Missing? Don’t Market Your Book This Way

missing-person-1756985_960_720So here I am, sitting at my desk and scanning Facebook when I should be doing … well, just about anything else. My to-do list is long and only going to get longer if I don’t knock a few items off of it. Then I see the post. In big white letters on a red background is the message “Have you seen me?” Under that is a picture of a teenage girl. Below that is a line with a single word, “MISSING” screaming at me in red. A few more details (“blah, blah, blah”) are outlined after that. I start thinking:

Maybe I should blindly share this. The more people who see it, the more likely someone who has actually seen the poor thing in the picture will spot it and react. I hope she’s still alive. I wonder if she ran away. I sure hope she isn’t a sex slave somewhere. I feel guilty (but only a little) as I thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster that this isn’t one of my grandkids although just the thought of that makes me cringe, imagining what her parents and family must be going thorough.

I wonder if I know anyone in the area she’s from. Maybe I’ll share it and tag them. Hmm. Last seen near “Coal Ridge H.S.” If you have information “contact Coal Ridge P.D.” No phone number, that’s strange. I wonder what state Coal Ridge is in? And what the heck is with this URL to a Facebook page at the bottom? The URL doesn’t seem like it is related to the rest of the post.

When I type the URL into my browser, I discover a page that appears to be related to books or short stories that take place in a fictional town called Coal Ridge. It looks like the missing girl is fictional too. Now I’m pissed. After giving the grandkids hugs and making sure I don’t have any books from this author submitted for review to consider discarding, I storm off (virtually) to a few Facebook hangouts to ask some reader and author friends if I’m overreacting. (I know, you people don’t think I would overreact to anything, but my daughter claims otherwise.) It’s pretty much unanimous; they agree with me. In case you don’t understand why someone might be upset or offended by this, I’ll explain why I and others I talked to took issue with this.

A person seeing this phony post on their Facebook feed could react one of three ways.

Some will see it float by and not react at all. No harm, no foul, right? Yeah, pretty much, although if this registers as “one more teen girl missing” or even “a teen girl missing from somewhere near me” then a case could be made that this person might have been given a slightly skewed view of how often teens go missing. But that’s a stretch.

Others will blindly pass this along, sharing it and not thinking about it again. At least not until one of their friends complains about it being misleading. Or asks them if they’ve read any of the books. “Books, what books? This is about a missing girl.” Maybe they’ll be upset to discover they were induced into spreading fake news. Maybe they’re more upset that they’re being perceived to have recommended books that they know nothing about. In any case, there is a decent chance that if they discover the reality, they’ll feel taken advantage of. And rightfully so.

Then there are the people who actually go to the Facebook page. Possibly they share the post first, so they fit in the last category, but then dig deeper. How those people react will probably vary. Some might think how clever, maybe I’ll like these books. Others are going to be upset, offended, and feel like they’ve been misled. Even people who might have considered reading these stories may react to what got them to the page and rather than ordering one or sending a sample to their Kindle for consideration, file this author’s name in their mental “stay away from this guy’s books” list. That’s what I’ve done.

People don’t like to be taken advantage of by authors (or really anyone, but we’re talking about authors here). I see this as violating my trust in the same way as a mystery where the reader isn’t given the clues needed to solve the mystery. Many feel this way about a deus ex machina ending. Taking this approach might suck in a few readers, as would any advertising approach. But if it is going to offend and repel many, meaning they’ll be less likely to be sucked in later because of the bad taste you’ve left in their mouth, are those readers you do suck in a positive outcome? I don’t think so. What are your thoughts?

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.

26 thoughts on “Missing? Don’t Market Your Book This Way”

  1. Any author who uses this dodge to promote a book or books should be burned along with his books. No, I don’t really mean that, but I hate deceptive advertising for anything, and as a writer and avid reader I REALLY hate it when people use trickery to promote their writing. If you can’t get readers through legitimate, ethical means, it could be that your writing is not worth reading.

  2. Thanks, Big Al. I hope you don’t engender a flood of copycat marketers with this post.

    If I had clicked on the link and reached the book advertising, it would have made an impression on me–and not a good one. I’d avoid that author’s books forever just on principle.

  3. I agree, and I’d add that authors who end a book with a cliffhanger to induce readers to buy a series are the lowest of marketers. If I am fortunate enough to see a cliffhanger warning in the reviews, I not only don’t buy that book, I add the author to my don’t-trust-their-hype list.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Kae. I’m not a big fan of cliffhangers either. I have one friend who took it a step further. She got burned too many times buying the first books in a series and then having the books obviously planned for the future not come out that she stopped buying any until the series was out. It wasn’t a matter of cliffhangers, but she still felt like they left her hanging.

