Is This Book Playing Tricks on You?

Recently, I read a stylebook with lots of visuals. The author was trying to convince readers her ideas are the way to go on how to look great. Though the author’s an expert, she was selling her educated and informed opinion, not fact. I agreed with much of what she imparted but disagreed with other points. No matter, except that I resented a tactic she used several times with photos manipulated to make her point.

For instance, one set of images showed a woman wearing one pair of eyeglasses, versus a different pair the author liked better. The woman looked pretty much the same in both pictures except that in the second photo, her hair was about four shades lighter than in the first photo. Because she had the same hairstyle and was photographed at a similar angle in both and because (magician’s trick here) the author wanted you to focus on the eyeglasses, most readers wouldn’t notice the difference in hair color. So, was the benefit from the glasses alone? Or did the hair color make a difference? The author would have been much less disingenuous if she had mentioned the change in hair color. By the way, I liked the “before” photo better.

In another instance, the author wants her readers to wear one shade of lipstick over another. She used a set of photos of a beautiful celebrity with different styles of makeup. The unfavored lipstick photo was small. Apparently, it had not been retouched, except maybe they added wrinkles! The celebrity frowned, showing no teeth. The second photo showed the celebrity in a large, airbrushed (wrinkleless) photo, smiling broadly, white teeth gleaming against lips wearing the favored shade of lipstick. Even if the superstar had been wearing identical lipstick in both photos, no one would have preferred the scowl. Granted, few people have access to celebrities to ask them to wear different lip colors; but even photoshopping the “good” and “bad” colors on an identical photo would have been a more honest way to demonstrate the author’s point. I happen to be passionate about lipstick so I noticed this play; but I wonder how many other readers glanced, agreed, and moved on. 

In fairness, perhaps the author wasn’t aware of these manipulations. But as authors, when we are trying to sway readers, we can be careful not to let our passion overtake good sense.

Your turn:

Have you ever felt manipulated by a nonfiction book?

How do you keep yourself honest when writing nonfiction? 

14 Responses to Is This Book Playing Tricks on You?

  1. Nora November 12, 2020 at 5:10 am #

    It may just be the mood I’m in, but I’m especially feeling that we live in a world where so many people have a psychological need for everyone to have the exact same opinions as they do.

    • Abby Martin November 12, 2020 at 11:16 am #

      Nora, don’t sweat it. I think you are totally right on that one! I give you an amen! 🙂

  2. Jeannie Delahunt November 12, 2020 at 5:50 am #

    Honesty always the best policy.

    Personally, especially when I am in a buying mood, if the pictures aren’t straight up and straight forward, I feel manipulated. And if I feel that way I don’t make a purchase. It’s about trust.

    Insightful post, thank you!!!

  3. Roxanne November 12, 2020 at 6:58 am #

    Good post. This is not uncommon. It is total manipulation and happens in more ways than one would imagine. It’s a loathsome practice.

    Interesting application to writing. I think I’ll look at some of my own posts and see if there’s any manipulation there. It’s unlikely but worth the look.


  4. Loretta Eidson November 12, 2020 at 7:03 am #

    I resent manipulation or false representation. I notice lipstick, blush, eye shadows, well, makeup in general. I also notice the smiles and the scowls. If the author prefers a specific color over another, she still needs to be consistent with her smiling, same color hair models.

  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser November 12, 2020 at 7:07 am #

    “Truth has many faces”,
    so old Confucius said,
    depending where one’s place is,
    and what one might have read.
    And this is now so often used
    in marketing and politics,
    a simple concept, now abused
    that other may play tricks
    upon the core beliefs we hold,
    to sway our vote and purse,
    come to believe that hot is cold,
    and blessing is a curse,
    and here i where we find the proof:
    the most effective lie’s part truth.

    • Judith Robl November 14, 2020 at 7:48 am #

      Ah, Andrew. You nailed it. My grandmother used to say “half a truth is the whole of a lie”. The enemy is quite fond of miscontruing scripture by just a few degrees to lead the faithful down the wrong path. We need to be on guard at all times for the slightest deviations from the truth of God. Blessings, friend.

