This is a Building Blocs piece, by Nicholas J. Johnson, on how in the end, the only thing that matters is self-promotion. 

It’s the end of the world.

An unknown catastrophe has decimated the Earth’s population. The few survivors that remain roam the wastelands, their former lives a distant memory as they do whatever it takes to survive the bleak, scarred landscape. As the world has turned insane, so too have its inhabitants.

My eye is missing—god knows what happened to it—replaced with a single studded goggle. My belt is an abandoned jumper cable, picked from the rubbish that strews the landscape. In my pocket, a bottle of urine that I sip from at regular intervals.

But I only have one thing on my mind.

I have a book to promote.

Ok, so it’s not technically the end of the world. It’s an appearance on community television. About Tonight is a late night talk show on Melbourne’s Channel 31. Each week, a new host takes over the set, putting their own spin on the format. On this particular episode, comedian Kate Dehnert is hosting and, in classic Kate style, she’s decided to make the episode apocalypse themed. Outside, the world is burning but in the studio, the chat show continues.

For ten minutes we improvise our way through a ramshackle interview. I admit that I don’t really need to drink my urine, I just like the taste. I try to sell Kate’s co-hosts into sex-work. And whenever the copy of Fast and Loose that sits perched on the desk tumbles over, I prop it back it up, making sure it is always, always in shot.

There isn’t much I won’t do to promote a book.

I’ve planned elaborate scams with Ita Buttrose on morning television, I’ve sucked up to sleazy former game show hosts languishing on talkback radio and I’ve posed seductively on Twister mats for the Herald Sun.


But where do you draw the line? At what point does selling your book become just selling out? How do you move units without becoming a total unit?

The movement from writing and editing a book to self-publication is a 180 degree turn. One moment you’re alone, lost in the world of your book, filled with doubt and criticism as you slash and hack your way through the umpteenth edit. The next moment your book is out in the world, beyond your control, and you must sing its praises at all costs.

It feels unnatural selling your baby to the world. It’s depressingly masterbatory, like that homeless man I once saw jerking off at Flinders Street station; desperate for attention while the public averted their gaze. The more he tried to make them look, the more people turned away.

(Note to self: Book Idea. Masterbating homeless man looks for love on trains. Title: Get Off At This Stop!)

Is that going too far? I never know.

In 2003, James Frey went too far when he went on Oprah claiming A Million Little Piece was autobiographical. Eventually, The Smoking Gun did a little digging and in 2006 exposed the fabrications in Frey’s account of drug abuse and criminal behaviour. He sold five million copies before his publicity stunt was rumbled.

In Ray Dolin’s The Kindness of America,  the author planned to hitchhike across America only to be shot by a stranger in a pick-up truck in Montana. A police investigation revealed that Dolin had shot himself to both sell copies of the unwritten book and give his story a strong narrative hook.

In 2000, Australian Brett De La Mere tried to get a publisher for his novel Canine Dawn by paragliding into the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Luckily, he did this in a pre 9/11 world and wasn’t shot on sight. Although, based on the initial media interest in Ray Dolin’s shooting, perhaps he would have had more chance of being published if he had taken a bullet from a bearskin hat wearing MI6 drone.

(Note to self: Book idea. Self aware British drone refuses to bomb innocent author. Title: Strike!)


Not all insane publicity stunts are unsuccessful. Novelist Jennifer Belle, disappointed by her publisher’s publicity of The Seven Year Bitch, hired actresses and paid them $8 an hour to read her book at subway stations while laughing. 600 would-be laughers applied and she made national news.

The trouble with the experience of Frey and Dolin is that their lies affect our experience of the book. They’ve sold out their work as well as themselves. Yes, Frey was very successful but, was ultimately forced behind the scenes starting his own fiction factory. Likewise, Dolin has never been published.

(Note to self: Masterbating homeless man falls in love with actress paid to laugh at books at train stations. Title: Gettin’ Exposure!)

I’ve given myself a rule for drawing that line between selling books and selling out. Like all the authors I’ve mention, I have no trouble giving up my own dignity:

Image Supplied : Shameless Author

But I always strive to ensure that I protect the dignity of the work. The stench of crappy publicity can destroy a good book. But as long as I’m not betraying my story or my characters, I’ll do pretty much anything you want to make sure that people know about my books.

After all, it’s just publicity.

It’s not the end of the world.

For more by by this author, check out his novels, Chasing the Ace, and Fast and LooseYou can order a discounted copy by clicking on the covers below. 


This is a Building Blocs piece, part of a series where we discusss the art, craft and business of writing. To read more like this, click here: 

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Nicholas J. Johnson's picture

Nicholas J. Johnson

Nicholas J. Johnson is an author, magician and an expert on con artists and scams. His first novel, Chasing the Ace, was nominated for the Ned Kelly Award. His second, Fast & Loose, is available now.