J.D. Barker’s Latest Erotic Thriller Rattles TikTok

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Ever Gotten a Wildly Inappropriate Email? J.D. Barker’s Book Launch Went Viral for All the Wrong Reasons.

You know that sinking feeling when you realize you just hit “send” on an email to the absolute wrong person? For author J.D. Barker, that mortifying moment played out on a massive scale. In the lead-up to his erotic thriller Behind A Closed Door, a risqué marketing email intended for paid influencers accidentally went to a mailing list of book reviewers instead—cue total pandemonium on BookTok.

As outrage erupted, Barker’s team scrambled to do damage control, but their attempts at apologies only fanned the flames further. In this candid interview, the best-selling author opens up about the email mishap that had the internet clutching its pearls. He dishes on the increasingly difficult book marketing landscape, life on the autism spectrum, and why you may want to think twice before mindlessly clicking “Accept” on those endless terms of service agreements.

Get the full story behind the TikTok meltdown that has the book world buzzing. Barker’s erotic romp hits shelves in May – the perfect beach read…if you can handle the heat.

I have to tell you, I can usually call a twist coming a mile ahead, but yours? They always sneak up on me in the best possible way.

J.D. BARKER: Well, thank you!

I imagine stories with so many moving parts require some measure of pre-writing, plot mapping, or a wall poster full of strings and pushpins. Can you explain your writing process?

I wish I could tell you there was some secret recipe or method to it all but there really isn’t. It’s fluid. I find that my process changes from book to book. Sometimes, I’ll come up with a compelling character and put them aside for the right story, but for the most part, I usually start with the plot. The simpler, the better. I learned a long time ago if you can describe your book in a handful of words, it’s likely to be a hit. If you need a long pitch, not so much. Keep it simple. Once I have the plot, it’s all about the characters. Each one has to be fully developed. I can’t start the writing process until the characters feel like real people to me. I’ll give you an example: The lead detective in my 4MK series is a guy named Sam Porter. If I were to take Sam to Disney World, I could tell you what ride he’d go on first, I know what he’d have for lunch. I know him as well as I know some of my best friends. Very little of that information will ever appear in a book, but it’s what makes him real to me. What makes him unique. Once I know all my characters that well, I can drop them into the plot and allow them to tell me the story. Their unique thoughts and reactions dictate where the novel will go, how things will unfold. If characters are properly developed, no two should react to the same situation in the same manner.

When plot and characters are in place, that takes us to the third piece of the writing puzzle—story. How to keep all those pesky facts straight from the first page to the last. I’ve got a little bit of an edge when it comes to all that. I’m on the autism spectrum. Asperger’s was my official diagnosis when I was 22, but I heard we aren’t using that term anymore; Asperger’s is now part of the autism spectrum. Call it what you like. My wife calls it my superpower. While it made the first half of my life a complete hell, once I received proper treatment and understood what was going on in my mind, I was able to focus on the benefits a spectrum personality can bless you with over the negatives. I may have a hard time making eye contact, but I can string together a complex plot and understand how each change impacts the rest. It’s a lot like writing computer software—when you write your first line of code, you need to understand how that line will impact the last line, how it will impact everything in between. When I wrote my first novel, I had a whiteboard covered in notes and photos with lines connecting the various dots. I created that because I was told that’s how it was supposed to be done. But I quickly realized I didn’t need it. Honestly, it slowed me down. If I wanted to make a change to the story, I’d have to recreate the board. That took time. I was on maybe my third major change when I realized I didn’t need the board. I had all the plot points in my head; what I really needed to do was trust my subconscious. As long as I had a handle on how the book would end, my mind would get me there.

So does that make you a plotter or a pantser?

Having tried both methods, I currently fall somewhere in between. With earlier books, I was a full-on pantser. I just hammered out the story without any real sense of where I was going as I wrote. That got me to the finish line but I’d have a lot of extra words. So, when I finished the first draft, I’d have to go back through and clean it up. I’d cut whatever wasn’t necessary to the final story. I likened it to trimming away the fat on a good piece of steak. I made that final draft lean. While that worked, it also meant a lot of words ended up on the cutting room floor. That amounted to a lot of wasted time and effort. With more recent books, I’ve developed loose outlines. At the very least, I have a beginning, middle, and end, before I start the writing process. This has taught me a valuable lesson—when I was “pantsing” a novel, making it up as I wrote, I spent a lot of brainpower thinking about what comes next. If I’m drafting a book with a pre-written outline, I’m no longer thinking about what comes next. I spend that same brainpower determining how to make what comes next better. Ultimately, the drafts are cleaner and the writing is faster.

