How to Embarrass Yourself and Not Sell Your Book

Inside Hollywood AdIf you want to embarrass yourself, and not sell any books, follow the example set by author and literary agent Jodie Rhodes: take out a half-page ad in the Los Angeles Times and be sure to include a boring and badly written excerpt from your self-published novel. Here’s a taste of her powerful prose:

“I’ve got it, James!” she exclaimed, her eyes sparkling. “I’ve got the script for my first picture. But I need your advice on where to go from here.”

He blinked in disbelief. “What do you mean, you’ve got a script? You don’t even have a production company.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that.” She waved an impatient hand at him.

“Anthony has already agreed to set up one.”

“Christ, Erin, you don’t waste time, do you? How in the hell did you accomplish that in one week?”

“It wasn’t all that difficult.” She gave a tiny shrug. “All I have to do is marry him. Anyway,” she continued eagerly, “let me tell you about this script.”

The characters in this thrilling excerpt from “Inside Hollywood” don’t talk. They exclaim, they shout, they admit and they continue eagerly. My favorite line, though, has to be the one about the impatient hand. The heroine doesn’t wave impatiently, she waves her hand, which is impatient.

The ad not only showcases her bad writing, but it also casts doubt on her judgment as a literary agent (she’s the president of the Jodie Rhodes Literary Agency, as she mentions on the cover of her book).  If this excerpt is her idea of great writing, and this advertisement is her notion of a brilliant marketing campaign, can you imagine the kind of advice that she gives her clients? What’s even more shocking is that she’s also a former advertising executive…and yet produced an ad as ugly, ineffective, and outright embarrassing as this one. This cringe-inducing ad should be given to every aspiring writer as an example of what not to do when trying to sell your book to Hollywood, publishers or readers.



21 thoughts on “How to Embarrass Yourself and Not Sell Your Book”

  1. This ad ran in the San Francisco Chronicle book section today, so she’s embarrassing herself in the northern part of the state as well! However, I must admit I’m always happy that SOMEONE is advertising in the book section. The only other ad was a full-page plug for J.K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy.”

  2. Lee, if the content of the ad was better, was it a good idea to place the ad? Or would a billboard in L.A. have been a better try like you and Janet did for “The Heist”?

    • That’s a lot of “ifs,” Dan. But if the ad was slick and professional….and if she had a great cover … and if the excerpt from the book was a grabber, both well-written and compelling, then yes, advertising in the Los Angeles Times might have done her some good. She failed on all three levels.

  3. There’s an aspiring writer in one of my workshops who would look on this excerpt as one step sideways from Shakespeare.

    Ms. Rhodes is going to sell some books — providing her target market is able to read the LATimes. ;0)

  4. Say what you will about “legacy publishers.” Their role for generations has been to weed out this stuff. Their rejection slips have always done a service to authors, readers, and publishers seeking to produce a quality line, at a profit.

  5. Richard, you are a great person. And a great writer. Hard-working, conscientious, the real deal. I trust you completely when it comes to your point-of-view in your fiction. But I hope you won’t mind if I enter into a bit of a debate with you about your opinion about “legacy publishers” and the logic of your viewpoint. (I’m not trying to be difficult, I just see it a bit differently.)

    Okay. You defend New York, “legacy publishers,” their rejection slips. You view them as defending a vulnerable public from “bad writing.” Their rejection slips are a public service. The writers are the “bad guys,” while the editors are defenders.

    Well. It seems to me that editors in publishing houses have never, ever, ever wanted to defend the so-called innocent public from so-called bad writing. If they read a book and it’s “no good,” and they won’t publish it, it’s not because they want to defend the public, it’s because they think it won’t make a profit. Pure and simple. If they thought it could make a profit, but it was “bad writing,” they’d publish it in a heartbeat. Remember a novel titled, “Candy”? It was pure pornography, but written up in a literary style. Trash, and published. Made a lot of money. It’s about the money, it’s not about protecting the innocent public.

    Anyway, the public does not need protection from “bad writing” and never has. Let’s say you walk into a library with a million books on the shelves. Do you need protection from any of them? No, you don’t. You will go to the section you are interested in, and browse, and select the books you want to pursue further. Some you might put down after a few minutes. Some you might after a half hour. You might find one you really like. But you will decide what’s best for you, and what’s “good writing” or not. You don’t need an editor or a critic to help you out, you don’t need any “protection.” You never did. So the idea that editors “protect the innocent public from bad writing” is simply not tenable. The reader can “protect” himself or herself, quite easily.

