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Bizarro: A Small Press Self-Marketing Success Story

Updated on January 24, 2009

An Introduction

Bizarro, as they are anxious to tell you, is the biggest thing since Shakespeare, (if he were a zombie playwright come back to life). Bizzaro, sometimes called Irrealism or Avant Punk, is a new genre of literature slowly gaining popularity in the United States. It describes itself as being the literary equivalent of the cult section at your local video store. Imagine Rocky Horror Picture Show meets War of the Worlds meets CHUD (Cannabalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers). The writing is rough, vulgar and in-your-face. It doesn't pull its punches and it doesn't believe in censorship or morals or even good taste. But Bizarro has a certain boyish charm about it, a sort of bald-faced daring to create some unadulterated good old-fashioned originality.

Now you’re asking, what does this have to do with marketing? Well what if I told you that these people, who are selling tens of thousands of their own books, were never published. At least, not by a professional publishing house. The entire movement, hundreds of writers, thousands of books, exists purely within a self-contained small press publishing ring. Most authors double as publishers. They use money from day-jobs or money from past novels and they use it to print up and market their own works, completely bypassing the almighty publishing industrial complex (who would no doubt never publish them anyway, seeing Bizarro as too much of a risk).

They utilize all sorts of web 2.0 marketing tricks to get the word out without the aid of expensive television or print ads. They have myspace. Bizarro writer, D. Harlan Wilson has over three thousand myspace friends/fans. They have websites with adsense and links to their novels and links to the works of their bizarro peers on Amazon. They have facebook groups, annual Portland conventions (many of the top authors reside in the Pacific Northwest). Their publishing houses, like Afterbirth and Eraserhead Press, are growing. They’ve got online short story magazines such as “Bust Down the Door and Eat all the Chickens." They’ve even got their own fightclubesque army of fan promoters called the Avant Punk Army (who get discounts, free books and hugs from the authors for spreading the word of Bizarro). Duties of the Avant Punk Army include petitioning libraries to stock bizarro literature as well as handing out leaflets at local universities, punk bars and abortion clinics (a joke! Bizarro is beginning to affect even me). Come to think of it, they should be giving me discounts for this, Oh well, it’s too late for me, anyway; I’ve already bought all their books.

What’s most bizarre of all of this: its working. Carlton Mellick III has a rather large cult following. Foop! by Chris Genoa was a small-press bestseller, which, while not achieving the numbers of say, the latest Stephen king novel, is still impressive for what it is. These (relatively) young authors are pushing forward on belief alone. They believe in a no-holds-barred style of writing. They believe some people out there will like what they do. They believe the major publishing houses would never give them a chance.

But they’re gosh-darn-it gonna do it anyway.

Carlton Mellick. (Bizarre Kid)
Carlton Mellick. (Bizarre Kid)

Are you still interested?

If you'd like to learn more about Bizarro, a good resources is Do you want to try some Bizarro? Do you dare? If you’re new to it, personally, I'd recommend the Bizarro Starter Kit, a collection of out-of-this-world short stories by many of the Genre's top writers. Or for a novel, try Carlton Mellick's Satan Burger. It's what Iain Banks' “The Wasp Factory,” would have been like if he'd made it science fiction. It's “Lord of the Flies” meets “Dude Where’s My Car,” meets being punched in the face. It’s amateurish, and almost too-weird, but it’s certainly very unlike anything I’ve read before.

Or maybe you want to create your own unique genre of writing and quite seem to get it published. If so, study bizarro, add Carlton Mellick on myspace and find out his business model. These entrepreneur auteurs know what it means to push forward no matter what the odds.

So if you like reading and you want to try something like nothing you’ve ever read before, I would strongly recommend bizarro to you, however, I must put the disclaimer: this literature is not for everyone. It pushes boundaries. It assumes open minds. If you’re easily shocked, if you just like happy endings or if you just ate a whole lot of shellfish, you might want to think twice about going down this rabbit hole.

Good Luck!



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      Adolfina Sumner 5 years ago

      I have a new fantasy book, staring myself and talking animals. It's called "Meet Miss Reincarnation of Hitler."