Column: Promote more books like ‘Beautiful World' – Chicago Tribune

When I purchased my copy of Sally Rooney’s “Beautiful World, Where Are You” I was also given a blue #2 pencil embossed with the book’s title, and a postcard with a portion of the book’s cover by acclaimed comic artist Manshen Lo on it.
My thought? That’s awesome.
I have been following the promotional activities surrounding “Beautiful World, Where Are You” with some interest, including a London pop-up shop which is covered in a striking mural making use of Lo’s cover.
This kind of promotion is rare, but not unprecedented in contemporary times. In 2011, for the release of his novel “The Marriage Plot” we saw Jeffrey Eugenides on a Times Square billboard, striding towards the viewer, leather vest billowing in an unseen breeze with the word “Swoon-Worthy” in quotes above him.
The billboard was a little goofy, but effective.
As it turns out, as I was informed by an article by Eileen Cartter at GQ, my pencil and postcard are low-end versions of what is apparently known as “literary status merch.” Recipients of advance review copies received not just pencils and postcards, but a tote and for the luckiest ones a Sally Rooney bucket hat!
Apparently this stuff goes for decent bucks in online marketplaces, even though very few people wear bucket hats. For the record, I would definitely not sell my weird book swag, and would instead instruct it to be kept hermetically sealed for the benefit of my heirs to be opened in 150 years’ time, and presuming the planet still exists, for them to go on “Antiques Roadshow” to have the appraisers explain the significance of a Sally Rooney bucket hat.
If it’s not clear yet, I am all for these sorts of promotional efforts on behalf of books and authors. My only wish is there was much more of it because that would mean that companies are investing cold hard cash in making books a bigger part of the cultural conversation.
I have seen some online tut-tutting over the scale and scope of activities around “Beautiful World, Where Are You” making note of Sally Rooney’s public anti-capitalist sentiments, but this kind of purity policing strikes me as silly, and more importantly, no fun.
That these, in the grand scheme of things, relatively small promotional gestures for Sally Rooney’s book are generating so much discussion is proof that more promotion should be done, and in order to make sure they continue to have an impact, they would have to keep upping the ante.
If I ever achieved the kind of status that made a publisher inclined to invest the kind of resources getting behind Sally Rooney, I am having a hard time thinking of anything I might say no to.
Times Square billboard? Sign me up. Pop-up shop? No brainer.
Let’s not stop there. A dedicated podcast? Yes, please! How about a blimp with my book’s cover flying coast-to-coast, or an entire clothing line designed around my book?
The mind reels: A “Top Chef” quickfire themed around my book, paying Al Roker to wear a suit fashioned from my book’s cover on the Today Show.
Ooh, let’s think bigger. How awesome would it be to have a theme park ride based on your book?
Sally Rooney’s book was going to garner attention from the literary world no matter what, but these efforts have hopefully expanded the universe of people who were going to encounter her work, a great thing for a writer with two other books behind her and many more ahead of her.
For the next experiment, a publisher should focus on someone less known, someone older, someone less talented.
Call me.
John Warner is the author of “Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.”
Twitter @biblioracle
Book recommendations from the Biblioracle
John Warner tells you what to read based on the last five books you’ve read.
1. “All the Devils Are Here” by Louise Penny
2. “One by One” by Ruth Ware
3. “Nine Perfect Strangers” by Liane Moriarty
4. “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng
5. “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens
— Julie P., Milwaukee
A pull towards mystery and intrigue in this list. Louise Erdrich’s “The Round House” will keep the reader wondering what’s going to happen while keeping you invested in the characters until the last page.
1. “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates
2. “The Dog Stars” by Peter Heller
3. “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid
4. “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath
5. “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah
— Diane T., Chicago
For Diane, I’m looking for something that has the emotional grit of “Revolutionary Road” and “The Bell Jar,” and therefore coming up with “A Manual for Cleaning Women” by Lucia Berlin.
1. “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt
2. “The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead
3. “A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman
4. “Great Circle” by Maggie Shipstead
5. “The Overstory” by Richard Powers
— Nicholas R., Urbana
Three out of four books here have won the Pulitzer Prize, which inspires me to pick another Pulitzer winner, going back to 1999 for Michael Cunningham’s “The Hours.”
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Send a list of the last five books you’ve read and your hometown to [email protected].
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