  6. G Chops November 12, 2020 at 7:17 am #

    I’ve seen these manipulations with plastic surgeons. One picture has no make up and no expression, with hair pulled back. The after photo has lots of makeup, hair done up and a big smile. When you really look closely there is little change in the condition of the face.

  7. Barbara Harper November 12, 2020 at 9:08 am #

    Yes, this bothers me to no end. We see it a lot in the news, where a sound byte is taken out of contest or twisted.

    I’m reading Andrew T. Le Peau’s Write Better, and he points out the need for honesty in persuasion (which most nonfiction employs to some degree). He said if we’re discussing solutions to a problem, we shouldn’t manipulate other solutions so ours looks best. We should point out the good features of the other solutions–and then when we show that ours is even better, we’ve not only fairly represented the other side, but our case is even stronger.

  8. Kristen Joy Wilks November 12, 2020 at 10:25 am #

    Wow! That is really low. Thinking back, two books come to mind that made me feel manipulated. One was a parenting sleep cycle book that had some great points (that I actually ended up using to some degree) but that left me with a bad taste in my mouth as the author spent a great deal of time explaining why everyone else were raging idiots instead of simply giving the reader the help-your-baby-sleep tips that we craved. They were fabulous tips, but his nasty attitude ruined the book. I also have a writing book with some very good outlining ideas … only the author did the same thing. Much of the book is devoted to explaining in painful detail how dumb anyone who disagrees with him is. I just want the writing tips, thank you! I think that author’s run away with their ideas and can slide into bashing the opposition. That does not sit well with me as a reader and I am unlikely to buy another book from such a writer.

  9. Wendy November 12, 2020 at 10:57 am #

    Thank you, Tamela, for this insightful read. I recently viewed a Ted Talk titled, “How Fake Videos Are Made — and How To Spot Them.” He showed how any photo can be turned into a video–a hologram, in essence–showing the person saying words that algorithms determine, not the person. We live in a time when it appears nothing is what it seems.

    I value integrity and I’m taking every step, humanly possible, to verify my memoir. My current struggle is how to cite trial transcript–especially video depositions used at trial. Everything I write needs to be verifiable. I’m also using items with time stamps–photos, emails, texts, and social media posts–to verify timing and specifics of events. When I took on this mission, I told God that I would tell the truth about what happened, even my doubts and struggles. In a time where people say what’s right is wrong, and what’s wrong is right, this leaves me vulnerable, but I’m willing to face this for the truth to be told. Praying it will all advance God’s Kingdom.

  10. Abby Martin November 12, 2020 at 11:20 am #

    I have never been manipulated by a non-fiction book. I don’t know why… maybe that is something to look at in itself! Maybe I have been manipulated and just don’t see it!

    When I write non-fiction, I write in full vulnerability, imperfection, and honesty. I basically show my readers, “Hey, I’m not here for accolades. I’m not perfect. I’m just like you, i have a hunger for passion and for change. I don’t know you personally, but nevertheless, I care about you. And I have something to tell you: Jesus loves you and He has a plan and purpose for your life. 🙂

  11. Eric November 13, 2020 at 6:30 am #

    In reference to feeling manipulated by a nonfiction book, I owned a bible which had the publisher’s/author’s personal commentary in the columns of the pages. I believe some of them were misinterpreted in association with the applicable scriptures. To keep myself honest while writing nonfiction books, I ask God to write through me while giving me witty ideas and inventions.

  12. Christine L. Henderson November 16, 2020 at 10:02 pm #

    I recently bought the first book in a series. Since I’m relatively new to using my kindle, I didn’t pay attention to its length. The story was about adoption. I loved the description of the characters and the plot setting. There was a chapter written in the POV of each of the 5 main characters that showed their background. Then the book abruptly ended after only two days with the children coming to live in the home. That first book was just a tease of getting to know the characters that made me feel cheated out of a full story.What made it worse is the next book takes place 15 years later!

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