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The Limits of Marketing: When Does Manipulation Go Too Far

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In 2006, a billboard appeared in New York City which announced that Emily knew all about her husband, Steve’s, cheating ways. The news of this spread through websites and emails faster than you could read the text of the billboard.  The whole thing turned out to be an advertisement for Court TV’s reality TV show, Parco P. I.  Savvy users who went to Emily’s website noticed similarities between Steve and Emily’s relationship details and parts of the show.  Similar advertising “hoaxes” have been played out since, mostly to positive acclaim.

This past weekend, we saw something strange happen in the ranks of self publishing that generated some interesting ethical questions of marketing and advertisement.

Self published author, M. Leighton, who rose to literary success on the back of her steamy YA “The Wild Ones” and a subsequent adult duology “Down to You” and “Up to Me”  released a book on May 14, 2013, called “Until I Break”.  While it wasn’t an immediate breakout hit, it was climbing the charts but not enough to push Leighton on to any bestseller list. On Saturday, it was in the Kindle 100s which generally means that an author is selling close to a 1,000 copies a day.

For reasons known only to Leighton, she blogged that she had received some negative criticism about her book which features two young people trying to find their way together through BDSM. The hero is particularly troubled because his first girlfriend was into auto-erotic asphyxiation and during one sexual episode the couple goes too far and she dies while he is strangling her.

The book had an average of 3.8+ stars at goodreads and 4.6 out of 5 at Amazon at the time of Leighton’s post on Saturday. She declared that because of people not being able to accept her wonderful story of love and acceptance and healing, she was going to have to pull her book.

When I wrote Until I Break, I could’ve watered down the story, made it more palatable, easier to accept. But as an artist, I didn’t want to cheat Sam and Alec out of their story. As I’ve said before, life isn’t always pretty, but I had hoped that the majority of people would be able to see beyond the ugly to the wonderful story of love and acceptance and healing that was embedded in Until I Break. Sadly, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.

So, rather than risking people misunderstanding Sam and Alec and, therefore, me as a person and author, I’m pulling the book from publication. It will no longer be available in any format from any source after tomorrow. Yes, I could leave it out there to earn money, but every cent would be bitter, knowing that there are some who not only don’t “get” the story, but who are misunderstanding it in a disheartening way.

Now we’ve read books that have more disturbing aspects than what is in “Until I Break” and the notion of an author pulling a book because of negative criticism (most of which was unseen and none that were personally targeting the author) is somewhat baffling. But here’s where it turns strange. Despite “every cent being bitter,” Leighton keeps the book up through the weekend. “It will no longer be available in any format from any source after tomorrow.”

Obviously, Leighton could have easily made the book available for free through any number of avenues such as zero-ing out the price at Smashwords, offering a direct download link on her site, uploading it to Wattpad or Scribd or Goodreads.  Instead, she encouraged people to buy before the book is taken down.  Leighton is no inexperienced first time self publisher. She has over 19 titles to her credit.

But her perfectly craft plea that mingled a hint of something scandalous, a whiff of censorship, victimhood, and limited availability spread like wildfire through the community of readers. Readers left messages on Goodreads comment threads, in Amazon forums, and on blogs. Leighton had facebooked the post for her 12,531+ fans.

And the results were immediate and electrifying. The book started climbing the charts, falling almost immediately into the top 100 and further. By the evening it was at 7 and the next day it was ranked #5, likely resulting in thousands of sales, earning the author probably $30,000 to $60,000 in bitter dollars.

Leighton eventually did remove it. When asked whether this was a publicity stunt she replied that she hopes that no one would ever be as misunderstood as she.

Intentional or not, Leighton’s alarm resulted in immediate and positive action for her. Not only was she praised in the comments, but people defended her actions and chastised the mean people everywhere that were ruining it for the author and the readers. And Leighton hasn’t foreclosed ever revisiting this story:

Maybe one day (I sincerely HOPE) the world will be ready for Sam and Alec.

I’ll admit that I’d rather believe that Leighton is a very sensitive author who can’t take criticism rather than an author who runs a marketing ploy like this but as I contemplated this over the weekend, it occurred to me that not only is all marketing manipulative, haven’t we seen some of this in the past?  Thus begs the question, why would this ploy be wrong and others be right?

The whole point of marketing is to persuade you to take action in a favor of the object being marketed.  HarperCollins, for instance, is now offering free additional content if a certain level of pre sales are met.  HC won’t state the requisite number of pre sales needed to unlock the free content and is there anyone who really believes that HC won’t, at some pre determined time, release this free content regardless of how many pre sales it actually gets?  They aren’t going to come out and say, “well, not enough readers are interested in Eloisa James’ next book so we aren’t releasing the novella.”

What about James Patterson’s pledge to kill off Alex Cross if  enough people don’t buy his book? Most people look at this as a tongue in cheek pledge, but how many were spurred to buy new release, just in case?

How about authors who have begged readers to buy more books because if not enough books are purchased the publisher won’t offer a renewed? There are many pleas from authors to buy on a certain date, at a certain time, and in a certain format. I’ve heard countless pleas of “Buy us or we’ll stop writing.”

Or what about the female authors who pose as males in the m/m writing community? Isn’t that a marketing scheme of a sort to induce readers to think the author has more authenticity? What about the reverse with men taking a female penname? Author CJ Cherryh was advised to go by her initials for marketing purposes.

Lonelygirl15 was a weblog by a girl named Bree that started in June of 2006 and quickly amassed a huge following.  In September 2006, it was revealed that Lonelygirl was actually a production by three male creators: a screenwriter, filmaker and former attorney.  A 19-year old actress played Bree.

