Southold author uses viral marketing to promote his first novel

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | Southold’s George Monahan holds a copy of his first book, ‘Biodiesel,’ a novel set in a community identical to the North Fork.

Have you heard about Daphne Tremayne? She’s the vice president and public relations representative of a local company that sells carbon credits and thinks you should euthanize your pets to help save the environment.

The thing is, she doesn’t exist.

Ms. Tremayne is the product of Southold author George Monahan’s imagination and part of a viral marketing campaign to sell copies of his self-published novel “Biodiesel.”

Daphne Tremayne is the foolish antagonist in a satire reflecting Monahan’s frustrations with global warming, which he said is being used to market products under the guise of being green.

“I could sell you a bottle of cyanide and if I called it green, you’d say, ‘Oh, it must be good,’ ” he said.

Mr. Monahan, a history professor at Suffolk County Community College’s Riverhead campus, said he published the book after receiving more than 50 rejections from literary agents.

“There’s no hard feelings,” he said. “Commercial fiction is a very difficult market. Unless you’re an established author in a genre, agents are taking a tremendous chance to try to promote you.”

Mr. Monahan believe the changing market of self-published books is on his side.

“Twenty years ago self-publishing a novel was the kiss of death,” he said. “But publishing today is like the Wild West; all the old rules have changed. Look at ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ She knew her fan base and enterprised on that to market her book to be a self-generating best-seller before a publisher picked it up. So I thought why don’t I try to do that?”

He decided to drum up interest in his novel using a tactic completely different from “Shades” author E.L. James’ approach.

“I’m going in through the other door to reach my readers,” he said. “I’ve created a website to draw my readers in by making them angry at one of my characters, Daphne Tremayne. I had to get into Daphne’s head and say, ‘If it were me reading this website, how would I piss this guy off?’ So I wrote everything that would piss me off and started sending the site to people I knew were on my side. Different tea party groups began emailing me back calling Daphne a Nazi and, after a while, I’d come clean and tell them the book is a satire that makes Daphne out to be a fool.”

Mr. Monahan said the response includes “horrendous, vitriolic hatred against Daphne,” resulting in hateful emails, phone calls and even blogs set up throughout the English-speaking world about the fictional character, who suggests on her website that people go so far as to euthanize their old pets to cut down on their carbon footprint.

“So there’s thousands of tea party members in America, maybe tens of thousands, people in Australia, and lots of people in England and Ireland thinking about Daphne Tremayne, which is half the battle,” he said. “Now I’ve just had to send them newsletters from her that eventually lead to the existence of my novel.”

The book, Mr. Monahan’s first, is set in an alternate version of the North Fork. The village of Greenport, for example, is called historic “Stirling Harbor” and Aldo’s coffee shop has become “Silvio’s.”

“There’s a number of events that happen here in Greenport,” Mr. Monahan said. “There’s a spot you’ll see in the book called Anatolle Point, reflecting the Greek word for east, where Orient is the Latin word for it. For people who are in the know, they’ll figure it out.”

The novel’s protagonist, Thomas McGrath, is a distorted clone of Mr. Monahan himself. Mr. McGrath is an anthropology professor at Peconic Community College.

The novel pits two individuals making biodiesel to cut the cost of fueling their personal vehicles against corporate bigwigs Vincent and Daphne Tremayne, who seek to corner the biofuel market and capitalize on the guilt some feel about the environment by selling them carbon credits. Those who buy the credits will have their carbon usage offset through the preservation of barren non-carbon producing land throughout the U.S. owned by Mr. Tremayne.

“That’s like me deciding that I want to create a label to call my product ‘sustainable,’ ” Mr. Monahan said. “What is sustainable? Well, no one really knows until I tell you what it means. If you can get enough nodding heads, then all of a sudden you’ve cornered the market on sustainability and you can then tell others when and when they aren’t being sustainable. You could insist, let’s say, that those who want to be sustainable need to buy a certificate to become sustainable. Then you’ve got something to sell, you’ve created an industry.”

Mr. Monahan likened such to the snake oil salesmen of the Old West and renaissance churches selling indulgences to forgive sins in order to get to heaven. “If you can sell someone peace of mind, you won’t have much overhead,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about getting a warehouse to stock peace of mind. You just have to convince the person it’s there.”

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