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View Full Version : Unscrupulous and/or Illegal Marketing Practices by Authors



slhuang
04-28-2014, 01:56 AM
I wasn't sure if this belonged more here or in self-pub, but since unscrupulous marketing practices are employed by some trade-pubbed authors too -- albeit it seems to be a less-rampant problem among them -- I thought it belonged better here.

http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/harrystyles-1d-divergent-gameofthrones-nothing-post/

The sad part is, these techniques seem to work for people, no matter how much we'd like that not to be the case. Which brings me to -- what can we do about it?

As consumers, how do we keep from rewarding these behaviors? It's not our job to know everything about every author, or dig deep enough to police how we happened to hear about a book. Nor should it be, IMHO. Fancifully, it seems like it would be nice if there were some sort of Better Business Bureau for authors that would log complaints about their business practices, something authors could join and would affix the sticker to their Amazon pages -- consumers could then order their searches to exclude books with a "business practices" ranking of less than a certain grade to ensure that they weren't seeing a book propelled to the top of the rankings by unethical or illegal means. (I can already see a myriad of problems with such a system, but I can dream . . .)

But how can we stop rewarding the books that are being promoted irresponsibly? Is it possible? And how much does it matter to you that people do this? (It bothers me, because I don't like seeing such things in my community -- either the greater community of authors, or the smaller community of SPed authors. I think it makes us all the poorer and makes the whole author/reviewer/fan engagement and culture uglier when people do these things.)

And as authors, obviously marketing our own work both legally and ethically -- and encouraging new authors to do likewise -- is right up there on top as to something we can do. I'm struck very much with the same ornery feeling I have about my work in Hollywood: I don't care if it takes me longer to "make it;" I'm going to do things how I feel comfortable doing them or not at all. :D

ishtar'sgate
04-28-2014, 02:18 AM
But how can we stop rewarding the books that are being promoted irresponsibly? Is it possible? And how much does it matter to you that people do this?

I'm only ticked off about it if I fall into the trap of reading something that doesn't live up to its hype. When it happens, and it has once or twice, I don't buy anything else written by that author again. I suspect most readers are the same. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

shadowwalker
04-28-2014, 02:44 AM
Yeah, I would assume that these crap tactics might work at first, but eventually they'll turn around and bite the authors in the ass. Blogs such as this one certainly help spread the word. While, as noted in the article, it's not exclusive to self-publishers, the early atmosphere of sales über alles certainly set the tone.

JustSarah
04-28-2014, 02:50 AM
I'm not inclined to take a blog post seriously that advertises Divergent in the header.

Polenth
04-28-2014, 03:09 AM
I have a general policy that if I blog about bad behaviour, I avoid mentioning the name of the author involved where possible. If I blog about good behaviour, I give the name, the author's website, or whatever else will help them. Bad behaviour shouldn't get rewarded with high sales.

But it does get rewarded, as enough people reward it to make it worthwhile. Emotional manipulation is the most successful, as people seem to react with the same intensity as the original manipulation. So a melodramatic post about feeling suicidal because of the mean reviewer that left a four-star review will get a lot of sales. A person who says they're a bit unhappy with one of the statements in a four-star review is probably not being dramatic enough. The person who thanks the four-star reviewer won't get any sales from that. Authors aren't going to stop all the while it helps them sell books.

JustSarah
04-28-2014, 03:15 AM
I wouldn't have such a problem about the post, except that it assumes anyone who uses celebrity likeness is intending it for advertisement purposes. That is an absolutely huge accusation.

Polenth
04-28-2014, 03:25 AM
I'm not inclined to take a blog post seriously that advertises Divergent in the header.


I wouldn't have such a problem about the post, except that it assumes anyone who uses celebrity likeness is intending it for advertisement purposes. That is an absolutely huge accusation.

They're not advertising Divergent (though even if they were, I'm not sure why a book blog running an advert for a book would be a problem). Nor are they saying quite what you seem to think they're saying. I doubt they'd object to me including promotional shots from a film in a film review, for example. That's within fair use rules and it's not intended as self-promotion.

