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Bring on the blurbs!

September 13, 2017

Blurbs: those short, enthusiastic quotes that appear on book covers. As defined by NPR journalist Colin Dwyer in a 2015 story, a blurb is “a bylined endorsement from a fellow writer — or celebrity — that sings the praises of a book's author right on the cover.”

 

Blurbs don’t materialize out of thin air. They’re usually solicited by publishers, agents, or authors, who send advance copies of the manuscript or galleys to writers (and reviewers) who may opt in or out.

 

As Dwyer reported, the book blurb may “trace its conception to one of the titans of American letters: Walt Whitman — making use of a letter of his own, sent to him from Ralph Waldo Emerson. On reading the first edition of LEAVES OF GRASS, which had been sent to Emerson unsolicited, Emerson had mailed Whitman back a glowing note. At that time, Emerson was already a nationally esteemed intellectual, while Whitman was a relative unknown outside his native Brooklyn. The note began as a private word of encouragement, but it wasn't private for long: The New York Tribune published it in full with Whitman's

consent just months later."

 

The following year, Dwyer wrote, “in 1856, one line of that letter found its way to an even more prominent location. Printed in gold-leaf lettering on the spine of the book's second edition, sharing space only with the title and Whitman's name, were Emerson's words: ‘I greet you at the beginning of a great career.’ " (You can read Colin Dwyer’s complete NPR report on the history and purpose of book blurbs here.)

 

One of my books became the first (and possibly only) STAR TREK novel to feature a quote from STAR TREK creator Gene Roddenberry. While he was alive (he died in 1991), all STAR TREK novels had to be vetted by Roddenberry’s office (though not always by Roddenberry himself) before publication. Sometimes the resulting Roddenberry-signed memo required changes to be made by the author, sometimes not.

 

My 1990 STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION novel EXILES passed muster with just a couple of minor notes – and some unexpected high praise. Even though none of the dozens of previous books in the STAR TREK line-up had displayed a cover quote (from anyone), we would've been pretty silly if we didn't make use of the gift we'd been given. 

 

So, as soon as I saw the memo signed by Gene, I called my editor at Simon & Schuster and suggested we use Roddenberry’s comment on the cover. Nobody objected. And that’s how EXILES came to have a Gene Roddenberry cover quote: “Howard is to be congratulated on a highly entertaining and very socially relevant story.”

 

Thanks to Five Star Publishing Senior Editor Tiffany Schofield for gathering supportive GALLOWAY’S GAMBLE cover blurbs (above) from people I’ve never met, don’t know, and did not bribe . . . but I do gratefully thank them for their time and quotes.

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