Blabbing in the Blurbs: Do Books’ Marketing Blurbs Give Away Too Much?

June 16, 2015 Bookish Posts 34

This year, I’ve been frustrated with knowing too much about a book before I start reading. And, I’ve started to intentionally “go in blind” with certain books. If I hear rumblings that there are major plot twists in a book I want to read, I will hold off reading reviews until after I’ve finished the book. I did this with Our Endless Numbered Days recently…and I’m so glad I did!

Awhile back, Shannon at River City Reading wrote a great post about sneaky spoilers in book reviews. Today, I want to focus on the official marketing blurbs that you see on Goodreads, Amazon, etc. Lately, I feel like more and more blurbs have revealed way too many plot details.

I’m not sure if I’ve just been paying closer attention lately and have started noticing something that’s always been there. Or, if publishers really have been including more plot details in their blurbs. I realize it’s a fine line for publishers to walk…they have to include enough detail to sell the book, but avoid spoiling the reading experience. But, I worry that the level of detail that’s becoming accepted as “non-spoilery” is growing.

Here are some examples from my recent reading…

Books with Non-Spoilery Blurbs

My Sunshine Away, The Dinner, The Girl on the Train

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh
Sold me on reading the book, but avoided mentioning an early plot detail that I loved discovering for myself.

“My Sunshine Away” unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom. But in the summer of 1989, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson–free spirit, track star, and belle of the block–experiences a horrible crime late one evening near her home, it becomes apparent that this idyllic stretch of Southern suburbia has a dark side, too. 

The Dinner by Herman Koch
Lets you know that there is action to look forward to, but avoids going into too much detail.

A summer’s evening in Amsterdam and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant. Between mouthfuls of food and over the delicate scraping of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of politeness – the banality of work, the triviality of holidays. But the empty words hide a terrible conflict and, with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened… Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. Together, the boys have committed a horrifying act, caught on camera, and their grainy images have been beamed into living rooms across the nation; despite a police manhunt, the boys remain unidentified – by everyone except their parents. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children and, as civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple shows just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love. 

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
For a book that there’s really not much to say about without spoiling things, the blurb walked the line perfectly. 

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Books with “Blabby” Blurbs

Boo, Our Endless Numbered Days, The Bullet, The Half Brother

*I’m just going to link to the blurbs in this section so as not to spoil things for anyone trying to go in blind.

Boo by Neil Smith (Goodreads blurb)
The only thing I knew going into this book was that it was a story about a heaven populated only with thirteen year old Americans…and that there was some big mystery about how Boo ended up there. When I read the full blurb after finishing the book, I was shocked to discover some of my favorite surprise moments were given away in advance.

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (Goodreads blurb)
I didn’t read this blurb too closely before reading the book…and, I’m glad I didn’t because the blurb’s last paragraph is way too good of a roadmap.

The Half Brother by Holly LeCraw (Goodreads blurb)
I read this blurb closely before reading the book and it kind of ruined it for me. There was only one major plot point that I can think of that wasn’t included in the blurb. 

The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly (Goodreads blurb)
This one is the most egregious for me because the publishers had an extremely intriguing premise to work with. “Woman finds a bullet lodged in her neck, but has never been shot”…I didn’t need to know anymore than that to try this one out! After reading the book, I was disappointed to discover that the blurb reveals how the bullet got there and the family secret behind it.

What are your thoughts on the level of detail publishers include in their marketing blurbs? What are some “good” blurbs and “blabby” blurbs have you’ve seen lately?

34 Responses to “Blabbing in the Blurbs: Do Books’ Marketing Blurbs Give Away Too Much?”

  1. Pat @ Posting For Now

    I try not to write too much info in my reviews. I don’t want to spoil it for readers. I was copying the blurb into my reviews, but recently have been writing slightly longer reviews and leaving out the blurb. For the most part blurbs have not bothered me. Sometimes, I feel they exaggerated about a book though.

    • admin

      I agree about the exaggeration…especially when “secrets and lies” are promised. I sometimes find the secrets aren’t that big of a deal or don’t make much of an impact.

  2. KatieMcD @ Bookish Tendencies

    There is little I hate more than a spoiler. I tend to go in relatively blind, as you said, as a general rule. I’ll sometimes skim the synopsis, but usually only the first few sentences to get the general gist. If it’s longer than a paragraph, I usually don’t make it to the end before decided to read or not to read. Often, my reading a book has little to nothing to do with the synopsis, and I just go based off of bloggers with similar reading styles recommendations.

