The Mystery of the Mysterious Mystery

As if it were a mystery lifted straight out of the pages of a mystery novel comes… a mystery lifted literally out of the pages of a mystery novel. The New York Post has reported on the appearance of pages of a mystery novel called Holy Crap on walls and telephone poles in Manhattan’s East Village. The novel has also attracted the attention of the Village Voice blog.

Page 7, for example, was found wrapped on a lamppost at Seventh Street and First Avenue. The plot is about a new parent who apparently has just given birth to a baby of great beauty - but who hears mysterious voices and has a sense that something is very wrong. At the bottom of the page, the reader is directed to go to St. Marks Place between First and Second avenues to find Page 8. If the mystery has a weakness, it’s that it doesn’t allow readers to work backwards to catch up on what they’ve missed.

The novel (if that is what it is) has in effect suggested a whole new kind of self-publishing - one where the act of self-publishing is its own marketing campaign. Like the best marketing campaigns, the ploy is meme-like, effectively collapsing the boundary between the thing - in this instance, a novel - and the marketing of the thing.

The stunt puts a whole new spin on the term ‘street publishing’. And it is a stunt - but just what kind of stunt it is is the real mystery. Is it a conspiracy hatched by a giant faceless corporation masquerading as a guerilla self-publisher? Is it a stroke of genius by an agent with a gilt-edged sense of showmanship? Is it the work of a lone penman? Or is it all just a big literary hoax? As a marketing stunt, it’s sure to be copied around the world, but of course the genius of this trick is, like all the best tricks, it can only really work once.

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