Pub Rants

No Such Thing As Bad Publicity?

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STATUS: I spent the day on the phone. Literally. Like four hours straight. I thought I would lose my voice at the end there.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TURNING JAPANESE by The Vapors

Authors that spark controversy get noticed. Just recently one of my YA authors asked me how she could have her novel banned. Banned books get noticed and she’d love to be on a banned books list.

I must have looked a little flummoxed by the question because I never thought of it that way before but she’s right. Banned books get attention.

I said she just needed to use the word “scrotum” in her work.

And no, I’m not going to explain the joke because I know many of my commenters can help you out with that. But here’s the truth. Authors don’t set out to write a book that’s going to be banned. They start by writing a book that embraces an honest or essential truth (which can then offend a segment of the population). As you can probably tell, I’m not one for banning books.

But I like the idea of authors garnering attention for their books. Have you ever heard of the phrase, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity?”

For example, right now there’s a controversy unfolding regarding my author Marianne Mancusi and her promotional partner Liz Maverick and the costumes they chose to wear at their RWA signings. They basically dressed like the futuristic characters in their books forDorchester’s new Shomi line (MOONGAZER and WIRED).

I personally think they could give Alicia Silverstone in the movie CLUELESS a run for her money. Cute is the word that comes to mind for me. Here’s a pic if you want to see for yourself.

But boy, aren’t they just the talk of the town. Check out the discussion going on at Smart Bitches. And if you are of the mind that being in the limelight keeps your books in the forefront of readers’ minds, then this isn’t a bad thing at all.

I guess the real question is whether publicity (controversial or not) translates into sales.

42 Responses

  1. Kimber An said:

    Well, I think those are fun costumes! From what I’ve seen, there’s just no substitute for getting to know your readership (and potential readership) and, then, giving them what they want. Teenagers, especially, are highly intuitive. They know when something’s a crock.

  2. common tater said:

    So there are authors who want to control what other authors wear? That’s just…I can’t wrap my head around that one.

  3. Katie Alender said:

    There was a recent article in Writers Digest by the author of “Pop”, a YA book that was actually declined by a major chain or two. Apparently that kind of word of mouth isn’t always great for sales.

  4. Vicki said:

    I loved their outfits. In fact when I saw them walking through the lobby I pointed them out to my cp and told her who they were and what their writing.

    No, I haven’t read their books yet but I’ve got them in my TBR pile (pile is beginning to be a great word for it).

    I saw the pictures you had on your site several weeks ago and they stuck.

    I’m not sure that I get it when others make a big deal out of someone promoting themselves. I thought it was a great idea.

    If people didn’t like their outfits I wonder what was said about SherrilynKenyon’s??? Loved that one too. 🙂

  5. Yasmine Galenorn said:

    *think I’ll take my multi-tattooed, black-velvet, liquid-eyeliner, brilliant lipstick wearing self and stick to the SF/Fan conventions lest I get reprimanded if I go to RWA*

    ~grins~ Honestly, I see nothing wrong with their costumes–hell, I’d LOVE to wear what one of my main characters does, and if I ever have the figure for it, I will. As it is, with full-sleeve tattoos, when I show up for a signing, I’m already costumed out–and I don’t bother to hide it because I love my art.

    It’s ridiculous. We’re writers–yes, we’re business people too, but nobody expects a painter or rocker to show up in a business suit.

    Sigh. RT is more my speed, methinks…


  6. sybil said:

    I go back and forth with it. The fact is they are pretty, thin and cute. So I think that has something to do with the dish on the whole thing. At least for some authors…

    Someone had posted a ‘gasp look at what the publisher will make us do next’ type of comment and well, hello wake up and know what the hell you are talking about before you post.

    Shomi launched with three books. Wired (which is out now and grand), Moongazer (out in Aug) and Driven (out in Sept). Now the last book is my fave of the three, although I am still reading Moongazer. Eve Kenin did an author photo for it and is somewhat ‘like the character’ (it is on my blog). It is one kick ass photo.

    Now the thing is Eve didn’t dress as the character and I don’t think she was asked to or anyone tried to force her too.

    Sooooooo whatever is clever I say. Regardless of how an author dresses the book will speak. And a cute outfit will not make return sells, good reviews or recs. Sez I. LOL of course what do I know.