JustSarah
04-28-2014, 03:32 AM
Ah OK so something like character images in like x movie review is OK?

The reason the topic confuses me, is I've seen author behaving badly used even by people that engage in such practices, and therefore almost sort of muddy the waters a little bit.

Like someone who runs a contest, fusses at someone else for fussing at them for a three star review. Or even sometimes, even complaining because they wanted a comedy but your story is a tragedy. Then expecting glowing reviews on their own work. The whole thing makes me head hurt a little.

I'm unsure what to believe as a complete beginner to building platform.

Samsonet
04-28-2014, 04:41 AM
Is she referencing the book with Orlando Bloom as a vampire on the cover?

jjdebenedictis
04-28-2014, 05:35 AM
As someone who never pays any attention to marketing, I have trouble believing these tactics do actually work. I mean, is there sales data to support that fear? Because when it comes to both self-publishing and trade publishing, it seems like there's never any sales data for us yokels to get our eyeballs on.

JustSarah
04-28-2014, 05:42 AM
Even if it did, some of us use celebrities as inspiration for characters. That doesn't mean we are trying to self-promote as this "x celebrity memoir." I don't even have a book out, and I don't appreciate being told what novella I can't write before it is even out. Remember that revision in your friend, if there is to much of a resemblance it can be changed.

Maybe I will go back and base characters on family. With permission of course.

NRoach
04-28-2014, 05:52 AM
Even if it did, some of us use celebrities as inspiration for characters. That doesn't mean we are trying to self-promote as this "x celebrity memoir."

But the poster isn't saying that.
The problem is with authors who write a book with characters based on celebrities and then say "HEY GUYS, I MY PROTAGONIST IS TOTALLY BASED ON ORLANDO BLOOM/HARRY STYLES/JUSTIN BIEBER" as a way to bring in the fans of that celebrity.

JustSarah
04-28-2014, 05:53 AM
Ah OK thanks.

slhuang
04-28-2014, 09:21 AM
I'm not inclined to take a blog post seriously that advertises Divergent in the header.

It's not advertising Divergent. The title is satire -- the way people sometimes tag things with popular properties to get more eyeballs even if the piece has nothing to do with that property.


As someone who never pays any attention to marketing, I have trouble believing these tactics do actually work. I mean, is there sales data to support that fear? Because when it comes to both self-publishing and trade publishing, it seems like there's never any sales data for us yokels to get our eyeballs on.

That's a good point, and that does seem to be the problem with pretty much everything that talks about sales. ;) (Oh, how cool it would be to have a BoxOfficeMojo for books! I could do all sorts of math!) Anecdotally, I feel like I have seen authors drive sales this way, but it's true that it's impossible to know for sure if their books actually are appealing to people and would have had more sales if they hadn't.

Anyway, you're absolutely right that we shouldn't take at face value that this is something that works to drive sales -- I don't know where the author took that from and I should've been more skeptical! (Hullo, confirmation bias, fancy seeing you here. :D) These acts do bug me regardless of whether they work or not, but perhaps if they don't actually work this isn't a problem that needs a solution. Makes me hope you're right. :)

ShaunHorton
04-28-2014, 09:53 AM
Things like that is aggravating because I really have no doubt that some of these tricks work. People are drama and celebrity obsessed. If someone makes a huge fit over a review, uses the hashtag "bully" or talks about how depressed they are over their work, I have no doubt people are going to rush to check it all out.

On top of that is image rights and how people mock them. I know of at least one guy, he rips backgrounds and celebrity pictures off the internet and photoshops his book into the pictures, then posts them all over the place saying "Hey! Look who's reading my book now!"

It just pisses me off because I know I would never do anything like that, and if I knew of a place to report it, I would. People breaking the law deserve to pay the price for it. Maybe if more of them were turned in or caught, it wouldn't happen so much.

