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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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

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For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

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