Above: Malcolm Gladwell, the best-selling author of The Tipping Point, and some of the book covers that feature his blurbs. “I feel like we have to promote ourselves,” he said of endorsing other writers’ work.
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Here is a brief excerpt from an article by Laura M. Holson for The New York Times. To read the complete article, check out others, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
Photo Credit: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The New York Times
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When Malcolm Gladwell was asked to write a blurb for the 2005 book Freakonomics, he did not explain that it explored the dynamics of the Ku Klux Klan or the impact of naming a child “Loser.” Instead, the New Yorker writer and best-selling author of The Tipping Point and Blink simply wrote, “Prepare to be dazzled.” Freakonomics became a best seller.
And a decade later, Mr. Gladwell’s name adorns scores of book covers not his own. He has praised tomes by celebrity restaurateurs (Dan Barber of Blue Hill), Academy Award-winning movie producers (Brian Grazer), first-time novelists (Stephanie Clifford of The New York Times), hybrid writer-artists (Lauren Redniss) and more.
“It’s hard to compete with Malcolm Gladwell,” said A.J. Jacobs, the author of four books, including The Year of Living Biblically, who was once such a prolific blurbist, his publisher demanded he stop writing them. “He is always going to get the front cover. I get the back cover or, maybe, inside.”
It’s hardly news that when it comes to selling books, blurbs from even famous people are of dubious value. “I discourage writers from doing them,” said Mort Janklow, the longtime literary agent whose firm once represented Mr. Gladwell.
Indeed, in the case of Mr. Janklow’s former client, they can be polarizing. One person on Twitter posted a photo of Mr. Gladwell’s blurb from Michael Lewis’s 2014 best seller, Flash Boys, saying he “almost” picked up the book after seeing Mr. Gladwell’s blurb. (He meant this in a good way.) Another wrote: “A Malcolm Gladwell blurb on the cover of a book has the opposite of its intended effect on me.”
Is it possible that Mr. Gladwell has been spreading the love a bit too thinly?
The author, 52, was good-natured when asked in an interview why his name seems to be on so many book jackets (he could not say how many). “Do I really blurb that much?” he asked, laughing. He conceded: “The more blurbs you give, the lower the value of the blurb. It’s the tragedy of the commons.”
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Laura M. Holson is an award-winning multimedia journalist for The New York Times focusing on personality profiles and narrative storytelling. For the past two decades, Holson has been exploring the intersection of money, power and celebrity in Silicon Valley, New York, and Hollywood. To learn more about her and her work, please click here.