Adam Gasiewski, 19, and Emily Beck, 18, were as devastated as anyone when the short-form video platform Vine was shut down this year. When the Temple University freshmen channeled their despair into a book released in October, the last thing they expected was to become best-selling authors.
They say their book, Milk and Vine: Inspirational Quotes from Classic Vines, has sold around 155,000 copies, catapulting them at one point to the top of Amazon's best-seller list. The book is a parody of Canadian poet Rupi Kaur's hit Milk and Honey, a collection of poems she posts on Instagram that have won her almost two million followers. Milk and Vine contains dialogue from Beck and Gasiewski's favorite Vine videos in Kaur's minimalist, offbeat style alongside simple illustrations.
The book has outsold mainstream authors like Jeff Kinney, creator of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and former President Barack Obama. It even surpassed the original Milk and Honey, as well as its follow-up, The Sun and Her Flowers.
It's an astonishing achievement, considering that Milk and Vine started as a joke after the couple, who have been dating since high school, went to Barnes & Noble in the Rittenhouse.
"I always wanted to write a book, and I wasn't sure what," says Gasiewski, a computer science major from Bucks County. When they spotted Milk and Honey, they decided it was ripe for parody.
They wrote Milk and Vine for their friends. They self-published it on Amazon because they wanted a physical copy.
They produced their final draft in a few days. Gasiewski handled formatting and transcribing their favorite Vines, and Beck produced the illustrations, though, as the Northeast Philly native and political science major admits, she is not an artist.
"We just imagined people opening a book and seeing these vulgar, ridiculous phrases when they expected something deep," Beck says.
By early November, the book had gone viral. Gasiewski's tweet showing a copy of Milk and Vine in a refrigerator has been retweeted about 63,000 times and has 150,000 likes.
The book hit No. 1 on Amazon's best-seller list by Nov. 7, which Gasiewski and Beck call an indescribable accomplishment. "We're just two college students, and we're No. 1 followed by Obama," Beck says. "Really?"
The book has since dropped from the top spot, hovering between ninth and 18th place, Gasiewski says. But it's still beating out major publishers that put serious money behind marketing campaigns.
Beck says Milk and Vine and Milk and Honey are frequently bought together on Amazon, which "is poetry to us."
The book's success is rooted in the shuttering of Vine. Twitter reportedly purchased the service for $30 million in 2012 and shut it down in January, leading to histrionic responses from fans. Although users cannot upload new videos, they can watch old ones, leading to perpetual nostalgia for a beloved, defunct platform.
Gasiewski cites Milk and Vine's success as a sign of Vine's cultural impact.
Milk and Vine's impact can be measured in its "blacklash." Gasiewski and Beck have been accused of plagiarizing Kaur and condemned for not initially crediting the original Vine artists, often kids of color, who inspired the poems in the book. The pair, however, have spoken to copyright lawyers, who have assured them it doesn't violate any laws.
They have also released a statement saying that although they were "saddened by the onslaught of hate coming from a few of you," the book "doesn't infringe on any copyrights."
"We needed a framework to put these Vines in, and this simplistic style, where the poems are short, fit," Gasiewski says. "I think it's an honor that your book is so famous that people are parodying it. You have to know about that book to have that context to appreciate this."
Gasiewski and Beck say they don't plan to compensate the Vine artists who inspired their book but have since credited them.
"Obviously, it's something where we should have credited them from the beginning," Gasiewski says. "We didn't know it would be a big deal." Criticism and copycats haven't deterred Gasiewski and Beck from continuing their project. They plan to add an audiobook option featuring the poems read by a stately sounding British man they hired through the odd-job app Fiverr.
They are also working with a publisher to get Milk and Vine into stores but nothing has been finalized. They hope to get it into Barnes & Noble, site of their inspiration.
A sequel is in the works that could be released by spring. Gasiewski says it would chronicle more classic Vines that didn't make the first cut.
"There are still a lot more out there and we're going to let fans give some input on what they want to see."
Future works, the couple says, will move away from Vine but will stay focused on internet culture because "there are a lot of books to be made about memes," Gasiewski says. With the success of Milk and Vine, Gasiewski and Beck could fill that niche, especially with the news that Vine 2.0 may be on the horizon, as teased by Vine cofounder Dom Hofmann this month, which Gasiewski and Beck say they find exciting.
Whatever the future holds, they say they are open. After all, once you've had a hit book based on a social media platform that has been dead for light-years in internet time, pretty much anything seems possible.