Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Once more unto the Fray
writers are increasingly turning to unconventional ways to market their work.
There is the horror story printed on toilet paper, the novel composed of 2,000 tattoos etched on volunteers' skin, the unbound book in a box that can be shuffled and read in any order, and of course the numerous collaborative Wikinovels.
Now the bad boy of American letters, James Frey, has jumped on the bandwagon with the announcement that his next book will be published by an art gallery. Just 10,000 copies will be printed on paper, with an additional collectors' edition of 1,000 signed volumes.
Frey's original manuscript will be printed on canvas and displayed by the publisher, the Gagosian gallery in New York, alongside new artworks by several top American artists to illustrate it. They include Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, Richard Phillips and Terry Richardson.
For those not able to afford the $150 (£93) price tag for the collectors' edition, Frey is also self-publishing his work directly as an ebook through Kindles, iPads, Nooks and eReaders. The bad news for the folks at Harper Collins, Random House and other big imprints is that, amid these new-fangled outlets, there isn't a publishing house in sight.
Frey said that his decision to bypass conventional book houses was partly in response to what he called the "greatest revolution in publishing since the invention of the printing press. Everything about how we make and consumebooks is changing very dramatically".
Frey is keeping very much in form. Since his first book, A Million Little Pieces, came out in 2003, the author has rarely been out of the headlines, with controversy following him - or being whipped up by him — like a faithful dog.
A Million Little Pieces was famously denounced by Oprah Winfrey after it was revealed that important parts of the memoir were fabricated.
More recently, he has been accused of running his latest writing venture as a Dickensian sweatshop.
The paper editions will come bound in either white or black leather with the cover typography resembling that of the Bible – which is no coincidence, as the title of the novel is The Final Testament of the Holy Bible.
It tells the story of Ben Zion Avrohom, aka Ben Jones, aka the Messiah, aka the Lord God. Yes, Frey, a master at the dark arts of stirring up literary controversy, has decided to make the central character Jesus in his second coming, with the book devised as the third volume of the Bible.
It is not the second coming as devout Christians would have envisaged it.
This one happens in the Bronx, where Ben Jones, a drunkard, lives in an apartment smoking dope and having sex with prostitutes and men.
One of the hardest tasks for the modern literary writer is getting their work heard over the cacophony of the internet. Frey appears to have found a canny solutionto that conundrum, by picking a subject matter that can be guaranteed to goad the Christian right into providing helpful angry publicity.
That's the other reason, he says, he has decided to go it alone: "This way I can take full control of what I do, both artistically and commercial. I've written controversial books in the past and publishers have [given] me no protection at all — they just threw me under the bus.
"If controversy does arise, it'll be much easier for me to deal with as a self-publisherbecause I haven't got any shareholders to be beholden to. I'll just ignore it." Frey is certainly doing everything he can to provoke a reaction. He has chosen Good Friday for the publication date.