Lampreys, Megamouths and Cane Toads: Overmarketing

by Pari Noskin Taichert

I’ve been thinking about sea lampreys this week. You see, I’ve been searching for animal images to embody my ideas about an often ignored subject: Overmarketing. Though books on promotion exhort us to use every trick we can, they rarely caution about overusing them. Yet, I’d bet all of us have met the author who overmarkets to the point of turning sweet to sour.

It comes down to this: there’s a difference between telling people about your book and pummeling them with it.

At its best, overmarketing comes off as annoying and pathetically desperate. At its worst, it offends. It repels and turns potential allies into gossipy ennemies.

Here are the three types of overmarketers I can define easily.

Sea Lamprey
This parasite has a big mouth, too many teeth and sucks the joy of a purchase right out of you.

Picture yourself going into a bookstore. An author walks up to you and starts talking about his books. You nod politely, perhaps ask a question, smile and start to walk way. The author accompanies you, still working to engage in conversation, interpreting each of your sighs as a confirmation of interest. You try to escape behind a bookcase. He finds you. Finally, you buy his damn book just to get rid of him. Sure, he made the sale, but I bet that $15 won’t cover the compounded negative stories customers will tell about him to other people.

Megamouth Shark
Though harmless enough, the megamouth inspires even the kindest person to hide — ducking into convenient bathrooms or jumping off cliffs — until this animal has cleared the waters.

This author has a mouth the size of Cuba. It’s the sheer volume of information gushing from her maw that initially tranfixes, and then horrifies, the poor person in its path. She can — and will — recite every blurb and review her books have ever gotten . . . verbatim. She turns every conversation, no matter how far the stretch, right back to her work and accomplishments. When attacked by this animal, you’re tempted to check if she has functioning ears; there appears to be no ability to listen.

Australian Cane Toad
Cane toads tend to be more experienced authors who’ve forgotten their beginnings, suffer from too much insecurity, or who think "humility" refers to the amount of moisture in the air.

Cane-toad authors sit on panels or in discussions and take them over in a poisonous way. This can be done by never answering the question asked (responding only about their books) or killing the competition through rudeness including clever insults, blathering and not listening. Within minutes of encountering a cane toad, the literary environment is out of balance and remains toxically so.

How do you avoid becoming one of these ugly animals?
It’s about balance, baby. Well, that, and common courtesy.

Know your audience.
Yeah, this sounds simple. Believe me, it isn’t. You have to work at it. Strive to be aware of the people with whom you hope to communicate. Know both their spoken and unspoken rules of etiquette no matter what the medium — be it face-to-face, the phone, in print or online. If you don’t take the time to understand your audience, you’ll always blunder.

Talk WITH, rather than AT, people. An upside to doing this is that you’ll get unexpected ideas for your future marketing efforts. Also, you’ll learn to avoid the mistakes that irritate your main allies. Guess how I started thinking about overmarketing in the first place? It was because of the comments I heard from readers — and booksellers — about this or that author’s inappropriate behavior.

Watch (a.k.a. study).
A year before THE CLOVIS INCIDENT came out, I started going to mystery conventions and booksignings. Like a cultural anthropologist, I studied what worked and what didn’t. I noticed behaviors that engaged potential readers — and those that revolted them. In that first year, I encountered all of the human equivalents to the animals mentioned above.

Today, audiences are far more marketing savvy than they used to be. Never forget that people can detect the sulphorous scent of condescension and the slimy textures of manipulation. Please, refuse to succumb to the temptation of arrogance.

In nature, lampreys, megamouths and cane toads can’t help what they are.

In our business, authors can.

