February 20, 2010

Publishing Trend: Recommendations as Preface

A publishing trend in Taiwan that seems to have caught on in only the last few years is the inclusion of multiple recommendations for a book placed at the beginning of a book. This is a logical extension of the blurb usually placed on the cover or dust jacket of a book; if a blurb, which is a recommendation of one or two sentences, helps to sell books, then wouldn't recommendation of one or two pages help to sell even more books?

I'll offer three examples from books I have on hand. The first is the book 好想就醬上班去 by 就醬 and 巧可, published in 2009. Jiu Jiang (就醬) is the author of a popular blog, and the two recommendations are written by other popular author/bloggers, 草莓圖騰 and BO2. The first recommendation is two pages and the second is one page including an illustration. (Incidentally, I noticed that 草莓圖騰's new book, in reciprocation, includes a recommendation written by Jiu Jiang.)

The next example, which is also the most extreme, is from a book called 看不見的角落 by 陳維恭. This book was also published in 2009. It is prefaced by a total of nine recommendations spread across twelve pages! For this book of stories from an emergency room, the first piece is written by Taichung mayor Jason Hu, and the other recommendations are mostly written by medical professionals. Like the book in the first example, the potential reader is alerted to the presence of these recommendations on the book's cover.

The third example is the book 台灣糕餅50味 by 張尊禎. It includes three recommendations over four pages written by other authors who are not apparently associated with the book's subject, which is pastries and other confections from Taiwan. It was also published last year.

The recommendations in these books are all labeled as 推薦序, meaning recommendation preface. Prefaces written by a third party always serve as a recommendation of sorts, but these prefaces are plainly labeled as such to better serve their purpose of selling books.

Although the effectiveness of these recommendations is open to question, it is clear to me that these recommendations are potentially a great way to sell more books with little effort on the part of publishers. And so this trend of including transparently labeled recommendations at the beginning of a book is a phenomenon that doesn't prompt the question "Why?" so much as "Why isn't this the norm?".

The closest thing to this in traditional publishing is when paperbacks sometimes include pages full of blurbs at the front of the book. But there are a few differences. These pages of blurbs are usually only found in paperbacks when the hardback edition was already released to favorable reviews. The blurbs rarely extend for more than a page and they tend to be written by authors and professional reviewers. Also, the position of the blurbs at the very beginning of the book signals that they are advertisements rather than being part of the actual book.

With the recommendation prefaces included in the Taiwanese books I mentioned, the recommendation becomes part of the actual book. Most of the so-called recommendation prefaces do make an attempt at serving as a preface--giving an introduction to the subject or describing the significance of the work. They are not simply recommendations or reviews. (On the other hand, several of the shorter recommendations are simply recommendations and nothing more.) And I will further refute their validity as prefaces by noting that in all three books, the author also supplied his or her own preface, perhaps feeling that the 3-12 pages of recommendation prefaces would not suffice.