Honesty in book marketing: Where do you fit in?

How do you feel about honesty in book marketing? Is it important to your readers, or can you continually stretch the truth? 

Last week, I received an email from a professional acquaintance announcing, “So we became the #1 book on Amazon.”

Whoa! A parenting book was Amazon’s top-selling book? How did the author knock out Cassidy Hutchinson’s “Enough” or the Elon Musk biography?

And how did a book using a pay-to-play author services company do it?

Trust me, I was beyond impressed.

Until I wasn’t.

Smoke and mirrors

I pulled up Amazon’s best-seller list and discovered that this “best-seller” wasn’t “the #1 book on Amazon.” It wasn’t even in the top 50.

But it was the “#1 new release” in the Motherhood category.


When this individual wrote, “the #1 book on Amazon,” they meant, “#1 new release in the Motherhood category.”

Now I feel foolish


They sucked me in, and I felt tricked. Duped. Manipulated. Now I feel foolish.

I admire the author. We’re connected on social media. Normally in a launch situation when I have some connection to the author and I’m sure it’s a good book (and I’m certain this one is), I’ll share information about it with my social networks.

And, yeah, my networks include young mothers and grandparents who buy parenting books as gifts for their daughters.

But not this time.

By making me feel foolish, they have lost my trust.

They’ll be fine without my support, of course. (I’m not delusional.) But if I feel this way, it’s likely that a few others who received the email do, too, right?

The last thing you want to do, no matter what you’re marketing, is lose your fans’ trust.

The last thing you want to do, no matter what you’re marketing, is lose your fans’ trust.Click to tweet

3 ways to display honesty in book marketing

Here are three easy ways to make sure your marketing is honest enough to retain the trust you’ve established with readers.

1. Stick to the facts.

Avoid “alternative” facts.

Your book is only the top seller on Amazon if it is, indeed, ranked number one on the best-seller list.

If you’ve achieved category best-seller status, bask in the glory. Adding the word “category” gives your message authenticity and accuracy while still allowing you to claim that impressive “best-seller” status.

Plus, adding the word “category” doesn’t diminish your accomplishment.

Your book is only the top seller on Amazon if it is, indeed, ranked number one on the best-seller list.Click to tweet

2. Don’t underestimate readers’ intelligence.

I got sucked in by the “#1 on Amazon” email because the author has a huge platform. In addition, she and her husband/business partner are professional marketers. If anyone could turn a parenting book into the top-seller on Amazon, it’s them.

It was a plausible claim.

Readers understand this. If they know you’re “internet famous” or if you’ve published blockbusters already, they’ll believe that your book actually could be “#1 on Amazon.”

But does that describe your track record? If it doesn’t, that “#1 on Amazon” claim won’t fly. Readers know how these things work, so they’re increasingly skeptical.

3. Showcase your true accomplishments.

Answer these questions to identify potential accomplishments you can showcase without stretching the truth:

  • Has your book been honored with an award?
  • Have you won writing awards, or have any of your short stories appeared in publications?
  • Have you received industry recognition for knowledge or expertise that’s relevant to your book?
  • What fabulous things have early readers said about your book? Have any luminaries or influencers praised it?
  • Did the book achieve category best-seller status, even for a brief period? (And did you grab a screenshot?)

Don’t discount any achievement. Claim it, own it, share it.

It’s okay if you haven’t experienced any of this, by the way. “Accomplishments” aren’t a necessity. But they’re a valid alternative to the smoke and mirrors approach that can mislead or confuse.

How much do you value your readers’ trust?

You get to decide how you might or might not stretch the truth in your book marketing.

I choose honesty and transparency. You might think my approach is too rigid. And, hey, you might be right. But just as I’m transparent because that’s what I’m comfortable with, you need to proceed with what works best for you.

I encourage you to look at things through your readers’ eyes first, though. I trusted the author who sent me that “#1 on Amazon” email. That trust was undermined by one sentence.

I’ll get over it, as will your readers. But I move forward with even more skepticism than I had before that message dropped into my inbox.

Have you ever felt tricked by marketing for any type of product? Please tell us about it in a comment!

Don’t know how to get the influencer endorsements and testimonials for your book that convince readers that it’s a great read? I’ve got everything you need in the multi-media program, “Blurbs, Endorsements, and Testimonials: How to Get Experts, Authorities, Celebrities, and Others to Endorse Your Book.” Get details here.

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  1. I do refer to myself as a bestselling author in my promotional materials, based almost entirely on Amazon category bestseller lists (and one time on the Wall Street Journal list). I would never claim #1 status the way this author did, however. That’s way over the top.

    1. I think that’s totally legit, Randy, and I’m glad you do so. You aren’t saying any of your books were the “#1 book on Amazon.” And, for the most part, your books are niche enough that people will know that you didn’t sell more books than all the other titles available, even for a nanosecond.

      I also know that some will think my view on this is absurd, and that’s OK, too!


  2. I also say best-selling, but when it first happened, I was VERY clear about it hitting #1 in the pet loss category (not for everything). My site (upon which the book came) is also award winning, so I can say that too. Definitely need to be careful how you phrase it.

    1. Thanks, Roxanne. You are SO entitled to say best-selling! You earned it! And your book continues to sell well years later, which says a lot about its popularity.


  3. Love the premise. Hold true in the marketing of all creatives, products, or services.
    Operating with a sound business mindset is important for authors also.
    Thanks for sharing great information

    1. Thanks, Chuck. I find that whole smoke & mirrors approach just doesn’t work for me, even though it’s popular, ya know?


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