Last week, the online literary scene exploded with the incredibly ironic news that author Ray Dolin was shot by a stranger while hitchhiking in Montana. He was busy working on his new book, Kindness in America. You can’t make this stuff up. Well, actually, you can, and that’s exactly what Ray Dolin did. The insane audacious author apparently shot himself in order to create publicity for his upcoming book.
Brazen self-endorsement is not new to the literary world. In 1855, Walt Whitman wrote his own rave reviews and published them anonymously in newspapers, writing, “An American bard at last!” Today, this sort of marketing is often considered not only commonplace, but necessary.
Although I wouldn’t recommend self-inflicted bullet wounds, literary stunts are becoming increasingly popular, effective, and hilarious.
In 2010, author Jennifer Belle aimed to kick start the sales of her book The Seven Year Bitch by paying actresses $8/hr to read her book and laugh out loud while at popular New York spots and on the subway.
Perhaps the funniest but least successful stunt also occurred in 2010, when an author chucked his paperback at President Obama. Obviously initially perceived as an act of aggression against the president, the author eventually convinced the Secret Service that he was a supporter of Obama and just wanted to give him a copy of his book. Sadly, nobody seems to remember the guy or what his book was called.
It’s not just authors, however, who are desperate for creative promotion; it’s also their publishers. The German-based company, Eichborn, tied tiny banners to living flies at the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair and released them in the room. Both scientifically impressive and notably original (the fly is Eichborn’s logo), this stunt certainly caught the attention of book buyers.
Who knows what’s next in the dangerously competitive world of book marketing? Creativity and even bravery are admirable and effective qualities for book promotion, but as Ray Dolin teaches us, too much craziness and not enough strategy can backfire. Literally.
—Lucy Goss is an intern for Electric Literature. She majors in English at Cornell University. You can follow her here.