Dont Quote Me…

Extraordinary thing. Look at this: http://bit.ly/jraEP

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 http://tr.im/ymyE 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. cedgray says:

    “Eagleton?” Eagleman, surely. If you’d put anything nice on the front of anything Eagleton’s written lately, I should cancel my subscription at once, etc.

  2. marrije says:

    Small correction: it’s Eagleman’s “Sum”, rather than Eagleton’s “Sum”. And I only know that because I just bought it from Amazon since you liked it so much :-)

  3. Dave-boru says:

    I will confess to you a similar problem of my own, though through some quirk of fate as it turns out mine is the antithesis of the predicament you find your self trapped within.
    I have no publishers, no agents, no literary giants not even a half crazed hack hoping for a word or two from me to send their manuscripts, novels, short stories or hastily scribbled chicken scratching into the stratosphere of public awareness to the background chorus of ringing of cash registers and amazon.com return buttons being tapped vigorously.
    This may be because I have yet to send out my first novel to an agent. It may be because I fear what some unknown, looming shadow of the as yet unknown literary agent will say when my time comes to drop my first three chapters and an overview into the post box, but i it may also be that i have no one to write a winning letter of recommendation for me, to get me my foot or any appendage in the door as it were.
    So if it wouldn’t be too much trouble…? I wont tell anyone you never read it….

  4. davorg says:

    “a forward by one of the most prodigious…”

    A “forward”? Good job publishers have proof-readers :-)

  5. zoltandragon says:

    Mr. Fry, I think it would be fair to offer a tweet after you read a book – as you see it has unimaginable effects, so why bother writing the quote: 140 characters suffice :) You make publishers happy, they continue to send you books, yet the task should be easier and less time consuming.

  6. ian says:

    Think of the things you can make up and say that people will instantly believe because “Stephen Fry said so”.

    You could start your own religion.

  7. Esme Montebank-Bliss says:

    Mr Fry

    It is in your best interests to decline to comment more often. Poor Annie Brockless ended up giving her 11th child away to Mrs Bishop at no.43 only last week. People tire of too much and throw out their bucket when it can no longer be mended.

  8. DanMacroskopp says:

    For all that said, your foreword in “The Salmon of Doubt” is something I years ago promised myself I would thank you for in person should the opportunity ever arise. It was perfect. Thank you.

  9. David Griffin says:

    Dear Mr Fry

    Well really; as interesting as your post is, I have stymbled upon another mistake. This is becoming like a student correcting a teacher.

    Should be: “Yuckety, yuckety, yuck. Puckety, puckety puck.”

    Any more corrections and I’ll begin to feel a bit sike.

    Best regards

    David J Griffin

  10. Vicus Scurra says:

    I wonder how many people have recently bought insurance as a result of your currently dire advertisements on every television channel. As opposed, say, to those who wished they had bought insurance prior to hurling their television out of the window to the words “how can anyone have any belief in their own integrity when they lend their words to such total tripe”.

  11. Subz says:

    Absolutely. Goes with my favourite quote.

    “If you can’t say no, then your yes means nothing.”

    I knew I liked you for good reason ;) xxx

  12. tiggermobile2004 says:

    I’m new to this “twitter” thing and have followed Stephen Fry avidly since learning that I am manic depressive. I do hope that he did actually read “You Don’t Have To Be Famous To Have Manic Depression” because his foreword on that book was fantastic as was the book!

  13. Ozandrewau says:

    So you don’t get paid for these endorsements? Yet, publishers and authors make money from your endorsements? Last episode of you in the US this coming Sunday in Australia.

  14. dirtywhitecandy says:

    Is this why you grew the beard, so that from now on you can read in disguise?

  15. Fryphile says:

    What’s this? Stephen Fry actually saying NO to something? DUDE WTF?

  16. gjhsu says:

    Fryphile – It’s the new, improved, streamlined Stephen Fry in action! But seriously, I sympathize with the man for what Stephen unintentionally gets himself into just because of who he is. I really do.

  17. Gertrude Susanne says:

    Mr Fry wächst langsam aus dem “Ich-muss-zu-allen-freundlich-sein”-Syndrom heraus! Sehr beruhigend… *Zeig´s ihnen, Steff!!* *wink*

  18. ribruce says:

    I presume that you have heard of the phenomenon of Oprah’s Book Club. If she even dreams that she likes a book it sells a million copies. She must an army of people filtering her books offers.

