Several months ago, the Line Editor From Hell (aka my friend and writing mentor, Martin McCaw) invited me to write a back cover blurb for his upcoming novel, The Low Road. This invitation created one of those “who, me?” reactions. I looked behind me to see if Stephen King had entered the room. But no! Martin was talking to me. I was so flattered I could barely say, “S-sure.”
What is the big deal, you might be thinking? A back cover blurb is just a sentence or two that succinctly describes how great the book between the covers is and how skillfully it’s written, right? Isn’t it pretty easy to put down fifty or so of just the right words, especially if you’re a writer? And why is it such an honor to be asked to write a blurb, anyway?
Whoa, skeptics, one question at a time!
In my opinion, the two most difficult assignments a writer can pursue are 1. developing a one-minute pitch for their own book and 2. writing a back cover blurb for someone else. Both of these involve compressing tens of thousands of words into a truthful golden nugget that will compel someone (whether publishing house editor or book store patron) to purchase a book. The one-minute pitch has an added twist: it is presented by the author to another person- -maybe in a scheduled pitch session that the author has been sweating over for months or maybe in a convention center elevator when the author has the good luck to share a ride between floors with the editor, publisher or literary agent of their dreams. Mercifully, blurb writing is a private act. The author can agonize for hours, polishing those fifty or so words, while shielded from the world (household cats excepted).
The words must be as perfect as humanly possible because the author’s name is attached to the blurb when it’s printed on the back of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books. When the opinion of S. D. Matley, author of Small-g City, is read by a prospective book buyer, I don’t want them to think, “S. D. Matley can’t even write two good sentences! I would never buy her book!” I also want the author who invited me to write the damn blurb to make a lot of sales.
Which brings me to another point. When Martin McCaw asked me to write a blurb for The Low Road (watch for it!) I’d already read and commented on his manuscript and knew that it was a beautifully crafted, compelling story. If there’s a code of ethics for writers, I’ll bet one standard is thou shalt not blurb unless thou truly likes the book. The back cover blurb is there to inform a potential buyer, not to mislead them. I’m 99.9% certain that I’d tactfully decline writing a blurb for a book I didn’t like.
On to the winner’s circle! I did write a back cover blurb for The Low Road (after re-reading the manuscript and taking notes about anything I thought might be useful in the blurb writing process). Martin liked the end result, and I hope my blurb will make the cut with his publisher when the book goes to print. If my blurb survives it will give my writing career a boost; the next best thing to having your name on your own book is having your name on a friend’s book.
Speaking of friends, if you read this before 3 PM PST on Friday, February 19, 2016, I hope you’ll tune in to KPTZ Radio Port Townsend 91.9 FM https://kptz.org/listen/. Phil Andrus is featuring Small-g City on his program, “Tossed Salad”: an interview with the author (that’s me) airs at 3:15 PM, followed by selected readings from Small-g City by actress Catherine McNabb.