Just in case you may have missed it, I have a new book out, called Finger’s Breadth. As the book is a “sexy gay science fiction thriller” about queer men losing bits of their digits – though, of course, there’s a lot more to the novel than that.
Naturally, this has caused a bit of a fuss – which got me to thinking, and this thinking got me here: to a brand new Streetwalker about publicity … and pushing the envelope.
The world of writing has completely, totally, changed – and what’s worse it seems to keep changing, day-by-day if not hour-by-hour. It seems like just this morning that publishing a book was the hard part of the writing life, with publicity being a necessary but secondary evil. But not any more: ebooks and the fall of the empire of publishing have flipped the apple cart over: it’s now publishing is easy and publicity is the hard part … the very hard part.
What’s made it even worse is that everyone has a solution: you should be on Facebook, you should be on Twitter, you should be on Goodreads, you should be on Red Room, you should be on Google+, you should be doing blog tours, you should be … well, you get the point. The problem with a lot of these so-called solutions is that they are far too often like financial advice … and the old joke about financial advice is still true: the only successful people are the ones telling you how to be successful.
That’s not to say that you should put your fingers in your ears and hum real loudly: while you shouldn’t try everything in regards to marketing doing absolutely nothing is a lot worse.
But, anyway, back to me. One thing that’s popped up a lot lately has been people telling me that I’ve crossed a tasteful line in my little publicity stunts – that somehow what I’ve been doing does a disservice to me and my work.
Yeah, that smarts. But hearing that I also have a rather evil little grin on my face: for what I’ve done is nothing compared to what other writers have done.
Courtesy of Tony Perrottet of The New York Times (“How Writers Build the Brand“), comes more than a few tales of authors who have done whatever they could – and frequently more than that – to get the word out about their product. Case in point are these gems: ” In 1887, Guy de Maupassant sent up a hot-air balloon over the Seine with the name of his latest short story, ‘Le Horla,’ painted on its side. In 1884, Maurice Barrès hired men to wear sandwich boards promoting his literary review, Les Taches d’Encre. In 1932, Colette created her own line of cosmetics sold through a Paris store.”
Ever hear of a fellow by the name of Hemingway? Well, Ernest was no stranger to GETTING THE WORD OUT. A master of branding, he worked long and hard not just to get noticed but become the character that everyone thought he was – to the point where we have to wonder where the fictional Ernest began and the real Hemingway ended.
Then there’s the tale of Grimod de la Reynière (1758-1837), who turned the established idea of “wine and dine to success” by staging a dinner in celebration of his Reflections on Pleasure – though the guests were locked in until the next morning and, while they ate, Grimod lavished the assembled with anything less that praise. Outrage ensued – to put it mildly – but his book became a bestseller.
One of my personal favorites, though, is Georges Simenon – and not just because he lived in a rather exotic arrangement with his wife and claimed to have made love to over 10,000 women – but because he’d planned a stunt to write a novel in 72 hours while in a hanging glass cage in the Moulin Rouge – with the audience encouraged to choose the book’s characters, title, and more. While Georges sadly didn’t carry out his plan that hasn’t stopped other writers from trying their hands on the similar: Harlan Ellison, for instance, used to write in the front window of the now-defunct Change of Hobbit Bookstore in Los Angeles.
So should you lock yourself in a glass cage? Lock in a party of critics? Hire a hot air balloon? Stick flyers on windshields? Claim that another writer has stolen your identity?
Well, it’s up to you, but keep in mind what another author has said – also known for his publicity: “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
Oscar Wilde may not have lived in the age of the Internet but he, like Hemingway, Grimod, Poe, Simenon, Maupassant, and so many writers before or since, understood that it’s important to stand out from the crowd.
Certainly it’s risky, absolutely it can backfire, but at the same time there is a very long tradition in authors having a total and complete blast in getting the word out there about their work.
Before I wrap this up, I want to say one final thing about near-outrageousness and publicity. While I can’t speak for Hemingway, Grimod, and all the rest, I can speak for myself: money would be nice, fame would be pleasant, but why I’ve taken these risks and accepted the occasional backfires is because I’ve had a blast writing these books and so I’ll do whatever it takes to get them out into the world — and read.
To quote Groucho Marx: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”