    I think it’s partially a shift in media culture – everyone wants to know all the TV show spoilers, and find out everything ahead of time. People don’t like to be surprised anymore, in this world of information. Plus, I think “twists” are becoming expected in books, which just adds another layer of intrigue, and another place for people to want to find out what it is ahead of time. That’s all good and well… for THEM! I still love the surprise/shock/whatever emotion in finding out for myself, when the author intended.

    Whoa, long comment! Great topic!

    • admin

      I’m with you on skimming the synopsis…I’ve been doing that more lately. And, I usually try to just stick to the first few sentences. Blurbs that run on for a few paragraphs are bound to give away too much!

      Your point about the media culture is interesting…I hadn’t thought about that! You can more or less find spoilers on the Internet for most anything you want, so are they becoming more acceptable to put out there, even “officially”? Let’s take The Bachelor franchise…Reality Steve has been spoiling it for years and now ABC has started to reveal big plot points in its official trailers. I actually love knowing the spoilers for Bach, but not for books!!

      I guess we have to take it upon ourselves now if we want to go in blind…but I feel like that’s acceptable as far as reading reviews, but it does seem like too much when we even have to shield ourselves from the official blurbs. Those should be sanitized I think!

  3. Shannon @ River City Reading

    This is why I don’t use the publisher’s summary in my reviews, either. I try to say as little as possible about the plot – I figure readers can make the decision to seek out more if they’re so inclined, since there seems to be a real sensitivity level when it comes to what is/isn’t a spoiler. I don’t really seek out books for plot, so I tend to quickly skim summaries for key words rather than really reading them in depth…more often than not it works for me (I didn’t even catch the Endless Numbered Days giveaway for that reason!).

    • admin

      I’m with you on not including the blurbs in reviews…I just write my own little one sentence plot summary, which is usually pretty vague. And, I agree that what is considered a spoiler can be vastly different for different people. What I like to know about a book is the feel of it…more so than the plot.

      And – I didn’t catch the Our Endless Numbered Days spoiler until after I read the book because I never read that far in the blurb. I have, however, taken to reading the full blurbs AFTER I’ve read the book just to see how spoiler-y they are!

  4. Kay

    I totally understand what you are talking about. And I sometimes purposefully read the end of the book, just to cut the tension for myself or check to see if I figured out the twist. However, I want that to be my decision – not someone else’s. I don’t always do that. When I came back to blogging, I decided to write my own reviews and not use the publisher’s blurb. The only time I do that is in the memes. My reviews are my reviews. And I try very hard not be too spoilerish. It’s a little more tricky when reviewing a series book that is 5th or 6th down the line. But, I also try to make sure and mention right away that this is the 6th book in the series. I figure people can read on at their discretion or they can just hop to the end and see how I sum up. I do think that the norm is shifting these days – the norm for ‘what is a spoiler’. And I understand that publishers feel that books need to be compared to other books in order to set expectations. But….I hate it when a new book is compared to whatever is the favorite flavor of the month. Hate it. I guess that people are so short on time these days, they need their books pre-sorted for them or pre-picked or whatnot. Do your own research, people. OK, rant over. LOL

    • admin

      Series are a completely different ballgame, I think. It’s kind of hard to talk about the 2nd or 3rd book without giving away anything about the first one! In this situation (and it’s only happened to me a few times), I usually initial state that if you’re interested in reading the series, start with the first book and direct them to my review of that book (and tell them not to read this review).

      And – agreed…I can’t stand the book comparisons based on plot (like Gone Girl). But, I do like book comparisons that are based on how a book feels or the writing style. For example, the book I’m reading now (The Truth and Other Lies) was compared to The Dinner by the publisher…I’m OK w/ that comparison because the plot is very different, but they both do have a similar ominous feeling and narration tone.

  5. kristin @ my little heart melodies

    I’m with you guys—skimming or just reading the first couple sentences of a blurb usually. I try to go into a book with as little overall knowledge of what might happen, just the gist is enough for me. Spoilers are the worst! I do include the blurbs in my review blog posts (copied/linked from Goodreads), but I often edit and shorten to reduce the chance of spoilers.

    • admin

      I’ve started just skimming the blurb and usually not reading past the first paragraph these days! I mean, if a blurb is 3 paragraphs long, there must be a ton of info there just to fill that much space!

