As if there’s any question. Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m looking at you. Though that wasn’t slick marketing, was it? It was just a straight up offer of porn in the guise of something permissible to read in public.
Here’s a post from James Scott Bell at Kill Zone Blog: Can Slick Marketing Sell Bad Books?
Herein he discusses a publishing phenomenon that predates Fifty Shades by fifty years but did basically the same thing, only it was a deliberate joke from top to bottom. I’d never heard of it. Here’s a bit of the story — click through to read the whole thing if you’re interested —
A Newsday reporter by the name of Mike McGrady, over drinks with some pals, posited that a novel with no social value and even less literary quality could sell, if it was about sex and had a titillating cover. …To prove it, he got a couple dozen of his newsroom colleagues (19 men and 5 women, including two Pulitzer Prize winners) to conspire to write a lurid tome. The simple concept was a housewife having a series of adulterous flings, one per chapter. … The conspirators wrote one chapter each, trying their darndest not to make the writing too good.
McGrady edited each chapter, blue-penciling anything even approaching a modicum of literary quality. … He then submitted it to publisher Lyle Stuart, known for “edgy” books. They accepted it (not knowing it was a hoax) and proceeded to design a salacious cover.
When Naked Came the Stranger hit the stores, the reviewers hit back. The Village Voice said the book was “Of such perfectly realized awfulness that it will suck your soul right out of your brainpan and through your mouth, and you will happily let it go.”
It became an instant bestseller.
Well, at least this is evidence that the success of Fifty Shades isn’t due to the modern degradation of American culture.