Speak Up Readers, What do you think?

During my leave of absence from the blog, I have finally finished a non-writing project that had been on hold while I launched my website and blog. And during the past two weeks, I have continued reading contributions from my favorite bloggers. Recently The Passive Voice posted part of a guest on Publishing Perspectives. It was a post by Jennifer Belle called “I Paid Them to Read My Book.” I’m snipping a bit to run here so I can ask you, speak up readers, what do you think?

“I Paid Them to Read My Book”: Jennifer Belle’s “The Laughter Project” Pays Dividends
August 2, 2010

By Jennifer Belle

• Author Jennifer Belle took her book publicity into her own hands by hiring actresses “to read my book on the subway and at New York City landmarks for $8/hr”

• Jennifer and her story of the publicity stunt ended up in the New York Times, the NY Post, on author blogs and on Judith Regan’s Sirius radio show.

A few weeks ago, going up in my elevator, a neighbor said to me, “I just saw someone in Washington Square Park reading your book!” She was very excited.

“I know,” I said. “I paid her to do it.”

My neighbor laughed. “No you didn’t.”

“I did,” I said. But she didn’t believe me.

Many years ago, I read an article about professional funeral wailers in China. In China, and in many countries, when a loved one died, you hired people to sit in the back and cry—sob, weep, bellow, really, really grieve the way only a stranger or someone who is being paid can—or it just wasn’t considered a good funeral. And it didn’t mean you weren’t sad yourself, it was just for reinforcement. So for years I joked with my writer friends that one day, if I got desperate enough, I would hire people to read my book on the subway and laugh.

Read more at I Paid Them to Read My Book.

Or you can visit Jennifer’s website here.

Two-edged Sword

Marketing of any product is a two-edged sword. Currently, there is an ad running on television where various characters start screaming at seemingly innocuous coupons and sales signs. So far, that ad has turned me completely away. I don’t want to see or hear another screamer. But what if that person were laughing infectiously? Laughter always gets my attention. I love a good laugh. So, if I saw someone laughing joyously as they read a book, I would make a mental note, must be a funny book. I might even go to a bookstore and check out the book to see if I wanted to read it. But if I later learned that the author had paid actresses to pretend to enjoy the book how would I feel? Frankly, I don’t know. It might depend upon whether I bought the book and enjoyed it. If I found it funny, I might feel the unique advertising campaign equally funny. But if I found the book lacking, I think I’d be a bit miffed if not downright angry. Readers speak up. What do you think?

Location, Location?

I’m in the mid-west as opposed to the east or west coast. Does that affect how well or poorly this type of marketing would go over? You bet. The availability of talent, and the cost of said talent, and the places where people would notice paid readers is quite different here.

Do I think I’d ever do such a marketing campaign? I really don’t know. I’m not one to rule it completely out, but it feels less than genuine to me. My husband who has been an art consultant in the advertising fields for many years isn’t as bothered by this as I am.

Speak Up Readers

So, my question to you readers and writers out there: What do you think? Was this good marketing? Or is this a turn-off? Speak up readers, what do you think?


  1. I think it sounds like an intersting idea, but I don’t think it would get me to buy a book. Maybe that’s because I’m a visual person, and hearing something doesn’t make me connect with it. Plus, in a big city you’d just think someone was on the subway talking to themselves. Kind of like the guy across the aisle and the one asking for change at the platform. But I could be totally wrong. Maybe it would work for some people?

    1. Good point about people’s behavior in big cities. It becomes easy to ignore each other because of the hustle and bustle. Being a visual person (I’m not) what sort of public activity would catch your attention more? A billboard or a storefront window display?

  2. I say it’s good marketing and was a perfect plan for NYC where there’s a big pool of actors to choose from, and no one gets alarmed if someone on a subway talks to no one in particular. Good for Jennifer Belle. See that, I remembered her name.

