Last year, almost to the day, I bolted out of my apartment in Vancouver's West End when I saw Wayne Gretzky on my TV leaving the stadium with the Olympic torch. I approximated his whereabouts, based on familiar landmarks he was passing, and sprinted towards Coal Harbour. Halfway there and completely winded, I heard the first of the fireworks explode and then I caught a glimpse of the red and green flashes reflected off the skyscrapers near the water. I was too late; something amazing had happened without me.
Fast-forward to last week when a press release came through my inbox reporting that Olympic CEO John Furlong had arranged for a flash-mob of people wearing those sky-blue Olympic volunteer jackets to take over the Skytrain for two hours, to promote his new book Patriot Hearts. Not wanting a repeat of last year, I headed down to the train station early to get a good spot from which to observe the media stunt. At the station I waited for three quarters of an hour during which a man asked me for change twice, but no blue-jacket posse arrived. It had been another upset of Furlongian proportion.
When I got home and realized that I had been a day early, I was embarrassed, and then angry (the press release mentioned Wednesday three times, once in bold, and Thursday only one time in tiny letters near the bottom), and then back to embarrassed because I had let myself get wrapped up in the hype, again. And yet, here I am talking about Furlong's book anyways, even though I missed the hoopla, which means that the stunt worked: a victory for the new age of literary launches.
The book launch as we know it has changed. Trendy café and little sandwiches has been replaced by viral video and/or flash mob that (*fingers crossed*) will become a viral video. Why? Because you can reach way more people on the internet than you can on the bulletin board at the library. But this media shift doesn’t come without it’s skeptics.
Last November, The Globe and Mail published an article that told Canadian authors to "stop tweeting, start writing", which railed against self-promotion through online platforms in this “dark age for publishing” as if blogging and tweeting was going to ruin the literary tradition as we know it. The Globe begged authors to hold on to what fleeting ‘dignity’ the literary world still had, like clutching ahold of a streetlamp as wave after wave of new media washed through the streets and eradicated the typewriter shops and cigarette-vending machines of yesteryear.
Stuart Ross seemd to be down with the ‘final stand’ when he poked fun at the modern book ‘trailer’ by creating a mock video for the launch of his book Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. But what started as a wry joke, turned into a lot of attention for Stuart, and ultimately created a Marshall McLuhan-sized black hole of awesomeness. So what did Stuart do? He made another, because it worked so well the first time.
The world (and readers) have changed, and no matter how much some of us might hate the way things have gone in these "dark ages", authors should be uniting together around the same cause of keeping books relevant and not telling each other to stay away from new media. Telling authors to stop dreaming up fun new ways to promote their books is only going to hold the literary tradition back. I'm not saying every author needs to organize a flash mob, but if it gets people intersted in buying books again, anything goes. Authors by nature, have a wealth of creativity at their disposal. Why should a story stop once a book is finished?