Andy Samberg’s D-ck in a Book?: The Highs and Lows of Marketing Literature on the Internet

Curator's Note

Journalist, socialite, and billionaire’s daughter Holly Peterson released her first novel to much fanfare in June 2007. A comedic gender-reversal tale, The Manny relates the story of a Park Avenue mom who hires a hunky male nanny to care for her children. The novel is unremarkable in many respects: publishers perennially release "beach books" in time for summer vacations, the industry famously targets female readers across many different fictional genres, and the successes of "chick lit" books featuring young, wealthy, urban-dwelling female characters have resulted in a slew of imitators. A safely gentrified New York, its famously wealthy, overwhelmingly white Upper East Side, and that neighborhood’s oft-chronicled, if frequently narrowly conceived scene of society parties and charity benefits have been recounted with great melodramatic flair in "chick lit" books like Sex and the City, Bergdorf Blondes, and The Nanny Diaries—just to name a few. Worthy of note here: the well-heeled, well-dressed women who circulate in these scenes actually exist and have become a curious kind of production culture: authors like Candace Bushnell, Plum Sykes, and, yes, Holly Peterson have earned their literary stripes by pressing palms with the best (i.e. "richest" and "most powerful") of them. In fact, they count many of them as their friends. These high-profile books are often supported with dazzling promotional campaigns that include promotional appearances, press tours, and advertisements—no small feat for an industry with a ribbon-thin profit margin (if that) for many of its products. But for all of the pizzazz attending successful, profitable novels like The Devil Wears Prada (yes, it was a book first), there are countless books—many in the same high-glam, lowbrow vein—that fail miserably. These land on remainder tables and/or, finally, end up pulped and dumped. The Manny may or may not be one of them. While it has appeared on bestseller lists, the distribution system used in commercial publishing means that the publisher could end up with more copies on hand than it knows what to do with. Time will tell. I’ve been following the trajectory of The Manny, in particular, because the media campaign attending its publication has featured an interesting instance of media convergence and highbrow vs. lowbrow intrigue. Friends and relatives of the wealthy, well-connected author helped her make a tongue-in-cheek, ready-for-youtube video inspired by the crass video parodies made famous by Andy Samberg on Saturday Night Live. In the time leading up to The Manny’s publication, both The New York Times and The New Yorker published articles chronicling the production of the video and, undoubtedly, helped spark some interest in the book by drawing attention to the circumstances surrounding its publication and the video’s production. Internet videos created for publicity purposes are increasingly being employed by publishers and retailers alike. The collusion of the (relatively) highbrow industry like book publishing and the viral video masses has created an interesting dialogue in the press and, not surprisingly, more than a little handwringing. The user comments appearing alongside The Manny’s video on youtube offer an entertaining glimpse of a similar conversation. One comment, in particular, underscores the multivalent high/low conflict at work here: "Harold Ross would never have promoted this junk in his New Yorker. But some things never change: The new rich are as crass as ever and Holly Peterson is as good a rep as they’ve ever had." So has Peterson crossed the wealthy literati by writing chick lit? Or is it because she used the internet to promote a book? The answer is likely "both." While tensions between highbrow and lowbrow modes of literary publishing are certainly nothing new, the publishing industry’s search for innovative methods of cross-media promotion add an interesting layer to this debate.

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