Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Buying Book Blurbs? Is That Ethical?

A remarkable debut novel that kept me up all night turning pages. I found this book so engrossing, compelling, and entertaining that I plan to immediately recommend it to all my friends." --- Famous Author of Bestselling Book

Blurbs. You’ve gotta have them on your book cover. At least that’s been the conventional wisdom. So how do you get blurbs? You—or your publisher—send your manuscript to other writers, who you hope will read it and write a great comment that you can put on your book cover.If you’re with a major publisher, your editor or agent will very likely be able to get blurbs for your book from other authors they represent. It’s an insiders’ quid-pro-quo thing.

But what if you’re a new and/or relatively unknown writer whose book is published by a small indie publisher or self-published? Can you send off your manuscript to authors you admire and get blurbs from them?

Not likely. Other authors are busy writing and promoting their own books. And before blurbing a book the author (hopefully) has to read it. Then they have to write the blurb. If they're not doing it as a favor to their publisher or agent or to help a friend or former student, what do they get out of it? Getting their name on your book cover won’t be much incentive given that you’re an unknown author.

Could you maybe offer to pay them for their trouble? Uh-oh! Remember how people feel about paying for reviews? This is probably even worse. Or maybe you could save potential blurbers some time by giving them a summary of your book and some suggestions of what might make a good blurb? An even more ethically-challenged solution (but one that some authors actually use).

Last summer a couple of enterprising young writers decided to throw a new service into the blurbing stew, with a website, blurbings.com that gives authors a different way to get blurbs.Here’s how it works. You—the blurb-seeker—put a digital copy of your manuscript on their site and purchase a seeker package for $20 to $30 depending on how many blurbs you want. Blurbers—other authors or experts in the area you’ve written about—download the a link to your book file, after which they have 20 days to read your book and another five days to write their blurb. Once blurbings.com approves the blurb, it is posted to your book’s profile page and you can use it on your book cover, website, and other publicity materials.

But wait. Isn’t this buying blurbs? If you use this service aren’t you paying people to praise your book? Not exactly. It turns out that the blurbers are other authors like you. In fact you can be one. But you won’t get paid. In fact the site seems to vary between “letting” you write blurbs for nothing or charging you 99 cents for each blurb you write. Why will blurbers work for nothing or even pay for the privilege? Publicity. You get your name, and the title of your book, on the cover of someone else’s book and in their promotional materials.

Ever since a New York Times article last August brought blurbings.com to the attention of the public, the site has been discussed and discounted in blogs and discussion groups as a scam operation where authors pay other authors to go into raptures over their books. The clear message is that ethical authors will turn up their noses and stay far away from such an unethical system.

To me this criticism looks like one more putdown of an innovative approach designed to help authors whose books are self-published or published by small indie publishers promote their books. I haven’t used the site, but after reading all their material, I can’t see anything nasty or unethical about it. If you sign up, all you are paying for is a match-up service. Like any matchmaking service, the service gets all the money from the participants’ fees. But the participants have an opportunity to get what they are seeking—and many of them probably are satisfied with what they get.

It’s not clear whether blurbs from people no one has heard of will help promote your book, but as the site’s founders point out, readers pay attention to customer reviews on Amazon written by unknown readers.In any case, the $19.95 seeker package that covers ten blurbs seems like a small investment to try out this service. I guess I can’t see the harm in trying it. Am I missing something here?