Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Novel As Marketing Tool: Bad Twin

Currently reading: "The Odyssey" by Homer and "Seconds of Pleasure" by Neil LeBute
Next Up: "Ultimate Spider-Man"

Bad Twin is a bad book. By all literary standards, the novel is a travesty: cliche, overwritten and underwritten in the wrong places with a hackneyed mystery plot involving a private detective searching for a missing twin brother, the titular "bad twin", who happens to be the heir to one of the largest fortunes in the country.

Blah, blah, blah.

None of that matters, as the actual plot of the story is incidental. Once I figured out the kind of read this was going to be, I was able to skip large, predictable chunks, skimming much of the book. What matters is not the quality of the writing, but where this novel fits in the marketing scheme for the ABC television show, Lost.

I'll admit it, I'm a Lostphile. :) I own Season One on DVD, as well as the Season One companion book. I buy the cheesy Lost Magazine regularly. If a cast member appears on a magazine cover, I'm more likely to buy it. And yes, I've been known to dip my toe in a fan discussion forum here or there.

Bad Twin first made an appearance during Season Two of Lost. It was an unpublished manuscript the crash survivors found in the wreckage and had begun to take turns reading. In a tense moment, Jack Shepherd (the island's resident doctor) burns the last few pages of the manuscript, much to Sawyer's (the resident bad boy) outrage. I wish I were able to let Sawyer know that he isn't missing much.

So, Bad Twin is a fake novel written by a fake author in a fake world created for a television show. Why buy it?

Well, the producers of Lost know that the show's fans are a geeky, conspiratorial lot. They'd have to be to keep up with the show's myriad plots and subplots. In order to keep them entertained (and interested in the show) during summer hiatus, the show's producers created The Lost Experience, an alternate reality game (ARG) that is being played in all the countries where Lost airs and involves several mediums including the internet (in the form of a faux Hanso Foundation website, as well as several blogs, websites, discussion boards...), the telephone (a Hanso Foundation phone number that needs to be called for clues), and television (where fake television ads for the Hanso Foundation contain game-related info).

And contemporary literature, apparently.

Hyperion Books, a subsidiary of ABC, published Bad Twin as part of the game, going so far as to take out full page ads for it in the voice of game characters and "releasing" interview snippets with the "now deceased" author, Gary Troup (played by Thomas Calabro of Melrose Place fame), on several bookseller sites. The folks at ABC have gone all out to create a detailed alternate universe in which this game can be played, covering all sources of information and media outlets to amusing effect.

I was excited about the ARG at first. I watched all the ads and called the phone number for clues. I visited the Hanso site daily for updates, which led me to other websites and other clues...and I purchased Bad Twin, because it supposedly contained that would be relevant to the game. While certain items were fun to pick out, none of them proved particularly illuminating as far as the game goes. The book also touches on certain themes that the show already covers with a more deft hand. To be fair, there might have been clues that I just missed. However, I think that can be blamed on the weak writing that forced me to skim large chunks. Perhaps if ABC had hired a better ghostwriter, I would have paid closer attention.

So, Bad Twin fails as a novel and as a game piece. It's an all-around failure.

And yet.

I bought a copy, and so did 300,000+ other people (according to NeilsenBookscan). Perhaps the point of the book wasn't to be a literary success or to offer enormous insight into the game. Perhaps it was merely another way for ABC to cash in on the success of Lost through merchandising, and by having the worst writer possible - perhaps even writing it by committee in-house - they saved themselves the money that should've gone into quality and increased their profit margin.

If that's the case, then Bad Twin is not only the best book ever written, it is marketing genius.

Bad Twin: Sucks