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Monthly Archives: September 2010

A Viral Video Fairytale (or why I haven’t blogged in over a year)

To explain why I haven’t blogged in over a year, it is necessary to mention the video. And to do justice to the story of the video, I need to tell the story of how my adventures in book marketing began. And that means going back. I’ll try not to make this one of those “I got screwed by the man” stories, because that’s not what happened. I feel very lucky to have found a publisher for my book–and a good one at that–so there are no sour grapes on my end. The people involved in this adventure are all good smart folk with noble intentions, as most people in the book industry are. But they are struggling, as the whole industry is struggling, to understand how to generate awareness for their products when the media landscape they once knew has been turned upside down. In this environment, the old William Goldman axiom about Hollywood, “Nobody knows anything,” is certainly appropriate. I’ll save deeper analysis for others. My goal here is just to tell my story.

I’ll start in 2008. Or, no, it was 2007. Late August. That’s it. I was in New York to meet with the marketing team of my publisher William Morrow for the first time. My editor and agent had told me to come prepared. These days, authors are being asked to carry more and more of the marketing load for their own books. Arriving in New York with a telegenic smile and a head full of ideas could go a long way toward generating momentum and enthusiasm in the marketing department. So, I prepared. I walked into the meeting ready to impress, armed with ideas for catchy taglines and web marketing campaigns centered around strategically placed teaser ads. Perhaps I was naive to think that the book of a first time author in a notoriously risky genre was going to get much of a marketing budget, but so what? I was green and hopeful. I told them my ideas–most of them low cost ideas–all of which they listened to politely.

Then, it was their turn. It was pretty exciting for me to think that these people I’d never met before had been having meetings and making plans all because of something I wrote. I felt like a celebrity. And I was curious. What did these marketing professionals have planned for me? Well … they told me they were very excited. A novel like The Scandal Plan gives them much more to work with (particularly in an election year) than your average book does. And even though the budget for my book would be small, they were confident we could do a lot with what we had. Great!

Our conversation would cover many topics including the creation of a web presence, interacting with social media, and the one thing the team seemed to agree was their ace in the hole. It was a brilliant strategy that had the potential to create mass awareness for my book. In one word:


Wait. Wrong word. And, actually, it was two words. Are you ready for them? Here goes:

Viral video.

We were going to make one or more funny “viral videos” to spread awareness across the internet. Sounds very sexy, no? We make a brilliantly funny short video, put it on YouTube, and it gets gets passed around to 3 million people. Nice!

Now, tell me, gentle reader, do you see the flaw in this brilliant plan yet? I saw it right away. There are over 200 million videos on YouTube, few of which get seen by more than a handful of people. The problem with making a so called “viral video” is that millions of other people across the world are also trying to make “viral videos,” and everybody is competing for attention. Making a successful viral video is like capturing lightning in a bottle. Still, it was the new sexy wave of the future, so that’s why everyone in the book business was trying to do it. Every book that is published these days, now must have what they call a “book trailer.”

Never heard of a book trailer? You’re not alone. Here’s the big secret that nobody in the publishing industry wants to admit: nobody watches book trailers. Nobody, that is, except for other people in the publishing industry. Want to know why nobody watches book trailers? Because almost all of them suck. Don’t believe me? Google book trailers and see what comes up. Better yet, go to a book trailer site like this one and start watching. The problem is that even when a book trailer does not suck outright, it is rarely worth forwarding. Usually, this is because the trailer is either unremarkable, unfunny, or feels too much like advertising. “Old Spice” commercials aside, we generally don’t like to send videos to our friends if we feel those videos are trying to sell us something. We want our viral videos to feel as if they exist solely to entertain us; we don’t like ulterior motives. In conclusion, while it is not impossible to make a book trailer that goes viral, it is damn hard, and in order to do it, you need . . .

A brilliant idea.


ME: So what’s the idea for this video?

MARKETING PERSON: Oh, you’re a filmmaker. I’m sure you’ll think of something great.

ME: (trying to sound upbeat) Okay. I can give it a shot. My only concern is that it sounds like your brilliant idea is that I need to come up with a brilliant idea.

(awkward laughter)

And dammit, I tried. Read More »