Publicity and Promotion
Lanny sent the first copies of Shrink Resistant to Don and Bonnie on September 2, 1988 in a now-battered brown envelope. The jaunty note which he tucked in with the new books conveying pride in a job well done.
This section of the exhibit shows the press moving from making the book real, to finding it an audience in the public world – a process in which Don remained constantly engaged. A short 15th September New Star press release, titled “The Other Side of the Story,” was a carefully crafted 1-page essay, almost certainly composed by Lanny, positioning the book as a unique Canadian window into the unjust and often harmful medical treatment of a group of citizens that the rest of country would rather ignore.
New Star promotional statements for the book highlighted the “insider” views of injustice presented in the volume, the range of material the book contained, and its relevance, not just to those who had been incarcerated in psychiatric institutions, but to all concerned with human rights issues.
Shrink Resistant is a landmark expose of psychiatric dehumanization and cruelty… This book should be must-reading everywhere, for what it describes typifies current psychiatric abuse throughout the world. The editors’ account of the emerging psychiatric inmates liberation movement together with their superb analysis put in perspective the materials they’ve assembled.
Leonard Roy Frank, psychiatric survivor, writer, movement activist
Lanny had begun soliciting statements supporting the book from prominent movement activists in June, and was busy in early September sending out 1000 books and flyers, or flyers alone, to individuals and groups suggested by Don and Bonnie or already on New Star’s own distribution lists. Ads were placed in national publications including This Magazine, Canadian Dimension, Quill & Quire, and similar American and BC periodicals. Don recruited Toronto publicist Celia Stroh to assist in getting press coverage and possibly a national media spot. Lanny sent copies of the book, flyers and order forms to David Reville for distribution at Britain’s first psych survivor conference.
In the fall of 1988, David attended “Common Concerns,” an international mad movement conference held at Brighton, England, bringing with him a stack of books from New Star. The copies went like hot cakes, gone in 30 minutes.
Sold out in less than half an hour:
Don and Bonnie’s wish for a Canadian tour with interviews and press conferences in major cities was stymied by Bonnie’s teaching commitments and the limits of New Star’s funding. However, by October 1988 Audrey McClellan was taking over publicity for the press and moving forward with Toronto plans for a January book-signing and reception at left-wing SCM bookstore and a November press conference at Queen’s Park, the latter set up by David Reville. The November 1st news release for the Queen’s Park event featured strong endorsements by physicians Thomas Szasz and Peter Breggin, two prominent American critics of the psychiatric system. But it was likely Bonnie and Don who initiated December’s “An Antipsychiatry Evening,” and a July “Alternative to Psychiatry” event, both of which teamed author readings with a related film.
These Shrink Resistant post-publication publicity documents need to be set against Bonnie and Don’s memories of New Star’s work promoting the collection. The two editors were deeply dissatisfied with New Star in this regard, feelings that are still part of their historical perspective today:
For a while I was very upset:
The dream that Shrink Resistant would serve to insert the plight of psychiatric patients into Canadian public consciousness is evident in correspondence between the two longtime activists and New Star. The book’s editors were concerned that New Star was doing a poor job of publicizing and distributing the book, worries reflected in voluminous exchanges between Don and the press contained in the PSAT and New Star document collections.
A set of correspondence written six months after publication encapsulates the content and spirit of these exchanges. Writing in March 1989 to Audrey, Lanny and Rolf, Don expressed alarm about poor distribution and low book sales, noting that he and Bonnie had done the lion’s share of arranging events like the Queen’s Park press conference and radio and TV interview. In April Bonnie sent a letter to New Star, arguing that the press had failed to take an appropriate lead in publicizing the book, warning that this might lead to an important book being, “buried due to publisher neglect,” and inquiring what New Star intended to do to rectify the situation. Audrey’s response reflects the perspective of the alternative book publisher: New Star had done what it could with the limited financial capacity of a small press, and the rest was up to Shrink Resistant, a significant book which would likely continue to sell slowly but well over the long term rather than “take off” with large initial sales.
Another contentious aspect of New Star’s work promoting Shrink Resistant lay with the press’ publishing tactic of using well-known public figures to bring it to the attention of the media and the broader public. To an extent, Don went along with this, suggesting that a copy be mailed to Oprah Winfrey and offering no criticism of Lanny’s moves to bring Shrink Resistant author Susan Musgrave on board for publicity gigs on local Victoria radio stations. The collective spirit of the book and the editors’ judgment of New Star were tested, however, by the January 1989 Now profile of Shrink Resistant. The editors objected – and wrote a critical letter to Now – when Toronto’s NOW Magazine’s coverage of the booked focused on author David Reville, at the time a member of the provincial legislative assembly.