Marketing a Sensitive Book: Is It Ever Okay?

In my previous blog post, “Book Marketing for Good: The Importance of Reaching a Young Adult Readership,” I explain how different it is to market a book versus a more mundane product like a bottle of soap. What I mean by that is that it is unlikely for someone to feel offended, targeted, or triggered by looking at a marketing plan for hand soap—not impossible, but unlikely.

Our team here at Ooligan is working tirelessly to launch our upcoming fall title by debut author Erin Monyihan. In large part, this means working on our marketing strategy. We’ve come across quite a few obstacles regarding our intentions and how we wish to be understood while presenting Laurel Everywhere.

To help you understand what I mean, here is a short description of Laurel Everywhere:

Severe loss. For Laurel Summers, those two words don’t cut it. They don’t even come close. After a car wreck kills her mother and siblings, the ghosts of her family surround her as she wrestles with grief, anger, and the fear that she won’t be enough to keep her dad alive either.

We as a press believe in this novel; we think it will have the power to open young adults’ minds and help them become more empathetic and understanding when it comes to loss and grief. That said, we know this book may not be for everyone. We understand that it covers trauma and loss, and we understand that it will not represent everyone’s experiences of loss and grief, as everyone’s experiences are different. As we create our marketing plan, the big question we keep asking ourselves is this: How can we market this book without making anyone who is grieving or experiencing a similar trauma feel like we are targeting them for our gain, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic?

In the article “Profiteering and Loss: Should you market your brand during coronavirus?,” Daisy Atkinson lays out three acceptable circumstances in which to market sensitive or triggering products:

  1. There’s currently a strong need for what you’re offering.
  2. You have a valuable message for consumers.
  3. You’re not hurting anyone.

As Atkinson notes, “you can market yourself successfully in the eyes of the consumer even in crisis: As long as it’s considered. As long as the product or message is beneficial. And as long as you play fair.”

As part of our market research, we looked at all types of media (like podcasts and blogs) that talked about grief, and we also looked at groups on Facebook. What was disappointing to see was that these Facebook groups often had messages that warned against trying to sell medications or items that would supposedly “help people grieve.” This would be in direct violation of the rules laid out by Atkinson above.

As long you practice mindful marketing by maintaining pure intentions, you do not blatantly disregard warnings, you take into consideration how you may come across to a variety of people, and you try your best to avoid triggering or offending any of your potential audiences, it is acceptable to market something you believe in—even if it does contain sensitive material. That doesn’t mean it will be accepted by every person, but you still need to do everything in your power to make your mission clear and to spare those who could be harmed in the process.