Anna L.
04-28-2014, 10:22 AM
These tactics might generate sales in the short term, but I don't think you can build a lasting career on scammy practices. Readers will wise up to these tricks.

Putputt
04-28-2014, 11:53 AM
I'm not inclined to take a blog post seriously that advertises Divergent in the header.

Like slhuang said, the use of #divergent in the header is satirical. But even if it weren't, I don't find this sweeping dismissal of all Divergent fans helpful. I myself can't stand Divergent. I read the first book, tried to read the second, and gave up. But that doesn't mean I get to treat Divergent fans with less respect just because our tastes don't mesh up. Guess who's a big Divergent fan? Agent Janet Reid, whose blogs have been amazingly helpful to writers everywhere. She's been very vocal about loving Divergent, and to dismiss her advice on the publishing industry just because she's a Divergent fan would be...well, would be your loss.


I wouldn't have such a problem about the post, except that it assumes anyone who uses celebrity likeness is intending it for advertisement purposes. That is an absolutely huge accusation.

Huh? I might have missed something, but I've read the post twice and I still can't find where the poster assumes anyone who uses celeb likeness is intending it for advertisement purposes. The examples she gave are clearly misusing celebrities as a way to promote their books.


Even if it did, some of us use celebrities as inspiration for characters. That doesn't mean we are trying to self-promote as this "x celebrity memoir." I don't even have a book out, and I don't appreciate being told what novella I can't write before it is even out. Remember that revision in your friend, if there is to much of a resemblance it can be changed.

Maybe I will go back and base characters on family. With permission of course.

Again, nowhere did the poster say that authors who use celebs' names are trying to promote their books as celebs' memoirs. Maybe if you were to explain how you came to that conclusion...? :)

Aaaanywho, back to the OP, thank you for sharing the post with us, sl. I'm not sure that there's much that can be done to stop this kind of behavior. Like the poster said, even if people complained about it, nothing is likely to come out of it. If there was a place you could report such behavior to, things might be different. But as it is, these authors probably constitute as "small fish" to law enforcers. :-/ (I could be wrong, I have no idea how much they'd earn from such tactics, see.)

Ken
04-28-2014, 02:19 PM
Be ethical yourself. And maybe by doing that you're setting an example for other authors to follow. Other than that, shrug.

Cathy C
04-28-2014, 03:35 PM
When Facebook appeared on the scene, like MySpace before it, there was an emphasis on images. Same with Pinterest. When you're a writer, relying on visuals to get out the marketing on a new book (except for the cover of your own book) is a crutch. Even if I do use a photo to map out a character in my head, there's no reason to inflict that on my readers. But it's easy to do, because people love photos.

Twitter relies more on my words, which is what I want readers to remember about me. :Shrug:

I dropped the Facebook account on the same day. No interest for me.

As for marketing by deception, I don't know that there's any way to fix that. But I'm LESS likely to buy a book if the author was cyber-bullied and thereafter has the gall to tie the bullying to promotion of the book. Not only does it make me doubt the original bullying, the promotion is its own form of bullying. I won't be bullied into using an emotional response to drive my buying habits.

JustSarah
04-28-2014, 05:27 PM
Like slhuang said, the use of #divergent in the header is satirical. But even if it weren't, I don't find this sweeping dismissal of all Divergent fans helpful. I myself can't stand Divergent. I read the first book, tried to read the second, and gave up. But that doesn't mean I get to treat Divergent fans with less respect just because our tastes don't mesh up. Guess who's a big Divergent fan? Agent Janet Reid, whose blogs have been amazingly helpful to writers everywhere. She's been very vocal about loving Divergent, and to dismiss her advice on the publishing industry just because she's a Divergent fan would be...well, would be your loss.

Again, nowhere did the poster say that authors who use celebs' names are trying to promote their books as celebs' memoirs. Maybe if you were to explain how you came to that conclusion...? :)


Where exactly did I personally dismiss all Divergent fans? Remember, I was a fan of the movie. I would be dismissing myself as well. I'm seriously curious where you got that. If you read my public twitter at all, you would know I'm a fan.