    2. Thanks for your comment, Kae. I am replying because I am in the middle of releasing the first book in a children’s series. Although the story is a complete story, I have placed an epilogue at the end which is designed to tie the first book to the second. It is not exactly a cliff-hanger, but it does start the reader asking what is going to happen next? Would this be equally annoying to you? I am interested in your views.
      On the main topic, to be honest I have thought about setting up fictional pamphlets about my own fictitious township. I would’ve never stoop to fake news about missing children etc. that would cause too much undue distress. But I never actually did it for the reasons outlined here, it is pure trickery and my books are worth more than that. I will eventually set up fake websites and Facebook pages, but they would be for the current readers to interact with (talk to characters, explore town maps etc.), and they will have large disclaimers for anyone who just happens to stumble upon them.

      1. Thanks for the comment, Peter. (You are “the” Peter Jordan, right? I don’t think I’ve seen you comment at IU before. Good to see you here.)

        My 2 cents on your question … Some people might view what you’re describing as a cliff hanger. I don’t. You’ve taken the story and come to a resolution of whatever the main or biggest (as in getting the most attention) conflict in the story is, but set something up as a teaser as to what is coming in the next story. A cliffhanger, to me, is to bring a big conflict to the verge of resolving it, then leave things hanging with the equivalent of “be sure to tune in next week.” Any time you have a series there are going to be loose threads that don’t get resolved, but are left hanging. The key is that in any particular episode the big conflict in that story comes to a resolution.

        1. Yes Al, it’s me. I’ve been reading the odd posting from IU since the start, it’s just that the cliffhanger comment coincided with my first book with a connection to the next book in the series that I decided to test the waters.
          I really appreciate your differentiation between teasers and cliffhangers. And yes I am leaving little things unsolved until the final book as well, so thanks for that extra point. I have developed a back-story that will develop throughout the series.
          I totally understand the fear of never finding out the answer due to the author not writing anymore books. Which is why I started the second book immediately after sending the manuscript to the editor, to make sure it was possible to get a second book out in reasonable time, and to get into the habit of writing every day, which I have (most days). If I didn’t get into it now, my kids would’ve been too old to want to read them.

  4. Authors – and publishers – are encouraged by publicity sites to go to any lengths to shift books. It’s a crowded market (so the publicists argue) and anything that makes your book stand out is fair enough. It is quite possible that the guy who advertised his book as a missing child has paid quite a lot of money to one of these publicists. Or maybe he took the generic advice to heart and thought outside the box to shift his short stories. Too far outside the box. Somebody should tell him how far outside the box this was.

    It makes me cringe to see what the normally timid (but talented) author species has been turned into. Sigh.

    1. I suspect this author might have done just that, Judi. Took the generic advice and then thought too far out of the box. The old cliche about any publicity is good publicity really isn’t true. At least I don’t buy it.

  5. Gosh!

    I completely agree with your sentiments and your actions. This marketing tactic is beyond the pale. Makes me upset that it could lead others (who are taken in, then find out it is bogus) to ignore legitimate pleas for help with finding a missing child.

    Furthermore, I’m no lawyer, but it might also come close to violating the law (fraud, incitement, making false alarms, etc).

    1. BTW, I have heard that you’re not supposed to respond to any of those “Lost Child” pleas because a good number of them are from abusive partners trying to reestablish contact with their victims.
      Such is the nature of the human animal.

      1. Gordon,

        You are right. I look them up first (Google ‘Missing Children’ to find the best authority in your region) before I get serious about sharing the info. Most abusers won’t file a police report because that means they’ll get scrutinized out by law enforcement. And most of the flyers that I’ve seen do have the local sheriff or police department’s phone number. But not all of them.

        –William

  6. The world is full of dodgy marketing techniques that, unfortunately, work, or people wouldn’t use them. Tricks like the one you mention that play on the best qualities in humans are especially despicable. All we can do is talk it up and help inform the public.
    Unless, of course, you want to start a Facebook smear campaign against this guy? Let me know if you need help 🙂

    1. Gordon and William,

      I’m going to reply to both of you at once. 🙂

      I’m not looking to start a Facebook smear campaign, as fun as that sounds. 🙂 But William hit on something else that I don’t think I explicitly mentioned, that it is something that could make legitimate pleas less credible. (I seriously doubt it breaks any law, at least not in the US.)

      I’d never heard of this kind of thing being misused like Gordon mentions. One more thing to be cautious of.

  7. It wouldn’t go down well in the South Pacific Paradise where I live.

    Having said that, such a tactic smacks of a desperation that simply makes me cringe.

    Cheers

    – Paul Corrigan

  8. What a foul way to market anything by playing on our concerns about others. I am sad to report that more and more of this type of below the belt stuff gets us to follow a link to a product we will not now buy because of the deceitful advertising is happening more often than realized too late. Sadly this is appearing more and more on my kindle silk browser news feed.

    1. Thanks for the comment, JB. At least in theory, if people don’t react by buying, then these kind of advertisements wouldn’t be used. However, I’ve heard the specific post I saw that the author was claiming it was getting a lot of attention and working. The sales ranking for the books didn’t seem to reflect that, but I suppose if your numbers are low enough a sale or two of a book or even a handful of new likes on a Facebook page might seem like success.

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