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A Note About Endorsements

August 12th, 2009

bdaltonThere’s debate out there regarding the value of endorsements. How much should a reader weigh back-cover book blurbs, for example, when deciding whether or not to purchase a certain book?

Readers often suspect what is taken as fact in publishing — that blurbs are not done for the reader, but for the blurber. Freakonomics co-author, Stephen J. Dubner, is convinced that these kinds of endorsements don’t matter one bit to the success of a book, and comic-strip creator, Scott Adams, poked fun at the practice of logrolling by asking fans to come up with funny blurbs for one of his collections:

“This book was so good, I showed it to my wife and said, ‘This is how sex is supposed to feel like.” – Richard Yee

“A book so overflowing with brilliance and wit, it actually improves the quality of nearby books!” – Paul Roub

“Like peanut butter for the soul.” – John Coleman

Endorsements can also come in the form of book reviews, and given the choice between a blurb and a review, a book buyer probably wants to go with the review. There’s good reason. Blurbs are almost always positive, but reviews can go either way. So far, almost everything that has been said in the press about “Poorly Made in China” has been positive. But because first-time authors are often given a break, I’m inclined to take such praise with a grain of a salt.

Having just said that, here is another thumbs-up review, this one from China Economic Review. The reveiwer promises that the book “will change your life,” and that it is nuanced. I don’t know about life-changing, but nuanced sounds nice…

Of all the endorsement types, my hands-down favorite is the unsolicited reader’s note. I haven’t asked for these messages, but they come in. The best ones are from those fighting the good fight in China. Here’s a sample from earlier this week. If there’s time, I will run others:

I read a review of Poorly Made in China in the Asia Times and subsequently on Danwei, and I immediately ordered a copy.  I read very few books on China, as I find most of them to be overly simplistic and frequently inaccurate, so when I read the reviews of your book, I was intrigued that you set out to accurately describe the on-the-ground realities of the manufacturing industry in South China.

I work for a firm that conducts corporate investigations, risk mitigation, etc.  Given my location, the overwhelming majority of my job centers on anti-counterfeiting investigations and various interrelated loss prevention activities dealing with gray market problems, supply chain security, etc.  As you might imagine, I have seen my fair share of factories in Guangdong, Fujian, Zhejiang, etc., many of which make products that I never knew existed.  My firm has dealt with every manner of scam, fraud, and cheat out there, although I’m 100% sure that I will continue to be surprised.

My friends and colleagues who work in marketing or finance in Shanghai and Beijing are enamored with the New China in that sort of starry-eyed way that is so often reflected in the mainstream literature and media about China (I don’t think I need to name authors’ names–I get the sense you know to what I am referring), so much so that I feel like we sometimes live on another planet.  Thus, I found your book exceedingly refreshing; the level of insight and the general narrative you present hit so close to home.  You’re one of the few China Hands that I’ve read that seem to really “get it”, and your book feels like the China that I know.

Flattered to be on the receiving end of this kind of stuff. Like peanut butter for the soul…

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