  3. It wouldn’t have bothered me at all, either way. If they caught my attention and I read the book, I’d think it was a very clever campaign. If I didn’t like the book, I’d still think it was clever but ultimately a waste of money. You have to follow through if you are going all out like that. People won’t trust you the next time you do it, if it doesn’t pan out. For instance, I was in 30th Street Station in Philly one day waiting for a train to DC. Normal day, normal people walking by. Nothing special. Then I glanced up from the book I was reading and an army of women wearing white overcoats, sunglasses, black hats and carrying a suitcase was standing in the entrance. By army I mean…a hundred? At least? It was a spectacle, for sure. It got everyone’s attention, definitely. All were wearing bright red heels. A photographer took their picture and I thought…oh, photo for some ad. Then they all walked away and sprinkled through the crowd. I was fascinated, and watched them scatter to all parts of the station. Then one walked up to me, put her finger to her lips and whispered “shhhhh” and handed me a card while glancing around as if to see if we were being watched. Then she walked away without a backward glance. This was happening all over the place. I looked at the card…glossy business card with an image and COVERT AFFAIRS written on it. On the back was the time/day for the debut episode on tv. OMG…hooked! Instantly hooked. Yes, I made a point of tuning in. And yes, I loved the show. I thought it was the most clever stunt I’d ever seen. Did it pay off? I don’t know. They got one loyal fan, I know that. I see the book reading thing as something very similar. If I saw a subway car full of women all reading the book and laughing…you bet I’d go buy it. Just to find out if it was good lol. Maybe I’m just that gullible, or maybe I just appreciate someone going the extra mile to hook me.

    1. The Covert Affairs stunt would have gotten me to check out the show as well. Is that gullible? Maybe. But that sort of thing also captures my imagination completely. Thanks for sharing, Melinda!

  4. Don’t know if I would have paid any attention to someone randomly reading excerpts from a book on the street. But, I also have to see words to really absorb the content, I’m very visual. I don’t listen to books on tape, my brain wanders too much. So it’s a marketing trick that would have been completely lost on me.

    1. I think it’s a marketing ploy that could be lost on many people. My concern would be cost vs effectiveness. Without having read about this, I would not have followed up with the telling people that I’d done that for marketing purposes which I suspect is part of the reason Jennifer found it to be effective. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Serena.

  5. I think it’s funny, but I wonder if she knows whether it translated into sales or not, or if the sales came from the press coverage vs. the people reading the books out loud.

    Either way, I give her credit for being brave enough to try something that is absolutely “outside the box.”

    That said, I’d never do that with one of my own books.

  6. Interesting idea in New York, but wouldn’t work here in Calgary – readers would be ignored or arrested. we are a city of drivers – nobody walks anywhere, so not likely to happen anytime soon. Hats off to her for trying something new though. well done. Glad to see you back in our blog world, Lynette. I’ve missed you.

  7. Wow Lynette, Jennifer was certainly thinking outside the box. Good for her. It was the right thing for the area. Would it work somewhere else. Not sure. But she was still selling by word of mouth, right? 🙂

    1. Karen, I think it turned into almost a reverse-psychology thing since when people asked her about people reading her book, they wouldn’t believe she’d paid those women to read & laugh. A very interesting approach, I think. I wonder if it would work again?

  8. I read this on the Passive Voice and found it quite interesting. I don’t think it would influence me one way or the other, though I’ve no doubt I’d at least look to see what they were reading! It wouldn’t work for my books because I don’t write funny. Even more, I can’t imagine it working in Dayton, Ohio. If someone tried this here, they’d most likely just get a lot of weird looks.

    1. Jen, I had to laugh at your ‘can’t imagine it working in Dayton, Ohio.’ I once lived in central Ohio, I think you’re right, there would be lots of weird looks. Plus, unless things have changed a bunch, there are no subways in Dayton (there aren’t in Kansas, either). My books have a few funny lines here and there, but generally they are not the laugh-out-loud type either. And while the hundred women in trench coats idea that Melinda spoke of might generate some attention in the malls . . . I’d still like to see some statistics proving/disproving that such gimmicks actually increase readership.

  9. It’s a creative marketing idea to plant paid people reading your book. I don’t think that it would work in Finland in public places, though. We’re too trained to ignore other people around us. It’s considered politeness here to not stare or even pay much attention to people around us.

    But if the people picked up the book at bookstores and seemed to be heading to the counter, I might check out what the book is about if the cover looked interesting.

    The Covert Affairs TV show campaign that Melinda describes would definately interest me enough to check out the first episode. But marketing TV shows is different than marketing books. Almost all people watch TV but less people read.

    And with books you have to catch your target audience in places where they hang out and in a way that appeals to them. If you target everyone, you waste a lot of money and make less impact. It’s better to make a strong impression on fewer people who might then recommend your book to their networks.

    1. Reeta, thanks for the ‘Finland’ slant on this. Yes, I think the Covert Affairs campaign would interest me as well. But I’m interested in shows like Covert Affairs from the beginning.

      You are so right about where to catch your target audience. Thanks.

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