Newsflash: authors don’t write their own cover blurbs

April 26, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

As a political scandal, it’s a bit of a non-starter. Seems the Conservatives, perhaps in an attempt to divert attention away from the tawdry spectacle that is the Jaffer/Guergis affair, were hurling accusations last Friday at Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, claiming that he was engaging in “dishonesty” and “deceitfulness.” What did Ignatieff do to deserve such disparagement? Conceal information about detainees in Afghanistan who were knowingly handed over to the local government to be tortured? (Presumably, this is a subject the Conservatives have more fluency in than their Liberal counterparts.) Prevaricate about the true extent of a disgraced MP’s lobbying activities? (Ditto.) Well … no. Conservative MPs were upset because they thought that Ignatieff had manipulated press blurbs on the cover of the trade paperback edition of his memoir, True Patriot Love.

Seems the paperback quotes a review in the National Post as reading: “Plenty of scope for a rich story … Some wonderful anecdotes, particularly about George P. Grant … Well written.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite jibe with the spirit of what the Post‘s reviewer, Robert L. Fraser, actually wrote. “True Patriot Love offers little that is new on the Grants save some wonderful anecdotes, particularly about George P. Grant,” Fraser opined. “As an exploration of patriotism, it offers up clichés about modern Canada but little more. True Patriot Love is a well-written disappointment.”

According to the CBC’s website, that was enough for the Conservatives to suggest that dishonesty of this kind simply proves that Ignatieff is unfit for the Prime Minister’s office:

“This is the type of dishonesty that not even a first-year university student could get away with,” Alberta Tory MP Chris Warkentin told the House of Commons.

“I am wondering if the leader of the Opposition really believes that this is honesty or if this is maybe a case of deceitfulness.”

That Warkentin is completely ignorant of the publishing process is not in itself a problem – why should an MP from Alberta concern himself with the niceties of how books are printed and marketed? Unless, that is, that MP wants to use this process in a blatantly misguided attempt to smear a political opponent. In which case it should be incumbent upon someone to point out what should be blindingly obvious: authors have zero input into the blurbs that appear on the covers of their books. True, authors will often suggest names of people who might be expected to blurb a first edition, but the review blurbs on a reprint are settled upon in-house. It’s rare for an author even to see these blurbs before the finished book appears.

The use of ellipses to string together apparently positive words and phrases in an otherwise negative review is something that publishers have been doing for decades: not entirely cricket, undoubtedly, but not something for which the author can be blamed. Unfortunately for Warkentin, no one in Penguin’s marketing or editorial departments is running for elected office.