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Benedict Cumberbatch, Neil Gaiman, and Guy Hasson Walk Into a Bar…

Guy Hasson is an SF author and a filmmaker. His latest books are Secret Thoughts by Apex Books and The Emoticon Generation by Infinity Plus. His 45-minute epic SF film, The Indestructibles, which he wrote and directed, will be released on the web in a few weeks, and his start-up New Worlds Comics will go live in July.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Neil Gaiman, and Guy Hasson walk into a bar…

A second glance at Digital Kingmakers’ research into the psyche of SF readers
A guest post by Guy Hasson

To be clear: this post is your fault, the fault of SF Signal readers.

In my last guest post a few weeks ago, I told you about how I was approached by Mary Belle, CEO of Digital Kingmakers, and how she offered to make my guests posts go viral.

It was…an experience, which I had fully relayed in my post. Her theories were infuriating. And yet, having done everything she said, the new post got 17 comments (viral by SF Signal standards), while my original post (no less brilliant) got none. (Don’t remember? Check it out.) That post even made the list for top 30 SF Signal posts in May.

True to my public promise, I returned to the offices of Digital Kingmakers. In the email that preceded the meeting, Ms. Belle promised to further reveal to me the psyche of the SF fans in a way that would increase my book sales by 1000% in a month.

Last time the experience was insulting. This time it proved to be…psychedelic.

I wish I could tell you I was making this up. But I can’t.

Here’s what happened.

There I was again, sitting opposite Ms. Belle in the Digital Kingmakers conference room, looking at yet another PowerPoint presentation. Ms. Belle’s pregnancy had clearly advanced, now entering its 34th week (out of 40, for you non-parents out there). But there was no wear and tear in her demeanor, no hint of fatigue in her eyes.

“There is a science to GPO,” she told me. (‘Guest Post Optimization’, if you recall). “It shows us the right way to do things. The way you’ve been handling your career so far? That’s the wrong way.”


“I’m serious. I’ve read your last book and it’s good. More importantly, though – I read your reviews – all extremely positive. But word of mouth hasn’t gotten around. Why? Because being good doesn’t sell books. You don’t know how to go viral. Here at Digital Kingmakers, we can make anything go viral.”

“Really? Anything?”

“Anything, Mr. Hasson. Now, you do one thing, follow my one instruction precisely, and your next guest post will increase your Emoticon Generation book sales by 1000% over the next month.”

I felt like a teenage girl opening the door to a dark cellar in a cheesy horror film. Did I really want to go there? “What’s the one thing?”

“In your next guest post, Mr. Hasson, I want you to insert a joke into whatever you write about. A single joke.”

“One joke would increase The Emoticon Generation‘s sales by a thousand percent?”

“At least. ”

“What’s the joke?” I was slowly descending the stairs without a flashlight. In a second, the cellar door would snap shut and I’d be trapped.

“You’ll have to come up with the specifics, you’re the writer. But I’ll tell you what elements need to be in it.”

I nodded. She continued, “It has to be a two-sentence joke. It has to start like this, ‘Benedict Cumberbatch, Neil Gaiman, and Guy Hasson enter the Amazon website’. That’s the first sentence. The second sentence has to be funny. And it has to have Benedict Cumberbatch and Neil Gaiman buying your book. And you have to actually say its name, The Emoticon Generation. But, you know, funny.”

It’s not easy to shock me as completely as she did. I felt my jaw fall to the floor with a loud thud, and I’m sure it took me a few seconds to close my mouth back again. “You know,” I finally said, “there were ten crazy things in that one thing you just said.”

“I’ll break it down for you.”

“No, no, I’ll start,” I stopped her. “First of all, why those two? Two: I don’t know Cumberbatch or Gaiman. I’ve been to a couple of Gaiman’s talks, but we never spoke. Three: wouldn’t they object to being in a joke? Four: who would ever be stupid enough to buy my book as a result of a joke like that? Five: the joke you need would never ever be funny. Six: What you said is just crazy. Seven, eight, and nine: What you said is just crazy. Ten: If I do it, I’m crazy.”

She was unperturbed. “I’ll break it down for you.”

I deflated back into my chair. “All right.”

“We’ve researched SF fans.”

“Did you, now?”

“We know what they’re about. We’ve learned that Benedict Cumberbatch is like the Beatles now. Practically every mention of him on the web draws in the equivalent of crazy fan screams and young girls swooning. True?”

