Instead, it's a book on religion that most Americans might never have heard of, except for a combination of an uncomfortable interview, a viral video, and most importantly, a clash of points of view.
The book in question here is Reza Aslan's Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, and the interview was Lauren Green's 10-minute discussion with Aslan on Fox News Live. The viral part comes into play thanks to Buzzfeed, which embedded the video on its website with the headline: "Is this the Most Embarrassing Interview Fox News Has Ever Done?" It certainly was "bizarre and uncomfortable," as The New York Times reported.
Apparently prompted by a Fox News columnist's complaint that other media hadn't made clear that Aslan is Muslim, Green spent much of the interview asking him to justify why a Muslim would ever write about Jesus. Aslan clearly knew what he was walking into, so he spent most of the interview barely trying to hide his disdain and listing his academic credentials. (An associate professor of creative writing, he has a Ph.D. in sociology and a master's in divinity from Harvard, among other degrees. He's also written several other books on religion.)
Selling Lots of Books
It went on for 10 minutes like that, with Green asking basically the same question over and over and Aslan responding the same way. Green was at a disadvantage in the interview, because she clearly hadn't read the book. That's not unusual. With one short segment after another all day long, television presenters couldn't possibly read every book, see every movie, or travel to every place they discuss, even if they wanted to.
The result? According to The Times:
[T]he Buzzfeed page featuring the video has been viewed nearly four million times. Mr. Aslan quickly amassed an additional 5,000 Twitter followers. On Monday, Random House, Mr. Aslan's publisher, said the interview had clearly helped the book: in two days, sales increased 35 percent. ... Random House is rushing to meet the surge in demand for the book.
Last week, the book had been well-reviewed but was mostly obscure. This week, it's debuting at #2 on The New York Times bestseller list.
Have a Point of View
I talk with a lot of entrepreneurs and others who want to write. Whether they want to try their hands at content marketing, or hope to write a book, my advice is simply this: Don't be boring. Have a real point of view, be controversial, and stick with it. That's what we have here. Two points of view, clashing and banging, and drawing with them people who feel strongly about both sides.
Check out the hundreds of reviews of Zealot on Amazon now. They congregate like a reverse bell curve, all 5-stars and 1-stars -- "a profoundly fascinating book," next to "Biblical Revisionism Fit For Those With Itching Ears Who Are Against Jesus."
As John Voorhees of Slate put it, "It's safe to say that Aslan knew what he was doing--although even he couldn't have known just how successful he'd be at doing it."
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