This article titled “Want to see online success turn to real-world humiliation? Come to my book reading in Austin this weekend” was written by Paul Carr, for guardian.co.uk on Friday 9th March 2012 21.41 UTC
This Saturday in Texas, things are going to get real. A little too real.
“The Upgrade“, my memoir about how I spent almost five years living in hotels nearly killing myself with alcohol, is coming out in paperback in the US and my publisher suggested that we launch the book in Austin. After all, this weekend marks the start of the South By Southwest Interactive conference and, not only will the town be full of potential readers, but the book contains an entire chapter about how I made an idiot of myself at the event back in 2008. Perfect, right?
Such a shame, then, that I had to decline.
“The trouble is,” I explained to my publisher, “back in 2009 I vowed never to return to South by Southwest. The conference had grown way too big and had become overrun with social media dickheads,all trying to out-flyer, out-sticker and out-annoy-the-living-shit-out-of-me each other. I can’t go back now. People will say I’ve gone back on my word.”
“No problem,” replied my publisher, through distinctly gritted teeth, “the reading isn’t at the conference, it’s at Bookpeople – the hippest bookstore in Austin. You’ll technically not be going back to South By Southwest, but you’ll still be able to promote your damn book. Great huh?”
The truth is, my reluctance to do a book reading had nothing to do with the conference, or the venue or anything even resembling a principle. Rather it had to do with my fear that, when 5pm on Saturday rolls around, not a single soul will turn up to hear me read. At a stroke my fragile ego will be shattered, my publisher will disown me, my girlfriend will leave me and my dog will run off in search of a more popular and successful master.
In theory, I shouldn’t be so worried. Over the years I’ve become something of a master of online-self promotion. I’ve learned precisely what buttons to press to rally virtual crowds to whatever silly project I’ve been involved with. Back in 2001, I organised a petition to get Friday afternoon off work for UK workers. Unsurprisingly that one went viral very quickly as lazy office drones signed up in their thousands. Not long afterwards my campaign for a ‘Real Christmas Number One’ – coinciding with the first time Simon Cowell tried to buy the spot for one of his reality show winners – similarly caught the popular imagination (and got me on the front page of the Daily Star). Slightly nearer the knuckle, but no less popular for it, was ‘Think Of The Children’, the spoof anti-paedophile site I created during the Soham trial. That was a doozy, despite the fact it nearly landed me in jail due to a hilarious misunderstanding on the part of the obscene publications squad.Then came my gigs as a columnist – here on the Guardian, or on TechCrunch and now on PandoDaily – where, through a combination of foul language, half-baked opinions and shameless piggy-backing on the latest Internet memes, I have been able to build an audience at least big enough to allow me to make rent.
And yet, and yet… building an online audience is very different to attracting a real crowd. Online, there are millions of people just sloshing around looking for something to do, all of them just a click away from your virtual “event”. And even if you don’t attract a single one of them then, well, who cares? In cyberspace no-one can see you fail. Offline, not only is your potential audience restricted by geography but you’re also competing with laziness, weather, forgetfulness, traffic and the fact that no-one cares about your damn hotels-and-booze memoir. Real world failure is a vast empty bookstore, an angry publisher and the hideous realization that people would rather line up for a fourth helping of barbecue food that listen to you read from a book about your life.
I mean, I’ve seen it happen to people far more popular than me. I’m no huge fan of Anonymous, but I still felt an involuntary twinge of pity when only a handful of people turned up to their final protest against the San Francisco BART police last August, despite thousands pledging support online. If a protest over the shooting of an unarmed man by transport police couldn’t get people out of their houses, what hope does an unprincipled former drunk like me have of mobilizing even a brace of supporters?
And so, faced with near-certain humiliation in a few short hours, I’m driven to desperate measures. I could try convincing you that The Upgrade is brilliant and funny and sweary and life-affirming, or that it contains the secret to riches beyond your wildest dreams. But at least four out of five of those things would be a lie. I could resort to begging or to bribery but neither of those techniques brings guaranteed results and would still leave me humiliated and broke. No, my last – only – hope is to appeal directly to Guardian readers’ legendary sense of schadenfreude. So here goes…
On Saturday afternoon at 5pm, at Bookpeople in Austin, Texas, an arrogant ex-pat British author is going to have the egotistical shit kicked out of him in front of a laughably small audience as he reads from a book about how he swanned around the world getting drunk in hotels, nearly got himself killed on three continents, spent time in jail before ultimately admitting that he was a sad, stupid alcoholic. It’ll be an event so epically cringe-worthy that you’ll want to tell your grandkids that you were there to witness it. ‘There’ being Bookpeople. 603 N. Lamar, Austin, Texas at 5pm this Saturday.
You’re my only hope.
If you’re in Austin, here’s the map for Bookpeople. Take pictures! – Tech Ed.
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