I bought two books recently that had something in common, which was that they both had quotes of endorsement on their covers from SJ Watson. It made me wonder two things. One, is there any value in them, something that makes readers gravitate towards books with them and choose them over books without them? And two, who the hell is SJ Watson?
Okay, so I know now that SJ Watson is the author of Before I Go to Sleep, which was made into a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth. I haven’t read the book or seen the film (and didn’t know who he was) so clearly when I was choosing those two books, the presence of his endorsement was not a consideration for me. But then again, I read so many books that maybe I don’t need to whittle them down to a chosen few. For those who have less time to devote to reading than I do, perhaps those testimonials really are useful.
The two books with the SJ Watson endorsements were The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, both of which I gave three star ratings. Now I’m wondering if I should read Before I Go to Sleep just to see if it’s a three star kind of book, too.
So, clearly, the association might also work against the author giving them. I once read a book that I didn’t end up liking all that much and on the front cover was an endorsement from Garry Disher. Much like SJ Watson, I’d never heard of Garry Disher at the time. Now I know he’s a writer. I’ve seen his books in the book store. But because he endorsed a book that I thought wasn’t very good, I doubt I will ever read them.
It’s not just quotes that are used as endorsements. There are also logos for winning or making the shortlist of prestigious awards, the “Author of Previous Bestseller” listings and the “New York Times Bestseller” tag that made me wonder how hard it is to make that list if so many people are making it. All books seem to have some sort of added extra to make the reader think about buying them. On the cover of my book Project December: A Book about Writing, I included the words “from the author of Enemies Closer and the blog Single White Female Writer” even though the numbers of people who have read my debut novel and my blog really didn’t justify it.
For me, endorsements tend to mean something after I’ve read a book, not before, and several of my book reviews reinforce this where I’ve mentioned the cover quotes:
“There are five quotes on the cover of this book, all by men. I suspect if the publisher had sought any from women, they would not have thought as highly of it as the men did. I don’t feel like this is a story or a character that women would, should or could appreciate.”
From my 2 star book review of All That Is by James Salter
“The quotes on the front and back cover and on the first page are a who’s who of other authors lining up to recommend it: Michael Connelly, Minette Walters, Harlan Coben, Val McDermid, Tess Gerritsen, Colin Dexter and Karin Slaughter. I was already reading Mo Hayder when this book was published so the recommendations didn’t factor into my purchasing decision, but they powerfully reinforced what I came to feel about the book.”
From my 5 star book review of Tokyo (AKA The Devil of Nanking) by Mo Hayder
“The cover of the version I read was drenched in recommendations from other authors and the publisher had even included an extra page of recommendations, a glossy page that seemed like an afterthought after the book had been printed. Usually, when a book is so highly recommended, I am sceptical. But every one of them calling this book ‘perfect’ and ‘elegiac’ and ‘remarkable’ and ‘touching’ and ‘heartbreaking’ and ‘poignant’ and ‘important’ and ‘a tour de force’ is justified.”
From my 5 star book review of The Fault in our Stars by John Green
I’ve never been asked to endorse a book (I suspect I need to be more famous than I am now – which since I’m not famous at all would have to be a whole lot more). It would have to be a 4 or 5 star rated book for me to want to do that. But I’ve written a lot of book reviews and because I like to point out positives as well as negatives where I can, it’s possible that my endorsement could end up on the cover of a book I didn’t give 4 or 5 stars. In my 2.5 star rated review of Gaslight Carnival, I wrote, “Fans of Samantha Shannon could easily be fans of Tracy Cembor.” It would sound great on a cover endorsement. Except I’m not really a fan of Samantha Shannon. In fact, I’m more a fan of Tracey Cembor than I am Samantha Shannon. So how much meaning does the quote end up having?
I guess like everything when it comes to marketing, we have to take book cover endorsement quotes with a grain of salt. Of course, the quotes are going to say good things. They wouldn’t be on the cover if they didn’t. So I don’t put much stock in them. It’s the same reason that I don’t read book reviews before I read a book. I want to have my own experience of reading it, not somebody else’s. I don’t want to be unfairly influenced either way. I rely on the blurb to draw me in or not. Everything else is up to the book itself. As it should be.