Book Trailers and Our Visual Society

I got a Droid phone for Christmas and went from practically the Stone Age into a vision of an amazing future. I can scan barcodes and shop for the best price in town, use my GPS to find the latest trendy restaurant available by voice command, and even read books off my phone using a kindle download app for free. But the reason I’m blogging about my phone and the latest book trailer I had made for my first Young Adult book – In the Arms of Stone Angels (Harlequin Teen, Apr 2011) – is a cool app that I want to share with you.

A QR code looks like a Rorschach test. It is square and you may have seen them on pages of magazines, on signs, busses, business cards, etc. It works like a barcode and can be scanned like the stores ID their inventory at cash registers, but this code can be made by ANYONE using the hyperlink I posted above. It can be scanned via smart phone, like the Droid, with the right reader app. You can insert a secret message in text, insert contact information, or it can make a connection to a wireless network or link to a web page that opens on the phone’s browser. You can make the QR image play the part of a secret code made available only to winners in a contest or the code can direct a reader to your latest book trailer. Instant gratification for our visual society and a cool app toy!


This QR Code can be downloaded into a jpeg file that can be printed onto your latest bookmarks or made into stickers, whatever floats your boat. Anyone with a smart phone and a QR Code scanner can read your message. And in one swipe off your bookmark (or any other promotional material), a reader can be looking at your trailer in an instant. How cool is that?!

My contact at “Trailer to the Stars,” Misty Taggert, gave me the heads up on this app. It’s hard to quantify if book trailers actually sell books, but I sure love making them. And using a professional company like Misty and crew really made this effortless for me. I’m on deadline and they made the collaboration easy and simple, for my part. For them, not so much. I’ve done trailers myself before. It takes time and way more skill than I possess to do a trailer like this.

It’s hard enough to encapsulate your story into a short film of a minute and a half. But add a script, voice over talent, production music and action videos that fit, and movie animation effects for mood, and the process can get very complicated. And way above my paygrade.





For Discussion:
1.) What do you think of book trailers as a promotional tool? I was particularly interested in doing a trailer for YA. My target age for this book is 13-18 years old. And since Amazon and Barnes & Noble host trailers on an author’s book page, it’s great to have the opportunity to post a trailer at the point of sale.

2.) Have a great phone app to share? If you have a new phone and a great app to share, I’d love to hear about it. Hearing about new technology really stirs the creativity in me when I think of writing new books. Imagine an app that gives you Bluetooth capability, but also sends subliminal and subversive messages to your brain. Or picture an app that protects and backs up the contacts on your phone, in case it’s lost or stolen, but all the information for loved ones and friends (addresses, photos, phone numbers) make them a target for a dangerous predator unless you do exactly as they say. No one is safe. Anything can turn into a conspiracy with the right dose of paranoia.

3.) Want someone to indulge you? Hmmmmm, Basil? If you’re like the always inventive Basil Sands, you may want someone to invent an app just for YOU. What kind of phone app would that be?

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“Stupid Writer Tricks”

or, “How far would you go to market your book?”

by Michelle Gagnon

A few weeks ago, author Tawni O’Dell wrote a very funny essay about some of the, oh, let’s call them “interesting,” experiences she had when marketing her first book. The article incited a rabid response on the Sisters in Crime listserv, where the debate centered on whether or not Tawni was taken advantage of because she was female, if she was a fool to go along with the absurd things that were asked of her, or if any author (gender be damned) would do the same.

Here’s what kicked off the uproar:
Tawni O’Dell’s debut, “Back Roads” is a dark, gritty portrayal of a family in crisis told entirely in the male first-person voice of 19-year-old Harley Altmyer. Entertainment Weekly offered to write a brief piece on O’Dell to coincide with the release.
Now, you can just imagine how excited her PR team was. A feature article, including photos, in a major periodical? Barring an Oprah appearance (more on that later), it doesn’t get much better.
So here’s how it went down, in O’Dell’s own words:

I was busily signing books at a table set up in the middle of the mall when I happened to look up and saw an anxious, overcaffeinated little troupe of petite Ray-Banned androgyny and ethnic ambiguity all dressed entirely in black and all clutching cups of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee coming toward me. (We didn’t have a Starbucks.) As they did so the wide-eyed, whispering herd of extra-large Steelers sweatshirts and camouflage hunting jackets milling around me split decisively in two to let them pass. The parting of the Red Sea couldn’t have been any more dramatic.

They turned out to be my photographer, Nathan (pronounced the French way, Nat-on,) his assistant, his other assistant, a makeup artist and a stylist.

One of the assistants informed me that Nathan would like to shoot me outside in some authentic Pennsylvania woods because his favorite scenes in my book had taken place in the woods and he envisioned me there. I told the assistant to tell Nathan, who was standing right beside us but apparently didn’t like to participate in his own conversations, that it was January and it was snowing. The assistant then told me not to worry, they would keep Nathan warm.

They then loaded me into their van like I was a kidnapping victim and off we drove in search of some authentic Pennsylvania woods. We didn’t have to go far. We found some behind the mall. A bunch of my family and friends that had been in attendance at the signing also came along. Nothing in the world was going to keep them from seeing this.

