Judging a Book by Its Blurb
Last year, several friends asked if I would write a blurb for their forthcoming books. Nothing delights me more than knowing a friend has succeeded in getting a book of poems published. I enjoy sitting down and rereading poems I am often familiar with, have often critiqued and discussed. Now here they are—parts of a whole and the whole creates a different and richer meaning, one I must translate into clear, concise language. I must capture the essence of the collection and convince a potential buyer of the book to purchase and read it. It is a challenge and a pleasure.
But when I won The Ledge 2010 Chapbook Competition last year and was in the final stages of getting my manuscript ready for publication, I declined when the editor asked if I wanted blurbs on the back. I confess some of my decision came from chronic fear of being a wallflower—what if I ask and get turned down? But more of it came from wanting the book to be what it was without adornment. I didn’t want a glamorous headshot of me (some of these, I have noticed are taken of the poet twenty years ago) nor any blurbs attesting to my originality and skill, my intellect and surprising imagery, how alive I am to nature, or how mature and thought-provoking my poems are. Of course, all that is true, but I wanted the poems to speak for themselves.
I am not against blurbs. I am a compulsive back cover reader; it’s like being a voyeur—who is friends with whom, are there any celebrity endorsements here? But truthfully, I gain more from looking at a poem or two and making my own mental blurb about them. If they speak to me, capture my attention, make me think, I am likely to buy the book. There’s a good chance that the cover and title will lure me to make a purchase more than any blurb ever will.
My book looks a little naked without any blurbs on the back—like the first time you put on your bathing suit when summer comes—even if your body is in great shape, you still have that winter pallor. And someone picking it up and turning it over and seeing nothing but my bio on the back might think I have no friends willing to give testimonials to my greatness. It’s true that book without blurbs might appear a little suspect to some. But the book is a slender volume, and blurbs and photos would weigh it down. It has a beautiful cover, so “why gild the lily,” as my mother liked to say.