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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Friday, June 04, 2010

Product placement in books


OK, I’ll admit it. I lurk on Amazon. When I have time, I scroll through posts on the message boards to see what readers are talking about. Usually, it’s not me. D’oh!

But there are lots of really interesting topics that pop up on the Amazon discussion boards, and one of them was product placement in romance novels.

Product placement is the deliberate mention of a type of product in the story in exchange for money. It’s a sneaky form of advertising. The question on Amazon was whether authors get paid for using brand name products in their stories. A reader had noticed an author referring to a particular soft drink over and over and wondered if the author were getting paid for mentioning them.

I find this interesting because I loathe advertising. I absolute cannot stand the fact that there are ads everywhere I look — on Facebook, on the back of bathroom stall doors in public restrooms, even on the back of my grocery store receipts. Life is so commercialized that I don’t think we're even aware of the ways in which we are bombarded.

I wonder whether someone truly believes I’m going to be more likely to take yoga classes at their school when I learn about them while sitting on the toilet in a bathroom at a bar. Probably not...

In my books, I mention specific products in order to make the story feel real. To say that the heroine “drank a soda” falls flat for me. I want the taste of that soda on my tongue. Was it Pepsi? Coke? Mexican Coke (very popular here where I live)? Seven-up? Creme Soda? Zuberfizz Root Beer? Sprite? Mountain Dew?

Being specific brings color to writing. It helps the reader to see and feel the story.

When I have someone driving a car, I need to know what kind of car he or she is driving. Julian drives an unmarked Chevy Impala while on assignment in Naked Edge. Gabe just thinks of his truck as his “service vehicle” because he thinks in government employee jargon. I had Kara driving a Nissan Sentra because she was a single mother journalist and so was I and that’s what I drove.

I think mentioning specific brands when it feeds the senses makes sense in fiction. But I’ve never gotten paid for it. Except... Hmmm....

I mentioned South Side Cafe in Naked Edge, and I guess the owner, who's been feeding me almost daily for years, gave me a meal for that. But she writes off my breakfasts and lunches every so often anyway because she likes the work I do as a journalist. (FYI, South Side, as we call it, is directly across the street from the paper.) It’s more of a personal thing. I didn’t ask to be fed for free, and she didn’t ask me to put her restaurant in the book.

Okay, so apart from that, I’ve never had any form of remuneration for any product, person, place or thing that’s in one of my novels. Would I object if another author were paid? Probably not unless the product placement were so painfully obvious that it interfered with the story.

Sorry to have been gone so long again. I found out shortly after posting my last blog that much of the pain in my legs/back is due to a specific cause. I got MRI results back, and the doctor found “significant” spinal impingement in my cervical spine, i.e., my neck, both above and below the vertebra that was broken so long ago. The vertebra is in bad shape and the discs above and below it have slid into my spine.

The good news is that there may be hope. The bad news is this means major surgery. They cut through your throat... I'll stop there.

I might not be making it to RomCon after all, and I’m probably going to spend 12 weeks recuperating at home on unpaid medical leave. Because, really, who needs an income?

So I’ve been reeling from that and not feeling particularly chatty. I just hope that when they do the surgery it goes well and that it hasn’t been this way for so long that the nerve damage is permanent. I need to feel better.

I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get lots and lots and lots of writing done during my medical leave, because I don’t want another long wait between books.

I'm on Chapter 7 of Breaking Point, by the way, and moving at the speed of a glacier. Speaking of which, I need to get back to writing.

Have a great weekend!

22 comments:

Debbie H said...

Like you, I like to know the brand of whatever, soda, car, etc. I don't like being bombarded by it.

I'm keeping you in my prayers and saying many a prayer for the surgeons, too. They can do some amazing work these days. Before you know it, you will be pain free and enjoying your life again.

You have my number, text or call ANY time, please.

