Controversy Sells: How to Use Controversy to Promote Your Book

Even his most adoring constituents won’t call President Trump a saint, but no one can deny he knows how to use controversy to stir interest. You can apply the same principles to sell your books. (It’s one path, anyway.)

Since I’ll be using this Controversy Principle to promote my upcoming dystopia MANKIND, I thought I might share my research into the subject with you; maybe it’ll help you with your work, or at least trigger some brilliant zany idea. We’re going to zip through a few flash examples of books whose authors used controversial issues of the day to sell them:

  • Salmon Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Due to its allegedly blasphemous nature against Muhammad, this novel was banned and the Iranian government issued a fatwe, denouncing him. Death threats were made and opposing factions, so stirred by the book’s content, tossed bombs. People died! Here’s the rub: the book only made about 100 sales until the fatwe was issued, and then it sold more than 750,000 copies in the next few months!
  • Nabokov’s Lolita. You have to wonder after the sort of minds that would want to read this, and of course the sort of mind that conjured it in the first place. But it is due to this very questionable subject matter that the book continues to sell. It is different, controversial. Reading it is like standing at the scene of a car accident; you know it’s wrong to look, but the eyes have a mind and desire of their own.
  • The Anarchist Cookbook. Is there anything innocent in this How To manual? It is intentionally rebellious, nonconformist, and proud of it. So controversial, in fact, that it is difficult to find an unedited, unexpurgated version of it today.
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • Mein Kampf (Though technically non-fiction, I think we can agree its controversial nature helped sell it)

shocked woman hand over mouth

You get the point. All of the above and many more remain familiar and in the social consciousness because of their divisive content. In the end, it doesn’t even really matter if the work is offensive or parodist, if people like it or are amused by it or stirred to hatred by it. All of these things sell. You might want to be careful though; Rushdie is still in exile and has lost 3 marriages since the controversial book.

All of which is to say that Boldness in writing, a sort of reckless fearlessness, often gives birth to memorable works and high sales.

I’m hoping it will work, highlighting the gender wars in Mankind to stir both sides. It’s a bit manipulative, but dystopias are by design vehicles for uncovering truth from the morass of the present, by projecting today’s issues into their most extreme possible future. Dystopias seek to prevent their events from happening by shedding light on their uncomfortable topics.

What are your controversial story ideas?

girl covering another girls mouth