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‘Disrespectful and demeaning’: Influencers say they were offered payment to create sexually suggestive videos to promote a book

The author denied making the request, but told Yahoo News he takes "full responsibility" for what happened.

Credit: TikTok @amymaybooks @thebookthief28 @readbybeth

Several influencers said they received an email from bestselling author J.D. Barker on Jan. 23 that offered them payment in exchange for creating “racy” videos to promote his book. Barker has denied writing the email but said he takes “full responsibility” for it.

Behind a Closed Door, which is set for release in May, is the New York Times bestselling author’s latest erotic thriller. According to the Simon & Schuster website, the book’s tagline is “Would you kill a total stranger to save someone you love?” The listing says it is “50 Shades meets David Fincher’s The Game” and that it is “soon to be a major motion picture.”

Yahoo News obtained the email, which was sent from Barker’s personal email but signed “Julia.” The email asked the book influencers to create videos to help promote Behind a Closed Door, then suggested four video ideas that included “racy” content. One suggested that the camera pan up and down the creator’s body “using only the book to cover up your naughty bits.” Another suggested the camera focus on the influencer for 10 to 15 seconds, then quickly flash to a “taboo place” where they have had sex. The email then states that these ideas are “just suggestions” and that creators are welcome to “come up with something on [their] own.”

The email also noted that Barker must “personally review” and approve each video in order for the creator to get paid. It included a scale from $100 to “negotiable” to demonstrate how accounts with more followers could receive more money for their posts.

Tishni Weerasinghe, a 30-year-old BookToker, regularly works with authors and publishers to promote romance books, but she told Yahoo News that receiving the email from Barker’s account struck her as “disrespectful and demeaning.”

Weerasinghe told Yahoo News that it’s not unusual for companies to offer payment or free merchandise for reviews of “spicy” books with sexually explicit content, but it’s “creepy” that Barker’s email asked influencers to create their own sexual content according to his parameters.

“It was completely out of pocket and out of left field,” Weerasinghe said. “Some BookTokers started talking about it, and we realized how many people received this email blast.”

Beth Hewes, a 27-year-old BookToker who received the email, told Yahoo News that her initial reaction was pure anger.

“Another man in the reading community was trying to exploit women,” she said. “But then I was concerned about whether anyone underage received the same email. … The prompts were all sexual and needed to be reviewed by the author first.”

Other TikTokers who spoke out about the email said it was “gross” and “predatory.” One said it was an example of “what not to do when approaching book influencers.”

“The message you received from my account was not issued by me nor was it approved by me. It was sent by one of the many PR firms I hired to promote my latest title,” Barker wrote two days later in a follow-up email sent to the same mailing list that received the first message.

That statement also received backlash. Multiple creators pointed out that the initial email stated that Barker is one of the founders of the PR firm BestOfTikTok, leading recipients to believe that the email came from him.

Barker told Yahoo News that the email was created by a different PR firm, based in Central America, that specializes in working with influencers but not BookTok. The firm distributed the message to BestOfTikTok’s mailing list using Barker’s email address “without consideration of age or gender.”

“The email wasn't meant to go out without a substantial rewrite, but through a chain of errors, it did,” Barker said. “I take full responsibility for that.”

Here’s the rest of his statement:

“I'm horrified such a message was released. And I deeply regret the hurt I've caused to those who received it. I have nothing but respect for the writing community and the people who champion it and I've let all of you down.

I have nothing but the deepest respect for women. I'm a husband. I'm a father. There is no excuse for the insensitivity demonstrated by my actions. The weight created by those actions is inexcusable. I can and will do better.

The written word is something I cherish. Words have a power. And sometimes they can hurt more than the most dangerous weapon. Knowing I've wielded that weapon and injured is something that will weigh on me for the remainder of my days. If you were impacted by this, I am truly sorry.”

Barker is the owner of Hampton Creek Press, the publisher of Behind a Closed Door. A spokesperson for Simon & Schuster, which distributes Hampton Creek Press Books, issued the following statement: "We were horrified to learn of this campaign, and of course thoroughly disapprove of this outrageous and irresponsible promotion attempt from our distribution client."