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See No Books, Read No Books: Advertising with Cinematic Book Trailers

June 12, 2009

amateur trailer for THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak

The means of advertising books and movies are many: posters in trendy locales, website ads, reviews in papers or blogs, displays at stores, entertainment segments or interviews on popular news and talk shows, and word-of-mouth that becomes increasingly easy to pass along through digital means. There are avenues, no doubt, and lots of them.

But the most ubiquitous is the movie trailer. It is the a popular and effective method of reaching people because we are an extremely visual culture. We want to see. And trailers indulge us in this craving. We are tantalized by the thirty-second or one- or two-minute glimpse a trailer offers us of the movie to come. They can be clever, dark, funny, mysterious, odd. They plant in our minds an excitement, an anticipation of something that might not be available to watch for over a year. And yet we love the trailers and their shorter brethren, the aptly-named teasers.

In recent years the publishing industry has capitalized on this success by producing their own counterpart: the book trailer. The challenges for the book trailer are unique. Those producing book trailers must start from scratch, gathering relevant words and phrases and key ideas and then translating them into images. The trailers come in multiple forms: still images with words, words by themselves, clever image-collages, flash movies, the rare animation, and on rarer-still occasions, live-action actors on sets.

It is the latter ones that I find the most intriguing.

Because they are the most cinematic, they are the most familiar to the widest audience. They could easily be mixed with their movie counterparts on websites, television commercials, even movie theatres. By pursuing cinematic techniques in book trailers and placing them in new promotional avenues, can we generate more audience interest and thus more book readers?

Cinematic book trailers can be a gamble, to be sure. The more elaborate a trailer, the more resources that have to be purchased. You risk alienating certain members of your audience who might see the shift in advertising to more resemble movies as pandering to a dumbed-down, mass-media culture. Readers and authors alike might be upset that your actors or sets don’t conform to their view of what the characters and the locations “should” look like. Many of these are the same issues encountered in book-to-film adaptations (which I wrote a post about a few weeks ago).

But “cinematic” doesn’t necessarily mean just like a movie trailer. What should be encouraged is taking what audiences know and like and finding unique ways to translate this to a book trailer. If more companies and authors see trailers as being a widespread, viable method of advertising their books, the demand for trailer creation will grow, promoting competition, increasing the quality and quantity of the product. And the more of a quality product, the more the prospective audience will see it, and thus the more people will hopefully pick up the book.

Check out the links below for some examples of book trailers who take their cues from their cinematic counterparts:

What is the current effectiveness of the book trailer and how can we improve it? Let us know your thoughts.

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It’s a Big, Bad Book World: This Week in Publishing

June 5, 2009

bookpileIt’s a Big, Bad Book World returns!

This week(-ish) in publishing, we had what some would call the penultimate book-related trade show in the US: BookExpo America (BEA) 2009, which took place this year in Manhattan’s Javits Convention Center. Despite a healthy amount of fears on behalf of publishers, booksellers and authors alike about the economy and the size of BEA, a smaller show apparently did not detract in quality. In fact, many people stated that this year’s show was all about the indie.

Here are a healthy mix of BEA posts and articles from some of our favorite bloggers and news sites:

Feeling a little too old to start writing? Nonsense, says author Tess Geritsen. She has a wonderful post over at Murderati, AUTHORS CAN DIE WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, exploring those authors who didn’t hit the big time until they were past what many people would consider their “prime.”

J.D. Salinger is still alive. No, that’s not the news. Turns out that the 90-year-old author is coming out of hiding to stop a man writing under the penname J.D. California from supposedly publishing an unauthorized sequel of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE. The alleged sequel’s title? 60 YEARS LATER: COMING OUT OF THE RYE. Hmm. That’s all I’ll say about it.

David Eddings, the fantasy writer best known for his Belgariad series and its sequel, the Malloreon series, passed away at age 77.

Even in times of economic turmoil, some dreams are still coming true. For those of you who follow our dear Book Nerd (http://writtennerd.blogspot.com), you probably knew that she was a bookstore worker with dreams of owning her own shop. Now she will. Greenlight Book Store will be opening in Portland in September.