So you’ve got a book coming out in May. An erotic thriller. What took you there?

It started with a company called Bathfitters. My wife and I were eating dinner, discussing a property she’d recently purchased for her real estate business. Several of the bathrooms were in need of a renovation, so I suggested Bathfitters. We’ve all seen the commercials, right? They give your bathroom a facelift in one day. That night, both of us started seeing ads for Bathfitters on our phones and computers. Keep in mind, we didn’t type “Bathfitters” into a device or visit their website; we simply said the name of the company in conversation. We were both incredibly creeped out. With a little research, I learned our phones are listening to us. We gave them permission to do it when we casually accepted the Terms of Service. I knew I had the basis for a story. I combined that with two characters I’d recently created—Abby and Brendan Hollander—a couple hoping to breathe life back into their marriage after an infidelity. They visit a counselor who introduces them to an app called Sugar & Spice, a form of Truth or Dare for adults. The app assigns them a series of tasks that become increasingly taboo, slowly drawing them into a web of seduction and violence. Ultimately it asks them a simple question—Would you kill a total stranger to save someone you love? That’s followed by a map with a pin. They quickly learn what happens if you say no and realize there’s no going back. If they want to survive, they have to learn to trust each other. Depend on each other. And ultimately, find the love that initially brought them together.

I knew I’d be exploring themes like marital indiscretion and infidelity, but when it came to sex, I had a decision to make. In the writing world, it’s known as the “closed door.” Would sex take place behind a “closed door” and only be implied to the reader or would they be present, a literary voyeur? I opted for the latter. It’s not the first book to go there. 50 SHADES did it famously. FOURTH WING, by Rebecca Yarros is another. Colleen Hoover, Sarah J. Maas, they regularly perform that artful balance.

Speaking of the new book, let’s talk about the TikTok controversy. What happened?

Let me ask you a question. Have you ever sent a text to the wrong person?

In the most unfortunate ways possible. Yes.

Well, that’s all that really happened here. A message meant for one group accidentally went out to the wrong mailing list.

But how does something like that happen?

I’ll start with how that email came to exist in the first place. How it came into being. Because I’ve gotten questions on that too. For that, you’ve got to look at the book. It’s an erotic thriller. It was optioned for film before we even started selling the publication rights. The folks in Hollywood felt this could be the first inroad for a new generation of films like Basic Instinct and Fatal Attraction. The movie will most likely get an R rating due to the combination of sex and violence. When you’re preparing to sell a product like that—and that’s what a book is, a product—all of those things are taken into consideration. They begin to take shape and drive the direction of marketing efforts. Dark. Sexy. Noir. Exciting. We spoke to a dozen different PR and marketing companies and virtually every campaign pitched leaned heavily into the erotic part of this erotic thriller. I couldn’t tell you how many times I heard the phrase “sex sells” over the past eight months. It came up in every meeting. Another phrase kept coming up too—BookTok, BookTok, BookTok—how do we get in front of BookTok? I was told there is a specific segment of BookTok that focuses on “spicy content” and if we wanted to create buzz around this particular book, we needed to approach that group. From there, the question became, “How?” I received a crash course. Turns out there are a number of companies out there that will pair advertisers with social media influencers. A quick Google search will turn them up. They work in one of two ways. With the first, you create a pitch with suggested content and influencers apply. The pay scale is negotiable, but largely predetermined based on the size of their audience. If you decide to work with a particular influencer, they create a video and it’s submitted to you for approval. Once approved, payment is triggered, and the video goes live on the various platforms. The entire process is managed within the platform (Examples: Later.com, Izea.com). With the second type of influencer company, they provide a database of influencers and help you find content creators that fit with your proposed campaign, then they give you contact information for those individuals, and you have to contact them on your own—outside the platform (Example: Insightiq.ai). The process is similar, though. You create a pitch, there is a pay scale, videos are submitted for approval, and payment is released if the video is approved. You’re basically buying a commercial. We knew we wanted racy ads. We wanted to push the envelope. Sexy. Dark. Tantalizing. Through these companies, we created an email list of influencers who regularly create spicy content to sell products. Everything from perfume and clothing to adult products. From there, we copied an email template within our email marketing platform and customized a message specific to that group. The email included information on the book, a pay scale, and a few suggested video ideas crafted by professionals with a track record of creating viral content. All of it was in keeping with industry best practices. This was September 2023; we finalized and scheduled the email to go out in late January 2024 along with numerous other marketing messages. Unfortunately, we neglected to complete one very important step. When we copied the email template, we never changed the recipient audience. The campaign was supposed to go to people who regularly create spicy content. Instead, it went to the default mailing list at BestofBookTok. A list of book reviewers.