Hugs

J. said...

I understand the whole advertising thing. It's annoying to see ads almost everywhere now but very rarely I welcome it because I'll come around something and go "Oh? Hmm that's interesting, I'll go check it out."

As for your back, I hope you're feeling better. When I was younger my spine was crooked (took too many naps on the couch I think) but I was young enough to be able to do exercises that helped my muscles push it back in the right shape. I understand how painful and frustrating back problems can be.

Sending you lots of luck and good health :)

Crystal said...

So, so very sorry to hear about your back problems, Pamela. It is scary to read about it, I am certain to actually live it must be both frightening and frustrating. Please know that I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. And it isn't because I want you to be able to write more quickly or a larger quantity, but because you are you and that makes you important.

Phyl said...

Pam, So very sorry to hear about your pending surgery. I hope all goes well and that you heal quickly. Thanks for letting us know!

Ronlyn said...

**warning, posting this after having the strongest margarita I've every had**

I'm like you and want to know about the type of soda, the type of car and all that. I think posters on AMazon generally have too much time on their hands...which is why I try not to read those types of comments LOL.

I'll be thinking of you and wishing you a ver speedy recovery. Anything you need you know how to reach me. ((((hugs)))

xoxo
R

Hi, Debbie — I agree. We live with brands all around us. And I think there's a natural way to work them in. I find commercialism distasteful, and I don't like advertising at all, but to get an image in our mind's eye, sometimes mentioning a brand is necessary. And thanks for your good wishes and support. That means a lot to me.

Hi, J — I'm glad your bad is better. Must have been one heck of a couch. I remember when I was 18 the doctor told me he thought I might have to have surgery on my neck in my 40s. Well, turns out he was right. I'm not looking forward to it, but I do hope I'll feel better in the end. Thank you for the good thoughts!!

Hi, Crystal — You're such a sweetie. Thanks so much. Hopefully, I'll feel better than I have in at least a couple of years. That would be most welcome. :-)

Hi, Phyl — Thank you! I'll keep you all posted.

Hi, Ronlyn — Sounds like someone's having fun tonight. :-)

I really like the Amazon boards and am fond of the posters, though I don't know 99.99 percent of them. I've become acquainted with a few, and really like them. I thought the brand name thing was an interesting question, but the assumption that all authors get paid for it is just wrong. I had to say my bit about it, but I don't post there. (I figure I have my blog and that's a space for readers.)

And thanks! I appreciate your being there.

Scorpio M. said...

Pamela, wishing you a successful surgery & speedy recovery.

One of my all-time favorite historical authors, Judith Ivory, had to quit writing because of chronic back pain. I was so sad about that.
We NEED you!

Best always,
Jennifer

Hi, Luci — Thanks. I'm bummed about it, too. But at least there is something they can do. And hopefully afterward I'll feel 200 percent better.

I really do appreciate the thoughts and prayers.

Hi, Jennifer — I'm sorry to hear that happened to Judith Ivory. I didn't know that.

I'm determined to keep writing, even if I have to use voice-recognition software to do it.

What's kind of funny is that I do have back pain. But I've always had neck pain -- ever since I broke my neck decades ago. And no one ever looked into my neck until I went for this second opinion. I almost didn't go, actually. And then when he ordered these two extra MRIs, I almost didn't get them done. Guess I'm glad I went through with it.

It's kind of hard to be waiting and not knowing exactly when the surgery will be or what it will entail. I'm not the most patient person in the world. LOL!

And thanks! I really appreciate that!

Jane said...

Hi Pamela,
Will be keeping you in my thoughts. Product placement is everywhere. I remember when people were talking about the red Coke cups the judges were drinking from on American Idol.

Hi Pamela, I agree on wanting a brand name at times to help me see a scene in my mind, but I'm fed up with ad saturation everywhere I go. I try to just tune it out.

As for your surgery, it's scary but if it cures your pain it will be a wonderful thing. Add my thoughts and prayers to everyone else's. Keep us posted.

Mitzi H. said...

