Why Blurbs Matter: Some Thoughts on Book Marketing

As I’m brainstorming about my next project while still finishing the current one, book promotion is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot. The business section of my local library is packed with marketing books, all presenting it as an exact science. As long as you carefully build your brand, many of them claim, consumers will buy your product and you will live happily ever after. But to what extent does this apply to books?

Starting with an exploration of myself as a reader, and my reasons for choosing what book to read next, I can only conclude that intuition is important. My approach appears to be completely random at first sight. I like to browse book shops and libraries, listen to recommendations, but rarely end up going for the next big thing. If marketing was as effective as some people perceive it to be, surely I’d be reading nothing but Dan Brown and Stephen King. But no. Although I do read a lot of Stephen King, but not necessarily his most recent work.

My method revolves around my gut feeling. Covers are extremely important. Frilly fonts, vague photos of women and pastel colours immediately put me off. Unfairly so, perhaps, but there you go. The exact same book, but with a cover featuring bright colours and graphic shapes that resemble Dick Bruna’s most famous work? Tell me more…

How a book feels is also important. This would matter less if I was an ebook enthusiast, which I’m not. As a true book fetishist, I like to hold what I’m reading. Books should not be too large or too heavy for my tiny hands. But they shouldn’t be too slim or flimsy either. Books need substance but not too much of it. I’ll save the heavy lifting for the gym.

Then I’ll open the book. Lots of white space between the lines? Large font? Meh. Tiny font with hardly any white space? Meh too. I never said I’m easy to please. Bright white paper in a non-academic book? Wrong. It should be cream-coloured. I wasn’t sure why this was so important until I started reading about the differences between offset and on demand printing, and paper types, and genres. Cream feels right because that’s what I’m used to. It’s the type of paper most commonly used for trade books. So perhaps my tastes are not quite as unique and independent as I’d like them to be.

All this judging happens before I’ve even read a word. Time to turn over the book and read the blurb. Good blurb writing is an underrated art form. Does the blurb mention someone exploring their difficult relation with their mum? Out the book goes. Does it suggest action, a plot, something I want to know more about? I’ll give it a shot. If it mentions that the protagonist is a murderous drug addict, like John Cheever’s excellent novel Falconer? So much the better.

So what do I end up choosing? The books I’ve just borrowed from my local library suggests there’s still little method to the madness:

  • John Cheever: Falconer (obviously)
  • Caroline Taggart: Around Britain by Cake (non-fiction)
  • Clive Barker: Weaveworld (horror/fantasy)
  • John Lewis-Stempel: The Running Hare (nature writing)
  • Gill Scott-Heron: The Last Holiday (memoir)
  • Harry Harrison: Make Room! Make Room! (science fiction/horror)

I’m not sure to what extent I classify as an average reader (I read more than most people, for sure), but apparently I’m guided by convention as much as unpredictability. While I know what I like, one of my likes is being surprised. I like unpredictability. I’m greedy and volatile. I like horror. And, thanks to Taggart’s book, I’d really fancy some cake.

Image Pixabay via Pexels



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