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Book blurbs should serve like a menu

Book blurbs should serve like a menu.
Book blurbs should serve like a menu.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

When Joanne Tropello asked me to review “Mr. Shipley’s Governess”, I thought I was agreeing to review a contemporary romance novel. That’s what the blurb said it was, anyway. But after reading four chapters, I realized that what I had in my Kindle was the equivalent to Bronte or Jane Austin. Her writing style has a historic flavor to it.

The book has several historic elements in the plot. The main character is an immigrant from Ireland. My great-grandfather came over to build the railroad, so this reminded me of that era. She agrees to be a governess (not a nanny) for a rich man who has a sick daughter. The setting reminded me of “The Secret Garden”.

The author said that she combined historic style with a contemporary story in order to create something unique. Well, that’s a good idea, or a bad idea depending on how you want to look at it.

This book is like going to a restaurant and ordering a hamburger with lettuce and tomato. When the waitress arrives with your food, she gives you a BLT. She explains that the chef is tired of making hamburgers all the time, and wanted to make something different. “Try it, you’ll like it,” she says.

Most customers wouldn’t complain about the difference between bacon and burger meat, and they might be happy to eat it. But some of the customers might be keeping Kosher and wouldn’t like the bait and switch tactics the chef used on them.

I seem to be in the latter group. I just can’t get into historical novels, no matter how many authors I’ve tried. I read four chapters of this book before I gave up. That was about how far I got with Bronte and Jane Austin, too.

Joanne Tropello has a style and tone that is similar to Austin. If you like one, you’ll like the other. If you don’t like one, you won’t like the other. But that’s not the point of the article.

There are rules about truth in advertising for companies, and authors should follow those rules, too. Using “bait and switch” tactics to get a customer to buy something they don’t really want is considered to be an unprofessional practice. So, if an author is going to mix genres, the blurb, advertising and genre label should reflect that mix.

If you look at a menu, it will tell you all the ingredients that are in your sandwich so that you can choose one that you will like. A book’s blurb and advertising should function the same way. It should not only give you a short summary of the setting, characters and problem to be solved, it should also indicate the sexual temperature, violence level, and genre. Just like some dieters want to know if a sandwich has carbs, some readers want to know if a story is hot or violent. Some dieters avoid salt. Some readers avoid religion or the occult. The customer has a right to know what they are buying before they buy it.

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