Yeah. I woke up to that email in my inbox like everyone else, but I had no idea it had gone to the wrong group. The next day, TikTok videos started popping up from recipients. My phone started to ring—colleagues and partners and friends telling me they’re seeing this thing get mentioned everywhere. They’re saying I need to act and I need to act now, and everyone had a different opinion and the whole thing felt like one of my books. A ticking clock. An explosion. People stampeding and screaming in the streets. In my head, I could see a text box over the screen—36 hours, 56 Minutes After the Email. 38 Hours, 13 Minutes After the Email… at this point I’m still not sure what happened or how.

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So that’s when the apology went out?

Yeah, I had to move fast, say something. Immediately. You can’t just back away slowly or take time to untangle things when a bomb goes off on your desk.

But there were two, right? Two apologies?

Right. I sent the first one out as fast as I could. It was a knee-jerk reaction. I had to make my best guess as to what the hell even happened, I just needed to say something. Like “Hey, I see something terrible has happened, I am aware, I am sorry, whatever happened, however I might have offended you, I’m sorry.” I hit send. But that just made it worse.

Worse how?

My wording sucked and it got misinterpreted. I was scrambling and didn’t think it through. I said the message went out from one of the PR firms I had hired to promote the book. People who saw that first apology thought I was trying to hide from the fact that I own BestofBookTok. That wasn’t the case. I figured most people wouldn’t know what BestofBookTok was, so I just went with a generic description. I get how it could have appeared that way, but it wasn’t intentional; it was just lousy phrasing. In my head, I was also thinking about the firms we worked with when we crafted the message. I tried to work that into the apology but in retrospect it all came out as a jumbled mess. All of this happened so quickly. Maybe thirty minutes from jump. I was in panic mode. It felt like I had to act now, now, now. At this point, I still didn’t know the message went out to the wrong list. We figured that out right after I sent the first apology.


I saw the send confirmation from my email marketing company. The recipient count was off. It was too high. Then I dug in deeper and realized the error. It went to the wrong recipient list. I tried to recall the message but there was no way to do that. Once you hit send, you can’t unring the bell. The videos on TikTok multiplied and I started getting calls and emails from national press. They were running with the story and gave me an hour to either agree to an interview or to put out a statement.

You went with a second statement.

I did and looking back on it, that was a mistake. My head was spinning. Everyone was telling me what I needed to do and none of that advice was consistent. I should have taken a step back and tried to breathe. Think. But I didn’t. Instead, I quickly wrote what I thought summarized everything and posted it on X (Twitter). What happened was horrible, but it was an honest mistake. I did my best to get the truth out there, but all it did was fuel the fire.

Okay, so both statements go out, then what?

Then I did nothing. It became very clear anything I said would just make things worse. I think I might have been in shock. I completely shut down. It all felt like some horrible nightmare. I couldn’t eat or sleep. I’m married to an incredible woman. Thank God for her. I don’t know that I would have gotten through those initial days without her love and support. Friends and colleagues, too. People who know me know I’m not the guy they painted me to be. Hearing from them went a long way.

You mentioned earlier you’re on the autism spectrum. Do you think that somehow influenced what happened and how you processed it?

Not necessarily in what happened but the aftermath for sure. When you put a problem in front of someone like me, I am hardwired to fix it. That’s what I do. I fix things. No matter how small the problem, I can’t rest until I’ve fixed it. Bulb burned out in the living room? Battery on one of the clocks dead? I cannot sit down and rest until the battery or bulb is replaced. It may be difficult for someone not on the spectrum to understand, but when I’m faced with a problem it’s like there’s a voice screaming about it in the back of my mind. They don’t stop until it’s resolved, they only get louder. When this happened, that voice was shrieking. I wanted to fix it, I kept trying to fix it, but I didn’t know how, and every attempt detonated a dozen new bombs. I wanted to get the truth out there, but I didn’t have an outlet. Going back to social media wasn’t an option. The environment there had become highly combustible. Advisors told me it was best to stay silent so that’s what I did.

Some said you were creepy because you wanted to see the videos in advance. Said this was particularly shady when dealing with this type of content.

