Few things are as thrilling for an author as seeing a stack of her very own books on a store shelf. If that shelf happens to be at floor level, however, she'll worry that the store's customers will never see her books--and she'll be tempted to scoop them up and relocate them to a spot where they will be more visible to casual browsers.
I understand the impulse. I've felt it myself. But acting on it is wrong.
My friends occasionally report having spotted my books in stores and moved them to better locations. Thinking they've done me a favor, they cheerfully announce that they put all of my books on eye-level shelves. Naturally, they first had to remove the books occupying those prime spots and stick them somewhere else. Although in one instance, a friend who seemed very pleased with herself told me that she had placed several of my books in front of books with "sleazy" covers.
I see two ethical problems with book-moving by authors and their friends: First, retailers own both the books and the display spaces. They shelve books where they think best (and often, where publishers have suggested or even contractually required). What right has anyone else to move them? Yes, it's possible that the retailers won't mind, but it's shockingly arrogant to assume that they won't--and nobody ever asks. The retailers might want or need to have the books shelved in a particular way, which means somebody will have to rearrange the books after the self-deputized helpers leave.
I mentioned two ethical problems, so here's the second: Placing a book in front of another or swapping books on a shelf is unfair to the authors and publishers of the displaced books. For every book that is "promoted" by these tactics, another book is shoved into obscurity. Anyone who tries to live by the Golden Rule must see the injustice of that. Yet it is authors who do most of the book-moving. I can't tell you how often this subject comes up when my writer friends get together at conferences or online. "I found six of your books at WalMart and moved them to the top shelf," one writer will tell another, and she will be warmly thanked for her consideration.
I have never heard any romance author deplore the practice. Everyone appears to view it as a legitimate form of book marketing. I am sorry to say that even my Christian author friends don't seem to have a problem with it. Everyone does it.
But as my mother used to say, that doesn't make it right.
I'd love to see some dialogue on this subject from the community of romance authors, but I'm not holding my breath. If anyone is aware of an article or a blog post on the ethics of interfering with the placement of books in stores, please drop a link in the Comments. And if anyone cares to copy this post to a writers' e-mail loop to spark some discussion, please go right ahead.