one made by cliques of writer friends with sharing the same level of unfamousness – that we would blurb each other’s stuff if one of us should happen to achieve more fame.

We made this pact because we are not “networking” type people. We don’t like to pound the flesh unless it involve chicken, shake & bake and a skillet. Ideally, our blurb pact would shield us from the kind of flaming extroversion required to effectively market one’s self.

While surfing I came across Rebecca Johnson’s Salon article on blurbing and found myself laughing as her fears echoed the kind of fears I someday hope to experience:

I made a list of the kind-of-famous writers I kind of know and went to work. As luck would have it, I spotted one that very week at a book party for a novelist held in a swanky gallery on the Upper East Side. My target was a midlevel, moderately successful novelist who wrote the kind of smart, sophisticated books I imagined my reader might enjoy. The daughter of a famous novelist herself, she had no idea what total obscurity looked like, but I’d known her vaguely for years and we shared at least one mutual friend. Fortified by a glass of white wine, I made my way toward her.

“Hi,” I said a little too brightly. Was it my imagination, or was she already moving away from me? After a few forced pleasantries, I brought up the book and asked if she might be willing to read it. The expression on her face — part horror, part sneer — was exactly what I would have expected had I released a large fart and asked what she thought of it.

American humorist Gelett Burgess is credited with coining the term in 1907 and here are his thoughts on the matter:

Blurb 1. A flamboyant advertisement; an inspired testimonial. 2. Fulsome praise; a sound like a publisher…On the “jacket” of the “latest” fiction, we find the blurb; abounding in agile adjectives and adverbs, attesting that this book is the “sensation of the year.”

The way it’s defined here, blurb sounds not unlike Sally Bowes, drinking too much and using far too many adjectives and adverbs.

Here’s my Blurb to English Guide working from the assumption that many authors have strict anti-blurbing policies:

“Tour De Force” – Too long; didn’t finish.

“Sparkling Prose” – Author is verbose and pretentious

“A ___(insert adjective) version of ____(insert another author)” – I didn’t like their shit either.

“A Carver-esque glimpse into modern romance” – Yet another novel about white people getting together and breaking up while the fucking is still a novelty (with apologies to Mr. Vonnegut)

“Evokes Baldwin…” – This is only the second black writer I’ve read so I’ll just compare them to the other black writer I know.

Let’s do one for Snarky!

“Snarky’s Machine’s novel Does This Gospel Choir Make Me Look Fat? dazzles the reader with sparkling prose evoking Baldwin with a Carveresque glimpse into modern romance.”

Damn, now I kind of want to write that novel!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 22, 2009 1:47 am

    I enjoy this post. Particularly the Cabaret/I Am A Camera reference.

    I just love Sally Bowles, okay? I CAN’T HELP IT. I felt you need to know.


  2. redlami permalink*
    November 22, 2009 10:31 am

    In your auto-blurb, don’t you mean “Snarky’s Machine’s tour de force?” That really made me laugh.

  3. November 22, 2009 11:16 am

    @Redlami: I debated tour de force but ultimately decided if my prose evoked Baldwin this would be understood.

    @Dorian: I am quite the fan of Liza and Michael “Logan’s Run” York’s performances in the film version. There was a point where I watched this film about once a day and peppered my casual conversations with too many adverbs.

  4. November 22, 2009 3:17 pm

    I need blurbs? Shit. I am so screwed.

  5. November 22, 2009 5:25 pm

    I’m an enormous fan of the 1998 Broadway cast recording of the musical, with Natasha Richardson as Sally & Alan Cumming as the EmCee.

    The book for the stage show is actually really tremendously different from the movie; it’s worth tracking down, if you haven’t read it.

    And I *still* pepper my speech with rather too many adverbs and other modifiers. It is, I suppose, something of a flaw.

  6. November 22, 2009 5:31 pm

    I love the 1998 cast recording. Alan Cumming is divine!!!

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