The 2009 Orange Prize for Women in Fiction has been awarded to Marilynne Robinson for her book, HOME.

What do Stephanie Meyers and Guillermo Del Toro have in common? Not much, except for their respective books on vampires. But Del Toro is one for a gruesomely creative brand of horror, and he’s opening up to TIME to discuss STRAIN, his new book.

Whether you like it or not, summer is here. The Washington Post gives us a list of summer reads to fill up those lazy summer days. Not that I have lazy summer days anymore.

It will be a heavily literary-based year at the 12 Annual National Queer Arts Festival in San Francisco. Check out their website to see the list of events, which are taking place in several venues across the city.

Celebrity smackdown: Google versus Amazon. What are they fighting over? You might have guessed it. E-books. Apparently Google doesn’t think Amazon should have an e-book monopoly. Now, don’t be snarky about it…

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Killer Lines: 5 Things Not To Write in Your Submission Materials

June 5, 2009

bombWe all remember the good lines. No, not good. The really killer ones. The ones you don’t ever forget, because they’ve done for your soul what delicious food does for your belly. Best of times and worst of times, one ring to rule them all, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo kind of lines.

Then there are the killer lines that I’m talking about. The comments or turns-of-phrase or sentences that are hackneyed clichés or pointless ramblings, useless facts or simply don’t make any sense. Whether in your query letter, marketing materials, biography or synopsis, these five killer lines will mutilate your chances of being published. Or being taken seriously:

ONE: Creating a Genre That Does Not Exist.
You’re a writer. You think about things in new and different ways. We appreciate that. But don’t try to create your own genre. That’s not how the game works. New genres may come about, but usually as a result of reviewers and critics calling them a new genre.

Visit your local bookstore and check out how the aisles are labeled, or look inside book’s flap and see what is listed. Literary fiction. Memoir/biography. Science. Romance. Health & Beauty. New Age. Generally two, maybe three words to describe it. Notice that you do not see any of the following (unless the bookstore owner has a sense of humor):

  • A string of descriptive genres shoved together. “Dystopian sci-fi romantic comedy horror”? It may have elements of all these genres, but you need to choose the dominant genre and stick to it.
  • Fictional memoir. If it’s a memoir, it’s not fiction (as James Frey has taught us).
  • Non-fiction memoir. Refer to the above.
  • Fiction novel. A novel is, by its definition, fiction. This is a redundancy. Don’t use it.

TWO: Unrelated Ramblings About You, You, You.
Situation A. You’re a health specialist with a focus on women’s health and you’ve written a book on menopause. Great. Let us know about it. You have a platform for your book and your background will strengthen the book’s chances from a marketing and publicity point of view. It’s valid to create an author’s biography that connects you to your writing.

Situation B. You’re a health specialist with a focus on women’s health and you’ve written a fast-paced WWII thriller about a fighter pilot who ends up in the Bermuda triangle. Unless he crash-lands in the Bermuda triangle’s only hospital and has to save a woman from the brink of death due to female ailments—and this is the major element of the novel—it’s not relevant to write several paragraphs about your experiences as a health specialist, or to give us your résumé. That doesn’t make you qualified to write a WWII thriller about a fighter pilot, nor will it help in your book’s campaign.

Include information that is brief, precise, and relevant to connect you and your book.

THREE: Referring To Yourself as a Bestselling Author… When You Aren’t.
You see it all the time. Books by bestselling authors gracing the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc. Stephen King is a bestselling author. Stephanie Meyers is a bestselling author. Eckhart Tolle is a bestselling author (thank you, Oprah). Mr. Such-and-Such with his terribly-designed website proclaiming him to be a bestselling author and his book to be a bestseller? Probably not. If you didn’t already know it, we will check your background, and your book’s numbers. Technology (such as BookScan) is amazing like that. So if you claimed to have sold 100K, and yet your book hasn’t sold one copy on Amazon.com, we’re likely to be a little suspicious.

