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Friday, March 14, 2014

Causing a Flap

Blurbs are wonderful things for a writer. If you can get a blurb from a known and respected author or a well-know review site it is even more wonderful.  Blurbs and cover art are usually two of the many things outside an author’s control.

Sometimes the person writing the blurb or designing the cover is like the person standing behind you in a line for movie tickets who has already seen the film. This person loudly tells a friend standing in line the plot, important scenes and, of course the ending.  As an author, I want you to read my book so the surprises, humor, key events and ending that I have worked so hard to create spring out at you just where and when I placed them.  A blurb can undo my hard work.

I am just beginning Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, which has a New York Times quote at the top of the front cover, “A fiendishly plotted mind game of a novel.”  That’s a blurb to write home about, but the structure of the first few chapter suggests to me that the author wanted to sneak up on her readers so they only gradually discover there are layers within layers of plot.  So congratulations Elizabeth for such an outstanding review and I’m sorry about the review too. A friend advised me not to read the end pages until after I finished the book because the end papers of one edition give away too much information.

For another example, a well-crafted thriller I read had a blurb on the front cover emphasizing that the heroine could not trust anyone.  Inside the book the author had created many shady characters out to get the heroine and one shining example of an honest friend.  Who do you think the villain was?  The so-called honest friend of course. As soon as that character appeared, I knew the character was the  mastermind hiding behind evil henchmen.  The blurb gave it away.

A friend of mine wrote a book carefully obscuring the identity of one of the characters.  The front cover art showed that character in a way that emphasized his real identity.  The cover gave it away.

Margaret Atwood has written about the “innocent anticipation” of a reader starting a new book.  Why should the cover, the blurbs or the end papers diminish the pleasure of reading? 

In the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that a reviewer of my Murder Manhattan Style sympathized with me about the cover art since authors rarely have control of the cover.  However, that book was one of those rare instances where the author (namely me) had a great deal of influence over the cover art.  I still think it’s great.

When I write reviews I am always leery of giving away plot elements and character identities that detract from the reader’s pleasure and undermine the writer’s skills.

I appreciate reviews that have “Spoiler Alert” in the heading so the reader knows what risk reading the review involves. 

What are your experiences with blurbs and cover art?


Jacqueline Seewald said...


Since I write mystery fiction as you do, I am concerned with reviews and blurbs on the back cover giving away too much too soon. And yes, it's happened to me a number of times.

E. B. Davis said...

I have no experience with blurbs or cover art. Well, writing blurbs for queries and such, I'm practicing a lot lately, Warren. I should be so lucky as to have a book published for which I try to get author's to praise my writing!
My beta readers gave varied reviews. But then, I don't think any of them were supernatural mystery readers. When I put it out to those who were, I got thumbs up. Something anyway.

Gloria Alden said...

Warren, I'm lucky that I have a working relationship with the graphic artist who designs my covers. She's my step-granddaughter. :-) I tell her what I want on the cover, she sends me what she's created and I suggest a few changes and have been quite happy with my cover.

About knowing in advance who the murderer is, last night I watched an episode of Rosemary and Thyme - it's only recently been shown on our PBS station - and I immediately knew who the bad guy was. He was too handsome and charming to be anything other than a cad and murderer in this case.

KM Rockwood said...

I'm fortunate in that the graphic artist who does my covers for Musa Publishing is very good and asks for input.

When the company first started (it is fairly new) they used a stylized type of cover which they have abandoned, but still use it for series if the author wants the continuity. I would have preferred not to use it, but since the first books do, we're continuing. They are all nighttime street scenes.

We went back and forth numerous times over the motorcyle on the cover of Buried Biker. We need a chopper. No, that's a touring bike. No, that's a trail bike. No, that's a "rice burner." Finally we got a mildly chpped bike, not the gorilla-handled one I envisioned, but a chopper non the less.

Tag lines and blurbs are a pain. I do have input on them, too, and my editor is sensitive to making sure we don't give away too much information.

Jim Jackson said...

I’ll be honest: I don’t read blurbs, because I don’t much believe them. It’s like reading advertising copy to determine whether or not I should buy something. That’s not to say I don’t want blurbs for my books because, hey, it’s good advertising.

Reviews are another critter altogether. I don’t want a plot summary; I want the review to tell me what about the work the reviewer liked and what she found lacking. Perhaps a comparison
to other authors regarding style or content.

If you are giving away the plot, I want a spoiler alert so I can enjoy the story as intended rather than knowing some particular thing will happen.

For Cabin Fever, I did manage to delete a paragraph of the back cover description because I thought it gave too much away.

~ Jim

carla said...

Cover art is so important. I worry about fellow writers who use art from friends or relatives. Often, those covers don't work and I'm sure they negatively impact sales. LET the professionals do it!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Warren, it's a real concern. I've been lucky so far. No one's blurbs have given anything away, and St. Martin's is great about giving me input and approval on the cover and jacket copy. Reviews are completely out of my control, so I try not to worry.

I know that, when I write a blurb for someone else's book, I try not to write anything that will spoil any key element of the work.

Sarah Henning said...

Right now I'm reading a book that makes me wonder just that. I won't say what it is but before I bought it I knew there was a killer plot twist. I'm a third of the way through and I keep guessing what it will be. It's sort of distracting me from being "current" in the story!