Along with Amanda Goodfried, an attorney who worked with Creative Arts Agency (CAA), the creators of lonelygirl15 created LG15 Studios to produce original interactive content online. LG15 Studios became EQAL in April 2008, with receipt of $5 million in venture capital to expand their offerings.

Self published authors misused the “tags” section so much on Amazon that Amazon removed that feature.  I’ve also heard of self published authors continually re-releasing their books so as to appear in the “New Release” section.  What about street teams? Karen Tabke admitted that she had her street teams go around the bookstore and place her books on tables that publishers paid coop money for.  Tabke laughingly called it the “Karen Coop”.

And let’s not forget about the cover quote. Cover quotes are quotes by better known authors used as endorsements for the lesser known book/author. Oftentimes friends give those for friends but many times an editor or agent will ask a favor of an author. Sometimes cover quotes are given for books that the author hasn’t even read, let alone endorsed. There was Sarah Strohmeyer who infamously invoked the name of Janet Evanovich as her “mentor” making it seem to some that Evanovich endorsed Strohmeyer’s Plum-like series called “Bubbles”.  Evanovich later denied this.

Assume that Leighton’s move was a pro marketing move designed to sell as many books in a short period of time as well as increase interest in her name and her work. Is that really any different than some of the standard practices in publishing or marketing overall?  What is ethical advertising? What do we expect from publishers, authors? Do we have different expectations from an author versus a publisher?  If so, why?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. library addict
    May 21, 2013 @ 04:57:04

    I’m more cynical and think this was a marketing ploy. What surprised me was the outpouring of support she received with few questioning why she thought it necessary to pull the book. Not because of this author (I’ve never read her and don’t plan to) but because the whole “mean girl/reviewer” attitude vs true fans argument is one I think we should be past by now.

    Authors shouldn’t read reviews if they can’t handle negative criticism. Reviews are for readers. For every reader that loves a character, story element, etc another won’t like it and vice versa. That’s life. So authors and/or their fans arguing how if you don’t love-love-love a book it is only because you are too stupid to appreciate their artistry never goes over well with me.

    I just hope this type of author behavior doesn’t lead to readers believing they can’t leave “negative” reviews. There are books I adore that other readers dislike and books I dislike that other readers love. That’s as it should be and the “why” matters. Because as we’ve discussed before what turns one reader off a book may be just what another reader is looking for. I can’t begin to count the number of so-called negative reviews that have convinced me to go out and buy books.

    Any author who pulls a “If you don’t do X I’ll take my marbles and go home” stunt like this I think is acting unprofessionally. I don’t care if they are self-published or not. If a publisher did something similar I would think they were being unprofessional as well.

    If she had come out with a clever reason for why the book would only be available for a short period of time and had the same result I would think more power to her. But this just seemed like woe-is-me shenanigans.

    ETA: I don’t get the whole “if you liked my book please leave a nice review” kind of stuff I’ve seen cropping up lately in some digital books and/or author websites. As long as it’s not pushy a statement like that wouldn’t necessarily make me stop buying an author. Whereas the whole “buy my books or my kids don’t eat and you should buy it on release day” attitude will. Cover quotes I don’t even really notice.

    Thankfully my autobuy authors all seem to have the attitude of it’s great you’re reading my book regardless of when you bought it or what format or if you borrowed it from the library.

  2. Ros
    May 21, 2013 @ 04:57:33

    I have no idea, and I will be very interested to hear what other people have to say about this. But what does seem to be depressingly true is that however manipulative, underhand and downright unethical the marketing ploy used, the greater the impact on sales. Are there any examples of a manipulative marketing strategy which has backfired? Because everything I can think of has ended up with authors on bestseller lists despite people saying how outraged they are by it.

  3. Zara Keane
    May 21, 2013 @ 06:11:42

    It reeks of Publicity Stunt, and makes me disinclined to buy the author’s books.

    I don’t expect ads for products to be 100% honest or accurate, but I dislike feeling manipulated by a drawn-out, melodramatic stunt like this one. Sadly, I suspect we’ll see more such stunts in the future, especially from self-published authors desperate to climb the lists.

  4. Sarah Morgan
    May 21, 2013 @ 06:45:40

    The Smashwords site claims 7,566,662,052 words published. That’s a lot of words. In this huge ocean of words, how do you make yourself heard if you are a fish no one has yet identified as worth pulling out of the water? Big name authors are already surrounded by a huge shoal of followers but how does a new author without that following make themselves visible to potential readers? Before an author can become someone’s ‘autobuy’ a reader first has to pick up their book. With so many releases it’s almost impossible to become known or be heard.

    Distasteful or not, if the objective of ‘marketing’ is to raise awareness then the approach in the case above was successful. Until today I’d never heard of this author, but now I know her name. Her story has gone viral, her sales have increased exponentially so evidence suggests that for all the people she annoyed, she intrigued others sufficiently to buy her book. And now by ‘withdrawing’ the book she has increased demand (doesn’t Disney do the same with it’s movies on DVD? Only have them available for a short space of time thus increasing the ‘ohmigod I must buy it now’ factor?)

    Authors who are judged to be behaving badly receive huge amounts of publicity, which must make it a tempting option for individuals prepared to go down this route. No author’s name has ever gone viral for dealing with reviews in a professional manner. And that concerns me. My main ‘marketing’ approach has been to continue to write stories I hope will appeal to readers. Ultimately I am hoping to gradually expand my reader base and I intend to do that while keeping all my toys in the pram and playing with them quietly by myself.

    I hope I’m not naïve.

