Which of these has the most sway when you're deciding whether or not to read a book: author blurbs, reviewer quotes, or what other readers are saying online?

Maybe you heard the news that rippled through the book world in April: Gary Shteyngart is no longer blurbing.

In an open letter in The New Yorker bestselling author and prolific blurber Gary Shteyngart said he would “be throwing my ‘blurbing pen’ into the Hudson River during a future ceremony …. Literature can and will go on without my mass blurbing. Perhaps it may even improve.”

Shteyngart’s blurbs are so legendary, they’ve spawned their own Tumblr and a 15-minute documentary (totally worth watching). His blurbs will be missed (but hopefully he’ll be back blurbing soon).

But do blurbs really matter? Do they work?

Sometimes they work on me. Sometimes, when I’m browsing through the shelves at my local bookstore, I’ll pick up a book (because the cover calls to me), and if I see an author I love write something really great about the book, that’ll usually push me over the edge. Sometimes I’m thrilled to discover a new voice; sometimes I realize that my favorite author and I don’t share the same reading taste!

Here’s a blurb that worked on me the moment I read it:

“It’s transfixing to watch Monica Byrne become a major player in sci-fi with her debut novel: so sharp, so focused and so human. Beautifully drawn people in a future that feels so close you can touch it, blended with the lush language and concerns of myth. It builds a bridge from past to future, from East to West. Glorious stuff.” —Neil Gaiman, author of The Ocean at the End of the Lane

As soon as I read this, I knew I had to read The Girl in the Road. Why? Because Neil Gaiman is awesome. If he says this book is “glorious stuff,” I must read it.

I’m so glad I did! Monica Bryne’s novel is everything Gaiman said and more. And now that I’ve read it, I’m seeing blurbs and reviews pop up everywhere.

“A new sensation, a real achievement,” says the Wall Street Journal. (I trust WSJ reviews because they’re on the conservative side and rarely lean into the hyperbole that’s hard to take seriously.)

“Delivered with all the vivid, haunting poignancy of a vision quest,” says NPR. (Love NPR, love their reviews.)

“Relentlessly kinetic,” says the LA Review of Books. (The LA Review of Books has some of the most talented authors reviewing for them, so I tend to seek out their reviews.)

“Stunning … story lines converge in a surprising, gratifying climax,” says Booklist. (Always good to hear that a book has a great ending!)

“Byrne’s debut novel may be the most inventive tale to come along in years,” says Kirkus. (Kirkus is notoriously tough, so this one really got me.)

I guess it all comes down to whether or not the praise is coming from a source we trust.
 

Congrats to Karen O., Kristin S., Jill S., Katie K., Kathy G., and 95 other members of the Read It Forward community! Their entries were selected at random to win an Advance Reader’s Copy of The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne.

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  • techeditor

    You’re right. Sometimes blurbs work when they’re written by a source I trust. But, honestly, there aren’t many of those. Usually I doubt blurbs written by other authors because I know that often authors’ friends are other authors, and the blubER is probably a friend of the blurbEE.
    I’m more likely to believe professional reviewers, but I mostly depend on what book bloggers and other readers say on othe Internet.

  • Felicia U.

    I just won this book and I am super excited to receive and read it! For me, it’s reviewer quotes and readers that get me excited to read a book. Mostly when I see they have read other books I’ve read and enjoyed. But in this case, I just noticed that one of my favs, Neil Gaiman, gave a glowing review above to this book, so now I am definitely excited to read!

    • http://www.readitforward.com/ Kira, editor @ Read It Forward

      That’s what got me to read it! Congrats on being a lucky winner, Felicia, do come back and let us know what you think of the read.

      • Felicia U.

        Thanks, Kira! I sure will.

      • Felicia U.

        So I’ve read “The Girl in the Road” that I was lucky enough to win in a giveaway. I had mixed feelings about this book. I don’t think I can pinpoint exactly why I wasn’t 100% excited with this novel. Maybe it was the jumps in time. Maybe it was the words that I didn’t understand and didn’t feel like looking up. I just couldn’t connect with the characters enough to care about them. It definitely kept me interested, I will say that. There was enough excitement and twists to keep me going. I am huge fan of dystopian novels and look forward to what Ms. Byrne has next.

  • Esevey

    I think blurbs certainly can influence whether someone is on the fence about giving a book a try. For me, personally, I take them with a grain of salt. I usually wait for actual readers’ reviews before I give a book a chance.

  • Amy W

    I just won this and can’t wait to receive it. Gaiman’s blurb has my husband and I hooked already!

  • Sue D

    I am so excited that I won a copy of this book. I am an avid Sci-fy fan and truly looking forward to reading a new author in the genre. I do read author blurbs and reviewer blurbs but many times the cover imagery will also attract me. Thanks and I am so looking forward to receiving this book!

  • Guin Reese

    I won so excited to receive and read this book! I normally go with the author’s blurbs but have read books based on reader reviews.

  • MJfoodie

    Really glad to have won a copy. Usually the cover draws me in I might read a blurb but rarely is that the deciding factor in choosing a book.

  • kristin

    I just won this book too and could not be more excited! Reader reviews are usually what get me the most
    interested in reading a book but also learning about the author and their history have a big influence.

  • Judy Farrell

    Blurbs work for me and they lead me to other great books too. Social media, the Internet, sites like these as well as the library have led me to books that I would have never have read. Read it Forward provides a list for me of books to look for as well as great books to recommend to others. Authors are great critics. I would never have found the book Cane River or Alligator Lake without blurbs. Thanks for this informative site. Now I have to go read a book.

  • peacesun

    I look at the title first, then the cover and the writing on the inside cover, followed by a random page in the middle. If it holds my interest, I read the blurbs and choose the book.

  • D. R. Chazan

    On the other hand, sometimes blurbs can be misleading. What I read about this book on NetGalley made me ask for the ARC. But when I started reading it, I realized it wasn’t for me. I’m just not that much of a Sci-Fi fan, although I’ve read some in the past.