Dont Quote Me…

Extraordinary thing. Look at this:

I was having lunch with my literary agent yesterday and I said, mostly as a joke, that I had it in mind to blog a confession. I would publicly admit that I read fewer than one in twenty of the books to which I gave approving quotes for dust jackets and blurbs. My agent was shocked. Whether he was shocked that I might plug books I hadn’t read, or shocked that I could contemplate owning up to such a crime, I cannot be entirely sure.

I hasten to add that it isn’t true. The plan, as I told my agent, was to make this confession as a way of getting publishers off my back. It may sound ungracious, but I get asked so many times a week to read book and supply quotes for them that I’m getting a bit fed up. Not because I don’t like reading, nor because I don’t like being sent books, though mostly of course, I am sent proof copies rather than the finished article. No, what I’m fed up with (and it is my contention that I am SO not alone in this) is seeing my name on the fronts, backs and flaps of books saying things like “a beautifully paced, unforgettable thriller”, “a magnificent feat of imagination”, “a delicately realised and vividly felt journey through memory and desire”, etc etc. Yuckety, yuckety, yuck. Pukety, pukety puke.

I mean well: I really don’t think my good intentions can be questioned. It gives me pleasure to encourage writers and if they and their publishers are so convinced that a word from me makes a difference then surely it would be churlish and unfriendly of me to deny them a favour that costs me so little and is worth (apparently) so much to them? And yet … isn’t there is a law of diminishing returns at work here? “I saw a new book in Waterstone’s the other day that didn’t have a quote from you on the front” people joke to me. I am fully aware that each peal of praise trumpeting a new book must be worth slightly less. The coin gets debased: instead of crying “Wolf!”, I’m crying “Gold!”, but the effect is the same. Hence my plan to reveal that I never read any of these works in the first place. If I let it be known that my view of a book’s merit is worthless because I never read any of them, then perhaps the nuisance would finally cease? Of course my view of a book’s merit IS worthless, or at last worth no more than anyone else’s … until you come face to face with data like that in the article pointed to in the link at the top of this page.

I try very hard not to use Twitter for the purpose of plugging anything commercial unless it is an absolutely genuine enthusiasm, a discovery I feel I just have to share. Eagleman’s “Sum” is an example of this and while I am pleased that my tweeting had such a positive effect, I have to confess that the figures are a little alarming. Imagine how many books and manuscripts are on their way to me even as we speak. What have let myself in for now?

Having said which, it just so happens that a truly amazing book is being published this very day: Last Chance To See, by Mark Carwardine Fantastic photos, glittering prose and a forward by one of the most prodigious book-pluggers and quote-providers in the business. “Last Chance To See is a majestic tour d’horizon ” Stephen Fry, “a work or rare power and beauty” Stephen Fry, “I loved the Foreword by Stephen Fry,” Stephen Fry, “scorching satire”, Stephen Fry, “breathtakingly erotic” Stephen Fry, “help, I’m trapped,” Stephen Fry, “let me out!” Stephen Fry……

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66 comments on “Dont Quote Me…”

  1. DebSmith says:

    It’s my first time in and I’ve just read your piece on signing book flaps and I’m sitting here laughing my head off already. So funny. Please don’t ever stop. :) (well, with the book flaps if you want to, but not the writings).

  2. Aurora says:

    ih! I imagine you going crazy,walking in the room,and making all your peculiar mouvements while angry! I’m watching you from you chair,I read the miniblog from your computer and I sked you “So? ..”
    Well,I can’t avoid to smile,hug you and tell you that … They do it because they LOVE you!
    Who’d quote me?!
    Cheer up guy! :)

  3. salleeb_of_the_dessert says:

    Perchance you could return the proof’s with your own suggested quotes, such as “Arse Gravy of the worst kind…..” :) I would definately at least pick up and read the blurb of any book I saw that on :)

  4. Aurora says:

    I feel ashamed of being italian today!My 18years old sister came back from school,and was telling me about her day… well she had english class today,and her teacher told the class that “Wilde (Oscar Wilde) wont be studied,’cos he was Not so important” Well, I feel ashamed,Ialmast broken in tears.
    I also knew that the teacher avoided to make them study even Mary Shelley and Byron!
    I really feel bad! Really! If I only think I cannot be a teacher …Hell!
    Well out country is so blessed in culture and the young are so fond in knowledge that a teacher can avoid to make them study!!!!
    I feel … don’t know!Really don’t know!
    And sorry again!!!

