Tuesday, July 26, 2005

On Writing: Creative Book Promotion

In the book world, publicity is an ongoing (and often losing) battle for writers. More and more books are being published each year without increased funding for publicity. Which means under-staffed houses often publish more book than their publicist can even read, let alone publicize. So many writers are left to fend for themselves, or watch their books tank and vanish. A sorry fate for a book you spent years writing.

So, when I hear of writers thinking up brilliant publicity schemes for their books, I never know whether to cheer (because they pulled it off) or mourn (because I wish they didn't have to). Like the writer Corey Doctorow, who's come up with a seriously ingenious way to publicize his book. The idea sounds a little backward at first: As soon as his book hit stores, Doctorow released a free electronic version, which anyone can download on his website. He also released some of his copyright to allow people to alter or develop new products from his book. To most writers (and publishing houses) this might sound like a recipe for disastrous sales. But it's done quite the opposite: It resulted in things like video games based on Doctorow's book, and an online event where an animated Doctorow (above) did a virtual book signing in a world created entirely by one of his readers ... the end result: An impressive amount of publicity for the print version. (Thanks to Clive for that one)

Then there's John Wray, a Brooklyn-based author, who decided to scrap the idea of a traditional tour. Instead of flying from one town to the next giving readings, he decided to boat down the Mississippi for his tour on a homemade raft. And though his creative publicity scheme wasn't as successful as Doctorow's, it did land a big feature story about his book in the New York Times, which ain't too shabby:

The first night out was fitful, scary even. After putting in at Helena, Ark., the homemade raft got caught up in the wash of the massive towboats that surrounded it on the Mississippi. The craft bounced along in the inky black, and then searing beams of light from the towboats began to strafe it, the captains wanting to see what manner of contraption was before them. The ragtag crew slept in terrified shifts, dodging the tugs and avoiding a ledge formed by a dike that threatened to pitch them into the mud, water and mayhem.

John Wray, 33, a Brooklyn author who dreamed up the idea of conducting a reading tour by raft to draw attention to his new novel, "Canaan's Tongue" (Alfred A. Knopf), wondered if the adventure - a play for press and the fulfillment of a childhood fantasy - might turn as gothic as the book it was meant to promote. The novel is a fictional rendering of John Murel, a real-life horse thief and itinerant preacher who came up with a scheme to lure slaves into an escape and then promptly resell them. It is lavishly annotated with blood and violence, much of which is set on the river between Louisiana and Mississippi, where Mr. Wray floated along last Tuesday and Wednesday with a reporter and photographer jammed on board the tiny raft, bringing the total crew to five. The raft set out on June 21. Mr. Wray sold his skeptical publisher on the idea once liabilities were discussed, and Knopf financed the $5,200 in costs. Other than an inland trip to a bookstore in Oxford, Miss., that was spectacular, the readings so far - four in all, strung out along the route - have been a bust. People did not show up in the fetid summer heat, or the local bookstore demurred, or things just did not work out ... see full article for the rest.

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Anonymous Gabrielle Faust said...

Wow! Now, that's dedication to one's novel for sure! :)

5:09 PM  
Anonymous Sal Marino said...

I just self-published a book . called, Guy Talk, Girl Talk by Sal Marino. It's an amusingly filthy sex humor book. Maybe I should do a similar raft promotion, only I'll do mine with scantily clad women on the raft. No, that won't work...I'll never get to do any promoting and by the time I get off the raft I'll be exhausted. Drat!

6:08 PM  

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