What can authors learn from Miley Cyrus?

If you haven’t seen a replay of Miley Cyrus’s performance on Sunday’s Video Music Awards show, it’s because you have gone out of your way to avoid it. The news networks are still talking about it today, two days later.

Miley and her manager achieved their goal: To change her image.

Is that a good thing? Changing her image is good and necessary, but the image they’ve chosen for her isn’t necessarily the best one. (More on that later.)

It got us talking, that’s for sure. And it got me wondering if are there any lessons in this, um, event, for authors who want to generate buzz for their books.

What, in fact, can authors learn from the 20 year old’s strip tease act? Here are four takeaways:

1. Bad publicity can be exactly that — bad publicity.

Some ask, “Is there really any such thing as bad publicity?” The thinking is that any publicity is better than no publicity at all.

When you’re promoting your book, you want publicity that contributes to your career as an author. Sure, you can do something outrageous, hoping to get your book title mentioned in the resulting firestorm, but if your book isn’t about train wrecks and disasters, does it really do you any good to get publicity linked to either? It might lead to page views on Amazon, but not to purchases if the ruckus doesn’t relate to your book’s topic.

2. Pick your advisors carefully.

Miley’s team spent time strategizing and orchestrating her disturbing little exhibition on the VMAs. Remember, she paid people to tell her to do this.

It makes me think of the authors who buy ridiculously pricey promotion packages from vanity presses (see my blog post, “A new way to learn how to promote your book“). Are these con artists really the people you want guiding you? You can do far better while spending far less money.

3. You’re a brand.

You are, so you need to know what you and your brand stand for. Miley’s brand was wholesome Disney Channel Hannah Montana. She outgrew that, so she used the VMAs to jettison her young fans. Will her new, skanky look help her she pick up an older crowd? She won’t snag anyone old enough to understand what has happened to Lindsay Lohan. Been there, done that.

4. You need a plan.

Miley’s foam finger fun on the VMA stage was part of a plan to have the media world say, “She’s not Hannah Montana anymore!” It worked, didn’t it? Certainly, there’s more to her plan that we’ll see in coming months.

You need a plan, too, so that you can achieve your marketing goals in the same way that Miley achieved hers. Don’t wait another day to start working on yours.

Today, people are questioning why MTV let this bizarre peep show air. They’re wondering how involved her parents are in her career (you’re never too old to get advice from your parents). They’re using this as a conversation starter with their young daughters who looked up to Miley as Hannah but are confused by Miley the inappropriate performer.

While you want people talking about you and your book, you don’t want this kind of chatter. Learn from this situation and apply it to your book publicity plans.

What does your author brand stand for? Please tell us in a comment.

Subscribe to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter and get the free special report, “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources,” immediately!

Similar Posts


  1. I’m in the “no such thing as bad publicity” school.

    Most authors are not Miley Cyrus. She is already very famous, therefore she isn’t much in need of publicity, what she needs is PR: someone to better shape her image. And you’re right, the PR these people are shaping for her is terrible.

    But for most authors, they’d be selling more books if more people knew who they were. Even if they were catapulted to fame for doing something awful, they’d still be selling more books then they would before no one knew their book existed.

    Of course it’s better to get publicity for good stuff. But if an author no one has heard of is wringing their hands worrying about bad publicity, they may as well give it a rest.

    1. Karma, I agree that most authors aren’t at the Miley level, of course, but I don’t think this kind of, um, “exposure” is the goal. You want publicity that’s appropriate for your goals, and you want it to reach the right people.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. I like your wisdom and how you think — please come back!


  2. Now that was a refreshing look at a stale topic–one good girl gone wild! I would agree that Miley was trying to change her brand. She was shedding her old skin for a slithery one. Although I’ve only watched a few outtakes of her performance, I think she had everything covered up. This fury over her antics reminds me of the way Elvis was treated for shaking his hips. He definitely recovered and became a larger than life persona in the media. Miley will make other moves as she continues to grow and mature. For now, I wish her well and hope she does not let bad publicity kill her ambition whatever that may be.

    1. Thanks, C.R. At the risk of sounding like the mother that I am, I worry that she will end up like Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes because the wrong people are guiding her and the right people aren’t involved. I wish her well, too — fingers crossed.


  3. If Miley had not already had a reputation, no one would be giving her the time of day. Clearly, she was out to “out-do” Maddona and Lady Gaga – and she did just that. Mission accomplished! No one will ever see her as an innocent little girl again. However, she will forever be branded in a way that I believe will haunt her the rest of her life.

    As authors, I believe we have been called to a higher level of accountability. Trash sells, but it is only the books written by gifted writes who truly impact and affect their audience that will be remembered and passed on to future generations.

    My book may never reach greatness as defined by the world’s standards, but it has already been a success because I know of the positive impact it has had on the many who have read it to date.

    What is sad to me is the opportunity that Miley has missed to be an example that would have impacted this culture in a positive way. God only knows how badly this younger generation needs good role models. Perhaps you are correct; there are lessons to be learned from Miley . . .

    1. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment, Nola. It is indeed sad that Miley has chosen to be a bad example for her young friends. It’s too bad her handlers seem focused on $$ and not on bigger goals.


  4. I do not know Miley and she is not a person I would follow, because being an indie author I follow me and other poets who write transformational poetry to give meaning and purpose to life. The inner journey is my guide for sharing my passion of caring and helping others to discover their true self.

  5. I absolutely agree with Ira and Sandra. Branding and marketing techniques are a professional necessity, but also your personal choice. The only vested interested I have in Miss Miley is that she is demographic. As an author, I think my title will get her attention, but not necessarily my . Her choices got her what she apparently wanted, because no one will doubt that she has changed her image again.

    1. Thanks, Cassandra. I agree — branding is about who you really are, not who you want people to think you are. With celebrities like Miley, it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s an act.


  6. I used to like Miley, but since hearing about her “expose” I have decided to leave her in the trash bin with the others who left what was good entertainment for trashy hoe dancing.

    I would like for my brand to stand for fantasy fun. However, I’m not sure how to go about that. I am not talking about sultry, sexy stuff. I’m talking about adventures and explorations and imagination.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *