In 2006, the “anonymous” author (though many a passerby has bought his book from the man himself in SoHo) responsible for Diary of an Oxygen Thief was still marooned in Europe. The city of New York had not yet truly become bombarded by the marketing schemes that social media has made a part of our everyday existence. No, that wouldn’t come in its “true modern state” until 2008, with Tao Lin’s “promotion” of his book (or second poetry collection), cognitive-behavioral therapy, by way of plastering stickers throughout the city that read simply: BRITNEY SPEARS. No meaning, no association whatsoever with his book. It was the first no-turning-back solidification of the fact that selling books has nothing to do with the book itself. Put any drivel you want in it (as Lin so often does) and people will buy it so long as they can recognize its cover from the streets of New York, Twitter and/or Instagram (Facebook, not so much).
Because even when they mock your whorish marketing strategy, they’re still talking about you. As Gawker did when they personally addressed Lin by writing, “I know you’re reading this. I just want you to know that because of your ill-conceived self-marketing strategy, you have 100% guaranteed that I will never read your damned book. You’re maybe perhaps the single most irritating person we’ve ever had to deal with.” Gawker also went on to flat-out call Lin a “retard,” back when you could still do that. And, to be frank, the assessment was not off the mark.
“Anonymous” perfected what Lin did after publishing one thousand hardcover copies of the book when a friend of a friend offered to do so for free in ’06 (thank god not everyone is allowed the luxury of this offer or there really would be a lot of shite out there). The author was living in Amsterdam at the time, still working the ad agency circuit that cemented his alcoholism. His desired audience, like Lin’s, was always built-in and targeted as the hipster set that Williamsburg has shat out into so many other places by now (maybe even St. Lacroix, MN, where our narrator puts himself into a self-imposed exile).
Diary of an Oxygen Thief isn’t particularly “good” or groundbreaking. In the style of Bret Easton Ellis, our rather psycho narrator frankly and unabashedly unfolds the tale with such foul sidebars as talking about how he must ensure psychologically damaging a virgin and her future husband for life by not actually fucking her: “Somehow it was obvious I that should leave her virginity intact. It became about him. How to hurt him through her. Anal sex? That would still leave her a virgin… But I didn’t like the idea of me as a sexual plumber. I wanted to be present on her wedding night. I wanted her body to remember mine…” Manipulative and near sociopathic with women, our narrator’s only joy in life is killing the souls of women, biding his time until they are truly relaxed enough to think he would never leave them and then bolting when the last of their guard was down. As he describes it, “I’d wait until they were totally in love with me. Till the big saucer eyes were looking at me. I loved the shock on their faces. Then the glaze as they tried to hide how much I was hurting them. And it was legal.”
Naturally, such a “hero” for a novel isn’t as palatable to agents and publishers as someone like Robert Langdon (The Da Vinci Code was the bestselling fiction novel the same year “Anonymous” printed his own run). In short, a likable milquetoast is still what lands someone on The New York Times bestseller list–unless the author is adept at guerilla marketing in such a way as to infect our brains with the image of his cover. Though the strategy has been a long game–a decade to be exact–before Simon & Schuster (specifically their Gallery Books imprint) finally came knocking, “Anonymous” has clearly forged a very distinct path for other authors who can’t seem to get published by more traditional means, including garnering the interest of an agent who will hustle a project they’re doubtful about.
“Anonymous” even went the extra kilometer to draw in male readers by creating a profile on a dating website (apps weren’t as pervasive) featuring photos of an attractive woman suggesting she would go out with her suitors if they had read Diary of an Oxygen Thief. As Anonymous stated in an interview with Publishers Weekly, “I gave the impression that, if they were to read this book, they might have more of an amorous chance with me.” So it was that no modern channel used and well-liked by the hipster (read: millennial) audience went untapped by “Anonymous.” Are there typos and occasional grammatical errors throughout? Sure. But the same goes for those “big-budget” books that actually have editors. Is the plot a bit thin, at times, contingent solely upon our narrator’s narcissism and paranoia (will we ever know if Ainsling’s photography book was real)? Absolutely. But it doesn’t matter. “Anonymous” captured our interest too deeply for us to care.
With his follow-up to Diary of an Oxygen Thief, Chameleon on a Kaleidoscope, also self-published in 2012, the momentum and following “Anonymous” has gained by sheer force of persistent marketing innovation has perhaps at last afforded him the ultimate writer’s luxury: focusing on “just” the writing. We’ll see what that means for his third novel, Eunuchs and Nymphomaniacs, about “an inherent incompatibility between the sexes.” In the meantime, mind your brain as it’s infected by the osmosis of constantly seeing a book cover’s image or title across various channels.