Book Publishers Exploit Stars

This article, by Ruth Mortimer, originally appeared on Marketing Week on 7/23/09 (in the U.K., where it’s already 7/23 as this article is being posted, 7/22 here in the U.S.). File this one under ‘games some publishers play’.

These may be hard times for publishers, but using a star author to sell another less well-known writer’s book is lazy marketing.

The word “deadline” tends to catch my eye. As a journalist, it’s the term that defines your weeks, days and hours. So browsing in WH Smith recently, I was intrigued to see that Dan Brown, author of megahit The Da Vinci Code, had written a book called Deadline with the intriguing (and horribly familiar to all writers) tagline: “Time Only Matters When It’s Running Out”.

I didn’t think The Da Vinci Code, which is a crime-thriller-cum-religious-tale, was a particularly well-written book when it first came out in 2003. But nobody can deny it has mass appeal and its racy and pacy plot has spawned a whole set of imitators. With more than 81 million copies sold so far and two hit films based on Brown’s novels, it’s one of the publishing successes of the century.

So I picked up Deadline. Would it be the story of a young female journalist struggling for the scoop of the decade against the odds? At which point, I noticed someone else’s name on the cover beneath Dan Brown’s: Simon Kernick. “Aha,” I thought, “The title is actually ‘Simon Kernick: Deadline.’ Perhaps Kernick is the fictional detective starring in this novel?”

But as I looked closer, it dawned on me that in fact, Brown had not written this book at all. And Kernick is not the detective hero of the piece. The front cover, which proudly boasted that it was “exclusive” to WH Smith, bears the legend: “Dan Brown. If you like your thrillers as fast, furious and unputdownable as Dan Brown, then we thought you’d enjoy…Simon Kernick. Deadline.”

I had got it entirely wrong. Kernick is, in fact, the author of Deadline. Brown is not.

Deadline (SIGNED Summer 2008)Publetariat Editor’s Note: this story comes from a U.K.-based site, and apparently, the ‘Dan Brown’ cover isn’t being released here in the U.S.  The cover on the left is the U.S.-edition hardcover.  

This is selling one author’s book with the name of another author as the hook to draw in the shopper. Rather than simply referring to Dan Brown on the cover notes, suggesting similarities between the authors’ styles, at first sight it seems that Brown is the main writer.

The whole top two-thirds of the book is dedicated to Brown, rather than Kernick. Careless shoppers, like me, could quite easily buy it thinking it was Brown’s own work and only realise their mistake when they’d parted with their cash. 

Read the rest of the article on Marketing Week. Also see this additional commentary from Sarah Weinman on Confessions Of An Idiosyncratic Mind, and the Simon Kernick is Awesome photoshop contest on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

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