May 7, 2015

CEOs give the best book blurbs


Robert Thomson gives good blurb. (Image via Wikipedia)

Robert Thomson gives good blurb. (Image via Wikipedia)

It’s only a couple short months before the release of Harper Lee’s new novel/sequel/draft/novel, Go Set A Watchman. As the literary world continues to chamber their thinkpiece guns, one thing remains for certain: very few people have actually read the book. One assumes that the small group of still-living readers includes Ms. Lee, her counsel Tonja Carter, and the very small cadre of HarperCollins leadership that acquired the book. Assuming that the publicity machine is operating at full capacity, the manuscript is likely not floating around the company intranet willy-nilly, so the number is likely still quite small.

However, the Telegraph reports that we can now add one more name to this list: Robert ThomsonCEO of HarperCollins’ parent company NewsCorp. He’s read it, and he even supplied an advance blurb!

Robert Thomson, the head of News Corp, which owns Go Set a Watchman publisher Harper Collins, expects the novel to take the world by storm.

“I expect it to have a profound impact,” he said on his company’s third-quarter earnings call on Tuesday night.

You would be cynical if you read “I expect it to have a profound impact” as a flavorless line amidst an otherwise rote trudge-through of discouraging financial data in which the man in charge feels the need to acknowledge one of the few book publishing stories that achieved escape velocity from the trade mediasphere. No, I don’t think so! I think what we’re seeing is the latest in a sterling series of book blurbs from that unsung braintrust of criticism: CEOs.

Many of them have favorite books, of course; and while they often shout these books out or strongly suggest that their entire workforce read them, they tend to do it months or years after publication, which may provide a brief sales boost but doesn’t quite capture the bated-breath magic of a pre-pub blurb campaign. Thankfully, major publishers have been doing fantastic outreach to prominent CEOs (and not just the ones who sign their checks!) to secure blurbs for their upcoming titles, and the results have been impressive to say the least.

Bill Gates on the new Elena Ferrante novel, A Story Of The Lost Child: “I owe Elena so much money.”

Warren Buffett on Kate Atkinson’s A God In Ruins: “Uses the right amount of letters.”

Mark Zuckerberg on Cormac McCarthy’s currently untitled new novel: “I also hate apostrophes.”

Oprah Winfrey on Jonathan Franzen’s Purity: “I can’t come to the phone right now, but if you want to leave a message, Purity is a book.”

Tim Cook on The Girl In The Spider’s Web: “Contains a sufficient amount of Apple products.”

Roger Goodell on Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life: “Brutal.”

Lloyd Blankfein on Garth Hallberg’s City On Fire: “Too big to fail.” 

Larry Page on Salman Rushdie’s Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights: “I totally just figured out what the title means!”

Marissa Mayer on Toni Morrison’s God Help The Child: “Did you know that Yahoo has two other original television shows? Bet you didn’t know that!”


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.