Friday, July 19, 2024

‘Bigolas Dickolas’ is more powerful than the Pulitzer Prize

Video game consultant Rami Ismail was a bit sleepy in an early morning meeting, until his client said something particularly strange: “I’m really just looking for a way to get my game its Bigolas Dickolas moment.”

“I had to absolutely wake up very fast to politely find a way to explain I had no idea what they meant,” Ismail told TechCrunch.

Earlier this week, a fan account for the anime series “Trigun” tweeted emphatically that everyone must immediately buy “This is How You Lose the Time War,” a queer, dystopian time travel novella published in 2019. The tweet garnered 10 million impressions, and enough people took the advice from this anime fan – whose display name is “bigolas dickolas wolfwood” – that the novella shot up the charts to #3 on Amazon’s book list. No, not sci-fi Amazon, or queer time travel romance Amazon. It is the #3 book out of literally every book on Amazon because of an anime fan named “bigolas dickolas.” Per Amazon’s charts, the book is selling better than Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go” and recent Pulitzer Prize winner Barbara Kingsolver’s “Demon Copperhead.”

Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, the co-authors of the book, sounded downright giddy when we talked on the phone Wednesday afternoon. Their novella was already relatively successful among sci-fi fans, winning the coveted Hugo and Nebula awards when it came out. In El-Mohtar’s words, “it achieved the dream of being a midlist book.” Now, almost four years later, it’s extremely abnormal for a book to get a second wind of sales like this.

“I really think a huge part of why [the tweet] hit the way it did was that there’s no link,” El-Mohtar said. “It’s just the book cover, and the follow up tweet engaged in that kind of stan violence of like, ‘grabbing you by the throat, you must do this thing.”

Among its existing fanbase, “Time War” is beloved for being more like a longform, epistolary poem than a piece of fiction – but El-Mohtar and Gladstone found bigolas dickolas wolfwood’s tweet to be gorgeous in its own right.

“It’s a beautifully written tweet,” Gladstone told TechCrunch. “It’s a grand swell of Twitter rhetoric… the way it’s constructed, the use of cases, the use of stan violence…”

“Yes!” interjected El-Mohtar. “There’s a poetry to it!”

BookTok – a community on TikTok that talks about books – has revolutionized the publishing industry. Madeline Miller, who blurbed “Time War,” published “The Song of Achilles” in 2012 with an initial run of 20,000 copies. The book, a queer retelling of a story from “The Iliad,” went viral on BookTok in 2021, and has now sold more than 2 million copies. Writers like Emily Henry, Colleen Hoover and Taylor Jenkins Reid have experienced similar success, defying the standards of book publishing.

But Twitter is normally not a useful place to sell books.

“When you think of a book going viral, it’s usually on TikTok, and it’s because everyone is talking about it,” said Kelsey Weekman, an internet culture reporter who reads around 400 books per year. “For this book to have immediately blown up because of one single tweet… I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before, especially not since BookTok.”

The problem with BookTok is that as authors’ careers have been propelled forward, so have the careers of “bookfluencers,” who make a living by creating content about books. The entire influencer economy is predicated on the belief that people are more likely to buy things when they get a recommendation from a friend (or, a cool person they follow online) – but when paid brand deals with publishers and the constant churn of content creation eclipse the unbridled joy of reading, fans might not see these recommendations as gospel.

Enter: bigolas dickolas wolfwood, an anime account who stopped tweeting about “Trigun” for just one moment to command to their followers, “*grabs you personally by the throat* you will do this. for me. you will go to the counter at barnes and noble. you will buy this. i will be greatly rewarded.” It was such a novel moment on Twitter that even Simon and Schuster’s corporate marketing account engaged with the tweet, which makes the whole situation even more delightful, because we now know that marketing executives at publishing houses are talking about “bigolas dickolas.”

“There’s so many people out there trying to be influencers, whose job it is to recommend books,” Weekman told TechCrunch. “But just seeing genuine enthusiasm from some random person about something makes it seem like a better investment to me. It feels refreshing to get a recommendation from a real person.”

Much like the TikTok For You page, the Amazon bestsellers list works in mysterious ways. Some publishing experts say that the list’s algorithm prioritizes the velocity of sales, rather than the total number – but no matter how you slice it, bigolas dickolas wolfwood is doing more for “Time War” this week than winning a Pulitzer did for “Demon Copperhead,” which sits at #6 on the list.

Unfortunately, due to how publishing works, Gladstone and El-Mohtar told TechCrunch they likely won’t know the extent of how this impacted their sales until next year. For now, they are basking in the glory of it all: how more people will read their book than ever before because of some anime fan with a silly dick joke as their Twitter display name.

“As much as it’s a part of the funniness of the narrative that it’s an anime fan account, there is actually a lot of anime at the heart of the book,” said El-Mohtar. She and Gladstone started writing “Time War” after exchanging their favorite anime, like “Revolutionary Girl Utena,” “Sailor Moon,” and yes, even “Trigun.”

Future royalties aside, Gladstone’s favorite part of the bigolas dickolas saga is that, as the current “main character” on Twitter, this random anime fan is not trying to drop their Soundcloud or sell galaxy lamps.

“The thing that they’re shooting their shot on from this whole absurd experience is tweeting Dark Horse Comics to ask them to reprint the original Trigun,” Gladstone said.

‘Bigolas Dickolas’ is more powerful than the Pulitzer Prize by Amanda Silberling originally published on TechCrunch

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