By Edward Nawotka
The vocal right wing of American politics has proven a highly effective marketing machine for books. Pundit Glenn Beck has been called a “right wing Oprah” for his support of politically aligned novelists such as Brad Thor and Vince Flynn. Beck, no stranger to fiction himself -– his new novel The Overton Window was published last week -– has a list of his top ten thrillers on display in some Borders stores. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are on board as well. These guys have demonstrated a power to put put a book on the bestseller list and keep it there.
(Photo: Eisler with the books he used to research Inside Out.)
That said, Obama is in the White House and one would think that it’s about time the institutionalized so-called liberal media elite was exploited the same way by a savvy lefty novelist. Barry Eisler, a million-copy bestselling writer of political thrillers, is giving it a shot.
He’s already incorporated the names of bloggers aligned with the left -– Duncan Black, John Cole, Jane Hamsher, Josh Marshall, Andrew Sullivan -– into his previous novel, Fault Line in an effort to bring them more attention, and has routinely plugged their work at his live appearances. Eisler has since started his own politically charged blog, which is now syndicated with CHUD, The Huffington Post, MichaelMoore.com, Smirking Chimp, and TruthOut.
Eisler’s eighth book, Inside Out, is being published at the end of the month and he is now trying to marshal his liberal network to sell the book. A thriller about America’s use of torture during the war on terror, Inside Out, touches on, says Eisler, “the CIA’s destruction of videotapes documenting torture; the way ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ undermines national security; black sites, renditions, ghost detainees.” It is “exceptionally close to real world occurrences, including what’s happening in America today under the new, ostensibly more progressive, administration,” he says.
The marketing playbook for Inside Out starts with an event on June 28 in Beverly Hills, CA presented by TruthOut, to be followed the next evening with a book signing at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, CA (where Eisler lives), where a portion of the proceeds will be donated to TruthOut and AlterNet.
All that seems to be lacking at this point is a big network slot or plug from one of the morning shows. (Keith Olberman…calling Keith Olberman?)
Certainly, this is not the first time a left-leaning novelist has used his celebrity to further a progressive political cause –- John Grisham has long been an advocate of abolishing the death penalty and Richard North Patterson has campaigned for stronger gun control legislation -– but it is perhaps the first effort that exclusively targets liberal media.
“Most book marketing campaigns aren’t sufficiently differentiated,” argues Eisler. “A publisher might advertise in PW or the New York Times, for example, where the book is being hawked to people who are interested in books. Slightly more specific would be marketing a crime novel to mystery bookstores, or advertising a thriller at Thrillerfest, or getting another romance writer to blurb your romance novel. There’s nothing wrong with the general approach, of course, and for certain books it can offer an appropriate return on investment. But most of the time, the general approach is insufficient and its potential blunted by an audience habituated to such campaigns.”
Hence his effort to differentiate his novels from other thrillers by underscoring the politics: “Inside Out, drawing as it does on actual events around which thrives an entire ecosystem of bloggers and other journalists; radio and television talk shows; human rights, civil liberties, and media watchdog organizations; and a growing cadre of engaged citizens, offered an unusually broad, deep, and differentiated opportunity to reach amplifiers receptive to what the book, specifically, is about.”
Fortunately for like-minded writers, Eisler is also thinking of the future and the writers that will follow in his path. To this end he has agreed to curating a book club for Talking Points Memo, as well as a new “book salon” for the site FireDogLake — both venues that will give him a platform to promote books that favor his political views for some time to come.
Whether or not Eisler’s strategy will attract new fans or push politically like-minded readers into stores remains to be seen. And, naturally, there is the risk that he might otherwise turn off potential readers who hold political views counter to his own.
Addressing this last point, Eisler is neutral: “On balance, I think my politics creates more sales than it loses, mostly by enabling me to reach a far larger audience either that shares my politics or doesn’t care and just reads my books because they like edge-of-your-seat thrillers. Still, if the hate mail I sometimes get is representative, my politics is definitely alienating some potential readers.”
He adds, “But if someone offered me money to keep my opinions to myself or to write less political novels, I would never take it. What would be the difference between a straight payoff and self-censoring myself in an attempt to sell more books? I can’t see one, so I’m just going to write the kind of books I want to write and not worry about the few who might fume about it.”
DISCUSS: Why Hasn’t the Liberal Media Already Been Campaigning for Books?