  5. AH
    May 21, 2013 @ 07:01:12

    These publicity ploys are getting tiresome. I’m a reader. You know what makes me want to buy your books? A good plot, good writing, and bonus – if you make yourself available in social media,with some sort of brain filter. Take a look at the gracious authors out there, the ones who answer the same questions from their fans over and over again with a smile, the ones who give their readers added content/insight into their characters – they are the authors on my auto-buy list.

  6. Willa
    May 21, 2013 @ 07:03:55

    Yes, I could leave it out there to earn money, but every cent would be bitter, knowing that there are some who not only don’t “get” the story, but who are misunderstanding it in a disheartening way.

    Cynical snort . . imagining author racing to the bank with all her ‘bitter cents’.

    You can’t please all the people all the time – and if she wants to be an author and put her work out there, where it WILL be judged, commented upon positively and maybe negatively, a thicker skin is needed me thinks . .

  7. DB Cooper
    May 21, 2013 @ 07:06:57

    Oh man, it’s funny how the world works. See, I rather hope this was a skilled marketing ploy, and less that Ms. Leighton is just a sensitive author who cant handle criticism.

    If it was the former, I’d have to say it was clever and well executed. Not to my tastes (as I rather disapprove), but then again, not as bad as some of the ploys or issues you’ve posted. And that said, I’d rather she was rewarded for her cleverness than rewarded for a genuine inability to stomach the situation.

    Either way (assuming my interpretation is correct) , I don’t plan to support her desire that I read past the ugly of the book, if the ‘ugly’ is all the dirty, rotten, kinky BDSM part of it.

    Oh. And just being picky here, but is auto-erotic asphyxiation her term, or DAs? I think just ‘erotic-asphyxiation’ would be the more general term, especially if it involves multiple parties (hero applying to his ex-gf)

  8. Willa
    May 21, 2013 @ 07:07:03


    Exactly this.

  9. Jane Lovering
    May 21, 2013 @ 07:11:50

    In this I use the ‘what would a plumber do?’, to check whether I think an author is going a little bit too far. If I can’t imagine a plumber (or other tradesman) using the line, then, I’m afraid, I disregard both author and book. ‘Use my services or my kids don’t eat’, versus ‘use my services because I’m professional and reasonably priced’. See what I mean? Authors are producing a product. Our job is to produce the best damn end-product that we can, end of. You wouldn’t catch a tiler threatening to stop roofing buildings if nobody used his services, or if someone said something mean about a barn he fixed, would you?

  10. DB Cooper
    May 21, 2013 @ 07:11:59

    @library addict: I think combining this statement:

    I can’t begin to count the number of so-called negative reviews that have convinced me to go out and buy books.

    With the whole “If you like this book please leave a nice review” request, I now want to see an author (or bar/restaurant/indie shoppe where I see this more often) post a request along the lines of “If you hated this book, please leave the sort of negative review that will send droves of potential readers coming my way.” :D

  11. Brie
    May 21, 2013 @ 07:17:50

    I guess there are degrees of manipulation and deviousness. Marketing strategies that are upfront and make it clear that they are trying to sell you a product are different to the type of devious manipulation that Leighton did. Then there are situations in between those two that are harder to judge. I’ve seen authors ask on Facebook to “like” their not-yet-released books on Amazon (because I’m assuming the number of likes affects the visibility of the book?); the street teams; what Samantha Young did of offering a prequel novella for free to those who pre-ordered the book and offered proof of purchase; a publicist individually spamming people on Goodreads offering rewards if the book reached 100 reviews on Amazon; etc. These are all things I find annoying and manipulative, but not as offensive as threatening to pull a book or throwing a rage-induced temper tantrum a la Jamie McGuire.

    Where do we draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable? I know where that line is for me, but take a look at how successful some of those ploys are; the reactions to Leighton where overwhelmingly positive.

    I want to say that writing the best book possible is the best marketing strategy, but most of the times it’s not enough, right? Bad behavior seems to brings more visibility than good books.

  12. Julia Gabriel
    May 21, 2013 @ 07:40:22

    I worked in marketing for many years so I don’t begrudge anyone their marketing strategy or a little marketing “creativity.” But she is complaining about something that happens to all authors. Has there ever been a universally loved book? Probably not. There will always be some readers who just don’t care for a particular book. So the idea that she’s pulling a book just because some people didn’t like it isn’t completely believable to some of us.

    Berkley is releasing several of her other books this summer and the cynic in me wonders whether all this is tied to that somehow. Maybe Berkley has picked up this book too and she just wanted to goose sales before she had to pull it for them or she’s laying the groundwork for its re-release as a “controversial” book. Who knows. Only time will tell whether this was smart marketing or just hurt feelings.

  13. Moriah Jovan
    May 21, 2013 @ 07:42:28

    No author’s name has ever gone viral for dealing with reviews in a professional manner.

    Bad behavior seems to brings more visibility than good books.


    You know what makes me want to buy your books? A good plot, good writing, and bonus – if you make yourself available in social media, with some sort of brain filter.

    You won’t buy it if you don’t know it (or the author) exists.

  14. Patricia Eimer
    May 21, 2013 @ 07:52:49

    Definitely a marketing ploy and such blatant crap that it makes me not only NOT want this book, she’ll probably end up on my never buy ever list.

  15. Tina
    May 21, 2013 @ 08:13:05

    I was following this over the weekend with my cynic flag flying. Of course it was a marketing ploy. The blog post with the nebulous, only hinted at vaguely negative private emails. The tone that conveyed regret, and despair, yet noble sacrifice. It was positively Don Draper-esque.

