Monday, March 11, 2019

What Happens When We Promote Authors Who Are Crooks?

Promoting books and authors to the news media can be fun, stimulating, and rewarding especially when you give a platform to a voice that speaks out for those who represent good over evil, who help others, who send positive messages, and educate others on things they need to do or avoid.  But what happens when you represent those who acted unethically, if not criminally?  How do you talk yourself into marketing someone that you wouldn’t want to be friends with?

The New York Times really had a front-page story of its business section about Jordan Goodman, a best-selling author who was also a respected personal finance journalist for Money Magazine.  He now owes the Securities Exchange Commission 2.7 million dollars.  He used to be a client of the public relations firm that I work for.

While not admitting guilt, he is paying this huge sum of money and accepted a lifetime ban from the securities industry.  He had made millions of dollars by steering investors to what turned out to a Ponzi scheme.  He blurred the lines between being a journalist and author – and making money based on the advice that he was giving.

Though I didn’t personally work with him, I recall my colleagues promoting two of his books over a period of several years.  I can’t help but wonder if our promotion of a man who’d later owe the SEC nearly three million dollars helped contribute to elevate him to such a lofty position.

To be clear, there is a certain level of responsibility that should go along with being a promoter.  One should not promote a book he knows to contain lies or promotes an illegal activity.  One should stay clear away from representing a person of ill repute and full of unethical motives.  But we should stand up for free speech and look to give all books access to the media and consumers.

I know I have an obligation to not harm others – or to contribute to the demise of society by representing criminals, scum bags, and degenerates.  But to what extent do I know if someone is bad or doing something wrong?  Do I need to independently investigate a potential client to satisfy some arbitrary standard that says they’re clean?

One of the reasons I refuse to work for Corporate America to promote its widgets, products, and drugs is because I don’t want to find out that I’m promoting something that is unsafe or risks the health of others.  I am in no position to know if some product is clean.  Sure, words can do harm to others, but they are still words, mere ideas that people can think about, research, debate and analyze.  But to promote a wonder drug today could mean a life or death situation for someone.  I just can’t have that on my conscience.

I don’t want to be the moral police when it comes to promoting books. I believe so strongly in free speech and books are free speech.  But I also could not promote an author if it meant passing along fake facts and using the publicity coverage to secure customers for someone who may be cheating them.  It’s something if I disagree with someone’s opinion; it’s another if I’m promoting someone who is responsible for screwing people over.

But I realize I have little in place to help me filter my potential clients.  I don’t run a criminal background check on anyone.  I don’t ask them to fill out a form that asks if they were ever convicted of a crime.  I don’t fact – check everything in their books. I don’t ask for references nor do I demand they provide proof of character.  It’s all done on trust, instinct, and observation.  I use the smell test.  Does something make me feel suspicious?  Does something not sound right?

Who knows, maybe I’ve already promoted a killer, rapist, child molester, embezzler, or mugger.  I would not know unless someone tells this to me or I happen to get lucky on a cursory Google search of the client.  But if I did know of wrongdoing, I would have to think long and hard before proceeding, if I chose to move forward.

The book publicity industry is unregulated.

Anyone can promote a book.  No license is required.  No special training is needed.  No prohibitions exist on who can promote any book.

And no regulations exist regarding what type of book can be published or promoted.

We should not be surprised to learn that some books have been promoted by corrupt, shady figures.  Some books have been written by criminals and horrible people.  Some books tell lies, cover up truths, and purposely mislead people to take an action that is not in the taker’s best interest.

The book industry, potentially, could be participating in numerous crimes.  Authors may be misrepresenting themselves.  Some books may contain harmful lies.  Some book promoters could be unintentionally – or intentionally – promoting some real evil people and bad ideas. 

The Jordan Goodmans of the world will continue to get published and promoted simply because no mechanism exists to stop it from happening.  But should the book and public relations industries rethink their roles in how they can prevent the publishing or promoting of criminal or unethical people?

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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