When a good friend of mine was recently sweating the arrival of news on her book review in the New York Times, I had to give her a hard time about it. After all, no matter what the review said, her book would be featured in the NYTimes!!! What more can you ask for? A good review, sure, and she got that.
But the truth is, that old PR saw is true: there’s no bad publicity. Having your name in front of the public really does increase fame, fortune, and book sales. Take James Frey. He was roasted over the coals for his faux-memoir, and made to go on Oprah with a tearful apology. Guess what? It hasn’t tanked his writing career. He sold more books after the whole bruhaha. He’s making bank. Because people know his name.
Take the complaints of Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner about gender and genre bias at the NYT. They’re not complaining about getting bad reviews in the Times. They’re complaining about not getting reviewed in the Times. Good or bad, being in the Times gets your name out there. Even a negative review can sell books, as curious souls want to see just how bad the book in question is. Or perhaps a week later the readers only remember that they saw the book in the NYT, not what was said about it.
Another friend of mine got an amazon.com review that called her book “corrosive garbage.” I’d bet money that phrase helped sell a few books before the reviewer decided to go back and temper her rash condemnation. I was once recruited to write hate mail for a local paper’s opinion columnist. Hate mail, he said, was more effective at attracting readers to his column than praise. And more likely to be published.
Even cases of Writers Behaving Badly™ on Twitter and other internet platforms probably helps them sell books. A temper tantrum can attract as much attention as a series of thoughtful, intelligent blog posts.
Step outside the writing world and you’ll find there’s still no bad publicity.
Consider KoolAid. We use it as a short cut to describe indoctrination or brainwashing. Did he drink the KoolAid? Don’t drink the KoolAid. Have you ever imagined a marketing board at KoolAid, cringing every time that phrase gets used in the media, reminding everyone who reads it of the tragedy of the Jonestown massacre. Poor KoolAid, right?
Wrong. Because that’s not what was used at Jonestown. According to several witness accounts of Jonestown survivors, the poison was put in grape flavored Flav-R-Aid. Not KoolAid. But you don’t see KoolAid rushing to correct the record and distance themselves from that notorious tragedy.
Why would they? It’s good publicity. Because the key phrase of each of these media mentions includes the perfect subliminal marketing phrase: Drink the KoolAid.