FOUR: A Title That Would Make Any Reader Cringe.
This probably speaks for itself. With the except of the truly witty and unique who create exceptional titles with strange and/or long names that work, most titles that are irrelevant to the book’s subject, or that explain the book’s subject for seven lines, aren’t going to cut it. Have fun, but be practical: what intrigues a reader and what makes them shake their head in confusion? This is not to say that agents and publishers will not work with you to make a title more effective. But try to make it easier on them.

FIVE: Wait, What?
Misspellings. Strange grammar. Using one word when you meant to use another. Or just plain illegibility. All of these are terrible ideas and indicators to the agent or publisher that you’ve probably put as little care into your manuscript as you have into your supplementary materials. Take the effort to make everything you send clean, professional, and not full of careless errors.

These guidelines are not by any means complete, but please consider them as you are polishing up your final materials to send out to agents and publishers. It will save us all a lot of time and trouble. And as always, best of luck!

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Me Write Pretty One Day: Preparing Your Manuscript

May 26, 2009

busytypeEvery manuscript begins with inspiration. But it’s a shifty, tempestuous thing, prone to short, violent fits and followed by long, terrible droughts. That when inspiration comes it is generally a messy regurgitation of all the weird, odd, unique little epiphanies you’ve subconsciously gathered—to be a little visceral—is par for the course. And when they all start to gurgle up at once you just have to find the nearest toilet bowl and hunch over until it’s all out and done.

Was that a little too gross of a metaphor?

What I mean is that after your first draft, what sits there on the page is oftentimes a jumbled heap of good ideas surrounded by loads of bad writing. You cannot write a perfect first draft. Ever. Just doesn’t happen. And the last thing you want to do is send your first attempt to an agent or a publisher. We’re simply too busy to sift through the muck and wait for your good ideas uncover themselves. We don’t have the time or the patience (as much as we wish we did) to constantly go mining for diamonds in the rough.

What you’ve got is about five pages. Five. The first five pages (and this is double-spaced, size twelve, Times New Roman or Courier, one inch margin, tabbed indent pages) are what it takes for the person reading your manuscript to decide if it’s worth pursuing at all. You might be lucky and get ten pages, or you might be unlucky and get two. But it’s best to assume that if you don’t hook us in at five pages, then your manuscript isn’t where it needs to be.

But be not afraid, for I’m not here to scare you off. I’m here to help you shape your jumbled heap (from the first five pages to the last) into something pretty. And all in five deceptively simple (but really not-so-terrifyingly massive) steps:

ONE: You’ve worked day and night and your eyes are red and you’ve forgotten what sunlight feels like and there’s more coffee than blood running through your veins. You typed the last word of your magnum opus three minutes ago and it’s done. And for a little while, you don’t want to touch it. Watch a movie. Go out with friends. Breathe in the night air. Take a jog. Do whatever you need to do to spend—at minimum—a week away from it (and I’d personally suggest a month). It’ll make you more clear-sighted when you start your revisions.

TWO: Outlining. You may have created a breakdown or outline for your manuscript before you started writing (especially helpful for nonfiction manuscripts, or fiction with multiple plotlines or non-linear storytelling). But if you don’t have one yet, now is the time (if you do, it’s the time to change it to match your manuscript). It will make your revisions much easier if you can break everything down. Divide your manuscript however you like—by chapter, by character, by idea—whatever works. Just make sure you cover the entire thing in detail.

THREE: Revising can be as monumental of a task as you make it. On the other hand, it can be, if not easy, at least manageable. Create a plan of action. Read through each piece of your breakdown or outline individually, looking for three elements (best to do one at a time):

  1. Proofreading errors: punctuation, spelling, grammar
  2. Developmental errors: characterization, description, background elements, conflicts or lack thereof, ideas without substance
  3. Structural errors: lack of continuity or flow, plot problems or questions, lack of conclusions or open ends

Revise the individual pieces, fit said pieces back together, and read it again as a whole. Then repeat.

FOUR: Write these four things for your book: a synopsis, a one-liner, a one-minute pitch, and a query letter.

