Last summer, I loved the ads for Gossip Girl. A shot of Serena and Nate in the throes of passion, with just four letters of text: OMFG. This summer, they’re even better. The ads still feature scandalous poses, but now the text is negative reviews the show has received. “Every parent’s nightmare.” “A nasty piece of work.” “Mind-blowingly inappropriate.” Genius. Nothing gets teenagers more into something than the idea that adults want to keep them away from it, a lesson I learned in fifth grade when other parents complained to my mom about me passing around dog-eared copies of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and Judy Blume’s Forever. (My mom just shrugged, and to this day I have both these books on my shelf. You know, if anyone would like to borrow them for the dirty parts).
It makes me wonder: could we do a similar campaign with one of our books? We don’t typically advertise our books on bus shelters (Harper Perennial is not made of money), but the idea could work in other formats. It’d be much harder, I think. If one of our books gets a bad review, it tends to be because the reviewer thought the writing was bad, not because it could harm young minds. There just isn’t as much vitriol. The only exception I can think of is James Frey’s Bright Shiny Morning, out now in hardcover from Harper and going into paperback next year. Reading through Frey’s negative reviews, there’s not much in the way of Gossip Girl-style salacious taglines (except this one from USA Today that would draw me to any book that had it on the cover: “Constant bad behavior: booze, abuse, crime, murder.”). But the book certainly caused some strong feelings, both positive and negative, and I do think that’s something that can attract readers.