Blurb Your Enthusiasm: An A-Z of Literary Persuasion

Louise Willder


We overuse adjectives such as luminous, dazzling, incandescent, stunning, shimmering, sparkling, glittering—always the light references! Or there are what I like to call “the natural disaster adjectives:” devastating, searing, powerful, shattering, explosive, epic, electrifying…One wag on social media recently compiled a “glossary of terms” for book blurbs, including “Enchanting: there’s a dog in it. Heartwarming: a dog and a child. Moving: child dies. Heartrending: dog dies.” We laugh because we know it’s true…that these words act as a code of sorts.

            from Blurb Your Enthusiasm



When the Blurb is better than the Book

Earlier this year I read a bestseller that has been wildly hyped (“Pitch perfect!” “Thoroughly enjoyable, thought provoking”) and found myself appalled—by its purple prose, by its cardboard-thin characters and their clichéd dialogues, by its sheer implausibility (granted, it was a modern gothic horror novel, but still…) I re-read the blurbs that had enticed me to buy the book, thinking, Seriously? I suspect some of the reviewers had not actually read it.

There should be a truth-in-advertising clause for those who blurb a book, requiring a full disclosure; for example, “An amazing read!”—best friend since kindergarten. “An outstanding achievement!”— am repaying a blurb for my book which truly is outstanding. “Unputdownable!”—author’s husband who wishes to maintain matrimonial harmony and keep conjugal relations conjugaling. An author friend of Jeffrey Archer once squirmed around blurbing an Archer book he didn’t like with “Fans of Jeffrey Archer will not be disappointed.”

My suspicions were confirmed as I read Laura Willder’s entertaining insider’s account of the book marketing world. She herself has written book jacket copy for over 5000 books and admits there is an element of deceit involved as she launches into an informative and fun history of “the dark arts of marketing.” She looks at all aspects of marketing a book: finding the right title, the right cover art (“pocket-size billboards” for the book), the book’s design, and especially how it's represented to potential buyers, employing the familiar clichés of what she calls reviewese, “climbing aboard the merry-go-round of superlatives.”

Along the way, she notes how some writers have been effective at reaching their readerships (Dickens especially was ahead of his time at marketing his books.) It’s also a practical writing resource, demonstrating how words work, and sometimes don’t, and includes a hilarious offering of “fabulously bad blurbs.”

Fantasy writer D. W. Vogel compares well-written jacket copy to a burlesque show: It should entice and excite and create suspense in the buyer. “We should be left wondering, ‘What’s under that feather.’”

Finally, it’s all advertising, whether one is selling soap or the latest Stephen King thriller. The buyer wants to be beguiled and seduced by the flashy cover, by the title, by the effusive endorsement, complete with triple exclamation marks!!! Still, I long for the wit, style, and honesty of Groucho Marx after receiving a book from humorist S. J. Perelman: “From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”


This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (November 25, 2022.) Reprinted with permission.