  19. marzgirl says:

    Well, perhaps you should take your own advise and be more selective. Will be good for you and when you do decide to write a forward or a comment it will have even more impact. Setting limits and saying no every now and then does not have to = unkind or unfriendly. You are treasured and will be anyway. ((hug))

  20. Len says:

    My book is on its way. Or will be. As soon as I finish rewriting it. And getting an agent. And getting it published. As soon as those few hurdles are cleared, it will fly to you on wings of–well, I guess feathers or aluminum would be the best ideas.

    You could always just use the same quote over-and-over again. Perhpas something along the lines of the blurb Groucho submitted for S.J. Perelman’s first book, Dawn Ginsberg’s Revenge: “From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it.”

  21. inckognito says:

    Mark Twen said once: ‘If you doubt – tell the truth’.
    If you feel like sharing smth with us – we, adequate people, would only appreciate that! :)
    You often talk about the classic authors you love (your WWW :)) – why then nobody from Media never checks the sales figures after you mention Wilde, I wonder?
    What happened to Eagleman’s book is really quite extraordinary, I think (otherwise, you wouldn’t be so alarmed, would you?). You shared on Twitter pretty many things before, too, like some Greek restaurant in NYC or a few iPhone apps, and that was adequately taken by people…So, I deeply respect your point of view but there’s nothing to worry about, I think :)
    xxx

  22. mudyjoon says:

    I copy/paste Eagleton’s “Sum” into google and Results 1 – 10 of about 36,100 for Eagleton’s “Sum”. (0.44 seconds)Search Results ‘Dont Quote Me… « The New Adventures of Stephen Fry’ was the very first option, so I guess you could say that’s ‘case in point’.. although when I type in Eagleman ‘Sum’ nothing..

    on the other hand, I have only recently discovered the joys of Stephen Fry and can say that so far I have been greatly inspired to pick up my pen, and indeed switch off the telly and pick up a book, and yes Sum might very well be one of my first book purchases in a while, but to my point, I’m grateful to have been inspired, thank-you.. and I’m sure Mr Eagleton/Eagleman would be too…

  23. jefro says:

    Be careful, Stephen. I would recommend that you not make this information public just yet. Once the word is out, you know, everyone will be talking about it.

  24. michael says:

    “i sensitively and thought-provokingly broke my goddamn rich&subtle arm in this brilliantly amusing Carwardine fella’s frigging book!” – Stephen Fry

    p.s. hey! i understood gerti’s post! Der Deutsche Thread lehrt mich…oder etwas…

  25. captainslow says:

    @ian

    [Think of the things you can make up and say that people will instantly believe because “Stephen Fry said so”.
    You could start your own religion.]

    Gosh, I thought he already had!

    C_S_

  26. Nickthebat says:

    Isn’t this more about our own lack of abilty to judge a book by its content than by it’s foreward than Stephen’s enthusiasm for giving a helping hand for new authors?

    Since when did a foreward matter anyway?

    By the way Stephen, I have a manuscript I’d love you to take a look at if you get the chance – tweet me!

  27. Jonathan Syer says:

    Personally I think you should advocate the all new, wart bursting, syphilis in a can. I am sure most people would leave you alone then.

    I get very angry with people over complicating twitter, the point of twitter is the total opposite! To be simple, to be able to browse a passing thought or to make people smile by sharing the photo you just took on the train of the old mans crack sitting in front of you.

    At the same time I understand when “celebs” use twitter to say what they are doing or what they are selling/working on, after all it’s why some people may follow them.

    I am sure their is a fine line for a celeb, however it seems if you cross it either way your up shit creek with somebody.

    ho hum x

  28. jacklenox says:

    Hi Stephen,

    I know you’re very busy, but if you’re worried about giving too many comments of praise out to literary works, perhaps you could consider giving some praise to literary websites? :)

    I’ve recently launched eNovella, a social network for creative writers that got a five star review in the most recent issue of Web User magazine. A tweet from you would help it get a bit more mainstream!

