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Searching for blurbs

Before I get to the main matter of this post, here’s a reflection on the mysterious nature of heredity.

From the Whiz-Bang Automated Chicken Plucker post, here’s my father, triumphant with chicken:

From the Kill the Wabbit post, here’s my son, triumphant with rabbit:

Here they are superimposed (thanks, Charlie):

Weird, huh?

Now to business. Morgen, who is Starling Lawrence’s assistant, has emailed me to ask 1) how many copies of the bound galleys would I like? and 2) can I think of anyone who would write a blurb for the back cover?

This means that I’ll be seeing the “page proofs” (the first printout of the typeset books) in a few weeks. They’ll show up here in a big pile of loose sheets, two pages on each sheet (when they come, I’ll post a picture), and I’ll read through them for mistakes. Generally the page proofs are riddled with errors, anything from misspellings to missing paragraphs. I’ll mark all the mistakes and send them back.

This will also be my last chance to change any of the text. My text changes (as opposed to the typesetting errors) can’t amount to more than 1/10 of the manuscript, or Norton will start charging me a fee for each page I alter. Each change, after all, means that the typesetter has to go back through and redo the pages, and late additions can shift a lot of pages forward. The fee is meant to keep authors from rewriting the book when they see it in page proofs. This is always a temptation–the book always READS so differently when it shows up in page proof form. Don’t ask me why.

Anyway, even though the page proofs have errors in them, while I’m reading my set, Norton will be binding up a few hundred (or so) copies of the page proofs with plain brown covers. These look like paperback books, and instead of a back cover they usually have advertising copy. They go out to reviewers at the major magazines and journals; these reviewers generally need to turn in their copy weeks and weeks ahead of time, and Norton wants reviews to come out as close to the publication date as possible. (Of course, the reviewers are all reading error-riddled copies. But they’re used to that.)

The galleys also go out to anyone famous or semi-famous that might be willing to write a blurb for the back cover, which is still in design.

This is a bit of a problem, actually. When I started on this project, a historian friend of mine told me, “Historians are going to hate the chapters that deal with their particular field, and think that the rest of it is pretty good.” Judging from the various comments I’ve gotten back from expert readers, he’s absolutely right. Experts always feel that a brief treatment of their specialty is missing all of the important subtleties and leaves out absolutely vital information.

So I’m not sure the book should go to, say, famous historians of ancient Rome (not that I can think of any). I asked Morgen if she could come up with any names, and here’s the list she sent me:

Malcom Gladwell
Simon Schama
Louis Menand
John McPhee
Nathaniel Philbrick
David McCullough
Thomas Cahill
Jared Diamond
Doris Kearns Goodwin

And then I suggested Thomas Friedman, Robin Waterfield, Mark Noll, and Steven Pressfield.

I’m actually not sure whether ANY of these endorsements would help sales. None of my other books have been blurbed, and when I talked to Star he said that a history like this probably wasn’t going to sell because of a blurb on the back. It’s more likely to help with novels.

Just for your reference, here’s a random book cover showing the kind of thing we’re talking about (click on it for a bigger view):

So my two questions for you, Gentle Readers, would be: If you were going to buy a history of the world, would you look for blurbs on the back cover? And if so, what names would YOU suggest?