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Indie Author Self-Promotion Strategies: Lying

January 7, 2019

Some authors believe you should do whatever it takes to get book sales.  I understand what they mean, but I believe in limits.

Last week I wrote a post  about how I’m reluctant to tell my friends about my blog and books because I don’t want them to feel obligated to read or buy my stuff.  From what I’ve seen, a lot of independent authors use their friends for an initial boost in book sales.  If I’m not willing to do that (yet), then I need to find other ways to promote my books, ways that I’m comfortable with.

The book Diary of an Oxygen Thief  by some guy named Anonymous took a few years to sell enough books to attract a major publishing company, and  I keep seeing this novel every time I go to the local B&M Bookseller.  Even though this novel was originally published independently (and I usually root for indie authors), this particular novel bothers me.  From my perspective, this author lied and got a book deal out of it.

You can read more details here , including some strategies that are NOT lying.   Remember, I’m not reviewing the content of the book.  I’m reviewing the process the author went through to sell enough copies of his book to get noticed.

  1. Anonymous.

Yeah, the author called himself Anonymous.  This was before Anonymous the hacker (I think), but there have been earlier versions of Anonymous authors.  Anonymous wrote a controversial diary(?) called Go Ask Alice back in the 1970s.  Another Anonymous back in the 1990s (who turned out to be a journalist named Joe Klein) wrote the book Primary Colors about a presidential campaign that mirrored the Clinton’s 1992 run.

Anonymous is the pen name authors sometimes use when they write stuff so controversial that they don’t want to attach a name to it.  It’s a gimmick because the stories usually aren’t true but the author wants to pretend they’re true.

  1. Vulgarity

The cover of Diary of an Oxygen Thief  has a snowman with a carrot in a provocative place.  The cover ticks me off, not because it’s vulgar, but because I came up with that idea back in 1973, and I’m sure somebody else came up with it before me as well.

I was eight, and we’d just gone through a blizzard, and some friends and I had just built a snowman.  We put a baseball cap on it, and used buttons for eyes and a carrot for a nose.  In a moment of genius, I moved the carrot to a lower spot and pointed it out to everybody.

Nobody seemed offended, so I went inside and brought my older brother out.  He nodded his approval, went inside the house, and came back out with a bigger carrot.  If I’d had foresight, I would have photographed the snowman and used it for one of my ebook covers decades later.

  1. Lying

Anonymous made about 1,000 copies and got a few of them inside a local book store.  Once copies of his book were distributed in small bookstores, the anonymous author supposedly pretended to be a publishing company to get his book into Barnes & Noble.  I don’t like lying.  But book publishers can be unethical too, so maybe it’s okay for an author to lie by pretending to be a publisher whom everybody assumes would be unethical anyway.

  1. Lying again

Anonymous also pretended to be a hot chick in an online dating service and mentioned the book in “her” profile as a book that she loved.  Yeah, it’s clever, but it’s also dishonest, and I feel bad for all the lonely guys who bought this book thinking they had a chance with a hot chick who liked books.

I’ve never been a lonely guy, but I’m a writer, so I’m empathetic and would never intentionally put a lonely guy through that experience.  I guess Anonymous is NOT empathetic.  I too thought of posing as a hot chick to get people to read my blog and buy my books a few years ago.  I could have done it and chose not to.

Over time, Diary of an Oxygen Thief sold enough copies to get a publishing company’s attention, and eventually Anonymous got a book deal.    It’s great that Anonymous no longer has to pretend to be a publishing company and a hot chick.  On the other hand, I don’t think he ever got punished for pretending to be a publishing company or a hot chick.

As an aspiring author, I’m torn about this Anonymous.  I like to read success stories, but I don’t like to see bad behavior rewarded.  His success teaches writers bad lessons, like lying to Barnes & Noble and giving lonely guys false hope is justified.  I’m a little uncomfortable with that.  Some aspiring authors see that as cleverness that should be rewarded.  I see it as bad behavior that should be punished (I don’t mean mob justice; I just won’t buy the book).

At least the cover reminds me of the lesson my older brother taught me decades ago (I just wish I could apply this to publishing):  When you’re building a snowman, use the biggest carrot.


What do you think?  Are Anonymous’s promotion techniques unethical?  Should authors be rewarded for dishonest self-promotion behavior?

  1. Interesting.

  2. Madam Mim permalink

    Its definitely unethical… I don’t think they’re seriously big lies, and I can understand the desperation to try and get his book out there… But there are plenty of ethical ways to do that, so I probably wouldn’t stoop to lying

    • I agree, the lies aren’t THAT bad (except maybe for those lonely guys who thought they had found a literary hot chick), but I just don’t like bad behavior being rewarded.

      • Madam Mim permalink

        No, I don’t either… I like to believe that bad behaviour has a way of coming back around in the long term though 🙂

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