    Best,

    Jack x

  29. puckersthepig says:

    Wow, really Mr Fry think of all the things you could get your followers on twitter to do… You’re edging your way towards world domination. Seriously. Strangely I find myself aching to read that book now.
    Hm, I am off to Waterstones!
    xxx

  30. amanfromMars says:

    Stephen, Hi,

    This is a Quantum Communications Leap …… in an Earlier Instant Message ….

    “ur2die4 Media Groep

    amanfromMars

    Experimental Psychology

    NEUKlearer HyperRadioProActive IT

    AI Course Book/Live Operational Virtual Environment Field Manual, Yet for Us to ReWrite and Sublimely Apply with Publication …… for Realisation of Virtual Creations via the Power ORGasm Organism.

    http://www.ouls.ox.ac.uk/libraries/recommendations

    And a Novel Virtual ProgramMING for Media Manipulation …. Advanced Intelligent Direction of Live Assets and Natural Resources.

  31. vaughn says:

    I see your point – what was I thinking, but, you know how it goes, as an author who’s committed and focused to my work I’ll try every idea that pops into my head.

    Congratulations – supporter of the week, Prince Charles’s gig. Cool frog.

  32. martins says:

    Mr. Fry was on the radio with Sandi Toksvig. He expressed some concern about his air travel and how it affected the environment.

    Perhaps see (how do I insert a link here?)
    http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c5/page_35.shtml

    and maybe

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_emissions

    With his high public profile Mr. Fry could create some awareness in promoting knowledge of the actual facts and figures and assist political action ( and I don’t think campaigns such as the Guardian’s 10:10 will do any good – action is needed where it will have an effect)

    Thanks

  33. Ghost Code says:

    Encourage trapped writers
    Data pointed to satire
    Providers of nuisance

    Memory glittering in alarm
    Diminishing confession of rare quotes
    Debased manuscripts

    Commercial gold, power, beauty
    What have let myself in for now?
    An erotic thriller… yuck.

  34. cjj_mccray says:

    Currently Eagleman’s book (at Amazon) has Brian Eno’s quote at the top of the list: http://is.gd/3c3nl with two other anonymous one-line reviews.

    So despite twit-plugging away, the true arbiter of procurement that is Amazon hasn’t picked up Mr F’s review at all. I’d suggest he carry on plugging away until Amazon sit-up and take notice!

    Or as suggested already, turn to the dark side… though rather than canned syphilis (great idea – it would need a review that was truly “warts and all”), plug absolute howlers as being truly excellent works. See if more newspaper space can be absorbed by the resulting stories: http://is.gd/3c3gN What’s Geoffery Archer written recently?

  35. spermologer says:

    Isn’t over-exposure a big danger in all walks … was a little worried you’d be at the albert hall, following the floor polisher as lead cricket-bat-and-dead-cat player in the finale. But you didn’t and that’s great.

  36. Finchany says:

    Beautifully put Mr. Fry.

    x

  37. NovaRob says:

    Look at it this way Stephen: At least this proves that the recent disparaging TimesOnline article is full of it. :)

  38. hatha1 says:

    Last chance to see thank you Mark and Stephen xx

  39. lloydwood says:

    I think the programe with dear Stephen is most wounderful showing to us humans that nothink should be taken for granted we the human race have already have killed of so many diffrent species of animals and the programe is showing us how stupid we have all been. I think that animals are most wounderful and should be left to there own devices. I believe that we the human race should and could be more understanding to all creatures they have as much right to be on this planet as much as we do and those very evil people that hunt them down and kill them for money should should be hunted down and brought forward and justice done to those animals. I look forward to waching next weeks episode of the last chance to see on bbc 2.

  40. teapotwoman says:

    Such tremendous power and influence would be dangerous in the wrong hands, so I’m glad it lies with you. :)

  41. Chrismoran says:

    DEAREST MR. FRY,
    I’m an Irish sixteen year old and in my school at the moment we are organising a project for a competition called “Young Social Innovators”. Our project will be trying to raise money for Childline and other child-friendly, depression-fighting charities, and will centre on the HEALING POWER OF COMEDY. (It’s called “In Stitches”.) Though I know you’re expectionally busy, and the very idea of you personally replying to this plea is fantastical to say the least, I would be infinately honoured if you could offer us some advice. You are unspeakably skilled in the field of comedy (I’m a irreparable addict of QI, Fry & Laurie, etc.), and versed in the horrid murk of depression, and we feel that you abvoe all people, famous or otherwise, are invaluable to our cause.
    Thank you SO much for your time,
    Your Irish fan,
    CHRIS MORAN

  42. dirtywhitecandy says:

    Jacklenox, I’m going to check out enovella – would anyone like to check out my eponymous blog, dirty white candy, inspiration and creative provocation for writers? Drop by if you need a creative tickle or you’re locked up with a manuscript that is refusing to behave.

