Promoting Pynchon

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Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

How do you market a book written by a publicity-shy author? That's the challenge facing Penguin Press as it readies the November 21st publication of Against the Day, a 1,120-page epic by the reclusive literary lion Thomas Pynchon.

The exceptionally private Pynchon, whose brilliant post-modern novels include V, The Crying of Lot 49 and the magnum opus Gravity's Rainbow, hasn't released a new book since 1997's Mason & Dixon. Only a handful of photos exist of the author, 69, mainly from his school days and the most recent a dodgy paparazzi-type shot in 1998. A CNN crew had filmed him the previous year, but the news network decided not to identify him after Pynchon, who reportedly lives in New York, called to complain. "Let me be unambiguous," he told the news channel. "I prefer not to be photographed." (He also railed against being labeled a recluse, claiming the term was a journalistic "code word" that means "doesn't talk to reporters.")

Publishers are finding it increasingly difficult to get publicity for new novels, even those by media-friendly writers. You'll rarely find novelists on network or even cable TV, and radio outlets also favor non-fiction. Beyond print ads, most publicity for fiction comes from book tours and soliciting reviews or author profiles, but most newspapers have cut back on space devoted to High Lit. Ironically, although Pynchon's penchant for privacy may have its origins in his personal philosophy, it's also been a great hook for journalists to cover (or uncover) him over the years.

One thing is certain about the much-anticipated release of Against the Day —there'll be no author interviews (sorry, Oprah), not even any email Q&As. Also, no publisher-endorsed events. Nothing outside of an announcement ad and then some follow-up advertising centered around reviewer quotes. "It's a huge, uphill battle just letting people know," says one Penguin publicist about the book's imminent release. "But this is a long-awaited literary event."

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