I took what she said about using celebrities appearance in your work to mean any sort of thing where your using celebrities even as inspiration for character appearance. The way it was worded, it wasn't clear whether she meant for the purpose of self-promotion or for general use. As it was specified by another user here, this is clear now.

Putputt
04-28-2014, 05:44 PM
Where exactly did I personally dismiss all Divergent fans? Remember, I was a fan of the movie. I would be dismissing myself as well.

"I'm not inclined to take a blog post seriously that advertises Divergent in the header." would be where I got a dismissive attitude. Not sure how else that sentence could be taken.

P.S. I wasn't aware that you're a Divergent fan. Did I miss it upthread? ETA: Ah, right, your Twitter feed. No, I don't follow it. I tend to take posts on AW at face value. :)



I took what she said about using celebrities appearance in your work to mean any sort of thing where your using celebrities even as inspiration for character appearance. The way it was worded, it wasn't clear whether she meant for the purpose of self-promotion or for general use. As it was specified by another user here, this is clear now.I thought it was pretty clear what she meant on the post, but I'm glad it's clear to you now. :D

Jamesaritchie
04-28-2014, 07:21 PM
I really don't care. I write my own stories, I do whatever marketing publishers feel I must, and I trust the values and judgment of the reading public.

What such writers as the ones mentioned in the blog post do matters not at all to me. I tend to believe that what goes around, comes around, and if they can live with themselves, so be it.

I is only an unsophisticated, country boy writer, and that's more than enough for me.

DreamWeaver
04-28-2014, 08:39 PM
I won't be bullied into using an emotional response to drive my buying habits.This. I completely agree with you.

I'm fairly immune to this emotional selling practice, due to building resistance during Guilt Trip Bootcamp growing up. It always puzzles me to see it work.

Wilde_at_heart
04-28-2014, 09:51 PM
If people are suckered into buying something that doesn't deliver, I suppose it's a case of 'live and learn'. Honestly, I don't think it's worth spending much time worrying about, really.

The way to not 'reward' such things is to give them no attention. I'd never heard of 'guilt marketing' before but it'd never work on me, nor would any celebrity attachment even if one actually came out and recommended some book on record. I buy things only because I like them and if someone's trying to sell me something on anything but its own merits I tend to assume it can't stand on its own.

Maybe it's just me, but I doubt it.

ironmikezero
04-28-2014, 10:41 PM
I pretty much ignore marketing and promotion... The more blatant/enthusiastic, the more readily discarded.

What may exert the most influence on me as a consumer/reader is word of mouth from people I know personally whose opinions and perceptions tend to reflect tastes akin to my own. I've found this to be a rather reliable barometer as to what entertainment pursuits I might enjoy.

Gilroy Cullen
04-28-2014, 11:58 PM
I think my bigger beef with all this promotion and marketing hub bub is with the review aspect of things.

:Soapbox:

Some authors actively object and attack any review that isn't five stars. Not everything will rate five stars, but they don't care. Rate them low and they attack it. (My standard is four and a half stars if the site can handle it, four otherwise. It's a rarity for a five star review from me.)

Um, the review is for other readers, not for the author.

Sure, the author can learn what is good and bad within their writing, but they have no say on another's opinion of their book.

However, that said, I've seen reviewers change their review because of the author's actions. It stopped being the reader's opinion of the book and became solely about the author themselves. Which is just as wrong as demanding a three star review be changed.

:Soapbox:

JustSarah
04-29-2014, 12:35 AM
Sure, the author can learn what is good and bad within their writing, but they have no say on another's opinion of their book.

However, that said, I've seen reviewers change their review because of the author's actions. It stopped being the reader's opinion of the book and became solely about the author themselves. Which is just as wrong as demanding a three star review be changed.

