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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:

Plastics.

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.

CUT TO ME IN THE MARKETING MEETING

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 »

The Video Bill Would Want You To See

This is Bill’s wife. First off, I’d like to thank everyone for your support during this trying time.  I know that Bill would want me to post this video on his blog for all to see, so here it is:

Book Pimping on Hollywood Blvd.

hollywoodblvd-400w

For those of you looking to stand on a street corner and handsell your book, I must recommend Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles, a couple blocks east of Highland Ave. While I’m not promising you a stunning success rate, I do believe you’ll have some fun, at least so long as you have a sense of humor.  And even if you don’t enjoy yourself, you certainly will have some stories to tell.

This past weekend, I spent time pounding the Hollywood pavement, dressed in my presidential best, handing out fliers to promote my book.  Perhaps the fact that I had a camera crew filming my every move lent me an air of credibility; perhaps it was the suit; probably it was both.  One highlight was when I found myself pitching the book to a girl who was trying to pitch me. She was handing out cards for Psychiatry: An Industry of Death.  This is a museum in Hollywood founded by Scientologists that, needless to say, has a rather negative impression of the psychiatry profession.  When we mentioned to this girl that our documentary was ultimately going to be on YouTube, she mentioned that she was planning on eating a cockroach on YouTube.  Only in LA …

Scandal Plan plugged on Left, Right & Center

Exciting news. On Friday, The Scandal Plan got a rave mention on one of my favorite radio shows, KCRW’s Left, Right & Center.  Host Matt Miller called the book “a great fun summer political read,” and called me “a big new talent.”  Not too shabby, eh?  Click here to listen (the plug comes at the end of the show, at the 27 minute mark).

Everything All At Once Together

The countdown is on. Two days until the paperback release of The Scandal Plan.  I’m excited, stressed, and tired all at the same time.  HarperCollins is not putting big bucks into this book, so it will be up to me to do what I can to get the word out.  I’ve been busy getting all my ducks in a row this weekend, and I’ve also been working with my friend, filmmaker Nick Weiss, to film my publicity efforts for a little documentary short.  You’ll be hearing more about that soon.

The paperback release is coming at a crazy time for me.  The school year is ending and I’m busy preparing for some courses I’ll be teaching this summer.  I’ve also reached a finishing point with my new screenplay (tentatively titled: If You Love Somebody).  I’m very excited about the script, and I think it’s finally ready for the world.  Over the next few weeks, I plan to start soliciting representation out here in LA (if you have any leads, drop me a line).  It’s time to get this screenwriting career rolling.  And I’m hoping to do it all at once for maximum effect.  I definitely want my script going out to agents while my book is still in stores (whichever stores those may be).

I’ll try to blog as these events unfold.  More to come …