Whenever I’m receiving at the bookstore, I check out almost every book. I take note of the design first and then read the covers, and if I’m interested I often flip through the text to sample the writing. Today I was perusing a copy of Margaret George’s Elizabeth I, a new release by Penguin (under their Viking imprint) (note: there was nothing I could see indicated on the box or invoice telling us to hold back the book, and I did check, though Penguin’s site shows a release date of April 4. For that reason, the book is not yet out on the floor). I have three other books by George, so this one caught my attention because of her name and the subject matter. And it’s a really desirable hardback (albeit cumbersome, being 688 pages), with attractive cover art and a nice finish.
Then I read the back endorsements and I honestly suddenly felt overcome by the desire to throw that beautiful book. These particular endorsements culminated into the straw that broke the camel’s back and inspired this post. I’m serious about this, because I assume that endorsements are a crucial part of the marketing strategy and often affect a buyer’s decision, particularly if they recognize the endorser. So how many of you are utterly weary of reading hyperbolic clichés like “Stunning tour de force,” “Best book I’ve read…” “The next so and so” (lately every suspense, thriller, and mystery author is the next Stieg Larsson—seriously, it’s laughable now), “An utterly engaging masterpiece,” “A literary banquet,” “The prose sparkles…” “Soars with inspiration and crackles with joy…” ad nauseum? And then there’s “Think so and so and so and so…” or “Think so and so and give him such and such, etc., and you’ve got…” and other bizarre author mashup recipes. Lastly, there’s the unimpressive yet overused “So and so does it again.”
Often, the endorsements are flowery and overflowing with adjectives. And when you clump a bunch of them together, the effect, for me, is not that I’m going to bust if I don’t purchase this book right now because it sounds so freaking awesome. It’s rather that I’m turned off or nonplussed. If these writers are saying the same thing about everyone, if they couldn’t be bothered to come up with a few original words of praise, what is that telling me not only about the writer but also the book itself?
These endorsements do the author no favours, then; in fact, quite the opposite. They’re trite and unimaginative, and as such have lost their credibility. When reading them, I get the sense that the reviewer either didn’t love the book but was asked to produce a sentence or two for clout or had no time to come up with something that might indeed reflect any genuine emotion. And I’m not sure who’s that busy. In the end, I open the book and let the the writing speak for itself. That, above all else, is what sells a book to me. I always read before buying.
What gets to me most is that these hackneyed tidbits splashed across covers are typically written by renowned authors. Or reviewers for notable newspapers. People who, one expects, have at least a modicum of talent in the way of creative writing, and not only talent but imagination. So are all these poor reviewers suffering from endorser’s block? Why do all these books sound the same? And is it really possible that we have this many stellar books being published? I argue no. Either we’re getting lazy in our reading and critiquing or our standards are slipping. Not every book is perfect, and that’s likely not what the blurbs are saying but they’re coming pretty damn close. Every book’s a potential award winner. Another reason I can’t believe the endorsement hype. I’m too often disappointed.
If we—I include us book bloggers, booksellers, book lovers who recommend books, as well as esteemed endorsers—cannot think of anything original to say in praise, how can readers believe us? And how can what we say be effective if it sounds as though we’re trying too hard to come up with brilliant and clever blurbs? Each book is different; each author deserves our translation of how we feel into unique compliments that sound genuine. Incidentally, I find more examples of this genuineness on book bloggers’ sites, because they’re just trying to share the love, not dress up a sentence or two for their coming out on the front or back cover. Perhaps more publishers should start quoting us, the real person, the average reader, on their books. We receive ARCs all the time. Some authors argue that we book bloggers are relatively ineffective when it comes to book sales. Perhaps we could improve that by venturing out of our box. The question that arises is, is an endorser’s name more important than what they say? I’d hate for that to be true.
Regardless, a note to professional endorsers: hyperbole is tiresome. Cliché is boring and unimpressive. Tiresome and boring and unimpressive equal ineffective and unattractive. Even insulting.
So I issue a challenge to all of you out there who are reviewing books, whether book bloggers, authors, newspapers, or journals. And I include myself. Create your own vocabulary, but try not to use the thesaurus. This is not about you: it’s not your job to try and make yourself sound awesome at the same time. So no more tours de force, no more masterpieces, no more stunning literary banquets, no more authors’ finest and most compelling page-turners, no more unputdownables. No more entertaining, superb, captivating, enthralling, brash, irreverent, inventive, and impressive volumes or debuts. No more exaggeration. Be original. Be creative. Be bloody fair to the author. Praise means nothing when it’s over the top and you’ve said it to all the girls.