  1. Synopsis: a summary of your book. You can have multiple ones of variable lengths, but try to have a one-page summary of your book’s beginning, middle, end. It doesn’t have to be incredibly detailed, but it should have the major plot elements and thematic ideas, and of course, your main protagonist and antagonist.
  2. One-liner: also known as the hook, or the tagline, or the concept, this is the sentence than encapsulates your entire story. If it helps, imagine your book as having a movie poster,  and putting this sentence on the poster.
  3. One-minute pitch: a minute’s worth of talking about your book. A paragraph of synopsis, your one-liner, and any other interesting tidbits (books it is similar to, if it has a twist ending, etc). You want to have this pre-prepared, because you never know when you’ll have a short opportunity to pitch your book to someone who has potential interest in it.
  4. Query letter: this is the letter you send to potential agents or publishers. It gives the basic information about the book, any relevant information about you as an author, and asks if who you are querying would be interested in the manuscript. These vary depending on the agent or publisher, so check out their websites for guidelines.

Once you have these things, compare them to your manuscript. Do they match? That is, do these descriptions of your manuscript actually match what you’ve written? If you want your manuscript to better reflect your materials, then it’s time to revise. Again.

FIVE: Revise. (Again.) The amount of revisions to your manuscript varies between authors. But know that it is an ongoing process, even when your manuscript has been accepted. (Give editors credit, because they revise for a living!). It is important to be open to changes. This can be a great time to give the manuscript to trusted people: friends, a writer’s group, any fresh set of eyes that can offer insight that is not lathered by niceness or compliments. You want the truth, you have to be harsh and blunt and realistic. That’s why you revise so many times. You slowly but surely shape all the bits and pieces and ideas into a tangible, readable book.

After these steps (and possible repeats of these steps), you still won’t have perfection. But what you will have is a manuscript with a fighting chance at being read all the way through, that shows structure and insight, that can be explained easily and has a clear-cut beginning, middle, and end. And that can (fingers crossed) eventually be published.

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It’s a Big, Bad Book World: This Week in Publishing

May 22, 2009

readingfeetWriters and authors, experts in their fields, all gathered together in one convenient site? HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, has launched their “The Little Black Book” website of just that. Definitely an interesting online resource concept. Environmentally friendly, too.

Privacy laws, fourth amendment rights, and the comic book world are colliding in the case of Christopher Handley, an Iowa comic collection who pleaded guilty to the possession of obscene images, in the form of Japanese manga he collected. Now the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and big names like Neil Gaiman are involved as well. Heidi MacDonald at PW’s The Beat breaks it down.

Rachelle Gardner, literary agent, has a post authors should check out: Help Your Fellow Writers. Because we're all in this together.

Shakespeare’s sonnets, published by Thomas Thorpe, turned 400 years old this week. Not that he’ll be remember for them, of course.

Ever pondered a sequel to a famous book? I know I have, and by God, who wouldn’t love to know what happened to those wonderfully wacky cast of characters in Animal Farm? Now you too can have a chance to be part of a never-written literary masterpiece, over at BOOK: The Sequel.

BEA mania has hit the world! BookExpo America (BEA), the “largest book publishing event in North America,” will be held this year from May 28-31 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City. Will you be there?

Is it censorship or common sense? UK publishers first acquired, than shied away from, Sherry Jones’s novel The Jewel of Medina, about Muhammad’s child bride. Take a look at both sides of the argument on controversy and censorship.

You never thought you would live to see it, but you just might: a battle of epic proportions between the Abbeville Manual of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style. Epic beatdown or friendly brawl? Only time (and grammar buffs) will tell.

Agent Kristen over at Pub Rants presents some intriguing answers to the question of query submissions from the editors at St. Martin’s Press that should be of interest to any first-time author consider a query.

A COOL-er and more accessible version of the e-reader than Kindle or the Sony Reader? Entrepreneur Neil Jones has just created the i-Pod-esque Cool-er reader, which is bare bones, straightforward, and cheaper. Plus it comes in multiple pretty colors.

Social publisher Scribd launched its beta of the Scribd Store, allowing anyone to upload and sell their works.

Robert McCrum over at The Guardian takes issue with some  myths about a literary age that we apparently never had, and he wants us all to understand what’s so great (or not great) about to supposed golden age versus now. As he so eloquently put it, we’ve always had plenty of “cultural crap” coming down the tube.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!

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