Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 24, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

DOUBLEPLUS BLURBISHNESS....You know how to tell when a book is good? Really doubleplusgood? When the paperback edition has not one, but two separate cover blurbs from Kevin Drum. The marketing folks for Geoffrey Nunberg's Talking Right, clearly possessed of unusually penetrating judgment, decided that the new softcover release should include blurbs from both my Mother Jones review and my end-of-the-year blog post which confirmed that, yes, I liked the book.

This seems a little less than completely kosher to me, but still: high marks all around for discerning taste. Next time, though, I want three blurbs.

Kevin Drum 1:23 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (14)

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Comments

Kevin,

What are the secrets of good blurb writing? Why don't you write a book about it?

Does blurb writing pay well?

Posted by: pj in jesusland on June 24, 2007 at 2:24 AM | PERMALINK

A little less than completely kosher is nothing like a little less than completely pregnant.

Posted by: jerry on June 24, 2007 at 2:26 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

How much do you get paid per blurb?

It came as a surprise to me to find that a lot of professors I know make extra money by reviewing books and charge to be quoted. I was never sure whether that should come under research, teaching or community service.

Posted by: Rick B on June 24, 2007 at 5:03 AM | PERMALINK

I guess this shows you have a great deal of confidence in your own opinion, Kevin. Myself, I'd get a little nervous if there were so few people who gave a book a good review that they used my reviews twice....

Posted by: jayackroyd on June 24, 2007 at 6:22 AM | PERMALINK

I have never heard of anyone charging for a blurb. However, like Kevin, I have been double-blurbed--actually, I think it was triple, once. I reviewed a friend's book and commented on it in a couple of places and he took blurbs from all of them. However, to disguise what he was doing, he didn't list my name, but only the publication in which the blurbs appeared.

Posted by: Bruce Bartlett on June 24, 2007 at 9:30 AM | PERMALINK

However, to disguise what he was doing, he didn't list my name, but only the publication in which the blurbs appeared.

Much better plan. Otherwise, as jayackroyd says, it looks like no one else read and liked the book.

Posted by: shortstop on June 24, 2007 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

You ought to demand that henceforth all posters to this blog address you as:

"Your twice-blurbable eminence, Kevin Drum"

Posted by: lampwick on June 24, 2007 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Of course. We should judge a book by its cover.

Posted by: ither on June 24, 2007 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Bruce: Yeah, that's what happened here too. One of the blurbs is by "Kevin Drum, Mother Jones," while the other is just by the "Washington Monthly." There's no way anyone would know they were written by the same person.

jayackroyd: Actually, what's weird is that they had tons of good blurbs to use. They really didn't need to use two from a single source.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on June 24, 2007 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

A little less than completely kosher is nothing like a little less than completely pregnant.
Posted by: jerry on June 24, 2007 at 2:26 AM |

Now, now. Let's not be protestant about it.

Posted by: ither on June 24, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

"What are the secrets of good blurb writing? Why don't you write a book about it?"

"Does blurb writing pay well?"

"I have never heard of anyone charging for a blurb."

There's considerable, albeit trivial (at least, if you don't work in publishing) terminological confusion here, which I'm afraid Kevin started. He didn't write a blurb (as the word is used on American mass market book publishing, at least). Therefore he's not in a position to write about how well it pays.

And I've heard of, and known, plenty of people charging for writing blurbs, and making a living at writing blurbs.

What Kevin wrote were reviews, from which quotes were taken, for use in cover copy. Copy, which is to say "words" or "text" for a book cover, be it a paperback or a hardcover's dustjacket, is also commonly known as a "blurb."

Quotes from reviews used in cover copy are not, however, "blurbs." They're quotes used in blurbs, and not blurbs themselves. Thus the confusion.

In point of fact, writing cover copy, aka "blurbs," can pay decently, depending on your skill and circumstance. At some publishing houses it's done by the editor, or the editor's assistant, as part of their salaried job. At many other houses, it's done by someone, usually a junior someone, in the publicity department, and okayed by the editor and a senior publicity person, and perhaps others, based on guidance from the book's editor, who sometimes selects some quotes, and who almost always is the one soliciting them. At yet other houses, or sometimes at the aforementioned publishing houses, it is sometimes or always done by a skilled freelancer, and otherwise as above.

But it's that last where someone can make sometimes little, sometimes decent, money writing blurbs: if they've a known professional at it. In point of fact, a number of writers, and out of work editors, do this, or have done it: usually at a fixed rate per book (a junior freelancer might be paid only $100 or $200 bucks; possibly even less, depending on the publisher and book and freelancer; a freelancer of excellent reputation might get significantly more, due to their skills and history).

(I've selected zillions of review quotes for cover copy, written a moderate amount of cover copy, and overseen the cover copy on hundreds of books, meself.)

Bottom line: blurbs aren't quotes, and quotes aren't blurbs, and confusing the two will confuse people, as witness this thread.

As for what quotes to use, one uses ones that one thinks will best sell the book. "Not kosher" would be editing a quote to change its meaning; where Kevin gets the idea that somehow using more than one quote from the same source is somehow wrong, I have no idea whatever. Wrong why, or how? I mean, if it doesn't sell the book as well as another choice of quote, that would be an inferior choice, obviously, but I don't see any moral aspect involved: so long as the quote is properly attributed, there's no deception involved whatever.

Posted by: Gary Farber on June 24, 2007 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

"One of the blurbs is by 'Kevin Drum, Mother Jones,' while the other is just by the 'Washington Monthly.' There's no way anyone would know they were written by the same person."

Ah, missed this. Clearly it's less informative to a reader than it could be, but as moral failings in advertising or publishing go, it strikes me, at least, as not near the top of my personal list of priority moral worries. I am, it appears, a person of fallen and low morals.

Posted by: Gary Farber on June 24, 2007 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

I'd also note that if the name "Kevin Drum" isn't identifiable to the reader, they're not likely to have even heard of the Washington Monthly, anyway, and vice versa.

Posted by: Gary Farber on June 24, 2007 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

A slashing, insightful, scroll-downer of a post, which no one with an interest in book marketing can afford to ignore!!

(I hadn't noticed the double-drumming before you pointed it out. My guess is that this somehow slipped through the promotional cracks at PublicAffairs. Still, if I were going to pick someone to quote twice, even inadvertantly...)

Posted by: geoff nunberg on June 25, 2007 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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