Pari (who’s feeling a bit like a brine shrimp today)

34 thoughts on “Lampreys, Megamouths and Cane Toads: Overmarketing

  1. Donna

    Well said Pari. I love authors to tell me about their books, I like to hear on mystery lists when an author has a new book out, and I am thrilled when I hear authors talking with such passion and enthusiasm about their books. However, there’s a particular sea lamprey who has put me off his books by his sheer lamprey-ness. I’ve seen him at various conventions and avoid him like the plague. People kept telling me I would love his books and I read one – having got it free at Bouchercon – his antics mean that I would NEVER buy one of his books – I like to think I read it with an open mind, but I really didn’t care for it. He also has a special skill of turning into a cane toad on panels. I won’t go to any panel that he’s on, even if the rest of the people on it are all my favourite authors. He takes a panel over, and I find that very rude and arrogant and unfair to the others on the panel.

    He’s the only one of your little nasties that springs to mind though. As I say, I love to chat to authors about their books and they can blether away as much as they like.


  2. Pari

    Hey, Donna,Thanks for stopping by.

    My first thought was, “Who is he?” My second thought was, “I don’t want to know.”

    BTW: I DO know how to spell “enemies.” Oh, well, if that’s the worst mistake I make today, I’ll be a happy, happy camper.


  3. Sandra Ruttan

    Balance is tricky. I’m very enthusiastic when I talk about stuff I’m interested in. Primarily, this means I gush over other authors that I like.

    I haven’t been in a store situation yet, as an author. But as a customer, I hate it when sales people follow me around. 9 times out of 10, I’ll leave a store if I find the sales people too attentive. Of course, I hate shopping for just about everything except books (yes, including clothes). So I have no idea what sort of monster I’ll become.

    I hope one who’d just as quicly say, “You might like this book by Author X or Author Y” instead of just bugging them about buying my book.

    Although I plan to advertise its alternate feature as a solid doorstop for those who might not want to read the story…

  4. Julia Buckley

    You make some excellent points, Pari. Thanks for showing us the pitfalls to avoid. And is it okay with you if I title my next book “The Slimy Textures of Manipulation?” 🙂


  5. Pari

    Sandra,I think most people have a much higher tolerance for over-enthusiastic debut authors. I know that many a poor potential reader had to listen to me gush until I got that under control.

    But you bring up a good point about employed salespeople (rather than the author him/herself); they can overmarket easily, too.

  6. JT Ellison

    Pari, well said. I’ve heard of these people, but haven’t had the experience first hand. But it’s good for debut authors to hear these stories so they know when to back off. Alienating your readers and your industry leaders won’t get you anywhere.

    I make sure I have a business card with me all the time. That way, if I get in a conversation with a potential reader somewhere, I can just hand them the card instead of trying to do a hard sell. Which is advantageous on many levels.

    The rest I’m learning as I go, with the help of wonderful friends and authors like you and the rest of the Murderati crew.

  7. Troy Cook

    Good post, Pari! As a newbie, I’m struggling with exactly what I should and shouldn’t do. Thanks for the insight.

    BTW I think this quote is pretty damn funny: “or who think ‘humility’ refers to the amount of moisture in the air.” LOL

    See you at Con Misterio!

  8. Naomi

    I always fear overmarketing to friends. When you have a new book coming out each year, it seems a bit much to send out postcards and multiple e-mails to people who are not necessarily readers but will buy the book anyway because our friendship. Ever feel that way?

  9. Pari

    J.T., I’m glad you’ve never encountered these types. May your life continue ever so. And, don’t worry about overmarketing . . . I’m certain you’re socially adept enough to avoid these pitfalls.

    Troy, I’ve already watched you in action. Don’t worry, you’re doing great.

    Re: the “humility” line — New Mexico had a wonderful week of heavy downpours; I have water on the brain now.

    Naomi,Do I ever worry about overmarketing to my friends? Absolutely. I frame it thus — friends support each other and their projects, so, I let them know and then don’t pressure at all.

    Your approach is exactly the same. I can’t imagine you EVER embodying any of these animals.

  10. Beatrice Brooks

    Great blog, Pari. There’s another kind of “over-marketer.” What should I call him/her? Hmmm…how about the Blue Fish? A self-depreciator who says things like: “I can’t believe 20 (30, 50) people came to my booksigning. They must have wandered in by mistake.” Or “I just got the best review (cite review), but I think they were being kind, or maybe they ran out of other books to review.” It’s funny at first, but gets old quickly, and in some cases it totally turns me off a book I might otherwise enjoy.