    Added to that was the threat of making something unavailable and thereby exclusive. It was text-book raise demand while limiting supply. Video Game systems have shown us all how this is done. Well played M. Leighton, well played.

    In the end, how one thinks about all this depends on what each person perceives as acceptable. I am of the opinion that this was hardly beyond the pale, but then again I thought it all sounded fishy and refused to buy into it. Also, I wouldn’t have bought it anyway because it isn’t to my taste. But marketing depends on a receptive audience and frankly, she read her audience well enough that it all paid off.

    I actually am more perturbed by the commenters who called what she did “brave” and applaud her for her “courage” and despair that she was “forced” to do what she did. Morseo than her eye-roll worthy blog post these comments had me going WTF?

  16. Ash
    May 21, 2013 @ 08:24:56

    I used to have a friend who, a couple of times a year, would pull this “nobody likes me, I’m worthless!” thing and everyone would tell him he was great and he’d be fine until the next time. Wondering if there isn’t some of that in this, as well.

  17. may
    May 21, 2013 @ 08:38:53

    The way I figure it – brands (including authors) can market however they want. There are plenty of people (myself included) who block, ignore, and otherwise avoid people and companies who participate in sneaky, shady, or generally dirty marketing.

    Yeah, there are a LOT of new authors out there every day, and yes, it’s hard. So what? I’m sorry, I’ve been working in my industry for over a decade and guess what? YEARS of that was spent struggling and in total obscurity. Keep writing. Keep releasing GOOD stories. Keep honing your craft. WORK your way up. Do honest marketing and try to get reviews, approach bloggers or book obsessed twitter readers with strong followings, etc…

    While tempting, these flash of attention ploys only work in the short term. Long term, people will remember you for your scandal not your work. Is that really what you’re after? I couldn’t live with myself if I was such a manipulative person- I far prefer to know I’m transparent and honest and that I’m not trying to trick anyone into buying anything.

  18. L Burns
    May 21, 2013 @ 08:44:57

    I guess I’m just too cynical to think that this was anything but a publicity stunt, but that’s not the part that really galls me. The author posts a cryptic message on her blog – suitably vague – and her “fans” run with the premise that “mean” reviewers who are disturbed over the subject matter are “forcing” her to pull the book. The supportive messages start flying in – “forget the haters”, “just because people are such prudes they don’t need to ruin if for others” – etc.

    Meanwhile, over at Amazon this book had a grand total of TWO (yes, count ’em – two) negative reviews. And mild ones at that – no “hate” to be found. After the big “announcement”, the five stars start rolling in, and just about every one blasts the “horrible readers” who “forced” this poor author to pull the book. A few were under the impression that Amazon was pulling the book because of the content.

    Bottom line? Whatever her motivations, she turned readers who didn’t love her book into scapegoats for her angry fans. That’s not cool.

    If this wasn’t all about selling books, she would have pulled the book and then posted her explanation. But no, just like the cheap mattress store down the street she has a ‘One Day Only Sale’. “GET IT NOW – BEFORE IT’S GONE FOREVER”. Pathetic. And folks who ran out and purchased the book – sorry, you got played.

  19. Ellen
    May 21, 2013 @ 09:24:27

    I generally don’t deal well with flounces. I particularly don’t deal well with announced and scheduled flounces.
    I don’t buy Disney’s “get it before it goes into the vault” editions, and I don’t buy into this type of marketing with books.
    The problem with this type of marketing for individuals is it is good once. After that, you have to find another reason to flounce. That may start to take more time and imagination than your book writing does. And that is when it really becomes an issue for your loyal readers.

  20. Brianna (The Book Vixen)
    May 21, 2013 @ 09:31:46

    When I first found out about M. Leighton’s new book Until I Break, I added it to my TBR list. I loved The Wild Ones, and though I disliked Down to You, I still wanted to read more by M. Leighton. Then I read her blog post where she announced she’d be removing Until I Break from e-tailers, and essentially said that if I wanted the book, I’d better buy it soon. Right after reading that post, I felt like I was being manipulated into buying the book and it rubbed me the wrong way. Did I buy the book? No. And I have no intentions on reading it, ever. (And that’s probably a good thing because the part about the hero’s previous girlfriend dying from auto-erotic asphyxiation during sex is not my cup of tea.) I probably won’t ever read another book by this author because this whole thing has left a bad taste in my mouth.

    This whole situation seems bizarre. I don’t understand why the author pulled the book in the first place. If not as a sales ploy to drive up sales (which definitely worked in the author’s favor, as you mentioned in your post), then why? I directly asked the author this question on Twitter but she never answered. Nor has she offered any explanation.

    I bet Until I Break will be back up for sale by the end of the year, if not sooner.

  21. hapax
    May 21, 2013 @ 09:35:08

    And this is why I really hate the entire “social media as marketing” trend.

    I get that readers like to feel like they “know” the author. I get that authors (and publishers!) believe that people are more likely to buy books, and give invaluable positive word-of-mouth, to authors they feel a certain personal connection to. And I get that this whole “author MUST HAVE blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed, etc.” frenzy is not going away — in fact, it’s probably going to get worse.

    But I hate it. Authors are not my friends. (Well, actually I have several friends who are authors. Guess what? I don’t read their books, mostly. Not because I don’t think they are very good writers — I do — but because what they write is not to my personal taste.)

    Frankly, I don’t want a personal relationship with the persons behind the words on the page; it places a barrier between me and the worlds they create in my head. How can I help but think “Hmm. Does HE ever want to take that blunt object to the guy who cut him off in traffic?” or “Huh. I wonder if SHE makes that noise when she orgasms?” as I read?