Nathan was thrilled with the woods. He found his voice and began barking orders in an accent I was never able to place. It was sort of a cross between Desi Arnaz and Kazu, the meddlesome martian on the Flintstone’s.

I stood by blowing on my hands and stomping my feet to keep warm when suddenly he turned to me, eyed me up and down, and proclaimed, “We need to tease her hair. I want glitter. Lots of glitter, and the clothes will have to go.”

“You want me to be naked?” I spluttered.

“Do we have some fabric?” he went on, ignoring my question and my obvious distress. “I see swaths of tulle billowing out behind her and hanging in the tree branches like a morning mist.”

“You want me to be naked?” I repeated.

Before I could do or say anything else, I was ushered back into the van where I was stripped down to my underwear and sprayed in glitter.

When I re-emerged, my chattering entourage became deathly silent. Jaws dropped open and I heard a few gasps as I crunched barefoot through the snow, wrapped in yards of sparkling gauze, with my butt hanging out, and wondering to myself, Did John Irving ever have to do this?

Nathan positioned me and began snapping away with his camera.

“You’re a wood nymph!” he cried. “Yes, you’re a wood nymph! You’re an ethereal spirit. You’re an incarnation of the sky. You’re real yet you’re not real at all.”

So. Should O’Dell have objected? Absolutely. Can I empathize with the fact that as an overwhelmed and inexperienced young author, she participated in the shoot without thinking it through first? Certainly. Have I done things in the course of hawking my books that I regret? Without question (although nudity has never been involved. Yet.)

The sad truth is that in a time of severely limited marketing budgets, when authors are must rely largely on their own resources with very little guidance, the results can occasionally be quite ugly.

Here are some of the more bizarre and extraordinary things writers have done in an attempt to sell their books:

* In 2008, an Indonesian writer threw $10,700 in cash from an airplane to promote his book. His editor probably should have clarified that when she told him to throw his entire advance into marketing, she didn’t mean it literally.
* This past spring, the aptly named Paul Story pitched a tent outside the cottage where his book was set and camped there for two months, selling copies to passing hikers (although I believe the book was mainly about isolation, so I question how many potential buyers he actually encountered).
* Remember when someone threw a book at Obama a few weeks ago? Turns out that was no political protest, but a misguided attempt by author Michael Lohan (who I can only hope is not related to Lindsay) to promote his work. No, I’m not kidding. The best part? The Secret Service released him without pressing charges.

So…I almost shudder to ask, but where would you draw the line on promotion? (Basil, I can practically hear you sharpening your quill in the wilds of Alaska.)

Oh, and don’t feel too sorry for poor Tawni. Turns out the EW article never went to print- because Oprah called and invited O’Dell to appear on her show fully clothed.

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Writers who do way too much

Note: Sorry for missing my posting day last week. For the explanation, see Phase Three, below.

Everywhere I go, I hear it: Authors are cutting back on book promotion.

At conferences and on blogs, I hear published writers announcing that they are “scaling down” the time and dollars they spend flogging their books. They’re chopping their advertising budgets, attending fewer conferences, and abandoning blogs. In extreme cases, they’re even turning down contracts for new books—which guarantees that you won’t have to do any promotion.

In a world where most authors get little promotion budget from their publishers, some writers who previously spent tons of time “getting the word out” about their books are becoming more like Greta Garbo. They vant to be alone. Alone, in the company of their word processor.

I call this process the Quitclaim Syndrome. The syndrome usually progress in the following phases:

Phase One: Writer gets published, then spends first year in a giddy travel/networking/book signing spree.

Phase Two: Writer spends so much time promoting Book One that s/he risks falling behind schedule on producing Book Two, but manages to make the deadline by dint of superhuman effort. By now, Writer has spent more money on promotion than the combined advances for all the books, which haven’t even been paid out yet. Royalties are hiding somewhere in a La-La land called FutureWorld.

Phase Three: Writer begins to experience the physical tics of over-multitasking: chronic fatigue, self-medication therapies gone wrong, and desk rage, if she has a day job. Medical intervention may be required. Writer is so exhausted that she plans the promotion of Book Two with a more realistic—even jaundiced—eye. Kind of the way a guy regards the prospect of paying for a fourth or fifth failed date in a row. What’s this worth to me? he asks himself. For way less money, I could have more fun sitting at home on the couch with a beer and a copy of Debbie Does Dallas.

Phase Four: Writer reaches a fork in the road. To continue breathless promotion efforts, or not? Whereupon Writer either A) keeps promoting herself, but not nearly so breathlessly, or B) stops most promotion efforts except for the bare necessities.

Phase Five: Writer returns to more isolated, less frenzied writing schedule, and greater productivity.

Is anyone else seeing this as a trend? Is frenzied book promotion just not worth the effort as much anymore, because the costs are too high and there’s not enough payoff in terms of book sales? Does the whole thing interfere too much with the time it takes to write?
Thoughts?

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