“So far, true.”

“And Neil Gaiman is like the Rolling Stones. He’s been super popular for the last few decades. And he also draws in his share of swooning girls.”

“They don’t swoon, they just want him to sign their breasts. But okay. Now how does any of this…”

“The science of GPO has shown us that for something to become viral, it needs a trigger. A trigger has two elements: One, something needs to remind people of your product. That’s where the joke comes in, constructed directly at your core audience with both Cumberbatch and Gaiman. Two, we have to make sure the trigger is triggered at a time and place where people can actually buy your product. In your case: Amazon.

“That’s why the joke has to be about Amazon. Whenever people enter Amazon, they’ll be reminded of the joke and be inclined to buy your book.”

I squinted. Another “you’re crazy” monologue was on the tip of my tongue.

“Mr. Hasson,” she raised her hand. “The science of-”

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

She was about to say something, when she suddenly tilted her head. “Is that a quote from a science fiction thing?”

This time I was able to hide my jaw dropping.

“It’s Star Trek,” I said.

“Ah! Star Trek: the Old Generation! I used to watch that!”

“We don’t call it Star Trek: The Old Generation. We just say Star Trek: TOG for short. But can we get back to the point?”

“Mr. Hasson, last time you doubted me and I was right. I’m-”

“You’re talking about psychohistory!” I was no longer in control of my voice. “Psychohistory can’t exist already! And it can’t pivot around Cumberbatch and Gaiman!”

“Psychohistory? Is that another Star Trek thing?”

Star Wars,” I said.


That calmed me down enough for her to get a word in, “Mr. Hasson, last time you doubted me and I was right. I’m right now, as well. I need you to write a good short joke that has all these elements. And make it memorable.” She reached into a stack of papers in front of her and pulled out the top sheet. “I happen have a list of jokes here. I’m sure you can write better ones, but you can use these as a reference.”

I leaned back in my chair, glad I was recording the session, just as I had last time. Who would ever believe this?

“Joke one,” she began to read. “Benedict Cumberbatch, Neil Gaiman, and Guy Hasson enter Amazon. Neil Gaiman says to Guy Hasson, ‘I’m going to buy your book The Emoticon Generation for you. Wouldn’t that be funny?’ And he did.”

All right. This had to stop. “Listen,” I said, as if speaking to a two-year-old, “Putting the word ‘funny’ in a sentence doesn’t make it a joke.”

“I’m just getting warmed up,” she said. “Joke two: Benedict Cumberbatch, Neil Gaiman, and Guy Hasson enter Amazon and buy The Emoticon Generation. Benedict Cumberbatch says, ‘Hey, that looks like a cool premise for a film. Can I be in it?’ Guy Hasson says, ‘Can you act?'”

I pursed my lips. I was wondering what my limit would be. “Listen,” I said even more slowly.. “That’s actually more an insult than a joke. And he acts very well. So…I’ll pass on that one.”

“Insult jokes are a whole genre of comedy, but all right. Joke three: Benedict Cumberbatch, Neil Gaiman, and Guy Hasson enter Amazon. Benedict Cumberbatch says, ‘If they turn your book into a movie, Khan I act in it?'”

I had to stop myself from grinding my teeth to dust. “At least it’s a pun,” I said. “But…No.”

“I have a dozen more,” she said. “Joke four: Benedict Cumberbatch, Neil Gaiman, and Guy Hasson enter Amazon. Neil Gaiman reads The Emoticon Generation and says, ‘Guy, I wish I had your talent.’ Guy Hasson says, ‘Me, too.'”

There was a bit of awkward silence, until I suddenly realized. “Oh! That was the end of the joke?”

“It needs a little polish, I admit,” she made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “All right, joke five!”

I had to listen to fifteen more ‘jokes’. I’ll spare you the rest of this experience, as you have no doubt reached your limit. Needless to say, they only got sadder and sadder. With every joke, a part of my soul died.

By the time she finished, I was exhausted. I told her, “Listen. I’m not going to write the joke you asked for. But,” I quickly added before she could object, “I’m going to write about this meeting and everything we talked about, just like last time. And I’ll put all of your ‘jokes’ in, because we talked about them. Well, most of them. Well, some of them. According to you, just putting them in the post will increase my book sales by a thousand percent in one month.”

