Savvy Marketing or Fraud?

No, thank goodness, that first one’s NOT a new jacket for a reprint of Angel’s Tip (just proof that I really suck at Photo Shop).

But what if I cleaned that bad boy up a little, slapped it on my book, and distributed free copies at a Michael Connelly signing? Savvy marketing or fraud?

That’s the debate going on in the publishing world right now thanks to a marketing effort by UK retail book chain WHSmith on behalf of Simon Kernick‘s new book, DEADLINE. The store printed a special edition of Simon’s book to give away free to customers who pre-order Dan Brown’s forthcoming LOST SYMBOL. As you can see from the cover, Dan Brown’s name is featured prominently in the center of the cover. Simon’s name and the book title are in smaller lettering at the bottom. In between, the jacket reads, “If you like your thrillers as fast, furious, and unputdownable as Dan Brown, then we thought you’d enjoy…”

The reaction’s been pretty … um, negative. Book blogger Sarah Weinman’s immediate Tweeted response was, “Wow. Talk about a jaw-dropping, epic, book marketing fail.” But as Sarah’s blog summarizes complaints about both efficacy and ethics, she also talks to fellow writer and former editor Jason Pinter, who has a different take: Good for Simon.

My take? I’m closer to Jason (whom I know and like, I should disclose). The saving grace here is that the book is a promotional giveaway. It’s sort of hard to claim fraud when you’re getting something free. A customer would have to argue that she only pre-ordered Brown’s book because she thought she was getting two Dan Brown novels for the price of one. But that’s a hard argument to make. Presumably anyone who’s a Brown fan will be buying the highly anticipated next book anyway. And I don’t see how this could possibly hurt Simon (whom I also know and like, I should probably disclose). Lots of his books will find their way into the hands of readers who might previously have said, “Simon Who-nick?”

In the end, my biggest complaint about the jacket is probably the use of the word “unputdownable.” Maybe I’ll polish up my Photo Shop skills before 212 comes out this spring.

What do you think?

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