When Books Go Viral – The New York Times

When Books Go Viral – The New York Times

Today’s newsletter is the story of two very different book sagas.

One involves Taylor Swift. The other is the story of a little-known Twitter user with a risky name who accidentally caused the most delicious thing to happen to Twitter in [checks notes] long time. We’ll start with the latter.

It goes like this: Sunday, a Twitter account dedicated to the animated series “Trigun” tweeted the following plea to his followers:

The book “This Is How You Lose the Time War”, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, received critical acclaim when it was released in 2019, winning the Hugo Award for Best Short Story the following year. (El-Mohtar is also a columnist who writes about science fiction books for The Times.)

What happened next was surprising. Twitter is great for shitposting and – a little less recently – for keeping up with the news, but has historically not been that good at motivating users to do things IRL. In this case, however, the tweets seem to have motivated some people to buy the book. “That’s How You Lose The Time War” rocketed up the Amazon charts, landing in the top ten.

“We’re literally sandwiched between Barbara Kingsolver’s ‘Demon Copperhead’ and Wendy Loggia’s ‘Taylor Swift: A Little Golden Book Biography’,” El-Mohtar told me.

Gladstone had just gotten off a plane for a family vacation when her phone started exploding with notifications from people who had seen the tweet. El-Mohtar said her husband spotted her on his For You stream.

The authors don’t yet have a concrete idea of ​​what exactly the sudden rise in the Amazon chart means in terms of actual sales. “It’s very opaque. As far as we can tell, a lot of Amazon’s sales ranking is tied to sales acceleration,” El-Mohtar said.

As for his motivation, Bigolas – who is 22 and wishes to remain anonymous and has gained 20,000 Twitter followers since the start – really wanted to tell people how much he loved the book.

“I read ‘Time War’ last week and finished it around 2am. I was overwhelmed by its depiction of an intense romance that transcended time and space,” he told me. “It was so visceral. I felt like I was going to go crazy, I had to share with someone.

Even if the bump turns out to be just an illusion, the collective joy will have been enough.

“People are enjoying what seems to be a resurgence of an older Twitter experience, one that’s more about laughing together in some kind of shared pleasure than doing something good, which isn’t about making fun of someone. , which is not about throwing at someone,” El-Mohtar said.

The Bigolas drama wasn’t this week’s only strange collision between publishing and internet culture. An unpublished book by Macmillan, titled “4C Untitled Flatiron Nonfiction Summer 2023,” began climbing Amazon’s pre-sale charts this weekend, thanks to one of the internet’s most powerful forces: Swifties. .

Fans of the pop star convinced themselves the book was by their beloved Taylor Swift.

To be clear, this is not the case. (This is an oral history of K-pop group BTS.)

But Swifties somehow convinced themselves that was the case, through a combination of internet research and numerological backflips. They found the number 13 – Swift’s birthdate, lucky number and often an Easter egg in Swiftie lore – on the date the book’s author would be revealed (June 13) and his birth number. pages (544, if you separate all the numbers then add them). Other pseudo-evidence: The book’s July 9 release date is a lyric in the Swift song “Last Kiss,” and Swift referenced the date in a recent Instagram post announcing the re-release of her “Fearless” album . (The words “dear reader” in the Instagram post added fuel to the fire.)

The incident is crazy, but it had real consequences for booksellers, customers and the publisher.

Bob Lingle, the owner of Good Neighbor Bookstore in Lakewood, NY, first heard about the Swiftie speculation in a Facebook group for independent booksellers. On Saturday morning, he posted the rumors on his bookstore’s TikTok account and opened pre-orders for the book, just in case.

Over 600 orders poured in in one day. “I was going to bed that night and the orders were coming in faster and faster,” he said. “I’m like, ‘I can’t fall asleep.'” He closed pre-orders before going to bed.

Hours after the video was posted, Lingle received a direct message on TikTok from Flatiron, Macmillan’s imprint publishing the book, asking him to remove the video. He obliged.

Lingle said BookTok has been much more helpful than Instagram or Facebook in helping his store reach new customers. But in this case, he learned that his frenzy can have consequences.

“It blew up in my face, eventually,” he said. He ended up canceling over $25,000 worth of orders for the mystery book after news broke that the book was not Swift’s. When we spoke on Wednesday, he politely declined to guess who the real author of the book might be.

“I step back from the speculation game,” he said.

Callie Holtermann contributed reporting to this bulletin.


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