Claire King


Blurby be Kind (2)

Posted on: January 30th, 2015 by Claire - 15 Comments

In the Before Time, when my editor at Bloomsbury was sending The Night Rainbow proofs out to authors with little enthusiastic and hopeful notes, suggesting if they liked it they might consider saying something nice for the jacket, I wrote this post: Blurby be Kind (do have a read and then come back!)

The post talked about how I was feeling, which was anxious, mostly, and how I *would* behave in the future, should I be faced with the same request myself.

Three years on, and I am indeed getting quite a few requests to read novels, usually debuts, with a view to providing quotes for the book jacket or for PR releases.


And when I say quite a few, well, I have read more of these proofs in the last six months than I have read books from my (very tall) to-read pile, because they often come with deadlines whereas my own reading does not. Some have come direct from authors I know personally or on social media. Some have come from my editor and the remainder arrive from other publishers.

In some ways I’m absolutely delighted about this. It’s an opportunity to pay forward some of the kindness I received myself. (An actual author giving up their time to read my book – amazing). But in other ways it is a tricky thing to handle because however much you want to love a book, sometimes you just don’t. And that’s sad, especially when you know the effort and the hope that are bound up in that little proof.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and have come to this conclusion: I’ve been reading for pleasure for decades now, and I tend to know what I like. When I browse books I flick through the first pages and when I find a voice that is going to grab me and delight me I just know it straight away. When I listen to others making personal recommendations, in reviews, on blogs or on twitter, I tend to get a good sense of if a book is for me. That’s how I choose what to read. So I enjoy the books I’ve chosen for myself more often than not.

But with the hopeful books lining up for a bit of cheerleading, there’s none of that. My personal taste in books is not usually a factor, and so many of the books I am sent, just as with many of the books in a bookshop, are simply not my cup of tea, no matter how well written they are or how successful they will go on to be.

Still, when I read one of those books that nevertheless found its way into my hands I get such a sinking feeling. Because I want to be that cheerleader, I do. I carry on with those books long past the point I would normally – either as a reader or as an editor – because I want the magic to happen. But to be honest I already know it won’t. It’s like a blind date with a lovely person that you just don’t fancy. So if you know your book has been sent to me hoping for some blurb-love, please know that I have given it my best attentions, whatever the outcome. And if I don’t fall in love with it, well,  it’s not you, it’s me.

And by the way, isn’t PROOF a weird looking word?




15 Responses

  1. tu says:

    Interesting post. What happens when someone wants a blurb — does someone send you a proof copy and expect you to read it? Or is there some forewarning — e.g. do you have the option of someone emailing the first chapter so you can say yay or nay? (I don’t have a book to blurb, it’s OK!)

    • Claire says:

      There is usually an initial request (Please can I send you…), although sometimes books just randomly turn up in the post (sent via and forwarded from Bloomsbury). I say yes, unless I’m totally bogged down and there’s just no chance I am going to get to read it, or if it’s clearly not a genre I read. When requests come in from publishers it’s more removed, so I find it easier to put the book down when it’s clear it’s not my thing. But if I know the author then it’s much trickier.

      • tu says:

        Sounds similar to reviewing published books, e.g. when a friend gives you their book. I once promised to review a book from an author whose work I usually loved, only to find their new work deviated from their norm and I hated it. I spent weeks hiding from my PC. Head between knees. I suppose it’s like all these things; when you find one you truly love, it’s all worth it?

        • Claire says:

          Yes, exactly like reviewing published books. Funnily enough I’m happy giving constructive criticism, in the workplace or editorially, but when you are reading someone’s novel there’s no room for that. The choice is love it, or don’t love it. Which is quite brutal, given we all know how much goes into getting published.

        • Claire says:

          Oh yes, and when one turns up that you truly love it’s like “HALLELUJAH!” and it’s such a delight to be able to big it up.

  2. Rachael Dunlop says:

    I’d be inclined NOT to ask any of the lovely authors I know through social media for that very reason. I don’t want them to feel obliged, or under pressure to say they like it if they don’t, or make them feel bad if they decline. Likewise, there are plenty of authors online whom I really like and am (I hope) supportive of, but I haven’t read their books because they write in genres that just don’t float my boat. It’s one of the new weirdness of the internet – we get to know authors first, books second.

    Like other new situations thrown up by social media, I’m sure there will be a period of head-scratching before a new etiquette establishes itself.

    • Claire says:

      Rachael, I think most authors who know you wouldn’t want you to feel like that. I’d want you to think that you could send it, on the understanding that if it wasn’t my thing, we’d have a slightly uncomfortable conversation, and then carry on talking about Creme Eggs and Tena like normal.
      (I have actually been unfollowed by authors after that conversation which sucks).
      Of course if you have an editor or publicist to send it, then that puts a lovely distance between the book and the friendship.
      Perhaps the first rule of Blurb club should be that nobody talks about Blurb Club.

      • Rachael Dunlop says:

        Most of the authors I know are indeed mature and experienced enough to separate our opinions on each others’ work from our love of Creme Eggs and refusal to be Tena-deniers. For which I am grateful.

  3. Cesca says:

    Hi Claire, Great piece. I totally understand re: the pre-selecting. I had to review loads for Novelicious a while back and some books were exhausting as they were simply not to my taste (sorry Herioc Fantasy writers but I TRIED). Since then have started to veer towards the things that I know I might enjoy from the blurb, recommendations etc as limited time to read. I do pick different things up but sometimes I also have to stop when it’s not doing it for me. C X

  4. Claire says:

    Hi Cesca,
    Do you still do the reviews? I actually deleted all my goodreads reviews and book ratings from the site, because I started to actually know/interact with a lot of the authors on twitter and in real life, and I just didn’t want my thoughts on their books up on the internet. It’s so easy to be taken out of context. At least that’s what I worry about.

  5. Like you, Claire, I used to be an ‘asker’ only. Now I am both asker and asked. Politeness rules both, but if you don’t like the book, there should be no guilt either way. This kind of endorsement is a business matter and should be treated as such, i.e. professionally.

    • Claire says:

      Yes, you definitely need to be professional about it. It’s much more subjective than most business judgements though, and I think it’s that that bothers me (as the asked). Of course as the asker I totally understand!

  6. Cesca says:

    No I didn’t…..

    GOOD POINT!! *clicks on site*

    C x

  7. Annecdotist says:

    As one who might be on the brink of contributing to this problem, I found this an extremely useful post and discussion. It’s a complex area, even writing reviews of novels by people I don’t know, I do worry about voicing opinions they might not like, but it would be much worse to be dishonest. And I’m totally daunted by the thought of stepping out with my own begging bowl. But it’s great to see the etiquette being discussed and think that we can at least aim to separate opinions about the person from opinions about their work.
    I do wonder if one of the difficulties with blurb endorsements (and even with some review systems where people think only 5* will do) is that they seem to require hyperbolic raving about a book, when lots of books are simply good enough.

    • Claire says:

      Yes that’s right, I think that for an endorsement you are meant to have loved it (or say as much, which for me is the same thing) and even when we think of books we have chosen for ourselves, few really touch us in the way that evokes that kind of enthusiasm. So there’s going to be at least that ratio in books sent for endorsements. Publicists, editors and I think hopeful authors all realise that. There’s some debate about how useful jacket endorsements are anyway, and I don’t have the answer to that. Try not to be daunted! xx

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