    Then there’s the “under-marketer, over-marketer,” who sizes someone up and decides he/she isn’t a potential customer. Let’s call him the Swordfish. That actually happened to me at a mass booksigning. I started to say, “My husband is a big fan…” The well-known author saw I didn’t have a book in my hand, cut me off mid-sentence, and turned away to talk to someone else. Had he let me finish, I would have said, “…is a big fan of yours. He’s read your first two books and I want to buy him a couple more. Which ones are your favourites?”

    Instead, I walked away.

    Hugs,Deni, shakin’ her head at stupidity

  11. Jeff


    Well done. Another has to be the leech. They’re not as big as some of the overmarketers you mention, but they don’t let go. As the moderator for MMA, I can’t tell you how many times I get signed up for email newsletters and can’t unsubscribe. It’s very annoying especially when you figure that I get signed up for 2-3 new newsletters a month without my permission.

  12. Pari

    Yeah, Deni,I’ve met both of those folks before. For some reason, false humility feels like the backside of arrogance.

    As to the Swordfish . . . what a shame to think the only interactions worthwhile at a booksigning are with those people who are holding your books. So much happens before and after the event. Everyone is a potential customer . . . even if he or she may never become one of your readers.

  13. Pari

    Jeff,Isn’t that annoying as all get-out? I don’t envy you your visibility.

    As to the leech, well, I thought about using that animal — or the barnacle — when talking about the lamprey, but opted for the grosser alternative because I thought the exaggeration might encompass those lesser, but equally irritating, suckers.

  14. Starley


    Great post (and funny, too). This one’s going into my files for when Virginia and I get our first book out.

    As for Donna’s sea lamprey, I’m pretty sure I know who he is. If I’m right, this author was placed on a less-than-coveted early morning Sunday panel at this year’s ThrillerFest. Justice?

    Here’s another category (perhaps a subset of Cane Toad): The Pufferfish. This self-important author inflates to indigestible size and burbles on about whatever fixation they have.

  15. Pari

    Eric,I doubt you’re a scaredy cat. Maybe just a shy little lemur?

    Starley, the blowfish is a great example. I’ve met many. Of course, sometimes, when I’m on my promotion bandwagon, I worry I’ve become one myself . . . or one of those red-breasted birds that puff up — the ones you always see on nature shows.

  16. Elaine

    Pari! You have such incredible insight! I loved your examples – and like you – have met many in your aquarium. Your ‘lamprey’ was right on the money, and I agree with Donna as well – I feel the same way about that certain personage.

    Terrific post as usual – and so important for all of us to remember!

  17. Carstairs38

    So does it make me extremely lucky that I haven’t met any of these people? All the authors I have met at book signings have been gracious and very willing to chat with everyone who comes in.

    I did see one sea lamprey in action on a panel once. But I was laughing so hard, I bought his book anyway. I know I shouldn’t reward behavior like that. I normally don’t. But I couldn’t help myself.


  18. Pari

    Elaine,Thank you. Oh, when will we get to see each other in the bar again? We’ve so much to talk about!

    Mark! You rewarded that behavior? Sheesh. Actually, some of these animals can be fun for a while. A lot depends on my mood — as I suspect it does for you, too.

    Re: booksignings . . .I’m glad all of your experiences have been good. May they remain that way forever.

  19. Andi

    Writers don’t seem to know/believe/comprehend/understand that we readers talk to each other. This is true not only of readers in on line groups like 4MysteryAddicts or DorothyL or rara-avis or whatever but personally, email or phone or at dinner because we know each other. We DO talk and we hear all the stories. I just heard some about ThrillerFest.