    But let me go further, if you will. Rejection slips. During the 1970’s and 1980’s and 1990’s, publishers were so wrong about what would sell that they became desperate to sell themselves so that they could escape the consequences of their own wrong opinions on what would sell that they could get out with a few bucks in their pockets. The stories about how totally wrong they were in their rejection of novels that later were published and went on to sell millions became an utter joke, not just in the industry, but in the entire culture of the world. If it was one thing a New York editor did not know, it was what would sell. The public didn’t need protection from “bad writers,” it needed escape from New York editors and print publishers. What happened was, if a book sold, editors wanted copies of it, with variations, hoping to cash in on the latest public appetite for such stories. If a vampire novel sells, let’s bat out a thousand vampire stories, who cares what the quality is, let’s sell a lot of books. (Richard, are these the guys, male and female, that you are defending?) Publishing became in the 2000’s nothing but a corporate profit game. Make money, climb up the corporate ladder. Quality? Who cares? Protect the public from bad writing? Don’t make me laugh.

    Along comes Amazon. Anybody can publish. Anything. Does the public need protection from any of these books? No. Readers will write reviews. There are pages that can be read before purchase. There is absolutely no need for editors, rejection slips, New York or print publishers. Is the publishing world a better place? Yes. Are writers better off? Yes. Is the reading public better off? Yes, because they have more information than ever before in making a purchase, and prices have come down incredibly so, and yet writers can make more money than before, and have more control over their books than before.

    Richard, at one time, print publishers had ideals. Now, it’s corporate profit that counts. And writers should not become sacrifices for corporate profit games, in my opinion. Well, I like your books. I’ll continue to read them. You are a great guy.

    • Thank you, Dan, for you eloquent dismissal of NY Publishing.

      As a self-publisher myself, I regularly get questions why I’m self-publishing and whether self-publishing is for losers who cannot get a publishing contract. When I tell them I refuse to consider contracts that want me to relinquish control over my work for a measly 5,000 dollar advance, people wonder if I’m sane. When I tell them that NY publishing does not equate ‘quality’ but rather ‘commercial mass appeal’, they complain about the bad self-published books.

      The main problem is that writers become self-publishers for different reasons. Some have been ousted by NY Publishing because they were midlist authors that didn’t earn enough. Some were shocked by the horrible contracts NY Publishing offers their prospective authors. Some are tired of submitting their work to a publisher who stays incommunicado for a year only to reject the manuscript without explanation. And, yes, there’s a whole lot of authors whose work would never escape the slushpile of NY publishing because it’s not commercially appealing. Or downright badly written.

      Once upon a time, trade publishing was the way to go. The only way to go, some might say. Now, it’s an option. And often, not the best option.

  6. I try to make it a habit not to diss other writers, just because I know how damned hard it is to write a book. But, um, wow. On a different but related note, I have two writing friends who had her as an agent and let’s just say disaster doesn’t even begin to cover it.

    • Not true, Dan. I was *definitely* dissing Rhodes. Her ad was inept and her writing is awful. I hope the ad makes other writers think twice before embarrassing themselves the same way.


      • Lee, I make a distinction between the person and the work. The work might not be very good, and I respect your right to say so. But the person’s dignity should be respected, nevertheless. The person should not be disrespected even if the work is poor. If you are disrespecting her as a person, because of her poor work, then I think that would be a logic.

  7. Lee, you’re spot on with this. This woman and her self-published memoirs came to the attention of a writing group I belong to when she paid to have Publisher’s Weekly send out e-mail blasts to subscribers promoting one of her previous books, Confessions: A Memoir. The ads were very poorly written and the design was awful, which was embarrassing enough. But what really stood out for us were the very strange figures quoted in the advertisement as reasons to read the book. “Within weeks of coming out, Amazon released 32 Five Star Reviews (the only book ever to have every review a 5 star)” said one. Another, in a larger bold face print, said, “Googling ‘Jodie Rhodes Confessions’ on 1/10/12 brought up 7,240,000 hits.” These were followed by a review that was clearly from Kirkus Reviews’ new paid self-published book review service, which itself is abominable. (You can see part of the ad here:

    Watching this woman continue to throw money away (and LOTS of money, from the looks of things!) on poorly-done advertising for her books is like watching a literary train wreck. This is definitely NOT how authors should promote themselves.

    • Those four readers could be friends or family or just people with extraordinarily bad taste. Not that it’s helped sell her book. It’s ranked at 1 million, which means she’s maybe selling a book or two a month, if that.


  8. So what’s the answer all you geniuses ? there are a 100,000 + books in average book store
    It appears that a writer has to be a better salesperson and technician than anything else. E books, Amazon, Websites etc..

    Personally I only want to write no interest in selling. 6 Books so far and some made good money but now???
    No one will even read.


  9. The ads were very poorly written and the design was awful, which was embarrassing enough. But what really stood out for us were the very strange figures quoted in the advertisement as reasons to read the book.


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