    I know that I’m a minority on this topic, but whenever an author makes a personal plea — Pre-order! Buy on this date! Leave a nice review! — that carries a whiff of using a pseudo-social relationship for marketing, it gives me that same itchy-crawly feeling that I get when that person in my book group asks to borrow money…

  22. Mandi
    May 21, 2013 @ 09:42:36

    If you are going to market outside the box, at least do it in a clever way. The dog magazine is a “haha” moment for me. An author going on her site and blogging 24+ hours in advance of pulling her book down…is manipulating her readers. It’s not cool.

    And @hapax: You are not in the minority at all in regards to authors making those personal pleas on their blogs. (Although I do think authors can do great things with social media. Just not that)

  23. L Burns
    May 21, 2013 @ 10:09:00

    Not only has the author gotten her name out there to people who probably never would have heard of her and sold a ton of books, her self-imposed martyrdom has pretty much ensured that from this point on the book will get nothing but positive reviews.

    Who wants to be the one to post a negative review? After all, her “fans” blame you – the people too close minded to understand her “art” – for the author’s heart breaking decision. YOU caused all this. You’re advocating censorship…

    Oh, wait a minute – none of that actually happened. Oh well, small point since this whole “I’m not just a fan the author is my friend” mentality seems to prevent rational thought.

    I will never cease to be amazed at how gullible people can be and how easily they can be manipulated into taking up a cause. PT Barnum had it right – there’s a sucker born every minute.

  24. Lynne Connolly
    May 21, 2013 @ 10:28:54

    I also worked in marketing for years. I can tell you that nothing is forbidden, nothing is judged morally. If it works, it works, and that’s it. It’s a nasty attitude and one that encouraged me not to go back after I had maternity leave.
    The people prepared to spend lots of money on their advertising campaigns can afford to be good and keep within the guidelines. They’re getting noticed. Others have to resort to other tactics. And marketing isn’t always direct, isn’t always “buy my book.” In a “soft” market like books, indirect methods tend to work better. People coming here to comment and get their name out there, people shouting on Facebook, people taking a name close to an already established author, even using their metadata to hook on to their following (that one’s happened to me).
    There’s a lot going on under the hood. A good book and then another good book is the basis of a writing career, but it doesn’t guarantee success. A lot of work and a bit of luck are both required.
    But authors who “threaten” to stop writing if people don’t buy their books are often just telling the truth. God knows writing is a poorly paid occupation, even bestsellers don’t venture into five figures these days, so some people have to look to other sources in order to make a buck.

  25. Kierney Scott
    May 21, 2013 @ 10:55:52

    I tend to take people at face value, so if the author says she pulled it because of reviews, I believe her. Sometimes words hurt. Every author gets rubbish reviews, that is to be expected. What really hurts is when people insult the author instead of the work. If that is what happened in this case, I can understand her feeling hurt enough to remove her book.

  26. Jane
    May 21, 2013 @ 11:02:24

    @Kierney Scott: I don’t really understand an author pulling a book because of attacks. None were visible on the internet. All the negative reviews I saw on Goodreads or Amazon were directed at the book. If the author received negative comments via email, well, that’s unfortunate, but I still don’t get a) removing the book and b) encouraging everyone to buy it before it is removed.

  27. L Burns
    May 21, 2013 @ 11:05:17

    @Kierney Scott:

    Here’s a post from the author’s fb page:


    3 · Yesterday at 9:02am

    ETA: oops, sorry – couldn’t copy it over. She posted that this was never about negative reviews and she didn’t know where that came from (lol). The ‘LOL’ was hers. It’s still there on FB if you want to check it out.

    She says it’s not about negative reviews. Of course she doesn’t say what it was about….

  28. Jill Sorenson
    May 21, 2013 @ 11:40:05

    I doubt it was a publicity stunt. I think most odd or irrational behavior is motivated by emotion, not cold-blooded strategy. Whenever an author behaves “badly” it’s called clever marketing. That’s giving us far too much credit. We make mistakes, act impulsively, and say the wrong thing in the heat of the moment, just like everyone else.

    It’s also important to recognize Leighton’s passionate fanbase. Without it, her blog post would have gone unnoticed. She’s a NY Times bestseller. This controversy contributed to an already established pattern of success.

    The troubling part for me is the possible impact on honest reviews. I really hope other authors don’t follow in Leighton’s footsteps. I can’t imagine they will–hard to make money on a book that isn’t available. But fans may fear books being pulled and launch preemptive attacks on negative reviewers.

  29. KT Grant
    May 21, 2013 @ 11:48:07

    If this was a stunt, Leighton is taking a big big chance this won’t backfire and she’ll lose reader respect. So, say it is a stunt and If I Break is republished in the future by one of the big 6? What does that mean in the long run? But, would one of the big 6 take a chance on an author who has done a possible stunt that misleads the reading public?

  30. Jane
    May 21, 2013 @ 11:52:39

    @KT Grant – she’s already published by NAL.

  31. Kierney Scott
    May 21, 2013 @ 12:05:20

    @Jill Sorenson said it better than I could.
    @Jane I can only begin to guess what the author was thinking. When emotion is involved, it is hard to be rational. When I read your post, I could imagine a writer having a wobble and pulling her work. You know that way you get when you feel completely shattered and emotionally vulnerable and you just want to crawl in a hole? That is the place I imagined the writer to be at when she chose to take down her work. I could be completely off the mark, I very often am :-)

  32. Anonymousie
    May 21, 2013 @ 12:09:21

    I have to say, it screamed marketing stunt to me, for several reasons:

    1) If she were genuinely hurt, she would have said outright in the post what upset people and why it was important to her, rather than giving salacious hints.