      And – I include my own one sentence plot summary in reviews rather than the publisher’s synopsis.

  6. Tara @ Running 'N' Reading

    I just want to read a little bit, you know? I’d like just enough to determine whether it’s a book I think I’ll be interested in reading, but not so much that I decide to eliminate it without a chance or know how the whole thing is going to go; this is asking for too much, isn’t it? I thought the blurb for Eight Hundred Grapes made it sound awful; I really wasn’t looking forward to it all, but I’d already agreed to review it. It turned out to be much better than I’d expected (I know it wasn’t for you, but I had really low expectations!), which is a shame. I guess they have no choice but to put something out (otherwise, how would readers decide to buy the book?), but publishers/PR firms should really think about the effect this has on the reader’s experience of the book. After all, we’re the ones who will be telling others about it and helping to sell more copies, don’t you think? Great post, Sarah!

    • admin

      Interesting about 800 Grapes! Now I’m going to re-read that blurb! I requested that book based on reading an excerpt in the NetGalley Buzz Books catalog…I’m not even sure I read the full blurb!

      But, I do think publishers need to re-think how much info is acceptable to include in the official synposes. And – I’ve noticed recently a bit much info is being revealed in podcasts as well – boo!!

  7. Leah @ Books Speak Volumes

    I’ve written about this before, but I thought the blurb for Hausfrau was pretty spoilery. On the whole, though, I haven’t noticed too many blurbs that give too much away — for me, anyway. That said, everyone has different comfort levels with how much info they want before reading a book!

    • admin

      Oh yes – I remember you talking about that with Hausfrau and it falling into the book comparison bucket! How did you feel about the Our Endless Numbered Days summary? I know you loved that book.

  8. Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader

    I almost always read a book’s summary and I don’t run into spoilers too often. But when I do?? GRRR. Nothing makes me madder than a spoiler. Honestly, less is almost always better than more in the summary game.

    One thing about blurbs and/or marketing that I really dislike is the comparison dance they all do lately. They are usually wrong and they tend to be spoiler-y as well. When you call a book the NEXT GONE GIRL you’re telling people to *expect* an unreliable narrator. Well, gee thanks.

    • admin

      I totally agree about the comparisons…especially the Gone Girl one. I also feel like comparing something to GG is like putting a huge red sticker on it saying “big twist coming”.

      But, I recently found one comparison that I agreed with and wasn’t spoiler-y. The Truth and Other Lies was compared to The Dinner…and I feel like it’s more a comparison of how the book feels and the narration tone than the plot. The two plots are totally different. I’m fine with and actually welcome this type of comparison because I loved The Dinner’s style and was on the lookout for more books like it.

  9. Amy @ Read a Latte

    Yes! Some summaries are so long and detailed that I start to wonder what’s left to read myself. In the case of The Girl on the Train, the spoiler-free blurb was only later ruined by reviews/comparisons, so I feel like it’s almost a double edged sword sometimes!

    • admin

      Yep – spoilers in reviews are a whole different topic! But, I’ve at least learned to stay away from reviews of plot centric books I’m excited to read…esp traditional media reviews. For some reason, I feel like those give away way more plot details than bloggers tend to. I’m obviously generalizing here 🙂

  10. Lindsay Healy

    Great post Sarah and I think you make an important point about what some ‘blurbs’ can be like these days – it would be good to able to read them and know the story isn’t going to be spoiled, which as you’ve shown sadly isn’t always the case, and sometimes once you’ve read the blurb it’s too late!

  11. Rita @ View From My Home

    I can’t think of a spoilery one off-hand but I did read The Bullet, listed above, and yes it gave away a lot, too much. I am also offended recently by the screaming blurbs on the covers of books comparing the new ones to other popular titles of recent days. Example: “The next Gone, Girl!” “As suspenseful as The Girl on the Train!” You get my drift…all psychological suspense of this year have some comparison to either, or both, of those titles…enough already! And I don’t trust you popular authors, giving your two-thumbs up on the cover with overblown enthusiasm. Let’s just crack open the book and take a chance ourselves.

    • admin

      I agree about the GG comparisons! They’re awful and are popping up way too often. It’s like the publishers just see $$ if they slap the GG comparison onto any twisty thriller about psychology or marriage.

