Writers published by the biggest New York houses get a certain kind of request all the time. Typically they come from the editors at those publishing houses. It will be an email, or an actual book in the mail with a note attached that says something like this: "Jane Doe's first novel is an exciting new take on an old story and we'd be so pleased if you'd give it a look. And if you deem it worthy, a few words of support on Jane's behalf, sent to us by such and such date, would give her novel a tremendous lift!"
The more famous and respected the writer, the more of these blurb requests he or she will get. They might come from friends of the famous writer, too, or from his or her editor or agent and their friends. One imagines that
The writer Margaret Atwood is definitely in the latter category, as an editor at Melville House reminds us this week. "Her assistant was kind enough to send along a hard copy of the form response Atwood sends out when she gets a blurb request now," writes editor Kirsten Reach.
"I blurb only for the dead these days," Atwood's response begins. (So there's still hope for that new Kafka or Chekhov translation, I guess). The rest of the response is a rhyming poem, part of which reads:
"You are well-known, Ms. Atwood," the Editor said,
And we long for your quote on this book;
A few well-placed words wouldn't bother your head,
And would help us get in the hook."
Atwood says in the poem, which is available on her website, that she once blurbed a lot: "I strewed quotes about with the greatest largesse." But now "my adjective store is depleted. ... As a quotester I'm nigh-on defeated." The poem ends with:
"So I wish you Good Luck, and your author, and book,
Which I hope to read later, with glee.
Long may you publish, and search out the blurbs,
Though you will not get any from me."
In a frequently asked question section on her website, Atwood explains further:
"It takes four to six hours to read the book, and I get 10 or so of these requests a week. Multiply 5 hours times 10 requests and you get a 50-hour a week job. Choosing a few of the books to blurb doesn't make things much easier, partly because it takes a long time to make a well-informed choice, and partly because choosing between books is akin to choosing which of your two sisters should be your maid of honour … no matter what you do, someone's bound to have their feelings hurt."