How Not to Get Publicity for a Book

Author Sock PuppetShortly I’m going to tell a true story about a man who is using a false premise to get publicity. This story is full of generalized and vague statements that will break most rules of telling a good story. When you get there, you’ll understand why. But before I even dive into the story I’m going to take a short tangent. (If I’m gonna break rules, I might as well go all out.) Even worse, that tangent is about politics.

Politics makes up a large share of the public discourse today. As some of my Facebook friends complain, I talk politics more than most. However, when it comes to my reviews, especially fiction, I try to put my personal opinions aside. If a work of fiction has a political ax to grind, it should be judged based on the story, not on whether I agree with its slant. In fact, the second worst backlash I’ve experienced from an author over one of my reviews was a situation where the author felt the real reason for the negative review was political. He was wrong. I agreed with his politics. His story just sucked. As a general rule, I don’t think my book-related sites are an appropriate place to stage or participate in political battles. However, if it is related to books or the business of publishing, I can imagine scenarios where I might make an exception. Which leads me to the story I promised.

I received an email at The Indie View from a new author who just released his first novel. He told me about an attack he’d received in the comment of a post on his Facebook page. The attack was both personal and involved a subject that is currently politically divisive in the US. He explained how this comment had affected him and hurt some of his family who had seen it. The email included a screenshot of the offensive comment and a link so I could see it for myself.

I checked out the screenshot and went to his Facebook page where it was easier to read. I was shocked and disgusted by the comment. I was also impressed with the author’s response to the comment which was level-headed and hid the hurt and anger I was sure he was feeling.

In his email, the author had asked if I could share this on social media or elsewhere, hoping to draw attention to the behavior. He was hopeful that my “large audience” would respond with “an outpouring of support” and help overcome the hurt, especially for one family member. After reading this, I wasn’t sure what to do. I supported his position 100%, yet wasn’t sure that posting this for my audience was appropriate. It was political. Any comment I made about it was going to offend a non-trivial share of my audience who saw it. Yet it was at least marginally related to the book business. Maybe I could share it to my personal Facebook wall instead? I was torn, so I went off to do other things while I stewed.

When I got back to my computer, I was still torn. I decided to look again, re-read the email and exchange of comments on Facebook again, hoping this would help make the right thing to do more obvious. Then I started seeing clues. Something about the comment wasn’t sitting right and I had an epiphany. I dug a little deeper where I found other clues. I showed it to a few trusted friends to whom I solicited opinions and pointed out the things I’d noticed. The unanimous opinion was that this entire episode is almost surely a setup by the author to generate attention and publicity. Meaning, the controversial comment was most likely posted by the author himself using a sockpuppet Facebook account.

Am I absolutely 100% sure this is fake? No. Which is one of the reasons I’m not naming names and posting screenshots. The other reason I’m remaining vague is I don’t want this to be an instructional post, pointing out where this author went astray so that someone else could do the same thing without making the same mistakes. Instead it should serve as a cautionary tale. If this ploy works, it will only work until people figure it out, at which point it will backfire. People are good at figuring these things out. Much better than we realize. As Shawn Inmon has pointed out in several posts, Facebook can be a good promotional tool, but your interactions need to be genuine if they’re going to work long term.

The moral of the story? Is there one? This author still has less than twenty likes on his Facebook page. Who knows how many other industry icons – er, I mean reviewers – he contacted asking for the same exposure. Did they ignore him? Did they fall for it? Or did they realize it is probably a scam? I don’t think he’s any the better for it – and has possibly lost credibility with those who have figured it out.

Author: Big Al

Big Al (who insists he only has one name, like Cher, Sting, and Madonna) spends his days writing computer programs that are full of typos, homonym errors, and incorrect verb usage. During his evenings, he writes reviews of indie books for BigAl’s Books and Pals and has recently taken over The IndieView, a website founded by indie author Simon Royle as a resource for indie authors, indie reviewers, and those who read either.

35 thoughts on “How Not to Get Publicity for a Book”

  1. Yikes. That’s pretty low. But I would never catch the ploy. How did you come to that conclusion? What were the signs? I’ve had some heated discussions on my FB page, even a couple I’ve had to delete. But I don’t think I’d recognize a set-up.

    1. Yvonne, I specifically didn’t mention the clues, but will say it was an accumulation of many different things. No one of them would have convinced me, but taken together was enough. Thanks for commenting.

    1. I know what you mean, Candace. But controversy sometimes sells, especially if you’re perceived to be on the right side or wronged in some way. Look at the number of kickstarters to help someone out who half the population feels were wronged. But it only works when the issue goes viral.

  2. Several years ago I knew of an author who did something similar. His/her book was fiction but the motivation behind it leaked out all over the place. He/she would make Facebook posts about having received threatening emails, post links to fiery blog posts supposedly written by his/her detractors (on new sites that only had one or two other posts), and the like. It was pretty obvious to me that he/she was trying to create a fake controversy to draw attention to the book. I don’t know what the outcome of it all was, but I do know the book is now out of print.

    1. Thanks, Melinda. While the specifics of what clued you in are different, some of my clues were like those you mention. But not all of them. 🙂

  3. Good post. I’m glad you figured it out. I’ve seen similar things like that on Facebook. I think a lot of the viral things start that way. I am not even on FB anymore. I do not like it.