      I’ve gone into more detail about this in some of my replies to other comments on this post, but I welcome comparisons based on the style or feel of a book, but I’m not interested in plot-based comparisons unless they’re super broad. The book I’m about to finish was compared to The Dinner and I think it was a great comparison because it did have a similar feel and tone of narration, but a completely different plot.

  12. Kathy @ Kathy Reads Fiction

    I’ve noticed some blurbs are including excerpts to give a sample of writing style or to tease into reading the book. I look at the synopsis of a book before adding it to a TBR pile, but luckily I usually forget what the synopsis said before I begin reading the book. I go in blind much of the time (thanks to failing memory lol), and that does make for more enjoyment and surprises when reading.

  13. Carmen

    I had that spoilery experience about two weeks ago with the Snow Kimono. I had been reading the book and was very into it, but then I couldn’t describe with certainty after 50% of the book what it was really about or where the story was going and made the mistake of reading the blurb on NetGalley. Suddenly I began to expect the twist, I began to question the pace and the length of the story…And I stopped reading. I have yet to pick it up again where I left it.

    But I’ve found that blurbs are not the only places where you can find spoilers. I was reading a website I had found last year, and on the comment session was a very “inoffensive” major spoiler, and I mean the spoiler to end them all because with just a sentence that person gave away the most fantastic ending that I have seen lately. The book in question was Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult. That sentence ruined it for other potential readers. Luckily I had read it already when I read that comment. Bastard!

  14. Belle Wong

    I can’t think of a spoilery blurb I’ve read recently, but I think it’s because I tend to skim over blurbs. I mainly read just far enough to know this is a book I want to read, and then I stop. For example, I read the blurb to Ernest Cline’s ARMADA the other day, but I actually only read the first couple of lines and didn’t go any further. I knew I wanted to read the book, so I stopped. Now I’m glad I have this habit, if publishers are starting to reveal too much in the blurb – I definitely love my surprises and plot twists!

  15. Becca

    I try not to say too much in my reviews because even “there’s a huge twist!” will ruin it. It’s not really a twist if you expect it, you know? When the entire premise is revealed by the publishers themselves, I feel bad for the author as much as I do for the reader. Here they have worked years on their brilliant (probably) book and some nitwit in marketing ruins the book for everyone. I would be livid.

    • admin

      You know what…that’s a great point (about the impact on authors) that I didn’t address in my post. And – I completely agree. I remember thinking I felt bad for Holly LeCraw when I read The Half Brother because I really do think I would have liked it had I not known almost every plot twist going in.

  16. Julianne - Outlandish Lit

    This is so tough. I love reading blurbs. I can’t help it. And I understand why publishers sometimes feel a need to include certain things, because if you can’t spoil something that’s most of the book, it might be hard to sell. I don’t know. Like it’s difficult when books mention that they have unreliable narrators, because then stuff won’t be quite as shocking if you know not to trust completely. But knowing that a book has an unreliable narrator also makes me want to read it, because I generally love that. I DON’T KNOW, I’m rambling haha. Spoilers are bad, but I get it.

    • admin

      I agree about mentioning unreliable narrators! And – I do think it’s a tough line to walk – how much do publishers have to reveal to sell the book, but also not spoil it? And – I think a lot depends on the reader’s preference..I’ve realized (especially lately) that I like going in blind, but that may not be the case with everyone.

      I think my main beef is just that I think the “official” publishers should be a “safe” place and I can’t really depend on that these days. I get that reading reviews puts me at risk for possible spoilers…but, there has to be some safe place to get a non-spoilery overview of the book and shouldn’t that be the official blurbs?

  17. Meg @ Ebooksandcooks

    I totally agree with you! There’s another category: The blurb doesn’t fit the book. I felt this way with Innocents and Others recently. It was not what I expected from reading the blurb.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Yes – I totally agree! Or comparisons to other books that are completely off the mark!

  18. Sue @ Crushingcinders

    I love blurbs. I always read/re-read them on a physical book as part of a crazy reading ritual I do before I open the book. So I really miss them on an e-book. But I totally hate spoilers so sometimes I am glad the e-book route doesn’t have blurbs. Most of the time I have forgotten what the blurb said by the time the book rises to the top of the TBR

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I’ve been doing that a lot lately…reading the blurbs when I request or buy a book and have kind of forgotten the details by the time I read it. Which is good since I feel like I’m shocked sometimes by how much detail is in the blurbs.

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