  7. Linda Wisdom said:

    I’m with Yasmine. Sometimes you just plain have to have fun with it.

    I’ve been in this business for 29 years. Too many of those years were spent defending my genre. Then I got smart and said screw it. You can’t worry about others. And if the books are selling and the readers like to see an author having fun, go for it. I know I’d be more prone to drift toward an author who’s smart enough to advertise herself along with her book.


  8. takoda said:

    I guess nobody’s mentioned scrotum yet, so I’ll go ahead.
    “The Higher Power of Lucky” is a fantastic book. The main character overhears an AA meeting where a man talks about his lowest point being when a snake bit his dog in the scrotum. Libraries are refusing to buy the book, it’s being banned, etc. For those who are in the world of children’s literature, it was awarded the Newbery Medal this year.

    Have sales gone up because of the controversy? I’m not sure. I would really like to know.

    I had a scene in my MG where cats were having sex. After this controversy, I deleted it. While it was authentic to the story, I’m not published and don’t want to take any chances.

    Great topic. I’ll be reading the responses on this one.

  9. LadyBronco said:

    I am floored.

    Such a fuss over two cute costumes???

    I have already heard some negative things about RWA, and I think this just kinda puts the nail in the coffin, so-to-speak.

    So much for the RWA for me. I wanted to go to an RWA conference in the next couple of years, but I wouldn’t step foot near that bunch now.

  10. Adrienne said:

    I read some of the debate, and while it rages about costumes etc, I really think the core thing is that the two women in question are pretty and cute and using their pretty and cuteness to their advantage.

    I think there can be in some cases a frustration in the literary community about this because there used to be a time when an author wrote a book and that was it, and what he/she looked like didn’t much matter because people didn’t really know or care what they looked like in the first place. Now with so many authors pushed to promote the heck out of their books, it seems like publishing is following the same route as every other media, and you have to look like a model in every field, even the secluded one of writing.

    All this said, I also believe in “If you’ve got it, flaunt it” (anyone seen The Producers? Fab show, fab song!). And it isn’t these women’s fault that they’ve got it. But in the end many people in looking at them may be seeing something symptomatic of a general trend in society, and it gets people more riled up.

    (and yes okay fine, I am sure some people were genuinely against using costumes and meant it, I just see something else happening there as well)

    What do others think? Am I totally off base here?

  11. JulieLeto said:

    ladybronco, don’t judge the whole organization based on a few people’s opinions. That’s not fair to the diverse and wonderful people who make up RWA. Trust me when I say that for everyone in RWA who claims the sky is blue, there is an equal amount who insist it is pink. I hope you get my point. It’s not RWA who is complaining about the costumes…it’s a few people who are members. And while I’ve heard some silly arguments against the costumes, I’ve also heard a few that made me think, “Hmmm…they have a point.” But nothing I feel strongly enough about right now to post here, LOL!

  12. Wendie O said:

    Takoda said:
    “”The Higher Power of Lucky” is a fantastic book. The main character overhears an AA meeting where a man talks about his lowest point being when a snake bit his dog in the scrotum. Libraries are refusing to buy the book, it’s being banned, etc. … it was awarded the Newbery Medal this year”

    uhhh — libraries are not refusing to purchase it. That was a misquote by the New York Times. Trying to create a tempest in a teapot.

    Almost every library in the country always buys at least one copy — and often multiple copies — of the Newbery winner. And keeps them on stock forever and forever. Winning the Newbery is like finding an everflowing pot of gold. And just about as likely to happen to the average writer.

    Awww, do go to RWA when it is next held close to where you live. It’s lots of fun and the lectures are extremely helpful to the midlist writer as well as beginners.

    librarian and writer

  13. catie said:

    I think their costumes are adorable and if I could get away with dressing like that–promoting my novel or not–I be standing right next to them! (Truth be told, I wear stripped socks just like Liz’s every day. I just don’t have hot mama mini-skirt legs like she does).

  14. Heidi the Hick said:

    I’m getting ready to query a YA that has some unflinching scenes in it. I refuse to cut them. It might turn some agents right off but it’s a chance I have to take, because these scenes are integral to the story.