    CONVENTION RUNNERS also talk. I’m currently working on convention programming; I want to offer fantastic, interesting well run programs items to the several hundred people who attend. Does it matter if someone is a great writer if s/he has a tendency to oversell their book? Will s/he get on a panel?Yes, probably. Unless s/he joins too late. Because I’ve never “barred” anyone from being on program because of their behaivor. BUT, I will be talking with the moderator of the panel in advance, if said moderator doesn’t already know what the writer’s rep is. IF said writer wants to moderate a panel (any of the above types being discussed) I’m likely to say no way because they sound like panel hogs who make bad panelists and worse moderators.

    Pari, your points about LISTENING and COURTESY matter SO MUCH. There are writers whose behavior is seen as comic by some and rude by others; and the writers tend to think it’s fine because “oh well, I can’t win those other people over anyway”. In other words, they keep doing what they do even if people object because they don’t want to change their behavior. They see it as a trade-off which is sad, and seems like a bad idea – don’t you want to attract new readers?

    Many of the oversellers don’t have a CLUE that they are creating a negative image. We all know people who lack the ability to know they are boring you. They wanna talk about what They wanna TALK about, and lack the ability to see they are not connecting. They are well-meaning people, and would be completely stunned to learn you don’t adore them. And would be stunned to learn that you haven’t read their books. Some of these types seem to equate saying hello/talking to them with being a fan of theirs. I know several of them – they confuse attention, or simple acknowledgement with friendship or fandom. I’ve written articles just mentioning a bunch of new books due out – not commenting, just listing? And have had writers read that as “I loved your book” (which often I haven’t read because the article is about next season’s titles.)

    Yesterday, i was wearing a tee-shirt with the cartoon cat Mooch, from “Mutts”. I wore the shirt hoping other Mutts fans would like it. And there was that one woman – one of the most boring people I have ever known – who asked me about the shirt. But not because she was a fan of the strip exactly; but she used it to bring her around to what SHE wanted to talk about. It took 2 sentences for her to get to HER cat. She only ever wants to talk about herself, her cat, her life, what she has been doing (none of which is very interesting). She never asks outside of herself, doesn’t realize no one is responding, laughing, nodding, offering their cat story. She just talks. And all i could think of was the DorothyL parody done years back when no matter what the question a fictional overseller brought it back to his book; “funny you should mention fish. I don’t eat fish but last week at the grocery store, I saw a man with a can of tunafish. He was reading a book by Lee Child and I thought maybe he would like my book because Lee’s book has pages and so does mine”….(not a direct quote)There’s also a group of authors in recent times who act as if they’ve invented mystery fiction.Don’t know if that’s a new category but they often go on about things that have long histories and never seem to acknowledge this in any way, think they’ve invented a subgenre that was around in the 30s, or a character, which someone did 50 years or 20 years ago, and are full of advice on how to reinvent the wheel.

  20. Pari

    Wow, Andi, where do I begin? First of all, thank you for taking the time to write that.

    I think I’ll focus on two points. For those authors and others who just don’t have any awareness — I’ve often wondered if I SHOULD say something.

    There’s a fellow I know who is a really sweet guy, but his bookselling techniques make people so darn uncomfortable.

    Andi, he sells more books than I do at some events — so, he’s more successful on one level — but later, when he’s left, or after a day or two, I’ll bump into someone who’ll bend my ear for ten minutes about how awful this guy was. I can’t believe this will serve him well in the long run.

    The second point is about readers talking to each other — comparing notes. I think some authors don’t feel particularly bound by this realization. They feel that there are enough readers that it doesn’t matter if some don’t like their behavior.

    In a way, for the biggies, that’s probably true. For folks like me — small press hoping to build my numbers and distribution, to gain the attention of bigger audiences and presses — I don’t have the luxury of looking at the world in that way.

    And . . . to me, being unpleasant, rude or pushy (unless someone is horribly rude to me first) is an absolute no-no.