  43. deathlyrat says:

    I’d have thought the obvious answer would be to stop sending quotes for these people to use. How about inventing a not-so-secret code so that everyone who reads your blog or your tweets knows it is garbage. I’m sure you could think of a lot more mischeif to be had yourself.

    I really want to tell you and your erudite readership about Stanford University’s youtube channel. They have complete courses that anyone can follow and use to learn all sorts of things! I’m doing the “programming (as in computer) methodology” to begin with.

    Lastly, I’ve really enjoyed your recent contributions on “Just a minute”. I think Paul, Nicholas and yourself are very fun to listen to.

  44. Darell Miller says:

    Okay so this might well be anathema to you and your followers Stephen but have you thought of employing the tools of Adam Smith to overcome this problem? In effect you are supplying a potentially high value economic good at no marginal cost to the consumer of that good, the publishers and writers. As long as this continues to be the case you will continue to be inundated with requests. Even if the net effect of all the requests is to diminish the value that you provide this will not diminish the requests as there is no cost to the consumer.

    There are two courses of action open to you if you wish to continue to provide quotes. Either reduce the value that you provide (write disparaging quotes) or increase the marginal cost to the consumer. I am sure that your innate good manners will prevent you from pursing the first course of action which leaves the second course as your viable option. Whilst this may seem distasteful and even morally dubious you do not have to receive the revenue from this activity yourself but could insist on a substantial donation to one of a number of charities that you support. You can also make clear that the charge is only for your time to read the book and that you are not obligated to supply a quote.

    If this does not immediately have the effect that you wish then simply increase the level of donation to charity required until the volumes drop to a manageable level. At this point supply and demand will be in equilibrium and charities will be extremely grateful.

  45. Akhen1khan2 says:

    On a slight tangent Steven, as a new member to your web page, could you tell me if you have ever read anything in the “Heroic Fantasy” genre, and indeed if it interests you?

  46. miniaturegarden says:

    Darell Miller: so basically Stephen´s quotes could save cats?

    I´m all for it!

  47. Darell Miller says:

    miniaturegarden: cats, manatees, white rhinos… it really just depends on the wonderful Mr Fry’s undoubted good taste.

  48. x.Ingeborg.x says:

    Haha, The last phrases are realy funny. :D
    Forgive me for my primitive vocabulary. (I’m from Belgium. So I’m watching BBC all the time, to get my English fixed).
    So, the quotes on those books are not realy said by you, M. Fry?
    (There is a possible way I understood it al wrong. :) )

    Ingeborg x

  49. thesoundguy says:

    Dear Mr. Fry,
    I fully understand the predicament in which you find yourself awash in a sea of un-edited and possibly un-creative literary parchment. It is to that affect that I believe I have a potential solution that would benefit both you and the plethora of publishers begging for your prose with baited breath.
    The solution is quite simple. I call it “Stephen Fry’s Vending Machine o’ Quotes.” For a substantial fee, a publisher will receive the rights to use one of a pre-determined list of quotes. These quotes might include:
    1. “This is the worst rubbish I’ve ever laid eyes on. Now where did I last lay my eyes?”
    2. “Books of this sort should be used as kindling for burning other books.”
    3. “Please don’t buy this book just because you see my name on it.”

    The benefits of this system give you an additional income without requiring your read the book and then write some waxed drivel about how utterly almost good the book was in your mind.

    Let’s face it, it’s not about what is said in a book cover quote, it’s about who said it.

    http://twitter.com/behindthemixer

  50. the100thkiss says:

    At the end of the day, however tiresome it must get to be held in such a high regard, if you’re a boom to other people’s works and therefore lives then it must be only a good thing.

    I’m sure every “celebrity” at some point wishes they were just normal folk, but people thinking your opinion of a product must be worth buying for themselves is amazing.

    I don’t think it’s possible to be ever truly be tired of others belief in your own self.

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