    2) If she genuinely didn’t want money, she would make the book available to anyone who actually wanted it for free.

    3) If she were genuinely upset she would have removed it first, then said why she’d done it.

    Count me among those who’ve been tempted by her books in the past but have now put her on the “Never, ever, ever buy her books” list.

    The Big 6 (5, 4….) don’t care about authors behaving badly. They’re struggling to make a buck. They’ve never cared much and since she already has a Berkley contract, they will care even less. I would lay money this book wasn’t doing well enough to be repubbed by Berkley, but now it is.

  33. Andrew Shaffer
    May 21, 2013 @ 12:09:54

    @Jill Sorenson: That’s a good point. If the author wasn’t already a NYTimes and USA Today bestselling author, this wouldn’t be a story. Without her pre-existing fanbase, her blog post would have disappeared into the digital ether. Lesser known authors attempting to replicate her “stunt” (or whatever we’re calling it) will probably be met with silence.

  34. Lindsay
    May 21, 2013 @ 12:18:47

    Agreed. The “auto” means self. So, either she’s doing it to herself or he’s doing it to her, and it would be erotic-asphyxiation. A storyline like that–where the hero had killed his previous partner (!!)–just would not interest me.

    Which was my reaction when I read the above DA post because…um, that is possibly what some of the criticism was about. When I looked up the book on GR on Saturday to see about some of the issues, I didn’t see this mentioned.

    Still, if you’re going to go WAY OUT there with “damaged” characters, own it and accept the criticisms of such a choice. My vote is that it was a sensitive author, not a brilliant (planned) marketing scheme. At the end though, she sold a bunch of books, so from a business standpoint, it was brilliant. Not my cuppa and it was weird to watch another author behaving badly scandal.

  35. Julia Gabriel
    May 21, 2013 @ 12:27:23

    Either way, it’s odd behavior for an author who has a seven-figure book deal from a major publisher.

  36. MaryK
    May 21, 2013 @ 12:51:43

    This might’ve increased sales in the short term, but in the mid term it seems like a good way to increase casual pirating of your book by readers who hear about the controversy too late to buy it.

  37. Melissa Blue
    May 21, 2013 @ 12:57:29

    Hmm. Torn. Could be a publicity stunt or she actually felt some personal responsibility for the work she was putting out there. I don’t know, leaving it up and giving her fans who did want the book a chance to pick it up sounds like a courtesy. (Also, you can take a book off sale and it will probably take a day or two for it to actually come down, if not weeks for some venues.) And, yeah, a few criticisms could highlight doubts an author already has and tried to ignore.

    But to answer the question, I don’t know what’s too far. Sort of like knowing the difference between art and porn. You know it when you see it. Or in this case, I know the person or company has crossed a line when it’s sprung on me and I want them to never, ever sell anything ever again.

    Everything is marketing or it feeds into the beast that is marketing. “Buy my product” is the only upfront way. Other forms can be intentional and others not so much. For the most part people want to buy a product not because the product is good, but because they believe in the message behind it, they were entertained–they connected with it and that has nothing to do with the actual product. There were, and are, a lot of good products that tanked.

    Old Spice guy is the best example of when it works. We weren’t linking to the videos, talking about it or enjoying it because Old Spice smells so damn yummy. We did it because those commercials were brilliant. They made us laugh. We quoted it and shared it with friends. I have no clue if that actor is married or that he likes sides put on a different plate. I have no idea who actually came up with the campaign (geniuses that they are). But I still connected along with most of America. If I was a potential customer, I might have bought the product.

    So, maybe for me it’s not when you’ve gone too far, it’s why not have the customer walking away with a good feeling? That good feeling gets connected to your product. (Dove damn near has a patent on this.) If that isn’t manipulation, I don’t know what is. For some reason that doesn’t leave me feeling icky as hell. But, the my children will starve if you don’t buy my books…yeah. Totally does make me cringe and I walk away feeling used.

  38. L Burns
    May 21, 2013 @ 13:01:14

    @Kierney Scott:

    I don’t know, her Saturday FB post of “LAST CALL FOR UNTIL I BREAK! After tomorrow, it will no longer be available” just doesn’t scream “shattered” or “emotionally vulnerable” to me. It comes off as “used car salesman”.

    But you are right – I don’t know her motivation. Odd behavior doesn’t always have a rational explanation.

  39. Jane
    May 21, 2013 @ 13:05:21

    @Melissa Blue: I had this checked out by a couple self pubbed authors. They said on Amazon, the book removal is near immediate.

  40. Melissa Blue
    May 21, 2013 @ 13:10:12

    @Jane: I’m never that lucky then. lol

  41. Ren
    May 21, 2013 @ 13:13:53

    Prediction: Within the next year, there will be a bestseller with no words in it, because obviously the drama surrounding a book has become more important the drama within it.

  42. Heather Massey
    May 21, 2013 @ 13:30:51


    That would be the book “What Every Man Thinks About Apart From Sex”:

  43. Larry Kollar
    May 21, 2013 @ 13:39:33

    Like Hayley Williams flashing Twitter that time, things like this only work once, and only for certain people. I’m not one of those (for either example) it would work for, so I’m not tempted.

    I’d rather try hitching my stories to a current trend (say, new adult) and see if the parade might drag it along.

  44. Kristi
    May 21, 2013 @ 13:41:10

    I don’t think it’s a publicity stunt. She is offering it for free to anyone who wants it. She emailed me a version last night because it was already down. I think she had second thoughts, let people know that she was taking it down, and took it down.

    I guess we shall see though!

