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Blurbs: On Giving and Getting

I was thrilled yesterday to receive an advance blurb from Greg Bear on my novel (coming out in April from Pyr) Bright of the Sky:

“Kay Kenyon’s Bright of the Sky is her richest and most ambitious novel yet—fascinating, and best of all, there promises to be more to come.”

It’s a terrific quote, and it was doubly good of him to provide it, since he had to read the manuscript over the Christmas holidays. (The reference to “more to come” means it’s a series—more on that in upcoming blogs.) Greg is one of those authors who gives of himself generously—to the sf/f community as a whole and to individual writers. Just one example: When I was as yet an unknown writer and had not yet met Greg Bear, I held a picnic at my house for the local sf/f community. I invited him, thinking, well he’s probably too busy. But he showed up, with Astrid, and brought a bottle of wine. It floored me at the time, but since then I’ve learned that’s how Greg is.

I also have just received this from Louise Marley, author of “Airs Beneath the Moon,” (writing as Toby Bishop) and other works:

“Kay Kenyon has created a dark, colorful, richly-imagined world that works as both science fiction and fantasy, a classic space opera that recalls the novels of Dan Simmons. Titus Quinn bestrides Bright of the Sky in the great tradition of larger-than-life heroes, an engaging, romantic, unforgettable character. The stakes are high in this book, the characters memorable, the world complex and fascinating. A terrific story!”

Thanks, Louise. She read an early version and gave comments, quite helpful.

Blurb getting and blurb giving is a little dance that writers go through. There are different philosophies on it. One is that a writer should encourage other writers, and give a nice quote. Period. That’s probably the “do unto others” club. Other novelists believe that some honesty is in order. People in this group provide a blurb unless the work seems hopeless or objectionable. A tepid response might not be used (“A welcome addition to the sf fold”) but it avoids rejecting a fellow writer. Call this group the “damning with faint praise” club. Then there are those who take blurbs seriously. That is, it reflects on the blurb-giver, right? And you don’t want your readers to think you have no taste—or mislead people who think highly of you. In this case, you reserve your blurbs for books you can whole-heartedly endorse. For other books, to avoid giving outright offense, you tell the editor or author that you’ll try to fit in the read. Then if you don’t like the work, you can say you fell afoul of your own busy schedule. Call this the “high ground” club.

Don’t expect me to know which club Marley and Bear are in. I’m telling myself, surely the latter! Hey, you take what comfort you can in this business.

Another question on blurbs is, how do you get them? Usually, the editor is responsible. It gives some cushion between the suppliant (author of the blurb-needing-book) and the potential blurb-giver. It is a bit of an issue to ask an acquaintance for a blurb. They may not care for your novel, and then may feel awkward about not providing one. But it is done. I’ve done it. I’m wondering how other authors feel about this one. I tell myself that I don’t do it often, so at least I’m not being a notorious blurb-hound. I’d be interested to know if this practice is more despised than I’ve guessed.

It is a little different, I think, asking outright friends. You can ask! A little risk is ok in friendships; a few favors can be delivered. One way around this, though, is to ask a friend to read the novel early on and make suggestions. That way, they’ve had a chance to register their concerns. If you sense they are less than enthusiastic about this particular novel, you don’t ask them for a blurb.

Happy New Year, by the way. I hope you had decent holidays. And I hope that the dark of the year made soft footprints in your yard.


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