By Sharon Glassman
How do you go out into the world to promote a book about “torture and babies?” For Nick Flynn, author of the recently published memoir The Ticking is the Bomb (WW Norton), the answer mirrors the author’s way of working.
The PEN Award-winning author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City writes memoirs that limn personal tragedy in poetic prose.In Bullshit Flynn introduced his father, a man living in a Boston homeless shelter. Ticking meditates on our country’s collective guilt for the torture at Abu Graib and conflates his own difficult childhood with his hope for renewal as a Brooklyn/Houston father-to-be.
Eat, Pray, Love it ain’t.
Still, Flynn, like Elizabeth Gilbert, has found a friend in Facebook.
“I recognized that people were using it in a way to promote their books,” he says.
But his need to get on the site was personal.
An unknown someone had created a Nick Flynn Fan page on the site.
“I couldn’t list anything on it,” Flynn discovered, “unless I became a fan of myself.”
And so, in an act of demi-Borgesian meta-fact, Nick Flynn became “a fan of Nick Flynn.” He began to post the times, places and dates for readings from the book. And then, when two friends he hadn’t seen in ages showed up at a reading hours after he posted it, he began to see the medium’s power.
He followed up by posting the cover of his book as his personal profile photo. His personal page now has over 1,400 friends. His fan page, 700. He can reach them all, potentially, with a status update and a click: efficiently poetic marketing.
Digital speed, message control and fan-centralization may be extra-important with a book like Ticking.
“The problem with having “bomb” in the title is that it’ll never be displayed in an airport bookstore,” he realized as he began his 3D book-tour.
“Last time, two curse-words and now a bomb…it was a zero-sum game,” he says, about the curse-words. “It turned off as many people as it turned on.”
Which leads us back to the web, and Flynn’s site, in particular.
When his first memoir came out, his publisher didn’t have a dedicated Web marketer. But his second memoir’s publication came with some digital support. And this addition has created some positive friction for the author as Artist (or at the very least, budding Web site designer).
“He came over to my Web site and pointed out why it was such a disaster from a marketer’s point of view,” Flynn says, about Steve Colca, WW Norton’s manager of Internet Marketing.
(Colca refused our request to chat through a publicist, adding an unintentionally ironic note to the Web marketing of a book that’s largely about the human need to shine a light.)
At first, Flynn resisted letting people, you know, buy his book through his site.
“I resisted it,” he says. “There’s no way on this Web site that people even know how to buy a book.”
But the facts have proven him wrong.
He can’t say for sure how many people have clicked-through to buy a book from his home page. But he knows they are buying.
His site’s new tracking features has shown him the wisdom of things like linking to Flickr, as well.
Flynn personal updates to his email list of 2,000 are drawing folks to his readings. He’s drawing three-digit crowds and has heard that he’s selling books to audience members in a publisher-pleasing 1:2 ratio.
“It’s hard to let people know a book is out,” Flynn says. But he’s putting the pieces together in a way that works for him. And it’s working.
BECOME: A Facebook fan of Nick Flynn
VISIT: Nick Flynn’s Web site
DISCUSS: In the long run, is social networking bad for the memoir?