    It has occurred to me that getting banned (from schools anyways) might be good for book sales. I’m not a fan of book banning. But I know that when I was a teenager, we’d do almost anything to get our hands on the tapes and CDs with the little black and white parental advisory stickers.

    As for what an author looks like or dresses like for publicity…this is so subjective. In this day and age I think you have to be creative. I don’t think readers insist on authors being “beautiful” whatever that standard is. We’re not rock stars. We can be quirky, heavy, skinny, tattoed, grey haired, whatevs. Work with what you got, no matter what it is.

  15. LadyBronco said:

    As I said, the reactions to the costumes were the last straw for me.

    There are other things I have been reading lately that give me no confidence in RWA as a whole. This elitist attitude that seems to be pervasive throughout the organization totally turns me off.

    And yes, perception is just as real as truth. As someone who had been debating whether to see about joining or not, my perceptions have destroyed the credibility of that organization, regardless of whether what I have read is the factual truth or not. This is true for any business, BTW. However you perceive a business to be is how it is. For you. It is why you shop certain places, and go to certain restaurants and the like…

    Perception is everything.

  16. Anonymous said:

    If that’s considered a controversial costume then there must be a bunch of jealous old biddies at RWA. If Britney can show her , um, “self” to the world then these girls are truly schoolgirls. By the way, I think it’s a great publicity stunt. If I could get away with it, I would.

  17. Bernita said:

    I simply cannot see what the fuss is about.
    Mini-skirts? Oh please.
    Funky socks? So?
    I cannot see that they crossed any invisible line.

  18. JDuncan said:

    I was at the conference as well, and actually didn’t hear any negative criticism toward Marianne and Liz. They drew attention, they presented at a couple of workshops, and honestly, they’re a couple of smart cookies. This wasn’t a publisher/agent inspired promotion campaign. They got together and dreamed it up on their own, and from what I can tell, it’s getting positive buzz about their books. You can’t argue with that. Of course it’s not for everyone, and readers are smart enough not to buy books because the authors dress like that, but it does provoke a certain image, and then makes you wonder if the writing is indicative of that, and makes one curious. RWA as a whole is one of the most supportive, well run groups of writers in the business, and any writer from any genre could likely benefit from belonging, in my opinion. Marianne and Liz are doing a pretty cool thing, and it certainly takes a particular personality to pull it off, but they have that. Grats to them! Btw, those thigh high, leather boots Liz wore with the buckles running up the side were damn cool.


  19. Marianne Mancusi said:

    Well, according to the old guard, we were unprofessional at a professional event. I mean what if a journalist saw us and took a picture and then everyone thought all romance writers wore thigh highs? (They didn’t, btw.)

    We have, in the last 24 hours, been called prostitutes, pedophile bait, and accused of singlehandedly setting the suffragette movement back 20 years.

    It was fun at first to read everyone’s comments, but at 270 and counting over at SB and other blogs it’s getting kind of hard to deal with. I wish people would just let it go at this point. We did something we thought would be fun and a great icebreaker to introduce people to the Shomi line. We didn’t think it would stir up such a storm.

    The implication that troubles me the most, however, is that because we chose to market ourselves by wearing manga inspired outfits to promote a manga inspired book we must have crap books that no one would want to buy elsewise. Or that we didn’t spend any time writing these books because we were too busy…shopping? I don’t know.

    We worked our asses off to write these books. Liz’s got a starred review in PW and I got an awesome 4 stars from RT. (My PW review is not out yet.) The costumes were part of our author branding…totally different thing.

    And people who believe that good books stand on their own and succeed without publicity should meet some of my extremely talented writer friends who have had their series cut midway through or have been unceremoniously dumped by their publisher even after winning major awards.

    I’m trying to remind myself that people who would declare in blogs that they would NEVER buy a Shomi book now that they’ve seen my thighs at conference are probably not my target audience. And at least now thousands of people who never knew me and my books existed now do.

    Will it lead to sales or book burning? I don’t know. But I do know I had fun at the conference and the costumes helped Liz and I meet a lot of great people we normally wouldn’t have met and so I can’t say, even though controversial, it was a mistake.

