Web sites like PostSecret and Secret Regrets, where people can anonymously post their darkest secrets for the world to read, have been around (and popular) for years. This week, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers launched a similar Web site, with a literary bent: the Why We Broke Up Project. The project is designed to promote a January 2012 release with a 125,000-copy initial print run: Why We Broke Up, a novel giving the backstory to two high schoolers’ break-up, written in epistolary form by Daniel Handler (of Lemony Snicket fame), and illustrated by Maira Kalman.
On the Why We Broke Up Project site, people are invited to post their most memorable romantic break-up stories under seven categories: “I can’t believe how disgusting you were;” I can’t believe there was someone else;” “I can’t believe you did that;” “I can’t believe you wore that;” “I can’t believe that’s what you thought;” “I just can’t believe it;” and “I’d take you back in a minute.” An eighth category, “Daniel Responds,” features Handler’s trademark snarkiness in his responses to participants’ comments. For example, in response to one posting, “I had ugly shoes. In my defense, I was in seventh grade and my mom was cheap,” Handler writes, “Your mom is to blame not only for this but for all of your subsequent failures.Why not call her now and tell her so?”
Little Brown had a beta test of the virtual wall – of a sort – at BEA, with its in-booth “literary wall.” Authors, booksellers and other book industry folk were invited to write their break-up stories on “We Broke Up Because...” postcards. The cards were then attached to the magnetized, 40’ x 80’ steel wall with magnets decorated with Kalman’s artwork. Tina McIntyre, director of marketing at Little Brown Books for Young Readers, estimated that about 200 people posted their stories on the wall at BEA, though scores more were interested, but declined to post comments.
“People who were reluctant to share their breakup stories on the wall were sharing them with Daniel during his autographing or with staff working his signing line,” McIntyre noted. And, she added, “We did a soft launch of the Web site at BEA so that individuals who regretted not sharing their embarrassing, painful – or painfully embarrassing – stories could go to the site afterwards and still participate.”
Handler, author of the Series of Unfortunate Events middle-grade series, says the inspiration for the Web project came from the reactions of friends, relatives, colleagues, and even strangers, whenever the subject of his latest endeavor came up. “It touches a nerve,” he said. “You never forget having your heart broken for the first time. People like to tell those stories.” Handler intends to keep the Web site up “as long as people keep breaking up,” and is already considering collaborating with Kalman on publishing a compilation of break-up stories posted on the site.
The Web site serves two purposes, according to Handler. It provides a space for people to “cathartically” post their break-up stories, he said, and it’s “entertainment” for Handler and Kalman. “It’s performance art meets democracy in action,” he proclaimed.
The site not only includes anonymous break-up stories from regular folk, but also break-up stories about first loves posted and signed by literary celebrities, including authors Neil Gaiman, Brian Selznick, Judy Blundell, and Sara Shepard.
According to Handler, instead of soliciting blurbs from celebrity authors, his publisher solicited recollections from them about first break-ups to include on the book’s back cover and on the Web site. “Neil Gaiman told me he had the most fun ever blurbing the book,” Handler said, “because he didn’t have to read it and then think of something pithy to say.”
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman. Little, Brown, $17.99 Jan. 2012 ISBN 978-0-316-12725-7