One of the truly unpleasant things about the new publishing paradigm for most late bloomers is that self-published novelists are required to praise their own novels — on Amazon book pages, in blog posts, on websites, in email signatures, and wherever else a potential reader’s eyes may fall.
In the good old days (last year and before), extravagant promotional writing was done by professional marketing and PR people who got paid big bucks for describing fiction as “compelling,” “riveting,” “stunning,” “dazzling,” and “astonishing.”
This was a fine old tradition spanning a hundred years. Publishers created hopelessly flattering “blurbs” for the novels they published — we authors modestly fluttered our eyelashes and tried to act humble amidst the flood of puffery that was clearly not of our making.
I recently discovered that a fictitious woman named Miss Belinda Blurb lent her name to those overblown tributes on the backs of novels (now found in the description blocks on Kindle book pages). Her pivotal role in publishing was the invention (in 1907) of Gelett Burgess, a San Francisco-based humorist, art critic, poet (of nonsense verse), and author. Burgess put a picture (copied from a dental advertisement) of “Miss Belinda Blurb” on the cover of a satiric book titled “Are You a Bromide,” ran a paragraph of gushy praise for the book below the image, and added the taglines, “Miss Belinda Blurb … In The Act of Blurbing.”
The word “blurb” as both verb and noun caught on immediately. Burgess further clarified the meaning in 1914, in “Burgess Unabridged: a new dictionary of words you have always needed.” He defined blurb as “Praise from one’s self, inspired laudation.” And: “Blurb, n. 1. A flamboyant advertisement; an inspired testimonial… Blurb, v. 1. To flatter from interested motives; to compliment oneself.”
And therein lies the rub. Late-blooming novelists as a group have great difficulty writing blurbs that compliment their own fiction, lavishly praise their authorial skills, and “flatter from interested motives.”
Why is blatant blurbing such a challenge for us? I’ve often hear the same five excuses when I press mature writers on the point:
- It seems impolite to blow one’s own horn; nobody likes a braggart — I can’t bring myself to sound like one.
- Most of the author-written blurbs I read look (and sound) hollow; they come across like a love letter someone wrote to him- or herself.
- Self-praise of fiction seems the “wrong thing” to do; a good novel will eventually find its audience, without all the hype.
- Self-praise is self-defeating; I’d never buy a novel that’s overpitched by its author — I’m afraid that readers won’t buy mine.
- I find it almost impossible to heap praise on my own novel; for me, it’s the hardest writing there is.
Rather than argue with specific excuses, I try to point out that effective blurbing is an essential aspect of book promotion. When readers see a blurb, they typically don’t know who wrote the blasted thing. Rather, they may react positively to a good blurb… but they’ll probably ignore a novel cursed with a dull blurb.
If we don’t write persuasive blurbs when we self-publish a novel… who will?
At this point, I’m likely to hear a deep sigh and see a sad headshake. “I can’t do it. I’ve never been able to praise my own writing.”
I think I know why so many late bloomers feel this way. The single most important barrier to writing fulsome blurbs is that we’ve been taught that humility is good and prideful behavior is bad.
Let me conduct a little experiment. Consider the following statement:
I recently read a book on the importance of being humble. Consequently, I know vastly more about humility than you do.
This is supposed to make folks chuckle — but I’m astonished at the number of late-bloomers who think I’m being serious when they hear such a claim. Simply put, humility is not a laughing matter for many of us.
If you feel uncomfortable praising your own novels, all I can say is, Get over it! And be proud that you did.