My SIL had that same surgery. During her operation, the doctor noticed an ugly mole on her back (she was face down on a special table with her neck exposed) and took a biopsy.…She didn’t even know she had a mole on her back.....It turned out to be Melanoma and because of him she is alive today…plus her disc/neck surgery worked wonders….Hope yours does too!!!!

When I’m reading a story and the man has a whisky (or whiskey), I feel the burn no matter the brand.

But when someone is having a soda I want to know what kind….Is it a Coke, Pepsi, 7up, Orange Crush?…..I don’t think of it as advertising. I think it simply helps us readers know the persons preferences.

Jackie P said...

So glad you got the test run. I am a believer in getting things checked because it can ward off something dangerous. Your kids still need you sometimes even if they aren't at home anymore. Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.

I like knowing the names of products. Especially if it is in a cookbook. It does make the story better.

Hi, Jane — Thank you so much. :-)

And you're right — it is everywhere. I don't enjoy being "sold" to, so it rather annoys me. Glad I don't have television! Coke cups on American Idol, huh? Wow.

Hi, Jennie — That's what I do, too. I like knowing that Eve Dallas drinks tubes of Pepsi. But I also feel saturated by advertising. Still, I seriously doubt many writers get paid to mention products. I think for most of us, it's just wanting to be specific and descriptive.

Plus, in Breaking Point, using brand names helps me set location. For example, Zach and Natalie steal a car — a Nissan Tsuru — from the bad guys. We don't have that here in the U.S., but it's very common in Mexico. So I feel that by using that I'm putting more realism in the story than having Zach and Natalie drive off in some anonymous car.

Thank you for the thoughts and prayers. I do hope it makes things better. One of my brother came over today and told me how I could be paralyzed from the neck down or lose my ability to walk or die and so on... I was fairly upset when he left, actually. (What are brothers for?)

Hi, Mitzi — I'm so happy your SIL's melanoma was caught early! That's great. Wonderful to have an attentive doctor. So many are not. I'm glad it went well for her and I hope, hope, hope it does for me, too. I do not want to live the rest of my life disabled.

And that's interesting! Most of the time I don't care to know whisky brands either -- unless it has something to do with the hero's tastes. But sodas vary so widely and the tastes are so different. It is fun to know what our favorite characters enjoy.

Thank you, Jackie P. I put off the MRIs for almost a month, and then my sister said, "Get off your butt and get them done." I figured they would show nothing because the doc had said it was a long shot.

Maybe I should go play the lottery tonight...

Cookbook? You read lots of cookbooks? I know some people who love them.

JennJ said...

I agree putting a name to what they are drinking or eating etc. makes the story feel more real to me as a reader because I can identify with those things.

I'm so sorry to hear about your surgery but you are in my prayers hon and hopefully after they get that done you will not be in any more pain. BIG HUGS my dear!!!!!!!!!

Kara C said...

Pamela,
I notice the product placement in movies and tv and it often annoys me because it's so obvious. However, in books I usually think of it as detail adding to the story.
I'm so sorry to hear about your back issues. I have a friend who found out days before summer break was to begin that she would have to have a similar surgery and spend the summer recuperating. I've got a round of friends scheduled to help her with meals and her son. I'm sorry I can't do that for you as well, but will definitely be keeping you in my thoughts.
And brothers... always the source of comfort. :)
Hang in there.

Sonya said...

I'm pretty sure I know what discussion you were reading - because I was about the third person to post in it!

If I'm right, the kind of product placement that sparked the discussion is very different. I have no problem with brands being mentioned, but the author at the centre of the discussion 'talks in products' - mentioning brands to sound cool rather than to give us an idea of the time, place and atmosphere of the scene. It's annoying because it reads like something a teenager wrote.

Hope all your medical dramas aren't too dramatic!!

Hi, Jenn — Thanks so much for your prayers. That means a lot to me.