  45. wikkidsexycool
    May 21, 2013 @ 14:16:18

    So Leighton wrote on her blog “Yes, I could leave it out there to earn money, but every cent would be bitter, knowing that there are some who not only don’t “get” the story, but who are misunderstanding it in a disheartening way.”

    So I gather the opinions of a few (those she refers to who are misunderstanding the book) are very, very important to her. So much so, that they outweigh those who’ve supported her over the years, who appear to be many, based on the comments of support on her blog and the five star reviews on Amazon. Maybe it would be better if this was a marketing ploy after realizing imho, how this author basically had a meltdown due to some readers not getting her story. I think @Jill Sorenson’s explanation is spot on.

    While I can feel for her, I wonder what she’d say about a nine year old actress getting called the C word in a tweet by The Onion, on the same night the kid was attending the Academy Awards? I mean, if there was ever a time to be disheartened, throw a tantrum and go off on somebody . . .

  46. DS
    May 21, 2013 @ 14:35:11

    Well if the whole point is to get out the news to people who wouldn’t have been interested in this book it worked. At least for one reader.

    I had to smile at the C J Cherryh remark. I can remember in 1976 buying her first book (Gates of Ivrel) because I was pretty sure it was by a woman. The use of initials by women authors was so common that anyone would have to be incredibly unclued in about sff to have been fooled by it. (And the first edition had a cover quote from Andre Norton, a writer who “everyone” knew was a woman despite the pen name.)

    The only writer of the era who took a male pseudonym that raised a fuss was James Triptree, Jr. And that was mainly Robert Silverberg’s fault for being so cocksure that he could tell whether a story was written by a man or a woman. (He couldn’t.)

  47. Timitra
    May 21, 2013 @ 15:01:10

    What a thought provoking post, thank you Jane it definitely got me thinking, while I don’t know where the line is exactly something that whole M. Leighton thing did not sit well with me. I was really looking forward to reading that book I even had it on my Kindle Must Haves list but could not bring myself to one click it.

  48. Keishon
    May 21, 2013 @ 16:14:14

    First off, I’m cynical about everything. This sounded like a ploy from the first but I understand your need to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and I could be completely wrong but I don’t care. It’s how it felt to me. AND

    What about James Patterson’s pledge to kill off Alex Cross if enough people don’t buy his book? Most people look at this as a tongue in cheek pledge, but how many were spurred to buy new release, just in case?

    It was a tongue in cheek ploy but at least I felt he was honest in saying that if readers didn’t want to read anymore Alex Cross books, he’ll just kill him off. I found nothing wrong with his marketing ploy. It sounds a bit deceptive sure because only he knows if he will kill off the character and he probably wouldn’t if pushed but you never know. Your example in the article just rubbed me the wrong way. That whole thing didn’t sound like a author who can’t take criticism but one who thought she’d take advantage of her fans and do a spectacular flounce with a “I’ll show them” attitude. She got what she wanted and made some $$.

  49. Lori
    May 21, 2013 @ 16:18:28

    This is one of my Ranty McRant moments. I hatehatehate most marketing nowadays because it’s all based on guilt. Buy my book so my children get fed. Buy my book otherwise my husband’s testicular edema will never be cured. Buy my book so my dog can come in from the cold.

    I have un-followed more authors on Facebook and Twitter for their postings suggesting that to be a good reader of their books, I must buy their backlist, review it all, force everyone I know to buy a copy and paint their damned garage too!

    Not everyone is going to make money writing books. My monthly royalties pay for me and the kid to have a meal at McDonalds. That’s just the way it is. I’m not going to blame or shame readers to try and get their money.

    Gah, this drives me up a wall.

  50. Jane
    May 21, 2013 @ 16:19:27

    @Keishon: I’m trying to work out in my own mind when I think is right and wrong. The actions of the author didn’t sit well with me. Then I thought about all of the marketing has worked with me including the Dove ads which I linked to here at DearAuthor. I remember telling Ned the other day that I enjoyed spending money at Starbucks where they treated their employees well and where their CEO tells a stockholder who objects to their support of gay marriage at the stockholder is free to invest another stock.

    So like the commentor above, making me feel good about company makes me want to spend more money. And that is manipulative. I’m just trying to work it out in my own head where I draw the line. And frankly I don’t really know.

  51. hapax
    May 21, 2013 @ 16:58:08


    So like the commentor above, making me feel good about company makes me want to spend more money. And that is manipulative. I’m just trying to work it out in my own head where I draw the line.

    Neither Dove nor the CEO of Starbucks is pretending to have a personal relationship with me. If I like what they did, and feel good about the company, that’s fine; but they’re not pretending a “connection” that’s not there.

    I won’t buy Orson Scott Card’s books (or give good money to any project he’s had a finger in) because I think he’s a bigoted jerk. But if someone takes his whole office to see ENDER”S GAME because he agrees with OSC’s political views, I’ll think that person is wrong, but I won’t think he’s been manipulated by OSC’s views.

    As far as I know (I don’t read his blog), Card has never said, “Buy my books or traditional marriage gets it!” He’s never pretended to a social relationship that doesn’t exist.

    One of my writer friends complains that fans who have read her books and thus presume that they KNOW her is the creepiest thing imaginable. (She does have a blog, but it is extremely professional). But isn’t Leighton presuming on just that pseudo-connection (and thus the natural human sense of tribalism — “it’s US against THEM!”) for her pitch — calculated or just misguided — to succeed?

  52. Ridley
    May 21, 2013 @ 17:03:08

    I think it was probably a marketing scheme and, honestly, I don’t think it’s any worse than that Dove video people were sharing. They’re both dishonest plays for an emotional response that leads to the link going viral.

