Sometimes I don’t have a good reason for posting about something I read, other than the fact that it interested me and I thought maybe it might interest others. But I happened to be on a foray into the endless rabbit trails of the internet and came across this site’s cataloguing of literary hoaxes. Three of them got a special call-out, because they were really more along the lines of pranks than scams. All three times, the perpetrators had a particular point to make and decided to test a theory. And all three times, they were vindicated.
Jean Shepherd’s America?
The story: Jean Shepherd got sick of the way that bestseller lists in the 1950′s incorporated requests for the book at booksellers into the overall popularity rating. So he got his radio audience to start going to bookstores and asking after copies of a book whose title he made up: I, Libertine. It was purportedly a tell-all chronicling racy goings-on in Merrie Olde Englande. And the scam worked. Shepherd’s co-conspirator at Ballantine Books got a novelist to actually write the book according the Shepherd’s outline and it was published in 1956. A fake author’s name was given — Frederick R. Ewing — and Jean Shepherd posed for the author photo on the back, trying to look “as dissolute as possible” according to Wikipedia. The hoax was revealed a few weeks before the book came out, and all the proceeds went to charity.
Aside to Shepherd fans out there: Sounds like classic Jean Shepherd stuff, no? And the cover of this complete humbug of a book has a hilarious quote of supposed lechery – ’Gadzooks,’ quoth I, ‘but here’s a saucy bawd!’ — along with Shepherd’s catchword “Excelsior!” randomly inserted.
Naked Came the Scammers
The story: In light of the success of writers like Jacqueline Susann, Newsday columnist Mike McGrady theorized that a book could be a best-seller in spite of abysmal writing if it only had enough sex in it. So he connived with a team of his fellow journalists to write an absolutely worthless book that hardly made sense but was loaded up with meaningless sex. Each journalist wrote a chapter and tried to make it as bad as possible. The book was published with the pen name Penelope Ashe, and it was a success, selling 90,000 copies. Some of the authors came clean on the David Frost show, and the book became even more popular. Eventually, it spent 13 weeks on the NYTimes bestseller list. It was re-released in 2004 — when the Village Voice reviewed it, they described the book as being “of such perfectly realized awfulness that it will suck your soul right out of your brainpan and through your mouth, and you will happily let it go.”
Stranger than … : Mike McGrady died on May 15 this year. He’s survived by a sister-in-law, Billie, who uses the pen name Penelope Ashe to write books of her own.
The story: Publishing firm PublishAmerica had some disparaging things to say about sci-fi and fantasy writers on the AuthorsMarket Website. They remarked that the genre was known for attracting low-quality writers. But PublishAmerica was a vanity publishing firm — one that will accept any material as long as the author pays for the costs — that was posing as a real publishing firm. For a group of authors, the insult and the hypocrisy was too much. According to Wikipedia,
In retaliation, a group of science fiction and fantasy authors under the direction of James D. Macdonald collaborated on a deliberately low-quality work, complete with obvious grammatical errors, nonsensical passages, and a complete lack of a coherent plot.
The point was to write the worst book of sci-fi ever, and then submit it to PublishAmerica to see if they would show the high standards they referred to. The book had a missing chapter, two chapters that were word-for-word identical, one chapter of text randomly generated by a computer — anything the group could think of to get it rejected from a reputable publisher. But PublishAmerica accepted it for publication in late 2004. The authors decided not to go through with publication, and on January 23, 2005, they publicly revealed the hoax. The next day, PublishAmerica retracted their offer, saying that after further review, “the novel failed to meet their standards.”
Aftermath: The authors published the work of awfulness under the name “Travis Tea” with publish-on-demand site Lulu, with all the proceeds going to charity. I admit to having a strange interest in actually reading it. And apparently, I’m not alone. One reviewer wrote ”The world is full of bad books written by amateurs. But why settle for the merely regrettable? Atlanta Nights is a bad book written by experts.”
From their official Website, here’s a quote from the book:
Richard didn’t have as sweet a personality as Andrew but then few men did but he was very well-built. He had the shoulders of a water buffalo and the waist of a ferret. He was reddened by his many sporting activities which he managed to keep up within addition to his busy job as a stock broker, and that reminded Irene of safari hunters and virile construction workers which contracted quite sexily to his suit-and-tie demeanor.
Now that’s good reading!