I think since so many products are designed for visual impact and such, that the difference between them -- not just how they taste, but how their packaged -- lends to how we see them or experience them in our minds.

Have a good Monday! I hope you're doing well.

Hi, Kara — Your friend is lucky to have you! How wonderful that you were able to help her like that. My mother and father just moved over to our side of the mountains (they used to live on what we call the Western Slope, but now have joined the rest of the family on the Front Range, as we say). My mom is a registered nurse who ran an intensive care unit for 12 years, so she'll be able to help me a lot afterward. If the surgery is done before Benjamin leaves for school, he'll be here too.

And, yeah, brothers. :-/

I’m glad the detail of brand names in most books hasn't gotten to the point where it distracts you. Let's hope it never does!

Hi, Sonya — Fun that you were involved in that topic. It struck me as very interesting and a bit different from the usual thread.

I think I understand what you mean — dropping names, only with products. That could get to be annoying pretty quickly if it happened over and over again.

I never post on Amazon, even when the thread is something that sparks a response or opinion. But I thought I could address that here. I realized that I do mention brand names, but I sure don't get paid for it. LOL!

Elise said...

Hi Pam,
Advertising and brand names in books help me understand a bit more of the American culture!
But indeed, we are also bombarded in France (TV, radio, metro) and I try to simply tune everything out.
Quite simple actually since I hardly watch TV, listen to a public information radio (few commercials) and prefer reading romance novels while commuting to work by train every day (keeps my eyes focused and my nose down!!)

I am very sorry to hear about your back problems and hope you will feel better soon. Try osteopathy after your surgery, it may help to feel better.

Big hugs!

Mary G said...

Hi Pamela
I'm late commenting, just got back from Lori Foster's event in Cincinnati. I'm so sorry to hear you have to have surgery. I hope it alleviates the issues you've been having. If anything, it'll make you slow down for awhile. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. Your brother is probably worried about you, but there's risk with every surgery.

On product placement: You'd be surprised at the value of that product placement. I have worked for major sunglass companies. Sending a film company 5 - 10 pairs of sunglasses is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertising. Sometimes people called us for info on glasses they saw in a movie that weren't even our brand!

When I read, I would prefer the brand over "luxury car" for example.

Hi, Elise,

I remember the advertising on the walls of the S-Tog (subway) in Denmark. They'd have four or five or sometimes 10 of the same big posters or billboards up in a row so that you could see it even whizzing by it. I actually didn't mind it as much because European advertising was a bit less pushy back then. Not sure how it is now.

I'm glad you read romance on the Metro (which is a wonderful system, by the way — very friendly to a person in Paris for the first time). I have photos of myself baring my breasts in the Louvre, speaking of Paris, but I won't post them. I was imitating a topless sculpture. LOL!

Ummm... And thank you for the good wishes. I'm kinda scared about it, but if it makes things better then it will be worth all the tea in China.

Hi, Mary — I'm so glad you had a great time at Lori Foster's get-together. That sounds like such a great time. Maybe I should start doing some kind of PC Pajama Party. I'll make the cookies for everyone. :-)

Fun to hear the other side of it. Amazing that you get such great response off the sunglasses. Which company do you work for. I've been wearing Rudy Project sun glasses for a while now... Love 'em.

And thank you. I hope the surgery works. Strange how that I know what's wrong my neck is freaking killing me 24/7. LOL!

Mary G said...

I can tell you that I don't work for Rudy Project LOL. Sending you info. I don't think I can say.

KCP said...

I always wonder the same thing about product placement in books. I've also always wondered if in my own writing, am I just allowed to toss in any brand name item I want freely? Is there some sort of copyright rule that says you can't? I agree with you that the writing would be flat if we didn't write actual brand name items, considering real life is full of them.

There is one series in particular that I ADORE, that tends to go a little overboard on name drops...I find that a little annoying.

I'm so sorry to hear about your upcoming surgery :( Haven't you had enough pain???

Kristin

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