Bibliophile / Opinion / Reading / Writing

When Book Blurbs are Wrong and What that Means to Me

To a bibliophile like myself, there is nothing better than a new book. And what’s the first thing most of us will turn to, to ascertain if this is a book we’d be interested in? Well, after the cover itself has caught our eye and the title seems intriguing it’s likely to be the blurb. A blurb is a short text on the back of the book in the cases of paper backs and on the inside of the dust jacket in hard backs. Books that don’t have a blurb are rarely purchased by myself and any publishing house that thinks I am so easily lead that a series of positive reviews will encourage me to buy a book when I don’t even know the premise is sadly mistaken. But there is something I find worse than having no blurb and that’s to purchase the book, read it and discover that the blurb was incorrect.

Now, I feel I must specify here, I’m not talking about misleading blurbs. Though they are incredibly annoying and I’m sure we’ve all encountered them at some point. Sometimes these mistakes are understandable, of course.  My Penguin copy of “The English Passengers” has a blurb that describes only one part of the story’s perspective when half the entire text comes from another voice. This is understandable in the sense that I wasn’t losing out on any story, indeed I gained much more than I expected, but I still feel my knowledge of the basic story was incomplete. Some people have complained online about misleading blurbs but generally their complaints seem quite different from what I intend to talk about. Lydia Netzer talks about her disdain for the book “The Rule of the Four” in that it used quotes that suggested it’s similarity (and even superiority) to Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Coade”, which she finds to be inconsistent with the book’s quality. Whilst I understand that we shouldn’t be misled by blurbs, no matter how popular another trend is doing, I have personally found something that is much worse.

Blurbs that lie. And I don’t mean that they over emphasise elements or they mislead you about the genre. They outright get their description wrong and in a blurb that’s supposed to summarise a plot there really is no excuse. This has happened to me twice in my life and whilst I know that doesn’t sound like much, both the occurrences would have had multiple marketing teams working on them and should have been through proofreading.  The first was on my university reading list: “North and South”. My tutor was indeed very embarrassed when she discovered that on the copy she had requested we all purchase (getting the exact same copy from the same publisher is important at university so that there is no confusion over page numbers) the blurb proclaimed that the main character had ventured north on account of her father dying. This is pretty strange considering he accompanies her up north and goes there due to a new job. Safe to say, this is a ridiculous mistake that really shows up the fact that whomever wrote this blurb never read the book.

The second example of this is very similar and happened to me last week. I was feeling unwell and decided to indulge in some very light reading with Stephen King. I often read Stephen King in huge bursts and was pleased to find a book I’d not read in a local charity shop. The book is entitled “Tommy Knockers” and comes from publishing house “New English Library”. The top of the blurb features the line “Everything was familiar… his old friend Bobbi, even her decrepit, aging beagle” and this obvious mistake is uncovered only a small way into the story. The dog is not there when the protagonist arrives, indeed that’s one of the first things that alerts the reader to the fact that something sinister has occurred and once again it shows a complete lack of commitment to actually read the book they’re selling. 

I looked around online to discover who actually writes book blurbs, the idea had never occurred to me before and I was suddenly curious. It turns out that the author has no part in this process other than to glance over it, sometimes. The role falls largely to the marketing team, who are supposed to have the know-how about how to summarise a book and make it sell. It seems the amount on information they get about the book can vary, and I suspect a few might not get much at all. So, to that end, it’s hardly surprising that publishing companies can make errors about the overall themes and events in the whole of books. I’m not expecting them to sit down and read each one, I know they simply won’t have the time, and I don’t expect them to be psychic either. My only issue with the two books I’ve read is that primary parts of the story were presented incorrectly and I found this to be a nagging annoyance throughout my whole read. I won’t be so melodramatic to say that my experience was wrecked but perhaps my faith in these publishers was shaken. 


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