by Patrick Appel
This is largely true:
The most prominent authors are inundated with such manuscripts, far more than they can ever read, especially if they hope to get on with their real job -- which is, of course, writing their own books. Many have adopted a blanket no-blurb policy, and most of these will at least occasionally wind up departing from that policy, usually for personal reasons. They might do it for a good friend or a former student, or as a favor to their editor or agent.
So when publishing people look at the lineup of testimonials on the back of a new hardcover, they don't see hints as to what the book they're holding might be like. Instead, they see evidence of who the author knows, the influence of his or her agent, and which MFA program in creative writing he or she attended. In other words, blurbs are a product of all the stuff people claim to hate about publishing: its cliquishness and insularity.
Stephen Fry's strategy:
I was having lunch with my literary agent yesterday and I said, mostly as a joke, that I had it in mind to blog a confession. I would publicly admit that I read fewer than one in twenty of the books to which I gave approving quotes for dust jackets and blurbs. My agent was shocked. Whether he was shocked that I might plug books I hadn’t read, or shocked that I could contemplate owning up to such a crime, I cannot be entirely sure.
I hasten to add that it isn’t true. The plan, as I told my agent, was to make this confession as a way of getting publishers off my back. It may sound ungracious, but I get asked so many times a week to read book and supply quotes for them that I’m getting a bit fed up. Not because I don’t like reading, nor because I don’t like being sent books, though mostly of course, I am sent proof copies rather than the finished article. No, what I’m fed up with (and it is my contention that I am SO not alone in this) is seeing my name on the fronts, backs and flaps of books saying things like “a beautifully paced, unforgettable thriller”, “a magnificent feat of imagination”, “a delicately realised and vividly felt journey through memory and desire”, etc etc. Yuckety, yuckety, yuck. Pukety, pukety puke.
(Hat tip: Ezra)