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When Publicity Campaigns Go Slightly Awry

Last Friday, I received a letter in the mail, addressed directly to me. I didn’t recognize the sender but figuring it was probably something publicity-related, I opened it. A florally-designed letter slipped out that addresses one Mr. Pulsifer and is signed “Sincerely, Beatrice Hutchins, Lenox, MA.” Publicity stunt, I figured after skimming the letter briefly, even though there was no mention of a novel, a publisher or an author, and forgot about it.

Turns out I was right, but when a staffer at Publishers Weekly received the letter – which contained a mention of Edith Wharton‘s house – contacted Susan Wissler, v-p of The Mount, the formal name for Wharton’s estate, she thought that the request to “burn down [Wharton's] house”, though likely a joke, contained sufficient “menace” to warrant involving the police. And so, PW Daily’s Rachel Deahl reports, Wissler contacted the Massachusetts State Police about the note, but was relieved to find out t was, in fact, a publicity campaign for Brock Clarke‘s AN ARSONIST’S GUIDE TO WRITERS HOMES IN NEW ENGLAND, which Algonquin Books is publishing this September and pushing in a big way, with a first printing of 50,000 copies and a big galley giveaway at and after BEA.

The mailing campaign, which will continue with two more letters this week – also done in character and threatening the homes of two other deceased, iconic New England writers – will culminate with a galley of the book. When asked if the house had any concerns that the letter might alarm its recipients, Algonquin publicity director Michael Taeckens and Algonquin associate publisher Ina Stern said the intention was to provoke, not scare. Wissler, though initially alarmed, is now rather amused at the whole situation, adding to PW Daily that she is now eager to find out more about the book. After talking with an Algonquin spokesperson, she even expressed interest in having Clarke stop at The Mount on his planned author tour. All’s well that ends well, in other words…

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