Book secrets

Written a book? Now get a famous writer to blurb it

Finishing the manuscript might be the easiest part of getting published. What about the recommendation on the cover?

Up until the time I published a book, I was under the gentle delusion that writing was the most arduous part of the process. Months, nay years, of unvented frustration, despairing of plot dead ends and dull characters, lengthy bouts of creative blankness, and constant questioning.

Am I good enough?

Will I ever finish?

This, I’m beginning to see, is the easy bit.

Writing, after all, is a solitary endeavour, punctuated by advice, should you seek it, from a few close friends, family, a mentor, if you’re lucky. You and the page, battling it out. The complications begin at the end.

When your editor drops you that casual email asking if you have anyone in mind for an author quote. A blurb as it’s called in industry-speak, or, as I recently gleaned from a website named Absolute Write, a "puff".

To be honest, before being published, I don’t remember paying much attention to author quotes. In fact, I’ve probably never bought a book because it’s been labelled propitious by Pamuk, or revelatory by Rushdie. Mostly, I relied on the recommendation of friends, the tug of a lovely cover jacket, good ole familiar favourites, or an utterly, surprisingly, engrossing first page.

All that was set to change after I wrote my own.

Off it goes

I’d checked the typesetted manuscript, sent off my final edits, happy ‒ dare I say it? ‒ with my achievement.

Suddenly, all felt inadequate.

A book, joyous thing though it may be, if left unadorned, bereft of hefty hyperbole, will simply not do. Two down, and I’ve come to realise that the garnering of these mythical "puffs" is the most stressful of endeavours. To begin with, who to ask? Which author friends owe you a favour? To whom do you already owe a favour? What if they say no? What if they say yes, and then say no? Even worse, what if the quote is middlingly enthusiastic?

For if you've cast your eye over the cover of most books these days, the praise cannot just be warm, it must be combustibly generous. Incredible, profound, astounding, breathtaking, seminal ‒ often all in the same sentence. As Nathan Filer, author of The Shock of the Fall says in a piece for The Guardian, “Cover blurbs aren't reviews. They're advertisements. No space for balanced, nuanced positivity.” It must break your heart, move mountains, change your life, change the way you see the world.

It’s exhausting.

I’m not denying, of course, that some of the excitement in a publishers’ publicity department is generated by a genuine passion for the products. My concern is that authors may be "puffing" each others’ books from a sense of compulsion. Stephen King famously blurbed The Hunger Games: “Constant suspense… I couldn't stop reading.” Only to say in an interview five years later: "I read The Hunger Games and didn't feel an urge to go on.” Oops.

And authors are often curious creatures. Some may refuse to offer a quote for anywhere else apart from the front cover. Another will write one only if the book is published in the UK (thereby effectively flushing half a century of postcolonialism down the proverbial drain).

To be fair, I’ve also done my small share of turning down blurb requests ‒ for a book that I wasn't politically comfortable with, and some that didn't inspire much effusiveness. More often, though, I’ve refused for one straightforward reason, as I imagine, most authors do, poor souls. Because they’re simply too busy. There’s life to lead, and things to be done. Besides, it’s hard enough trying to garner constant adoration for your own work without pausing to peruse piles of other people’s manuscripts.

Yet if you don't do unto others, then who will do unto you?

Standard packaging

Perhaps the frightening thing is that we're at a point now where people generally don't take any notice of quotes, but the absence of them (or the presence of only one mild quote) will set alarm bells ringing. They have become such a standard part of the package, that not seeing them there raises a slight disquiet. Could they not get anyone ‒ anyone?‒ to dish out a couple of platitudes for the cover? Hmmm. Maybe there's something wrong with this book...

Or maybe it’s time to take a step back.

Is this a trend that’s helping anyone?

If something really is “epically brilliant”, does it have to be spelled out in this manner?

I find that if I’ve read something truly stirring, I’m usually left bereft of words. Feeling as though my own are inadequate. If I were asked to blurb my most beloved books, a line or two for 1984, Mrs Dalloway, East of Eden, Shadow Lines, I’d give them the highest praise of all ‒ I’d have absolutely nothing to say.

Janice Pariat is the author of a collection of short stories, Boats on Land, and a novel, Seahorse.

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Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.


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Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.


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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.