RARA-AVIS: Re: Blurbs (Ignore That Sucking Sound)

From: Kevin Burton Smith (kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 12 Jun 2009

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    Dave Z. wrote:

    > Kevin, you've made it pretty damn clear in your recent posts that
    > the above (disappointment with blurbs for a book I really didn't
    > like) was meant for myself and Allan Guthrie, and I guess also Bill
    > Crider and Ed Gorman, who have all said positive things about The
    > Disassembled Man

    Calm down, Dave. We all know you're way tougher than me.

    In retrospect, most of the blurbs we're speaking of weren't particularly positive, after all. Re-reading them, they're surprisingly non-committal. "A bit special," "strong stuff" and "a shotgun blast of a novel" speak more to impact than quality.

    Which is why I joked that my less-than-favourable comments might also be boiled down to a positve-seeming blurb for Flexer's next book. And why I was curious about whether they were taken out of context or not. When they disappeared from the Amazon page -- and then reappeared without attribution, I thought maybe something was up. Fake blurbs, perhaps, or severely edited blurbs.

    I've enjoyed the comments posted on this list by you and Al about THE DISASSEMBLED MAN, even if I didn't like the book. Your actual comments, unlike the blurbs, were illuminating.

    The book's still not my cup of puke, but at least your comments put a little meat on the bones of the discussion. And I'd rather have someone honestly disagree with me rather than dishonestly suck up to me.

    > I can only speak for myself (but) we ...wanted to support both that
    > and a new writer from a tiny
    > press who was up against it and would be lucky to sell 200
    > copies. ... But let me ask you, what it the world did

    > you think any of was expecting in return from this new and virtually
    > unknown
    > writer?

    Competence? Skill? Talent? Editing?

    Do we really have to treat new novelists with kid gloves? If they're not going to be reviewed (or blurbed) honestly, why bother reviewing
    (or blurbing) them at all?

    And don't we at least owe all writers the respect to not review (or blurb) their books unless they've been read in their entirety?

    Or is that a privilege you feel should only be extended to non- successful writers? Does someone's success mean they're fair game for any and all pot shots from the peanut gallery? Even from people who admit they haven't even read the entire book?

    At what point in your career was it okay for someone to give a book of yours an honest review? Second book? Third? Or do you feel you've reached that point yet?

    Or does a writer's career go immediately from "handle with kid gloves" directly to "okay to trash without reading"?

    You seem to be under the impression that critics write for writers. Or possibly publishers. We don't -- we write for readers. Or at least I do. (Oh, and a small pay cheque.)

    But let's face it -- judging from his writing, I don't think Flexer is overly sensitive. And in fact, both he and his publisher seemed fine with my review, at least according to recent correspondence. "Brutal but honest. Thanks." was the gist of it.

    I can live with that.

    And it's a nice change from those writers who are still smarting from negative reviews from years ago.

    > And if any of
    > us were trying to play the quid pro quid blurb game don't you think
    > we could've
    > picked much higher profile authors???

    Or flip it around. What would be in it for a high profile author?

    > If you really want to show some balls why
    > don't you start looking at some of the clearly manufactured blurbs on
    > bestsellers?

    While I'm flattered that you want to see my balls, Dave, it's not really my job to clean up the circle jerk.

    I do my part, though -- I don't join in. I review. Any blurb you see from me (there are a few out there) is pulled from a review or an article or a longer piece of work or commentary.

    And I really don't care whether a blurb was from a successful writer or not -- only if it's honest or not. And whether it says something. Some blurbs are so wishy-washy it's hard to tell what they mean. A pointed, accurate, honest blurb from an unknown would impress me more than some vaguely-worded mealy-mouthed thumbs-up from some big shot. Or even a medium shot.

    It comes down to writing for me, I guess. Not the sig line.

    Speaking of which, does anyone know where Robert B. Parker actually said "Do you want a blurb or do you want me to read your book, you can't have both"? It's an oft-repeated quote, often batted around these lists, but where did the quote originate?

    Did he actually say it? And if so, in what context?

    I'm not saying he didn't say it. It sure sounds like him -- he does love to take the piss out of literary prima donnas and others who take themselves way too seriously.

    But then, who doesn't?

    Kevin Burton Smith Detectives, Bicycles and Rock'n'Roll www.kevinburtonsmith.com

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