    At the same time, I think I’m going to like Comic Con next week much better. 😉


  20. Megan said:

    Uh, usually I’m all about modesty and everything, but those skirts really are not that short. You hardly see any skin at all since they have the knee-highs on. People blow things out of proportion. Gee.

  21. takoda said:

    I just read some of the comments at SmartBitches (first time visit). I liked their outfits, and their attitude of having fun.

    And going back to the scrotum topic–maybe the author of “Higher Power” should come dressed as a scrotum to book signings?

    Okay, I’ll stop here.

  22. JulieLeto said:

    Marianne…wow. I didn’t read all the comments at SB and had no idea they’d gotten so out of line. I wonder…how many of the people posting on the controversy were a) actually there, b) actually members of RWA and c) actually writers. I’m seeing this trend in regards to the “other” RWA controversy…most of the people stirring up the pot aren’t members of the organization, didn’t go to the conference, weren’t at the RITAs and have never read the book in question.

    Anyway, you two looked adorable in the costumes. While I may or may not agree with costumes in general at the RWA event, I think you both looked great and frankly, what you wore didn’t surprise me since you’d done the same at BEA and I’d watched the videos of that event. I plan to buy your books, costumes or not. Will they be in the Manga part of the bookstore or somewhere else, do you know?

  23. WitLiz Today said:

    Look, much ado about nothing. RWA is a fine organization. No need to jump overboard and commit hari kari because the old guard reared their ugly heads. After all, where in the world would we be without the sisterhood of the fuddy duddies? We need them. They provide great conflict on the one hand and massive hilarity on the other.

    I, myself, cannot do without them. For every “you are a poster child for the birth control movement”, I also hear, “damn, I wish I lived in your zany world.”

    I’m resigned to the fact that in in twenty years or so, I will be a card carrying member of the fuddy duddies, so I try to take it easy on these women.

    Also, unless some FY/DY walks up to you, gets in your face, and bluntly tells you that you must be a damn prostitute dressed in that outfit, (in which case you smack the hell out of them, first, then make nice after, when you’re in jail for A & B), then don’t believe what you hear through the grapevine. Grapes on the vine are only good when they produce either wine or juicy fruit.

    I’m constantly amazed at how easily we let malicious gossip control our reactions. Don’t.

  24. Bernita said:

    What is really funny is that the so-called “fuddy-duddies” probably wore mini-skirts when they were in vogue.Was it in the ’60s?
    On the other hand, I do not think one must be a member of RWA or have attended the conference to have an opinion on promotion.

  25. Patrick McNamara said:

    It was the controversy over Harry Potter that made it so big. It it wasn’t for the fuss about it being unsuitable for a classroom, it would have just been another book. The first two came out without much notice, but the controversy and media attention over the third book made Harry Potter the hit it is. (Remember when you first heard of the books?)

  26. Edie said:

    I saw Liz at the FF&P award dinner, and my whole table talked about how great she looked. This is the first I’ve heard of any controversy, but I haven’t blog hopped much this week.

    I think it’s great that they had fun with it. Like Sherrilyn Kenyon’s bird hat. Loved it!

  27. Anonymous said:

    I’ve read the comments here and at Smart Bitches. I can totally understand how the authors who sparked the discussion would feel attacked…but I don’t think they actually *were* attacked. The discussion there, as I perceived it (and, again, I can see how the authors themselves would perceive it more personally), was about something much bigger than this specific act of dress-up. It was a rather rich discussion, with people discussing whether they thought it was a good idea to dress up *at all*, and, if it ever was, where was the line that made dressing up a bad idea? (Most agreed the swan hat was that line, though there were many posters with other ideas.) Many people had positive things to say about these specific outfits. Of those, some still had reservations about whether they liked the idea of costume-wearing at all, *even though they liked these outfits*. Then there were people who didn’t care for these outfits. I didn’t get a vibe of personal attack anywhere. It was a philoshophical discussion.
    There was one poster who tried to understand why she didn’t care for the costumes. She was diplomatic and honest that this was a *personal reaction* not a judgment. For her, that type of clothing is too much the whole sexy schoolgirl thing, and just icks her out. She acknowledged in her original comment and in many others that followed that she didn’t think the authors had any intent to sexualize childlikeness, and that for those familiar with Manga such clothes don’t have those connotations, but admitted that for her they do. She was sharing and exploring her reaction in a fair way.
    It was (and is) an interesting discussion. I’m sorry to see the authors reacting with such hysteria. I’m sure they could pick out a few specific posts to support the “I’ve been brutally maligned!!” stance, but that would be misleading. The discussion, though sparked by them, was less *about* them than they claim. And, those few specific comments already inspired other commenters to stand up for them. So, I’m sad to see how their online reaction is marginalizing the whole discussion into “people are being mean to us!”

