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!

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