01/08/2015 11:22 am ET Updated Mar 10, 2015

Novelists: Stop Using Real-Life Tragedies to Sell Your Books

Getty Images

Recently I've noticed a disturbing trend. Possibly because most of the people I friend and follow on social media are thriller writers like myself, more and more frequently I'm seeing posts, Tweets, and LinkedIn discussions in which authors claim a recent tragedy or disaster has made their novel more interesting or timely. This morning I received an email with the subject line: "Je suis Charlie--sadly, my novel [title of book] is more relevant than ever." The unspoken implication by these authors linking their novels to a current disaster, of course, is: "Therefore, buy my book."

Don't misunderstand me. I don't have a problem with a novel being timely. Authors are keen observers. We look at what's going on around us and imagine what might be. Thrillers in particular often center on some larger-than-life, potentially world-changing disaster. Michael Crichton created an entire subgenre of thrillers that are rooted in science. The Andromeda Strain envisions what might happen if a virus from outer space reached the Earth. The disastrous consequences of cloning dinosaurs from fossilized DNA are explored in Jurassic Park. Many thriller writers base their fiction on controversial environmental, medical, political, and societal issues. I myself have Googled "worst environmental problems" looking for subject material for my novels.

But when the order is reversed, when a fresh disaster stuns the world and an author uses the disaster to promote their book by posting that the newsworthy event has made their book "more relevant and timely," I say no, it doesn't. These are real people who died, real suffering, real lives ruined. Novels are fiction. Their sole purpose is entertainment. Linking the two on the assumption that readers will be entertained by a fictionalized version of a tragedy that's currently unfolding is insensitive and tacky.

I understand the pressure authors are under to promote their novels. I also understand that many mysteries and thrillers are ripped from the headlines. But an unfolding real-world disaster does not enhance the relevance of a novel. Drawing my attention to a current tragedy by pointing out that your novel is about a similar event will not make me buy your book.

Let the news media cover the event. Discuss the event on social media in appropriately incensed or somber tones. But don't use the tragedy to promote your novel. Please. Just stop.