I get that. That email, going to the people it went to…I get that. It would be creepy. The people who received the email never should have gotten it. It wasn’t meant for them. That campaign was designed to go to people who professionally create spicy content to promote sponsored products on social media in exchange for compensation. There’s nothing nefarious about that. We were hiring people to create commercials. Ads for the book. When you pay an influencer to create content on your behalf—typically labeled “Sponsored Content” on the platform—approval of the final product is part of the process. Obviously, anything created would need to meet the community guidelines on the various platforms—if it didn’t, we couldn’t use it, so what would be the point? Unfortunately, this was all taken completely out of context and exploded when the incident went viral.

They accused you of targeting young women with that email.

The email went to men and women of all demographics. We couldn’t have targeted if we wanted to; BestofBookTok doesn’t collect that information. We only have email addresses. Again, the people who received that message were never the intended recipients. If the original email had gone to the intended recipients, we wouldn’t be talking right now. Most likely the sponsored content would already appear on TikTok and the other social media platforms. It would simply be one of the many marketing efforts in play to promote this book.

In your second apology, you said the campaign was never approved. The email wasn’t meant to go out without a substantial rewrite. But you just told me it was sent out intentionally, just to the wrong audience.

When we crafted the original campaign, we considered that with some changes, it could be repurposed and offered to anyone who reviews books. We’d delete the suggested videos but leave the pay scale. Maybe offer free books so influencers could conduct giveaways… Many reviewers and influencers on TikTok do not get paid for creating content. They are compensated with product—a free book, bottle of facial serum, outfits. By offering payment in addition to those traditional methods, we hoped to increase the overall amount of material generated. We discussed this idea early on, but it wasn’t pursued. That’s what I was referring to. It still needed work. It was never meant to go to book reviewers without substantial adjustments to the text.

Do you have any intention of moving forward with that?

That’s a tough question. Maybe if we can make it scale. Social media marketing is exploding right now. We are seeing an unprecedented shift of marketing funds away from SEO and search. Those funds are now being directed at paid social media influencers. When you’re selling a product, any product, you can’t ignore that. Creators have earned a spot at the table. Right now, I’m leaving the marketing decisions to the professionals on my team. I’m just trying to get my head back into “making the words,” as my daughter likes to call my writing.

So she understands what you do?

As much as a six-year-old can. She has an abstract idea that I write stories to make coins. Lately, she’s been bringing home her own stories in her book bag. She staples together construction paper, writes out the plot, sometimes phonetically, and then adds illustrations. For my birthday she wrote me a scary book called THE MONSTERS ARE OUT! Best damn book I’ve ever read.

If we’re talking superlatives, that might be the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.

Yeah, I’m pretty lucky that I get to be her dad.

On the subject of your making the words, I’ve heard you say often that you write literary popcorn. What does that mean?

When you read one of my books, you’re never going to find some deep-seated message or moral code. You’re not going to get to page 237 and discover the meaning of life glaring at you from the text. My sole purpose is to entertain. Distract. A good book can also be addictive. You turn the page and can’t help but read on to the next. You find yourself sneaking moments to get in just one more chapter. Much like popcorn, a good book can be hard to put down and when you eventually finish, you just want more. That’s what literary popcorn means to me. That’s what I strive for.

Popcorn to me means you believe your writing is light, fun. I would agree there. But I have to respectfully challenge the implication that your “literary popcorn” is without intellectual nutrition. I find myself having to lock in and focus to keep up with the high intellect of your plots. Fun, yes? Depthless? Not even close.

I suppose the occasional lesson might sneak in there but it’s not intentional. With Behind A Closed Door, many readers will close the cover and second guess all the smart appliances around their homes. They’ll think about the Terms of Service they blindly agree to on a daily basis. They’ll wonder just who they’ve inadvertently let into their lives and what can be done to lock them back out. None of those things were at the forefront when I wrote the book; my only concern was with Abby and Brendan. They started the book in a bad place, and I wanted to see them end it in a better one. I like to think they did. If you were to ask Abby Hollander about her experience, what she learned, she might smile and tell you, “When you want to give up, don’t. When you think you can’t, try. And when you believe you’re alone, you’re not. As you read this interview, someone is tracking your progress. They know when you started and how long it took you to get to the end. They know what parts grabbed you and what sections were skimmed. That data will be bought and sold a thousand times before you’re able to click away. Rest assured, though, it’s for your own good. The people in control would never use that information against you. Promise.” She’d follow that with a wink before returning to the paperback in her hand. Abby Hollander doesn’t do electronic books. Not anymore. She’s learned life is better unplugged.

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