“At least.”

For the second time in the last month, I was hoping she was wrong. Even if it does hurt my book sales.

I shrugged. “If you’re right, we’ll come back for another session. But if you’re wrong, we’re done.”

She smiled. “See you again in a month.”

So, dear readers, that’s what happened. Now it’s up to you. Will you prove her right like last time? Or will you prove her wrong?

I’m counting on you.

17 Comments on Benedict Cumberbatch, Neil Gaiman, and Guy Hasson Walk Into a Bar…

  1. Jerry Gaiser // June 6, 2013 at 11:12 am //


  2. Curious Cat // June 6, 2013 at 12:51 pm //

    Now I’m curious to see if your book is written like this article. Highly amusing. I will probably browse it for real in a bookstore.

    The joke is Ms. Belle appears to get smarter and funnier each time you write about her. Are you sure she isn’t some Serling Dictaphone creation of yours?

    (“That word you keep using…” – The Princess Bride, actually. Psychohistory – Asimov Foundation series, actually.)

  3. Well, I suppose this Ms. Belle isn’t entirely wrong. Writing this post has made me wonder who you are and what you write when I had no knowledge of you previously. Also, I’m wondering if this GPO business is for real.

  4. I’m not going to lie, I read this post because the title name-dropped Neil Gaiman. I’m probably going to buy your book too. Damn mind control!!

  5. So, I’m equally fascinated and annoyed by the crass, lowest-common-denominator manipulation that Ms. Belle is advocating, and my gut says none of it will work. She clearly has no idea what she’s talking about.

    And yet… I clicked on this post because I wanted to see where you were going with Neil Gaiman and Benedict Cumberbatch walking into a bar. And now I’m curious about your book. And I’m going to go look at it on Amazon. Not because I think any of this claptrap works, mind you. I’m just curious now.

  6. …I usually don’t read your blog posts, although I follow you on Facebook. I clicked on the FB link just because of the title (which mentioned Cumberbatch and Gaiman)… I think Ms. Belle is on to something.

  7. Came to see what the humor reversal of the Cumberbatch/Gaiman joke was, stayed for the headdesking of mistaking Princess Bride and Foundation quotes for Star (insert type here).

    I think the reason I headdesk so much, though, is that she knows what works, but not why. And her what is so superficial. *shakes head* *rubs sore spot on eyebrows*

  8. Catherine // June 7, 2013 at 8:39 am //

    Crap. I feel so manipulated. Apparently I am just a faceless member of a nerdy, predictable, gullible demographic.

    Great post though.

    Here I come, Amazon.

  9. I am here because of Cumberbatch as well. Not sure about your book – but, anything Cumberbatch will get me to open a link. Hopefully, spammers won’t read that admission. Good luck with your book –

  10. Who is this Cumberbatch guy?
    And wasn’t Gaiman that guy who did that piece about Duran Duran in the 80s?


    Great post,

  11. stephen // June 7, 2013 at 8:59 pm //

    I don’t buy online; I go to a local independent bookstore. But I liked the article, except for the awful “jokes.” I might buy the book.

  12. LoL! Same, clicked a link on my twitter TL containing a certain Mr. Cumberbatch…..well, at least now I am interested in your book, or at least in your blog. A fun read!

  13. Real time update: A few hours ago, I got an email from my publisher, saying “I don’t know what you’ve been doing the last two days, but you should do more of it.” Apparently, over the last two days since this article was published, US Amazon sales spiked and are already at 600% the monthly average.

    Make of it what you will.

  14. Now we just need Gaiman or Cumberbatch to retweet a link to this article. . .

  15. Smedley // June 9, 2013 at 7:11 am //

    I enjoyed the article so much that I just had to go buy the book on Amazon. But it was because of the humor, not because of the name-dropping. Honest!

  16. This is so hilarious I don’t have the words… And yet, how did I get to this post? Via my interest in Mr. Cumberbatch. Natch.

  17. Standback // June 10, 2013 at 3:52 am //

    Benedict Cumberbatch, Neil Gaiman, and Guy Hasson enter the Amazon website.
    “Hey,” says Cumberbatch, “Is this book about how to generate new emoticons? That sounds pretty cool!”
    Unfortunately, Hasson and Gaiman were accessing the site from their own home computers and couldn’t hear him.

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