    I can’t work up any outrage over it. It makes me unlikely to ever read her, as I tend to avoid authors who’ve weaponized their fanbase, but I don’t see any harm in what she did. She sold some books and some feelings. No one got hurt. The beat goes on.

  53. knstrick
    May 21, 2013 @ 17:10:14

    It’s strange because marketing is a relatively new concept in the history of business, at least today’s version of marketing, where you are trying to communicate and appeal to an entire world.

    Back in the day, your product spoke for itself and most marketing was done by word of mouth on a local scene. Who makes the best bread? Oh, that’s Marty, his shop is down the street on the corner. Where can I get my carriage fixed? Well Fred is the only one with the tools, so go see him on his farm. I suppose you could have some “false advertisement” if a particular business owner was shady and coerced people into lying for them or making a monopoly, but it would be nothing of the scale of today. You might have also had some wider spread “marketing” with trade routes and such, but people didn’t buy things unless it was really what they wanted or needed. Today, marketing’s job is to make you buy things you definitely don’t need and you probably don’t want.

    My father has started many successful small businesses and has raised me fairly old school- our job is to provide the best, most knowledgeable, and efficient service to our customers. We never worried about what other shops were doing and probably spent the bare minimum on advertisement (most of it charity toward the local high schools by buying “commercials” on their morning news programs). If you do what you’re suppose to do and you do it very well, the word of mouth marketing will bring the business to you. But that thinking is antiquated today and would not allow most small businesses to thrive. Today you have to “play the game” on a wide scale in order to just make ends meet.

    How many successful authors don’t have a Facebook? Twitter? Website? Blog? On top of everything there publishers do for them? You can no longer rely on good writing to get you sold because the market is just too large.

    I’m not condoning the behavior of the shady marketers, I’m just thinking about what I would do in their situation.

  54. knstrick
    May 21, 2013 @ 17:21:06

    Oh, btw, this whole conversation reminded me of the move Lover Come Back with Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Rock Hudson’s character worked for an advertising company and he created a very successful marketing scheme around a product that didn’t even exist yet.

  55. Megaera
    May 21, 2013 @ 19:44:37

    I’m with @Lori on this one. Anyone who appeals to me to buy anything in any other way except via the content of the thing has lost me from the getgo. Unless I know you personally (and really, really like you), “buy my book, not someone else’s because I need you to more than they do” is the fastest way to kill the sale. We all need to make sales.

    Then again, this attitude may be why my own royalties are so tiny…

    Also, negative reviews are part of an author’s life. Apparently Leighton’s been around as a writer long enough to have learned that. We all might want to keep that in mind.

  56. azteclady
    May 21, 2013 @ 20:11:24

    Are we tallying votes? Count me in for publicity stunt. Anonymousie‘s comment sums up why I think so, by the way.

  57. JessP
    May 21, 2013 @ 21:44:39


    “Weaponized their fanbase.” That’s just brilliant. Thanks.

  58. Sarah Strohmeyer
    May 21, 2013 @ 22:08:36

    Uhm, Janet Evanovich not only came up with the name “Bubbles,” but she also dissuaded me from setting a character in rural New England as I had proposed. Instead, she suggested using our mutual past of the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania and plumbing my blue collar (black) roots. Had it not been for Janet, Bubbles never would have been born.
    Now that I have 15 books under my belt as well as a TV movie and 13 years in the business, I am glad to offer hardworking, struggling new writers advice and assistance. It is my pleasure and privilege. I will never forget Janet’s generous contribution in turning my pipe dream into a career that allowed me to work at home while my children grew. You may cynically call my use of the word “mentor” marketing, but it was written in sincere gratitude. Janet, in short, changed my life.

  59. Lynn S.
    May 21, 2013 @ 22:31:30

    Guerilla marketing, as it exists today, has no ethical boundaries; more and more often it goes too far and Dove’s “real beauty” campaign is just a guerilla in a bunny suit.

    With regards to the Leighton mess, it’s all so coy (the heroine of the book is an author for craps sake) that I haven’t a clue. But, if it’s true, she’s a latter-day Sydney Carton.

  60. Spaz
    May 23, 2013 @ 11:33:50

    I don’t have a long thought out response on this topic, mine is still the same reaction I had over the weekend when I watched it play out on her blog and twitter… M. Leighton has ensured that I won’t read any of her future books. I just don’t like being blatantly manipulated this way, and to ME, it is very very very very very very obvious this was a ploy. As a reader, it angers me that some of my favorite (urban fantasy) series have been killed off this past year due to lack in reader interest/sales, while this author does this BS and is rewarded for it in sales. Call me bitter. Call me cynical. But this leaves a super bad taste in my mouth and I want nothing to do with the author.

  61. J.N. Duncan
    May 23, 2013 @ 13:45:39

    It could’ve been blatant effort to spur sales. Unprofessional in my opinion, even if allowable. Her ratings on the book weren’t bad at all. It might be something else if she had 1.5 star ratings and people were railing against it for whatever reasons. I could see someone getting in a huff over everyone panning their book and pulling it, but this is an author with 20 titles out there. You don’t put out 20 books without having come to terms with some negative comments/reviews. So, pulling a book because some people didn’t “get it” strikes me as totally playing the readers. Either way you go here, I get a bad vibe about it. Not sure the author is going to care though. Her bank account is probably adequate compensation for any griping we will throw her way.

  62. KT Grant
    May 29, 2013 @ 12:18:27

    Until I Break made the NYT this week: Combined at #16 and #13 in digital:

    I wonder what happens now?

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