5 Book Marketing Stunts That Backfired Spectacularly

It's tough out there for authors. Between 600,000 and a million books are published or self-published in America every year, and most of those sell fewer than 250 copies. For every breakout success like A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay or Taken by the Lightning Bolt, there's a thousand books whose sales slide slowly and painfully into a ditch like that time you decided to go rollerblading in an ice storm.

Which is why some writers get desperate in their quest to tear the reading public's fickle attention away from whatever butt picture they're currently looking at. Butts are pretty damn distracting, though, so it's not unheard of for authors to turn to some intensely crazy stuff. Like ...

#5. Shooting Yourself

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A man from West Virginia, Ray Dolin, had a dream. He was going to hitchhike all the way across America and use his experiences as the basis for a book, The Kindness of America. Unfortunately, Dolin's dream was soon shattered, and not just because he ran into a bunch of mean people in L.A. Nope, it was something even worse: while Dolin was waiting for a ride outside of Glasgow, Montana, a stranger in a pickup truck pulled over, shot him in the arm, and then sped away. Police soon arrested a man from Washington state for the shooting, and it looked like the plot of Dolin's book was going to get a whole lot more interesting.

Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"While recuperating in the hospital, I met a nurse who turned out to be a whistleblower
for the CIA and a direct descendant of the Romanovs."

The incident made national news, with Internet comment sections beating their chests about America's failing moral values (conservatives) or degenerate redneck gun culture (liberals). Unfortunately for the human desire to seize on news articles that prove what we already believe anyway, the truth soon came out: the Montana drive-by shooting never happened. Dolin admitted that he'd shot himself in the arm, either to drum up publicity for that upcoming book of his or because he was stuck on page 200 and couldn't think of an interesting plot twist (hell, it worked in Fight Club).

20th Century Fox
"I couldn't do it in the face since I still had to take author photos."

The Awful Consequences

Montana law enforcement wasn't impressed with Dolin wasting their time and money for the purposes of book publicity, particularly since he stuck to his story even after an innocent man was arrested and jailed for the crime. He was given a suspended sentence and ordered to pay fines and restitution. Tragically, Dolin couldn't get to the courthouse to pay because a missile silo fell on him, and he's writing about the event in his new book, Missile Silos Falling on Me in America.

Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images
"The book reveals a lot about this country's degenerate falling-missile-silo culture. Four stars."

#4. Trapping Yourself in a Glass Cage

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Belgian mystery novelist Georges Simenon, who died in 1989, was a pro at that whole writing thing: the guy could apparently pump out a novel in 11 days. Christ, it took me longer than that to decide whether to call my action-thriller protagonist Buck "Hardboiled" McGruntman or Lance Fist. But Simenon wasn't happy with what his writing superpowers had already allowed him to achieve: he wanted more. So, in 1927 Simenon announced that he was going to write a novel in 24 hours. Sitting in a glass cage. In public. Furthermore, people watching would be able to decide the book's characters and plot elements, presumably by banging on the glass and yelling things like "BAD GUY SHOULD BE MORE ITALIAN," "SCENE NEEDS MORE PONIES," and "ARE THERE GOING TO BE BUTT PICTURES?"

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By other accounts, Simenon had 72 hours to write the book. But the stunt definitely involved a glass cage, and hopefully he got all the kinks worked out with the ventilation system, because as much as some people don't like pretentious writers, no one really wants to watch them slowly asphyxiate in public.

gmevi/iStock/Getty Images
"Well, there goes John Grisham. How many times have I told you kids
to make sure you leave air holes?"

The Awful Consequences

The 24-hour novel stunt went awry when a terrorist broke into the cage and Simenon had to interrogate and finally kill him while exploring the moral boundaries of our post-9/11 Western society. Well, OK, no -- the whole thing died with more of a quiet, whimpering fart than with a bang: the newspaper that planned to finance it went bankrupt. This was unfortunate for Simenon, but it was probably a good thing in the long run. I mean, think about what the world would be like if the "writers in glass cages" craze had taken off. I'm sure we'd get the next George R.R. Martin novel quicker, but it would probably involve a lot of human rights violations. Hey, that gives me an idea for a dystopian thriller novel.

Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images
Novelists the world over are dying like trapped Sims after failing to meet their deadlines,
and the only man who can stop it is Lance Fist.

#3. Rigging Your Way Onto Bestseller Lists With Cold, Hard Cash

Melpomenem/iStock/Getty Images

In 2013, the Wall Street Journal noticed that several business-themed books had shot to the top of the paper's bestseller lists, only to drop off quickly. Really quickly. In some cases, sales dropped so dramatically that less than a week after hitting the top of the bestseller list, more copies of these books were being returned to stores than were being sold. What was happening? Did the pages smell? Did it turn out that everything after page 63 was just scrawled racial slurs and bad pie recipes? Nope, the truth was far more sinister.

Alexandra Grablewski/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Those pie recipes had raisins in them. RAISINS.

The authors of these quick-selling books had hired a marketing firm called ResultSource that had propelled them to the top of bestseller lists. They did this by buying up massive amounts of books, sending them out to dozens of addresses across America, and using hundreds of different payment methods to evade the statistical precautions that bestseller lists have in place to prevent shit like this. All authors had to do was hand over a hefty fee: getting onto the New York Times bestseller list with ResultSource would cost you about $200,000. Personally, I'd rather just keep the $200,000 and buy a robot butler that pretends to like my writing, but I guess my heart's not really in the bestseller business.

The Awful Consequences

Not long after the news came out, Seattle mega-church leader Mark Driscoll and Grace, his wife, were forced to apologize after it came out that they'd paid the company hundreds of thousands of dollars to make their book, Real Marriage, a New York Times bestseller. Since then, ResultSource seems to have disappeared to that big bulk-buying warehouse in the sky, so I guess rich wannabe authors have to content themselves with robot butlers.

Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images
"Dead the WHOLE time? Marvelous, sir. Did not see that coming at all, sir."

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