Books are expensive. To make because they use lots of paper. To sell because you have to put them in trucks and send them to stores and then have them get vacuumed up by Amazon to be resold.
So my question is why do they waste so much paper with 6 or 8 pages of over-the-top blurb quotes from newspapers and other reviewing entities?
Yes, I know this goes on all the time. But it really got to me recently when I was reading “The Accidental Tourist” by Anne Tyler. The blurbs were just hilariously bad. Please note for the record that I LIKE Anne Tyler. I have read four of her novels, and I have liked all four, although I also have definite favorites.
Here are some of the quotes … with some thoughts in response own:
“A beautiful, incandescent, heartbreaking, exhilarating book … One cannot reasonably expect fiction to be much better than this.”
Nobody uses the word “incandescent” expect in reviews. “”Incandescent” said Vincent Canby of the New York Times. “Incandescent” said Freddy Bloviator. And the blurb is full of qualifiers. Fiction can’t get “much” better. Other expectations would not be “reasonable.”
“Delightful … charming … full of surprises and wisdom. All of Tyler’s novels are wonderful; this is her best yet.”
Accidental Tourist was Tyler’s 10th novel. She has publicly said she does not think her first few attempts were very good. Doesn’t matter. Our critic rates all of them “wonderful.” Not real helpful.
“Without Anne Tyler American fiction would be an immeasurably bleaker place.”
Again, I like Tyler, but … this is ridiculous. Take one novelist out of the field, even if you limit it to those currently writing, and fiction nosedives into bleak? Silly.
“She is one of the finest women novelists publishing in America today. Her second greatest gift is tolerance. Her greatest is love …”
First there are no women novelists. Yes, this edition was published in 1985 but that’s no excuse. There are good novels and bad novels. Ditto for novelists. Women novelists? Can’t we get beyond that?
Also, in discussing her gifts they are kind of leaving out plot, character development, theme, point of view, dialogue, etc. Believe me, if asked what is Anne Tyler’s greatest gift as a novelist, I’m not going to have love in my top 10.
“Anne Tyler has slipped into the front ranks of American writers.”
Slipped? What did she do, cheat? Did she sneak in the back door? Did she steal Jonathan Franzen's typewriter?
The edition I bought was produced to capitalize on the movie. A page of photos and a page of credits were added, along with a spiffy medallion on the cover that notes “the dazzling movie event from Warner Bros.”
Again, more silliness. It’s a movie. Get over it. It’s not a “dazzling movie event.” And who cares what studio released it? Nobody says “Hey honey, which studio did ‘Titanic.’?” The only people who care about studios are the studios themselves and those who live within a 3-mile radius of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Of course Warner Bros. could have PAID for the medallion … and the extra pages. In which case, I guess, they can do whatever they want.
The cover of the book also notes that it was a New York Times #1 bestseller. I have always wondered what this means. How many books were sold? Nobody seems to know. Look up “Titanic” and you can find out how much money it brought in. Look up “Thriller” and you can get a number for album sales. Even TV has the Nielsen ratings that tell you how many people wasted their time watching a show.
Books? Pfftt! So I got curious. If no one knows how many books were sold how does the NYT know it’s a bestseller? So I looked it up. It is based in weekly sales reports obtained from selected samples of independent and chain bookstores and wholesalers throughout the United States. There you go. It is also easy to manipulate. There is a company near San Diego that you can hire to help you get on the NYT bestseller list. It involves paying them a lot of money and spending more of your money to buy your own book in an effort to inflate sales so that you can get on the bestseller list and create more sales that will help you pay off the marketing company and restore the cash you drained buying your own book.
So that’s how the system works. But somehow I get the feeling that if they cut the blurbs down to a single page … or eliminated them altogether ... good books would continue to sell. And if they are good then it doesn’t matter if they are on a list.