  28. Women are Catty said:

    So what’s the problem? That they garnered attention? Good for them. That they looked GREAT in their outfits? Good for them. That they had the “scroti” to pull it off? Good for them. That they are now having their books mentioned all over the Internet? Good for them.

    Are the complainers the same people who bemoan having to promote themselves via today’s technology and perhaps don’t look at fetching in a miniskirt? Waaaaahhhhhh!

  29. Anonymous said:

    Some people live in a box. My teenage daughter loves Mari’s books that she’s read. Recently, she went to an anime film and more than half the audience had dressed up like the characters. Teens LOVE that sort of thing. Brush the dust off and move on.

    Susan F.

  30. Karmela said:

    What Marianne and Liz wore were NOT costumes. They were REGULAR CLOTHES. I own similar clothing and wear it to work with no problems and no raised brows from my HR manager. And she ain’t got no funky bone in her body.

  31. bran fan said:

    I saw them at the BEA in the same outfits and they looked great. But maybe RWA nationals isn’t the place. Maybe the problem isn’t the costumes but the venue? (I’ve never been to nationals so I may be totally wrong here.)

    But it is telling that a friend sent me a photo of Ms. Kenyon’s swan hat with the sub line, “SK has lost her mind.” There’s publicity and then there’s publicity.

    Again, at a fun book signing, like at a SF con or something, it would be completely expected, and she would be one of many. One must consider venue as well as outfit.

  32. Bella Stander said:

    I wouldn’t have known those were “costumes” if Kristin hadn’t mentioned it. They look like normal clothes to me–maybe a bit flashy for some tastes, but nowhere near some of the trashy outfits with plunging cleavage I saw at BEA when it was in LA. And those outfits were on regular folks.

    If a costume helps you promote your book, why not wear it? Especially if you look good in it, as Liz and Marianne do. (We should all wear a miniskirt and thigh-highs so well!)

    Nonfiction writer Eleanor Herman‘s been going in costume for years, to great effect. Novelist Mary Sharratt,inspired by Eleanor, has been doing it for her last novel, THE VANISHING POINT. Audiences eat that stuff up!

  33. Kimber An said:

    Change is harder on some people than others. The fact is, nowadays, authors have to get out there, really know their readership, and promote the heck out of their own books. Congrats to these two for thinking outside the box and having the guts to see it through.

    Negative talk may be difficult to endure, but it only makes you look better in comparison. My opinion is you’ll both come out on top with new readers because of this.

  34. Anonymous said:

    Honestly, I don’t think there would have been ANY discussion of costumes were it not for the “big-ass swan hat.” Marianne and Liz just got caught in the middle of it.

  35. Jane said:

    I was there. I saw the costumes. Took pictures. Enjoyed myself enormously. Am on the side that there was nothing inappropriate. AND I plan on attending the SF RWA conference.

    I had a great time, as a blogger and a fan, attending the conference. I can totally see why writers go – to have a spiritual recharging of their batteries. I saw little negativity there and a whole lot of fun.

    Whereas I view RT as totally scary with its buffet of purchased man titty.

  36. Teddy Pig said:

    Hell yes, I bought their books!

    They got Nora Roberts shaking her finger at them for naughty naughty outfits at the country club ladies jamboree… I mean RWA event.

    That rocks.

  37. Kim Stagliano said:

    I like what they’ve done. Congrats to them!

    I plan to dress as one of my characters every day. An Autism Mom. Bags under eyes, shmutz on the shirt, hair tousled due to lack of attention and a permanently alert look in my eyes. It ain’t much of a reach…..

    (I have three girls with autism.)

  38. Kanani said:

    They look like they’ve gone shopping with my teen at Hot Topic. They look perfectly normal to me.

    Ah, tell the critics to hush!