Once I started thinking about blurbs, it became clear how little I rely on them these days.
I usually choose books to read because I’ve already read or heard about them – on blogs, in reviews, in articles, on podcasts. It’s rare for me to pick up a random book, read the blurb on the back and buy it. Even at the library, whether or not a book takes my fancy seems to very much depend on my mood at exactly that point in time.
But that said, when I pick up that book I’ve seen reviewed, or heard about on a podcast, or saw mentioned in an interview with an author – I still read the blurb. And only then do I either buy or borrow the book, or put it back on the shelf. I can’t imagine choosing a newly released book that didn’t have a blurb (although I reckon a classic might get away with it).
Do you read the blurb on the back? How seriously does it influence your reading choices?
Because here I am, agonizing over the blurb for my own book.
Below is the text I’ve agreed with my editor. She wrote it, and I tweaked it a little. I’d love your feedback although I’m not sure to what extent anything could be changed at this stage.
In 1788 a young gentlewoman raised in the vicarage of an English village married a handsome, haughty and penniless army officer. In any Austen novel that would be the end of the story, but for the real-life woman who became an Australian farming entrepreneur, it was just the beginning. John Macarthur took credit for establishing the Australian wool industry and would feature on the two-dollar note, but it was practical Elizabeth who managed their holdings while dealing with the results of John’s manias: duels, quarrels, court cases, a military coup, long absences overseas, grandiose construction projects and, finally, his descent into certified insanity. Michelle Scott Tucker shines a light on an oft-overlooked aspect of Australia’s history in this fascinating story of a remarkable woman.
Even as I typed it here, I kept finding fault with it. I had to remind myself that a blurb reader will likely have looked at the cover first, and be aware that they are holding a biography about someone called Elizabeth Macarthur. John is a crucial driver of Elizabeth’s story, as much as I wish the blurb were all (and only) about her. My husband dislikes the phrase oft-overlooked (it was the editor’s, not mine). Feel free to tell me all the things you dislike about it too!
Oh, and the title? We’ve discussed it here before, in a post called Catchy Titles are Crucial. It will be Elizabeth Macarthur: A life at the edge of the world. Unless you can think of anything better, of course…
I like the blurb – it grabs your attention and makes you wonder. You could suggest ‘often overlooked’ rather than oft-overlooked. I like that a bit better. And I would also suggest a change to ‘holdings’, maybe ‘business interests’ or ‘land holdings’? Unfortunately I don’t really like the title. I’ll have a think on that and come back if I can think of something I like more – maybe something with ‘rural’ in it?
Thanks Sharkell, and welcome! Any and all suggestions for titles gratefully received. A friend recently suggested ‘Sheep, Pray, Love’. ;-)
By chance, I have the new Caroline Chisholm in my bag –
If Capt James Cook discovered Australia
If John Macarthur planted the first seeds if its extraordinary prosperity – if Ludwig Leichardt penetrated and explored its before unknown interior – Caroline Chisholm has done more… she alone has colonised it in the true sense of the term. (The Empire, Aug. 1859)
Think yours is better.
Thanks Bill – yes, too many men in poor Caroline’s blurb. And in an interesting demonstration of how short my attention span is (thanks, Interwebs) I had to read it several times to actually understand it.
oft-overlooked… or in Latin “saepe neglecti”..
I don’t read blurbs much at all – sometimes I read them when I’ve finished the book! And occasionally, when I wonder where on earth a book is going, I read it in the middle! For a biography of someone I know who they are, I’m unlikely to read it (unless its someone about whom there have been so many biographies I want to see what angle this particular one will take, but even then … I’ve probably already heard of it). I do read blurbs occasionally if I’m just book browsing but I don’t do much of that these days.
So, I reckon this is perfectly OK and not worth worrying inordinately about. But it I wanted to be picky, I’d comment on the reference to Austen (though I know why it’s there) because she wrote fiction and your book is a biography. Of course a biography wouldn’t end at the marriage – unless the person died on their wedding day! And, as you imply, it does tell us almost as much about John as about her! Is the fact that he had all those manias resulting in things like duels supposed to excite us? Will we think we are going to hear all about them and that they’ll be more exciting than someone keeping the business going? Are we going to hear all about them?
Thanks Sue – your insights are always super helpful. Short answers: (a) yes, you know exactly why Austen is mentioned but it’s also a shorthand way to set the scene and (b) yes, you will hear all about John’s manias because they almost always had substantial implications for Elizabeth. Yet she and he (and their adult children) were very much a team. That’s one of my points – few, if any, of those canonised dead white men actually achieved anything all on their own.
Ah, I like that – the team thing because you’re right, most achievements are because of team work, and people supporting each other (or, often, the woman supporting the man!)
As for Austen, I’ll certainly accept the reason that just her name is shorthand to set the scene!
I LOVE the Austen reference, as well as the suggestion of Sheep, Pray, Love!
Could you swap “oft-overlooked” for “little known”?
Louise! Welcome. I’ll take your (and everyone’s) suggestions to my editor and see what she says.
I’m with your husband and don’t like oft-overlooked! Maybe ‘neglected’? I like the Jane Austen reference: the period is just right, and it’s all about a dodgy officer courting a girl from the parsonage!
Oh no! Never going to hear the end of it from my husband now… ;-)
I don’t rely on the back cover blurbs either Michelle. If anything, they can turn me off a perfectly good book. In this instance, it doesn’t. I agree with Marion about the word ‘oft-overlooked’ and the Jane Austen reference. The latter I think is a master stroke. I like the contrast set up between Elizabeth and John. We know we’re going to read about a remarkable woman.
Thanks Gail. Obviously I’m going to need to chat to my editor about oft-overlooked!