  5. uk_rene says:

    that’s the atomic power of twitter…
    take one infectious enthusiasm of an highly reputable and knowledgeable entity of showbiz on one side, sophisticated globally spread technology to unite and channel interest and affinities on the other, and well, there you have it..a bestseller enjoyed and celebrated by everyone.
    if it weren’t for loved celebrities like Stephen and others, a fast growing interest of social technologies and ever developing IT geniuses, we wouldn’t be able to share the great works by brilliant writers all through the entire social community.
    if the shrewd aim for profit of publishers means to cash in on the back of the hard earned popularity of publicly celebrated people, but at the same time gives everyone the chance to benefit from the content and the ability to widen their horizon and understanding of issues they were not even remotely interested in before, then – so be it.
    its unfair to use quotes without the important value of authenticity.
    a policy or terms of use may be suggested… to protect intellectual property, so if its not ‘said’ it won’t be quoted.
    but if the quote is genuine and true, it would be a shame to leave it off the book cover to prevent a sudden rise of sales.
    the sudden rise of interest, and the acquired knowledge after consumption is far to valuable to the delicate scaffolding of our global society called common sense.

  6. marcus.shingler says:


    Nice piece. I’ve visited New York and LA and although I can say I like the Beatles and the Stones, I must admit that LA didn’t grab me by the gonads in the way that New York did/does but there you go. Loved Chicago as well. Liked the binary gag but the real geek question of course is, can you love Windows and Mac? :-) The answer must shirley be no!


  7. Sub-Level28 says:

    I like this.
    Twitter is a really good tool,and I use it to get news and information and even discover new things. I signed on on a whim not really knowing what to do there nor what it was for. I found out it was very useful if you just follow the right(right for me) people and I have even gotten good advice from people there too and also given some. It’s a good filter to get at what you want instead of having to wade through tons of websites.

    And I love your honesty and keep it up.
    Maybe you’ll get a proper book to read next time. (or hopefully this will make them think twice about bombarding you with them)

    Love and respect

  8. doris999 says:

    Hiya, it seems to me you are entirely missing a trick on this one. Why not write what seems at first glance to be a complimentry review whilst actually telling it how it is…eg:

    “I love a good book (waffle waffle) and wasted no time at all in reading this one (waffle waffle)”

    For those of us in the know it will be hilarious to work out what you really thought! The dodgy books coming your way might dwindle a bit too if they thought you might just rip the doodoo out of them.

    More soon
    N x

  9. SamJordison says:

    Does this mean that you didn’t actually read James Palumbo’s Tomas? I thought that recommendation was a bit of an aberration…

  10. globaladman says:

    The only question that begs asking, is how the hell do I get to have dinner with you ?
    I’m living in St.John’s Wood for God’s sake. You’d think a lousy dinner was a possibility.

  11. darulz4me says:

    This just made my day, and made me wonder about the power of twitter. But may I just say that you provide truly excellent quotes for books (that you might not have read lol). Thank you, and hoping always for more to come.

  12. laura.leonard.22 says:

    hello Mr Stephen fry!
    I am actually new to twitter but I have been a big fan of yours, since the day i saw you qct in Oscar Wilde, i decided to read your books and it turned out to become a “disease”and i have read most of your books now, but the big problem is now,that i would like my boyfriend to have also the joy of reading your masterpieces, he is italian, i have gone around bookshops in italy and alas have not found any of your books. I really enjoyed “Making History”, and hoped that it would have been translated!I might be wrong, or not looking in the right places but I have not found your books in other languages!!!! I speak Italian and French fluently, yes I could translate then myself for my friends and boyfriend but what about introducing your novels to a more European audience/readers?

    I m not sure whether you will answer but “j’éspere que mon blog apportera ses fruits” to a future translation!!!!

  13. leestamp says:

    Nothing to do withwhat you just posted realy. I just discovered Kingdom on Youtube and think it was brilliant. I see that only 3 series were filmed and could not find an reference to any possibility of a forth. I was thrilled to see many of my favorite British actrs in th series. My exposure to british Television has been limited to what Dallas Publc Television has shown; which included Blackadder, Bertie? and Jeeves (at least I remember your character, I can see Hugh Laurie on HOUSE anyweek). I also watched TopGear and that is where I learned of your Blog. Hope this doesn’t ruin everyone’s train of thought o your current blogging. Just thought that a little thanks for a job well down was important.

  14. Paul of the woods says:

    Very interesting ,
    I think sometimes you have to put your foot down and say enough is enough bugger off. It is a bit cheeky of them to send you books expect you to read them and then give a glowing report. I would just put “haven’t read this let me know what you think”
    or easier still ” this book is pants”
    go on it would make many people smile.

  15. Reynard says:

    Books, books, book. I have just finished editing a book written by a friend who suffers from Bipolar. It is a story of his life and struggles with the condition and the ways in which he copes. It has been written for the benefit of other sufferers such as yourself, their family and carers. May I send you a “Word” copy prior to print for your comments and, if you like it, your endorsement. We are funding this project ourselves so the print run will be limited and will be early next year. Thank you. Roy Wallis

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