Buy now, and get a free Billys Pan Pizza…

by Michelle Gagnon

So I stumbled across an interesting piece in the LA Times the other day about an editor-turned-agent-turned-entrepeneur who has hooked up with the site “OpenSky” to help authors market more than just books to their audience. She listed one intriguing example: fellow crime fiction writer Michael Koryta has a book set in an old hotel in Central Indiana known for its “Pluto Water,” which apparently has health benefits. If Koryta hooked up with Open Sky, the novel could be tied to both the promotion of the hotel and of the water (OpenSky would find a supplier to bottle and ship it).

Another example: A cookbook author not only sells books through OpenSky, but also hawks a favorite barbecue sauce and grill. The author pockets 50% of the profit, with the rest going to OpenSky and others involved in the transaction.

It’s an interesting model. While the author of the piece jokes about whether or not Steig Larsson would have considered peddling the coffee his protagonist drinks, one of the things that struck me while reading THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was the name dropping. Salander never had a mere generic pizza, she always ate “Billys Pan Pizza” (and lots of them). Likewise, the computer she used (a Mac), the cigarettes everyone smoked (Lucky Strikes), the cell phones they placed calls from (Sony-Ericssons)…all were named repeatedly, to the point where I wondered if Larsson had been secretly hoping for product placement tie-in deals.

Television has already started experimenting with this possibility. Some of the next generation cable boxes will enable consumers to click on the screen if they like, say, the dress that a character is wearing, which will immediately place an order to their account. And voila, a few days later they’re sporting Eva Longoria’s maxi dress.

So should authors consider going to same route?

There are certainly arguments against it (as I read the article, I could almost feel the collective shudder of horror emanating from traditional publishing houses). Books are seen by many as more than a mere commodity. A friend of mine compared it to offering happy meal trinkets when buying an oil painting. But in this age of dwindling marketing budgets, can books afford not to think outside the box? Film and television studios have both incorporated significant product placement in their offerings to offset revenue reductions. And with more books being consumed electronically, does it make sense to integrate links for people who develop a hankering for “Billys Pan Pizza” while reading the novel? Wouldn’t a cross-marketing campaign like the one pitched for Koryta’s book benefit everyone involved?

As I read it, I tried to think about what OpenSky would be willing to sell from my books. I suspect that night vision goggles and Glocks wouldn’t be their first choice, although both figure prominently in my last book (and in retrospect, I probably should have incorporated more specific brand names). But it is set in Mexico City- a link to a tourist agency, perhaps? Or an airline? Better yet, the best security company to call should you get kidnapped?

Is OpenSky offering just another opportunity to sell out, or could it provide a much needed boost to authors struggling to market and make money off their work?



by Michelle Gagnon

So I just got back from vacation. I finally had some free reading time, and decided to see what all the fuss was about Steig Larsson’s Millenium series. I’ll try to write this post without any spoilers.

I must confess, I remain perplexed.

This series has been the biggest crime fiction crossover, arguably, since THE DA VINCI CODE.

There, I could understand the hype. The writing wasn’t the best I’ve ever read, but Dan Brown is a heck of a storyteller, and the underlying religious conspiracy themes were compelling.

To be frank, I spent most of my time reading TGWTDT scratching my head. I honestly don’t get it. The dialogue was clunky throughout, the bulk of the story revolved around a financial scheme that was underwhelming, and the characters were fairly two-dimensional. And above all that, the resolution of one of the two primary plots was largely unsatisfying. Now, some of the fault here might lie with the translator. But then most of the copies sold have been translations into one language or another. So why did this, of all books, become a runaway bestseller?

I read the next two books, and they were decidedly better. There was actually action- hallelujah- and the themes outlined in the first installment came to fruition. The characters developed some depth (although based on Larsson’s portrayal, the men in Sweden either love women to death, or are misogynistic to the point of credulity, which I found annoying).

Still- all in all, I’d rank the books in the mid-range of works I’ve read in the past year. They weren’t bad, as a whole, but they weren’t fantastic either.

So what’s the big deal? Was it the tragic backstory of Larsson’s untimely demise that kicked the marketing machine into overdrive? I haven’t read many of his fellow countrymen, but from what I understand some of their works are superior. So why did these become the books that people who never read thrillers suddenly embraced with their book clubs? Especially since none of the books was particularly literary. And the characters weren’t what one would usually expect the mainstream to embrace. We had a couple that was involved in a extramarital affair that was accepted by all parties involved (including the cuckolded husband), and a main character who was a Goth/punk Aspergers hacker. Interesting, but not the type of main character I’d expect the world as a whole to cheer for.

If someone would care to enlighten me, I’d be much obliged.