  4. This behavior seems to be common on FB (and other social media sites) these days. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if something is genuine or not. Glad you were able to sniff it out before taking the bait. Also, good call not publicly calling this author out. Something like that could boomerang on you.

    1. Thanks, Bruce. I’m glad I didn’t go for it too. As I said above, there is no way to be 100% sure, so calling him or her out publicly could backfire in many ways. However, I can say I’ve pondered a scenario where the things I observed could all be and it still be legitimate. the odds are sufficiently long that if forced to bet, that isn’t the direction I’d put my money.

      As for this being common on FB, I’m not sure I’d go that far other than to say that the internet in general has a tendency to hyperbole with headings to “news” articles and posts that are misleading enough to be dishonest. And links to those articles definitely find their way onto FB.

  5. I see a “marketing approach” like that as dishonest and out of bounds regardless of whether it comes back to haunt the author later.

    Politicians often say they “misspoke” whenever they’re caught saying something nasty. I expect better from authors, so if they get caught having made the thing up, hearing that they were, say, desperate isn’t going to cut it with me.


    1. I agree, Malcolm. I don’t have much patience for either one, author or politicians. Now a good “Paul is dead” rumor … hmm, Kat, I’ve got an idea. 🙂

  6. Unbelievable, what length people will go to in the hopes of selling a few books. Gives those of us who sell on the merits of our books a bad name. Not that these types don’t exist in all businesses. Glad you figured it out. The guy needs to look up the meaning of “karma.”

    1. Thanks for the comment, Smoky. You’re right, there are bad apples in ever area. I believe in karma. Not as anything mystical, but just that the world tends to work out that way. (You can call me Pollyanna, if you wish. 🙂 )

  7. That may have been a vague post, but it describes a pretty strong truism. Well done, Al

  8. I agree…I totally believe that social media has changed the world for the worst. People come out of the woodwork and the things that they do are amazing. Terrorism…trolls…bullying…what kind of people are these? Probably thought they were cleaver…wrong…always catches up with them. Good post.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Patrick. It sounds like you believe in karma, too.

      As for social media, it’s the same as any tool or new technology. I avoided all kinds of social media for a long time, largely because I thought it was going to be a big time suck. And I was right. Like all interaction on the internet, it is prone to trolls and allowing people to forget common courtesy. To do and say things they wouldn’t dream of doing in person, face to face.

      However, I can also say that for me, on balance, it has been much more positive than negative. It’s a tool that has helped me keep in close touch with my siblings, who have always been close, but are spread out enough we don’t get to see each other as often as we’d like. It’s kept me in touch with extended family (cousins, nieces/nephews, aunts/uncles, etc) that I’d have no or little contact with otherwise. It’s helped me make new friends, some of whom are among my best friends who I talk to every day, even though many I’ve never met in person. It’s enabled me to participate in groups with people with some of the same interests and hobbies, some of them uncommon. I’d hate for it to go away. 🙂

  9. I hate to see authors trying to game the system, but it’s a fact that a percentage will try anything to succeed. Anyone who thinks their book will climb the charts for any reason other than it’s simply a good book is deluding themselves. If you have to resort to trick controversy, you can’t have much faith in your book. How about putting all that energy into writing a good one? Good for you, Al, for seeing through that.

  10. I think you handled it well. The temptation to do something, even to contact the author and subtly hint that he might be on the wrong track, is a temptation to avoid. People who do that sort of thing are nasty bits of business, and you could be their next target.
    As my old Gran used to say, “Tip your hat and slowly ride away.” And silently, too.

    1. Your Gran was a smart lady, Gordon. I’d considered a few things like that and rejected them. I think you understand why. 🙂 Thanks for the comment.

  11. This is part of the reason I try to remember to think twice before sharing the classic rude-comment-written-on-a-receipt-instead-of-a-tip post. Maybe it came from living outside of NYC for a while, but it was hard to miss that certain people will lie about being 9/11 victims, or racist mob victims, or Hurricane Katrina victims, or just about any kind of victim. If there’s money in it … be careful. Sometimes I even wonder about “someone broke into the team’s hut and stole all our supplies” stories. Sometimes it’s not even for money. I remember a member of the X-Files fanfic community who made up a dying husband and took us all through a long fictitious dying process that got her lots of attention and support. Some people just seem to feel the need to present themselves as the long-suffering hero/heroine of their very own telenovela. On the plus side, I suppose it says something positive about us that such schemes do often bring out the best in the people — it’s just a shame to see all that generosity defrauded.

    1. Good point, Sandra. I’ve certainly been guilty of blindly sharing more than one post that turned out to not be as claimed. At least in the situation of an author doing it, maybe it indicates the right kind of imagination to make up a good story.

  12. A very thought provoking post, Big Al. I agree, you’re quite right not to post details of the flaws.
    I’m not particularly clued up about Facebook myself, but on occasions have noticed one or two things that don’t gel. Your post now serves as a good reminder not to take everything at face value, starting with things posted under pseudonyms for a start.
    We’re all trying to promote our books, and seeking innovative ways of doing so, but I hope the vast majority are doing this honestly. Scamming to seek support really is despicable.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  13. I want my books to sell well as much as the next author and I’ll promote them – probably in ways that some don’t like or that don’t work, but what you describe is beyond the pale. I appreciate you sharing it and also your handling of it. Thanks.

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