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Begging for blurbs

Vogue contributing editor Rebecca Johnson chronicles the agony of seeking out “blurbs” for her first novel, And Sometimes Why, on Salon.com. Johnson, obviously a well-connected woman, falls short when her editor presses her to find “the right author” to write a blurb of praise for her novel.

No problem, I told my editor. I’ve lived in New York City for 25 years. I’m a professional journalist. Some of my best friends are novelists. I rattled off their names to my editor and was met with a worrisome silence.

“What about Ann Patchett?” she asked. “Do you know her?”

I do not know Ann Patchett. My novelist friends were not, it turned out, the right kind of novelists. They’d either written the wrong kind of novels (one of my closest friends has written 13, all paperback trade and all distinctly mass market) or had written literary novels that suffered the same fate as all those talented new voices on William Styron’s living room table. They’d received admiring reviews and sold few copies. To be blurb-worthy, they needed to have received admiring reviews and sold well.

“Do you,” my editor pressed on, “know anyone who knows Ann Patchett?”

After chasing writers all over Manhattan, Johnson finds her three blurbers. But not before realizing that most writers don’t blurb for friends, strangers, or anyone, ever.

Johnson never actually asks the question: “do blurbs matter?” In other words, did the blurbs from David Rakoff, Dani Shapiro, and Mary Morris help Johnson’s sales?