Archive for December 8th, 2014

Wilde Promotion

on December 8, 2014 in Misc 8 Comments »

oscar ny

This last week I learned a literary fact that surprised the heck out of me.

At the age of 27, Oscar Wilde set out to become a great celebrity.  Not a great writer, not a brilliant playwright and poet and essayist, but simply very, very famous.  So he set sail from England to the United States in 1882 and within days gained access to “America’s best-connected writers, scholars, salonistes and politicians, though he jawed just as jauntily with farmers, miners and cowboys.”

He quickly arranged to sit for a prominent photographer in Manhattan. Why? Because “New Yorkers were obsessed with collecting 4-by-6 cardboard-backed celebrity portraits, the Pokémon cards of the fin de siècle.  The image-conscious Wilde instantly saw the value of the trend:  The right photograph would burnish his image and magnify his mystique.”

(These quotes are from a New York Times review of a new biography, WILDE IN AMERICA, by David M. Friedman)

wilde colored

No one before Wilde had used the press so skillfully to establish a claim to renown,” Friedman argues, ably proving his point by following his subject from interview to interview, state to state, charting the shrewd steps Wilde took to build his brand, “devising a formula for creating fame that other modern celebrities — all of them far more shallow than he — are using today, whether they know it or not.”

Did you hear that?  Oscar Wilde built his brand first.  He first made himself a commodity the press eagerly covered.  He realized that “celebrity could come before accomplishment.”  Then only after he was famous did he sail back to England and launch his literary career.  Of course, unlike most celebrities he really was a genius and produced several literary masterpieces.

Obviously I’ve been going about my literary career (a word I use as a joke) all wrong.  Fame should have come first.  The trouble is, I lack not only Wilde’s literary genius, I completely lack his genius for self-promotion.  And honestly, the idea of promoting myself as opposed to my novels just seems…. weird.  I would feel so fake, so self-conscious, so strange. And yet, there’s something deliciously appealing about Wilde’s plan.

What about you?  I mean, we’ve all read the advice-to-writers about building our “brand” first and so on.  But do you think you could launch a self-promotion campaign the way Wilde did?

Have a great week.