An article appeared in The Guardian recently that would appeal to anyone who's interested in the validity of cover quotes.

Nathan Filer describes the process by which publishers apparently try to extract positive reviews from published authors so they can put them on the covers of their impending releases.

When asked by an interviewer how he felt about his book being described as "Engaging, funny and inventive", Filer replied, to laughter from the interviewer as well as the audience, "I should confess, I've known [the man who gave the quote] for many years. I think he owed me a favour. To be honest," Filer continued, "when he sent it, I considered pressing for more. Why not intensely engaging, [or] riotously funny?"

He went on to describe the influx of novels through his letterbox as publishers try to glean quotes for pre-publication hype, and the resulting thread from authors and readers of The Guardian followed:

"The hope is that two or three recognisable names will agree with the hyperbole and quote it back to the publisher. I've known this happen verbatim. I shan't say which book, but it's doing rather well right now, and the author quote on the cover is plucked straight from the letter that accompanied the proofs. I think perhaps they do this to implant those words in your head in the hope that you'll cough them back out."

Some comments are admirable in their integrity:

"As an author, an editor and a publisher, I believe that publishers should never ask authors to approach other authors for quotes."

"I will not do them for anyone I have ever met, or for books by my own publishers."

Others complained of publishers deliberately spin-doctoring:

"I was ambivalent about the book - great in parts, awful in others, and my final line was something like 'Probably the most entertaining, ludicrous, funny, idiotic, boring and fascinating book of the year", but when the paperback appeared my quote, front and centre on the cover, ran: "Probably the most entertaining...funny...fascinating book of the year".

So it's obviously wise to exercise caution when writing down a recommendation so that there's no chance of being misquoted...

One comment highlighted the subjectivity of the whole process:

"No idea why a book as badly written and full of cliches and utterly unbelievable situations as this has garnered such great reviews."

Some complained of the unnecessarily hyperbolic language:

"I've read books I loved, but I've never read a 'dazzling' story."

And one sad indictment:

"Unfortunately, [cover quotes are] often more entertaining than the actual story."

One correspondent pointed out that "At least these writers aren't being paid, and they're unlikely to put their good names on trash" while another observed that it "does seem like a lot of back scratching" is going on, so it could be argued that whilst these authors may not be getting money they can hardly be said to be wholly disinterested.

All of this adds weight to the value of an Ascribe recommendation, as it's far more likely that there's nothing in it for the people giving the quotes. 

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