  21. Andi

    “The second point is about readers talking to each other — comparing notes. I think some authors don’t feel particularly bound by this realization. They feel that there are enough readers that it doesn’t matter if some don’t like their behavior.”I think you’re absolutely right there which is sad. If they DO feel that way, what are they doing at the conventions and events that attract readers? I guess they go to hang with the already committed-types, who will reinforce their beliefs that they are funny or whatever.And like you,i’ve wondered about saying something – gently, if it’s someone I know. I tried once to someone who was vastly overdoing the “BSP” on dorothyl. And he basically didn’t care/didn’t get it. He knew people disliked it but he didnt’ MEAN anything by it. He wasn’t trying to be obnoxious (of course he wasn’t) and i guess somehow that meant “So people should know that and not think I AM being obnoxious.” in other words, he didn’t care to change his behavior to possibly win folks over. I thought it sad – not a bad guy but he wasn’t going to get very many new readers his way.

  22. Pari

    Andi,The reaction you describe is precisely the reason I haven’t mentioned anything to the author I know. I think he’d blow it off — and I would have spent far too much time figuring out how to tell him nicely.

  23. David Skibbins

    God- I hope you were not talking about me in that last post! My concern with this excellent discussion is that it is going to disincent the vast majority of writers who are continually UNDERSELLING themselves. In the attempt to not be a lampry or a cane toad they will be nice and poilte and no one will know that they, and their excellent work, exists. If you are already a nice person, as most of us are, a little shark blood is going to do more for your sales than shark repellant. As for the truly obnoxious, unfortunately they are clueless, and likely to remain so. Thanks for the great topic, Pari!

  24. Pari

    David,Your point is well taken. Many authors do err in the other direction, barely speaking up for themselves or their work. I did consider the paranoia my post might evoke, but decided I’m not a big enough fish to influence mass behavior. Plus, it’s a darn interesting discussion so far.

    As to me referring to you in my last post — nope, you’re not the person I’m referring to.

    He, most likely, wouldn’t be reading this blog in the first place.

  25. Iden Ford

    It’s a small community, so to speak, of people who attend conferences, write on the DL, respond and write on blogs. You can always sniff or smell out what it is you are describing. But in America there is something called sales techniques. We have them in Canada as well and many people find ways of using certain techniques to make an impression. I know of a number of successful authors I have met over the years at conferences, who have employed what you describe when they were starting and up and coming authors. I forgive them for that and their behaviour because In the end it comes down to the fact that everyone is insecure, and conveys their insecurity sometimes in unlikable and irritating ways when they are various situations. I like your post but feel we need to be forgiving sometimes of those who irritate the hell out of us and like Zig Zigler says, treat everyone like they are hurting, and be kind to the young and old because we will all be both at some point in our own lives. Amen.

  26. Pari

    Iden,You’re right, of course.When I wrote this piece, I wondered if I’d been too mean-spirited . . . but opted for the exaggeration because that’s what overmarketers are.

    I’ve worked in retail consulting before — and maintain there’s a difference between effective selling and overselling. In the one case, the marketer “reads” the customer and listens/ watches for nonverbal cues etc etc. In the other case, the marketer proceeds with his/her agenda and pushes hard. Perhaps both work. I’d take the former anyday.

    . . . all of that said, still, if we can show compassion, always, that simply makes for a better world. C’est tout.

  27. Pari

    Okay, Bill,I had to look that one up.

    There’s a difference between being a voluble person and megamouth.

    Do you ever listen? I suspect you do.

  28. Bill Cameron

    Heh. My son and I just watched a documentary about the Scripps Spelling Bee in 1999, and the winning word was logorhea. My wife said, “You have that!” Oy!

    I do try to listen, aye. I think I will have to work on controlling my giddiness in the year to come though to make sure it doesn’t get the better of me.

  29. Pari

    Bill,Don’t worry about controlling your natural giddiness — just work on balancing it with additional courtesy and you’ll be fine.

    My goal certainly WASN’T to make anyone paranoid or nervous . . .

  30. Bill Cameron

    Ha ha, thanks, Pari. Actually, I’m more than capable of making myself paranoid and nervous all by myself. Thank you for this post. I hope to enter into things as open-eyed as I can. Sure, I’ll make mistakes, but with stuff like this rolling around in my head, hopefully they won’t be TOO awful!


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