Sunday, January 17, 2010

Who Said This Was Good?

In this weekend's Age newspaper, there was a short article about blurbs on books - in one of those twists of language, a blurb in the US is where someone (hopefully famous) is quoted on the cover of your book saying how wonderful it is. In Australia, the blurb is more commonly the stuff on the back of the cover about the story that is supposed to entice you to buy it, or at least open it and read the first page or two. US publishers call this flap or back cover copy, although I did a quick check on Google and all terms seem interchangeable, and you can add "pull quote" to the mix, too!

The question is: who believes these little quotes anyway? The article by William Leith is about being an author who is asked to find his own famous authors to "blurb" his book. His first reaction is to ask who reads these things anyway and, more importantly, who believes them? Doesn't it just mean the author has a famous friend or two? Other questions arise. Did the quoter actually read the book? Were they paid to say what they did? Did they really mean it?

It reminded me of a class on low-cost marketing I taught in Hong Kong last year for Women in Publishing. I had a wide range of people attending, many of whom had nothing to do with writing or selling books! But it led to some fascinating discussions about marketing, one of which was about the value of testimonials, either on your website or on your general advertising (or book). Initially, my comment was that I rarely believed them myself, so they weren't something I would use in my marketing, but the majority of participants disagreed with me.

Many said they did take notice of testimonials, and did believe they were genuine. The cynical side of me kept thinking of those before-and-after photos and smiling women saying "Your weight loss cream really did help me!". But as our discussion went on, it became clear to me that there are several major factors in using testimonials or quotes. One is about who says or writes the recommendation. Obviously, someone famous is a great start, or someone known as an expert in that area.

It's also about what they say. Does the testimonial sound genuine? Does it say specific things that relate to the product and show the person did use it, or read it? Or is the quote so generic that it's meaningless - "This was great!". Even quotes from published book reviews can be manipulated. The whole review might be quite critical, picking out a number of faults with the book, with one complimentary sentence. That sentence is easily extracted and used for promotional purposes.

The most recent examples of cover quotes that I've seen were on the second book in Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. On the front cover was "The Hunger Games is amazing - Stephenie Meyer". Personally, that would put me off the books! But the millions of readers who love the Twilight series would be fine with it. On the back cover was a quote from Stephen King - "Constant suspense - I couldn't stop reading" and from a review in The Times - "Bare-knuckle adventure of the best kind".

I'm interested to know how others perceive this quoting/blurbing industry. Do you take any notice at all of quotes on covers? Do you believe them? Do you believe the person quoted has actually read the book? With testimonials for other kinds of products, what is your opinion of them? Are they credible? If so, why? If not, why not?
And if I can get Johnny Depp to provide a cover quote for my next Littlest Pirate picture book, would it make you more likely to buy it?


Lisa66 said...

I don't normally take any notice of the testimonials. I did get sucked in once, though. Ages ago I was standing in Borders trying to decide between two books. One was "The Jane Austen Book Club" and it had a testimomial by Alice Sebold on the cover. I had just read "The Lovely Bones" and thought Sebold was brilliant. Her word was enough to sway me. Unfortunately I hated The Jane Austen Book Club. No more being influenced by promos for me!

Sherryl said...

I know the feeling! What was the other book you could have bought?
I think the person who put me off testimonials etc was John Laws! Will never buy Valvoline.

Lisa66 said...

I can't remember the other book, but I'm another non-purchaser of Valvoline for the same reason!

Kristi Holl said...

This is so funny. I did the same thing with JA Book Club and didn't like it and never saw the movie. (And I LOVE Jane Austen.)

Sherryl, if you can get a good photo of J. Depp to go with the testimonial, I know some people who would buy it for the picture!

The testimonials I believe are the word of mouth kind from people that I know who like the same kind of books I like. Same with movies.