Blurb Your Enthusiasm: An A–Z of literary persuasion
Louise Willder (Oneworld, 2022), 352pp, £14.99
ISBN 978 0 86154 217 8
Reviewed by Hannah McCall
Louise Willder has worked in publishing as a copywriter for 25 years and she’s written more than 5,000 blurbs. She seems eminently qualified, then, to guide us on ‘the outside story of books’ (as the book’s own blurb puts it). This is a good description, as Willder doesn’t limit herself to exploring blurbs – there are lots of elements that combine to produce a book’s cover and most of them are touched on here.
Blurb Your Enthusiasm comes from a British perspective of publishing, but Willder does take time to look at other publishing cultures (the section on French cover style is particularly interesting). This means that the usage of ‘blurb’ here focuses on the marketing copy on the back of a book, rather than the meaning that is more common in US publishing: a quote in praise of the book that appears on its cover. There is discussion of ‘advance puff’ (as Willder refers to it), though, so the other sort of blurb is not neglected.
The breadth of the discussion in Blurb Your Enthusiasm is at times almost astonishing. We go from first impressions of covers to the history of blurbs (fascinating in itself), and then on to writing advice for blurb copy (a lot of which is useful for writing in general), followed by analysis of blurbs for specific genres. Willder concludes with an in-depth look at how blurbs are constructed – and what makes a blurb achieve its goal: getting the reader to purchase the book. Each part is divided into punchy little chapters that feel excellently balanced – you’ll want to keep reading, but you won’t get lost if you do have to stop and pick it up again later.
Willder clearly knows her stuff – she incorporates writing theory, marketing strategy, publishing history and philosophy to shine a light on what makes a book’s cover successful. As with most things, there’s an elusive element here, something no one can quite put their finger on, and the author doesn’t shy away from that. In fact, Willder’s searing honesty is one of the great things about this book. It’s probably no surprise that this is a witty and engaging text. The author’s love of books comes through strongly – you are in the company of someone who finds joy in books, and that joy is contagious. She isn’t afraid to deal with difficult topics, however, such as what is an appropriate cover for a book like Lolita?
Blurb Your Enthusiasm is about more than blurbs, really. It’s about publishing, the art of writing, and strategies for selling words. The scope is impressive, but Willder never forgets to make it enjoyable and accessible. Her enthusiasm for the topic and her work is obvious, and the result is a delightful exploration of books and their covers.
Constructing an effective blurb is a task that many independent authors can find daunting – and it is a task that the editors helping them may find a challenge, too – so this book may be a great resource to recommend for help, advice and inspiration. But to be an editor is to love books, to want to make them the best they can be, and to want to see the authors we work with succeed, and Blurb Your Enthusiasm is ideal for us: people who love books, who find them interesting, and who would happily spend hours thinking about how covers work.