In the run-up to the release of his blockbuster autobiography earlier this year, Prince Harry sat down with “60 Minutes” — and “CBS Mornings,” “ABC News Live,” “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” and others. Paris Hilton did “The View” and spoke with the BBC. Kerry Washington appeared on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and “Good Morning America.” Arnold Schwarzenegger opted for Kelly Clarkson and Howard Stern.
But for Britney Spears, the endlessly sought after and speculated about pop star who released her memoir, “The Woman in Me,” this week, there was mostly Instagram.
To gin up excitement about one of the most anticipated celebrity memoirs of the year, there were prerelease excerpts in People magazine, but no face-to-face interviews, which Spears has avoided since 2018, when she was still in the conservatorship that strictly controlled her life and career. (In the book, Spears writes of mentioning the arrangement in a 2016 interview, only to have it edited out.)
Now legally cleared to do and say what she pleases, however, Spears has held back, essentially throwing out the playbook for promoting a celebrity tell-all. The singer and her team are instead letting the book do the talking, with its gossipy nuggets and condemnations of the 13-year conservatorship feeding a steady churn of press coverage and social media chatter.
Her reticence to be interviewed, stemming in part from a distrust sowed by decades of insensitive coverage, does not seem to have affected early sales: The book reached No. 1 on Amazon’s best-seller list; complete sales data will not be available until next week. But the lack of any significant promotional or public appearances by Spears, 41, has been obvious to professionals in the worlds of publishing and public relations.
“This is completely out of the ordinary,” said Eleanor McManus, a former booking producer for CNN’s “Larry King Live” who now works as a crisis manager. McManus said she was watching TV on Monday morning to find out which shows would be teasing a conversation with Spears. “I was thinking, ‘Who got the first interview?’” she said, before realizing that the answer was “no one.”
“The only time you recommend not doing interviews is if you can’t control what the subject would say, or if what he or she would say would damage their brand,” she added.
But some experts suggest Spears’s robust social media following may be all she needs for a successful book launch. At a time when celebrity memoirs are booming, subjects may not need to engage with traditional media as they once did if they have a substantial audience of their own, said Madeleine Morel, an independent literary agent who represents ghostwriters.
“The whole thing is about the size of your platform,” Morel said. “Can you bring an audience to a book?”
Spears is indeed known for communicating these days almost exclusively through her free-associative and often cryptic social media posts. Her most significant commentary on “The Woman in Me” has come not in Vogue, with Oprah or even a cheeky appearance on “Saturday Night Live” but via social media, where she has shared messages about the book that were alternately grateful, scarred and conflicted to her more than 100 million followers across platforms.
It’s not like the traditional media was not interested. Spears said in a since-deleted voice message posted to Instagram last year that after her conservatorship was terminated in late 2021, she had been approached by all manner of outlets.
“I have offers to interviews with Oprah and so many people, lots and lots of money, but it’s insane,” she said. “I don’t want any of it.”
A representative for Spears declined to comment and the memoir’s publisher, Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, did not respond to requests for comment about their nontraditional strategy to secure promotion.
So far, Spears’s traditional media engagement has been limited to the excerpts in People magazine — including the bombshell that Spears had an abortion during her relationship with Justin Timberlake — accompanied by emailed quotes attributed to the singer and a cover photo, which captured Spears smiling on a beach in Tahiti, sourced to “Britney Brands” rather than a photographer for the magazine.
The publisher also helped to organize an international rerelease of the 2002 movie “Crossroads,” starring Spears. That rollout has featured interviews by its director, Tamra Davis, who has generated her own wave of news tidbits about Spears.
In Spears’s own recent comments on the book, she has chided the media for focusing on her past, though the memoir is essentially a retelling of her life story.
“I don’t like the headlines I am reading … that’s exactly why I quit the business 4 years ago !!!,” she wrote on Instagram. “My motive for this book was not to harp on my past experiences which is what the press is doing and it’s dumb and silly !!! I have moved on since then !!!”
She went on to briefly deactivate her account, only to return soon after with a picture of a cake that said “See you in hell.” On the book’s release day, she shared a single promotional post reading: “My story. On my terms. At last.” (She later deleted the post from Instagram.)
