Witherspoon and Where the Crawdads Sing: Shameless Self-Advertising?

Image taken from Legally Blonde (2001) Directed by Robert Luketic.

By Amelia Erswell

Famous for her career as an actress, Reese Witherspoon’s life has reached a new phase amid lockdown. Following her formation of Reece’s Book Club in 2018 and creation of the production company Hello Sunshine, she has become an entrepreneur with a large social-media presence – as she notes in Legally Blonde … ‘What, like it’s hard?’ But how has Witherspoon harnessed her experience in the industry, interest in novels, and new business proposals to cross-pollinate and create a successful business model? 

The answer: Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing focuses on the bleak life of Kya: her difficult familial circumstances and her youth. Set in the South, during 1950/60s, the book observes the mystery of Chase Andrews’ murder and trial and the growth and relationship of Kya and Tate, alongside the natural landscape of the marshes. Written in 2018, the book was highly successful, selling nearly 8.5 million copies. Not only did it top The New York Times Fiction Best Seller in 2019, this novel spent 124 weeks on the best seller list.

If we consider cultural capital, this book has been given it in spades! In 2018, Where the Crawdads Sing was selected for Reece’s Book Club. Highly competitive, celeb book clubs are the holy grail in publishing – they give author’s access to an elevated platform, of which Reese’s Book Club has over 1.4 million. The front cover appears in 8 posts on its Instagram, alongside aesthetic pin badges, babies, and scrumptious blackberry scones … images strikingly discordant with the book’s themes. 

Photo Credit: all Instagram @reesesbookclub September 2018.

It may sound sceptical, but we may ponder whether Owen’s debut novel would have had such success without this lucky break? This isn’t to say Owen isn’t deserving of such triumph, it’s more a question of time, budget, and advertising allocation. Such a viewpoint is observed by Justin Kroll in Deadline who refers to the book as a ‘publishing phenomenon’. The novel’s upcoming on-screen adaptation, by Netflix, is a tribute to its worldwide success. It will be a joint venture by Sony, 3000 Pictures, and Hello Sunshine – interestingly Witherspoon has managed to involve her own production company. We might argue her free advertising of the text, back in 2018, had a vested interest. Having facilitated its publicity, Witherspoon is now reaping her reward with a contract for this highly anticipated block-buster film. A star-studded cast, including the likes of Daisy Edgar Jones (Normal People) and Harris Dickinson (recently leading The King’s Man), the film is expected to draw a huge following. The actors involved are another form of publicity. In posting about their role, their own followers may fall into the remit of Owens – further feeding the cycle of consumerism, advertising, and publicity.  

Keep your eyes peeled for more of Witherspoon’s future ventures. I suspect, if Where the Crawdads Sing is successful, her book club will become a crystal ball, enabling us to pre-empt future film proposals by Hello Sunshine. Although, only time will tell.

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