:Soapbox:

The author complaining about the good reviews, and readers attacking the author scared me enough to leave that site altogether. I use another book logging site now. The site stopped being zen for me.

Bolero
04-29-2014, 01:10 PM
I thought the blog (as far as I read) was out of order for generically saying "authors" this and "authors" that - "some authors" would be far more accurate. It is the same kind of sweeping statement used for "scientists" as in "scientists are poisoning the planet".

In terms of celebrity pictures for advertising. Well, I write science fiction and fantasy. Celebrity pictures for that...... I'm having ideas for spoof adverts - Einstein saying my book is the best he's ever read, so good he just had to come back to promote it...... :D
(Not that I have any idea if Einstein read science fiction..... the odd thoughts that come sometimes :D)

More generally adverts are something to me that announces a product. I might go and look at said product but if it doesn't come at a quality and price I want, forget it.
Then there are a few adverts that are fun to watch, but it won't affect whether I buy the product. That series by Carling Black Label for one - in the laundromat, dam busters rip off, those ones.

Weirdmage
04-29-2014, 01:46 PM
Well, in the Dear Author blogpost there is several references to where, and how, the activities described are illegal.
I am from Norway, there we have pretty strict rules for advertising. And the rules are monitored by the Consumer Bureau (Forbrukerrådet). They can issue take down orders, and if I remember correctly give out fines to those that are in gross violation of advertising laws, or do not comply. I know that there are similar laws and bureaus in several other countries, and I think EU has some standards.

An example of Norwegian law would be a statement like: "My book The Quest of the Chosen One, is preferred over Wheel of Time by 9 out of 10 Hollywood celebrities". According to Norwegian law you would have to have asked 10 Hollywood celebrities, and be able to prove that the statement is accurate. Or you will be violating the law.

So, what we can do about this kind of deceptive advertising is to report it to the authorities. (If there is an authority governing advertising.) And in the case of the celebrity, tell them.
Deceptive advertising hurts both consumers (readers) and those in the same business (authors) who keep to non-deceptive advertising.

Bolero
04-29-2014, 02:31 PM
In the UK it is the Advertising Standards Agency. I was on the edge of a complaint to them once - but that was for a UK company with a UK website. (Nothing to do with books.) (Edge as in knew the person doing the complaining.)

I suspect it is trickier for overseas websites, but don't actually know. Anyone know the law on this?

The other approach is better moderation. Websites like this where mods keep things real and polite. So any savvy reader picks their review source carefully.

Sunflowerrei
05-01-2014, 12:00 AM
This isn't illegal, but I find it a bit unscrupulous. It's low-level marketing, though, so not anything like attacking honest reviews or using celebrity images in ads. Someone left a comment on a ten-day-old or so post on my blog. The post was about Dido Belle, a person who lived in 18th century Britain. Somehow, from there, Anonymous jumped to:


There is an interesting connection between Belle and Jane Austen. Belle's great uncle Lord Mansfield had been a poet in his youth. He was praised in her poems as a great poet by his friend, the poet and dramatist Lady Sophia Burrell, who also dedicated her volume of poetry to him. In another poem Lady Sophia Burrell praised her friend Eliza de Feuillide as a great novelist. Eliza was the cousin and sister in law of Jane Austen and the real author of Jane Austen's novels. For further details see my book "Jane Austen - a New Revelation".


I marked it as spam and deleted it off my blog, and then I googled the title to see if it did indeed exist. It does--with no reviews on Amazon, no reviews on Goodreads, one review on a Jane Austen website, and similar comments on other blog posts touting the book, all posted by Anonymous.

Spamming-as-marketing is not going to work. It is annoying.

Filigree
05-01-2014, 02:30 AM
Yep, I get those types of comments frequently. I think the posters are hoping I don't know how to check who they are.

Sunflowerrei
05-04-2014, 06:38 AM
Yep, I get those types of comments frequently. I think the posters are hoping I don't know how to check who they are.

They don't think we don't know how to Google? I typed in the title he left in the comment. ;)