Most celebrities with books to sell still combine more old-fashioned media appearances, like the “Today” show and the late-night circuit, with a dedicated social media strategy and newer, friendly outlets like the podcasts Armchair Expert and On Purpose With Jay Shetty, the lifecoach and influencer.
The actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who released a memoir this month, did all of the above, plus more. Her deluge of media appearances even became the subject of a joke on “S.N.L.”
“Sorry if I seem a little tired,” said the comedian Ego Nwodim, who played Pinkett Smith. “I’ve been on the ‘Today’ show 14 times in three days.”
The writer Neil Strauss, who has worked on books with Mötley Crüe, Marilyn Manson and Jenna Jameson, said that celebrities could run the risk of making themselves bigger than the book with overexposure. “Sometimes by talking about it, you can only hurt it,” he said, adding that Spears “seems like she has a lot of trauma around the media.”
In her memoir, Spears describes the press as having been unfairly focused on her body as a rising pop sensation and on her fitness as a mother during a series of public struggles in 2007 and 2008 that ultimately led to her father, James P. Spears, being granted control of her personal life and finances.
She wrote that she felt exploited in 2003, when her father and her management organized an interview with Diane Sawyer following her breakup with Timberlake. “It was completely humiliating,” Spears writes. “I wasn’t told what the questions would be ahead of time, and it turned out they were 100 percent embarrassing.”
Strauss, the celebrity collaborator, said, “She’s just analyzed and scrutinized beyond the level that any human should have to be.” Still, he acknowledged, echoing others in the industry, it was “highly unusual” for someone of Spears’s stature to do no interviews. Even Bob Dylan, a notorious media antagonist for most of his career, promoted his memoir in 2004.
Paul Bogaards, a veteran book publicist who has led campaigns for best-selling memoirs by Bill Clinton and Andre Agassi, said that the power of a celebrity speaking publicly about their book tends to be greater than the media mining it for a news story.
“Once they’re out there in the world talking about their book, it becomes a 24-7 coverage-palooza,” Bogaards said, adding that most publishers required contractual agreements about promotion. “You want them to be visible in a significant way,” he added. “It’s hard to defend taking on a multimillion dollar advance in the absence of those kinds of agreements.” (Published figures put the price tag for Spears’s memoir, which was announced last year, between $12.5 million and $15 million.)
Another major selling point for celebrity memoirs tends to be the subject’s own voice on the audiobook edition, but in this case, Spears has largely opted out as well. In a short introduction to the audiobook version of “The Woman in Me,” Spears said she had chosen to read only a short snippet of her 275-page book because the process of reliving its contents had been “heart-wrenching.” Apart from a minute and a half, the rest of the book’s five-plus hours is read by the actress Michelle Williams.
Spears’s most loyal fans see no issue in her letting the work speak for itself. For years, the mantra for many supporters has been “leave Britney alone,” especially after the singer upbraided fans earlier this year for calling the police with concerns about her well-being when she temporarily deactivated her Instagram account. She voiced her objections again last month when another emergency call was made in response to a video of her dancing with what appeared to be kitchen knives. (Spears said they were props.)
“A lot of the sentiment in the book are these instances where she was forced to do things against her will,” said Jordan Miller, the founder of the Spears fan site BreatheHeavy.com, which helped start the “Free Britney” campaign that brought more public attention to conservatorship.
“It’s cool that she’s going in the opposite direction of what the status quo is in terms of conventional promotion,” he added. “It’s like, ‘Here are my words, you can read these. Here are the photos that I want you to see. I’m going to have approval of all of this.’ In the context of everything that’s gone on, that is super refreshing.”
But a celebrity memoir with an eye-popping purchase price may need to reach more than just superfans in order to be seen as a phenomenon worth its investment, experts said.
“It’s going to be a major release, but I think that they could be doing more to make it a real moment that sticks around,” said Anthony Bozza, an author who has written books with Slash, Tracy Morgan and Artie Lange.
If not, he added, “You’re just going to be a blip in the cycle.”