When my editor asked me for ideas about how to promote "Third Rail," my debut novel, I knew the options. I could get my celebrity friends to make a funny, clever book trailer. But James Franco is still sulky about the last chore I dragged him into – power-washing my house took a lot longer than we thought it would! And Gary Shteyngart is already signed on to help out with spring pickling and brewing. I guess I could rent a van and hit the road, doing readings everywhere. But having spent many years in a traveling band, I never want to get in a van ever again.
I’m tweeting, blogging, Facebook liking, shilling at every opportunity, and doing all the other mandatory things authors are supposed to do to build their proverbial platform, of course. But sometimes it all seems about as effective as shouting into the end of a USB cable. So when searching for something new, I defaulted to a proven DIY approach.
"How about stickers of the cover?" I asked.
"Stickers?" my editor also asked.
Then the office got really quiet.
Yes, stickers. Back when I played in a Boston underground band, we plastered stickers of our band’s distinctive logo – a Picasso-esque cat with a Stratocaster headstock for a tail – throughout the United States and Canada. You’d find that weird yellow cat stuck on the walls outside punk clubs, above turnpike coin baskets, and on kiosks at pretty much every college campus in the continental US.
I ordered thousands of stickers of "Third Rail"’s attention-getting turquoise, red, and black cover. And I started to enlist family and friends in grassroots book promotion, the kind that requires stepping away from the computer and hitting the streets. I dragged "Wicked" novelist Gregory Maguire down to my level and now he’s stickering Boston. My artist friend Tim has three teenaged sons who are in charge of New York City, where I’m sure they’re stickering responsibly. My cousin Dave, a brain surgeon, now carries stickers in his scrubs. I asked him not to put them on patients. Kevin Ashton, the smart guy who came up with The Internet of Things, is sticking little things to walls all over Austin, Texas. And that’s just the beginning.
It’s a simple process, really. One that doesn’t require a marketing degree, just enthusiasm and a willingness to walk around. While individual technique may vary, here’s how it works:
Step 1: You keep a couple of stickers in your pocket.
Step 2: When you see a likely spot, you take a sticker out of that pocket.
Step 3: Peel the sticker from its protective backing and slap it on, neatly.
Step 4: Keep walking, nonchalantly, like you didn’t do anything.
Step 5: Repeat steps 1 through 4, refilling pocket as necessary.
There’s something incredibly tangible and mildly subversive about slapping a sticker on a lonely patch of urban emptiness – the back of a stop sign, high up on light poles, or on a parking meter. Some places are just begging for a sticker.
The desire to sticker is probably linked to primitive animal marking instincts, minus the pee. Or maybe a sticker is like Proust’s little cookie, summoning up a deep-seated childhood memory of walking from gas station to repair shop, begging for STP stickers to put on my denim-clad notebook.
I don’t know. I’m a crime writer, not a psychoanalyst.
I think of stickers as impermanent, site-specific ads, destined to be faded by the sun, washed away by rain, and destroyed by time just like everything else. But are they? There’s one stuck to an electrical box on the edge of my town, a white sticker with a blood-red cross announcing the imminent arrival of The Rapture and the End of the World – coming on October 28, 1992.
Rory Flynn is the more dashing, more crimewriter-y pseudonym of novelist Stona Fitch. Rory will send some "Third Rail" stickers to anyone willing to stick them somewhere – responsibly, of course. Just e-mail your mailing address to MrRoryFlynn@gmail.com.