Writer's Bloc
My SFWA Bulletin Column

MTV Meets Publishing: Book Videos

from The SFWA Bulletin #172, Winter 2007


    The success of YouTube is a marker of the way that moving images can catch eyeballs better than plain text. It signals a world in which books will be—must be— promoted by means of videos, just as the advent of MTV signaled the dawn of the age in which music without an attached video was a hopelessly obsolescent anachronism.

    It’s hard to spot the future when it arrives. The first year of MTV went largely unnoticed. Book videos are already here, but little has been said about them. Allison Brennan in the November 2006 RWR examined the phenomenon.

      Book videos run on Flash, Windows Media Player, RealPlayer, QuickTime, and many other formats. They can be run solely on the Internet, used as television commercials, or in movie theaters. There’s something for everyone and virtually every budget—anyone with a halfway decent computer can view a book video because programmers take care to offer the same product in many formats.

    The leading producer of book videos is Circle of Seven Productions (www.cosproducts.com), who promotes them as Book Trailers. They had the first book video “to play online, the first television commercial, the first movie theater ad, the first and only book trailer to win the prestigious Telly Award.” The term Book Trailers is trademarked but is emerging as the generic for book videos, even though they are not alone in the field. Pizzazzy Productions (pizzazzyproductions.com/ NovelTeasers.htm) makes their own trademarked NovelTease videos. The terms Expanded Books (www.expandedbooks.com) and VidLit (www.vidlit.com) have also already been trademarked. Independent filmmakers can easily produce a two-minute video for a book. The book video for Neil Gaiman’s Coraline started out as a university project but was then put online for all to see (www.bonsaininja.com/coraline/ coraline.htm).

    The evidence in favor of book videos is purely anecdotal, of course, but so is the evidence for all other types of promotion. Some authors are sold. Toni McGee Causey is quoted as saying:

      When you look at any entire generation who has grown up with multimedia as the norm, then getting them to sit down and read a book is going to be difficult because they don’t really know the world of books and the adventures they could experience there… How do we reach that sort of audience and bring them to reading? I think one way to at least increase curiosity is the book trailer.

    And of course Sheila Clover English of Circle of Seven is convinced:

      One major bookseller called us to say that airing one of our videos increased their on-line traffic 50 percent. Independent booksellers are even dedicating on-line pages to books that have book trailers. You can watch before you buy. Borders Group, Inc. has featured some of the trailers both on their site and in their on-line newsletters.

    Industry publications now also track book videos. “The Book Standard highlights five book videos every week, including author interviews, book teasers, and more. They also now host the annual Book Video Awards with entries from U.S. film schools.” Catch the videos themselves online at the Book Trailerpark (thebookstandard.typepad.com/ book_trailerpark/), essentially a book video blog.

    Brennan cites the cost of making and marketing a book video at $450 to $7,000, but some poking around on Circle of Seven’s web site leads me to believe that a full package will run much closer to the high end of that range. They don’t give a cost for a usually two-minute Book Trailer itself, but a 30-second Book Teaser is $750 and an Interview Trailer with the author is $1,500. CoS includes the cost of marketing the video—posting to online video networks, bookstores, book clubs, and blogs—with the Book Trailer package, but charges $100 for this if you only spring for the Book Teaser or Interview Trailer. You’re on your own if you want it shown on television, but they say their authors have received 1,000 plays in big markets like Los Angeles or New York for “less than $2,000.”

    The extras are important. All the authors interviewed agreed that you can’t just put a book video up on your own web site and leave it at that. Brennan concluded:

      Like with many good marketing plans, authors should plan to spend a lot of time…and probably some more money… promoting the trailer to readers.


    With SFWA discussing whether it should have a presence at one or more of the big book conventions, the article by Anne Sibley O’Brien in the November- December 2006 SCBWI Bulletin comparing her experiences at the two big ones is a fortuitous find.

    She went to BookExpo America (BEA, the successor to the ABA) and to the American Library Association (ALA) convention.

      Each convention caters to a different audience. BEA, for instance, is for booksellers. Booksellers don’t buy books, they sell them. So publishers hand books out like candy, hoping to entice the sellers to stock their books. At the autographing section, where ten or more authors may be signing simultaneously, there’s often quite a demand. If you’re lucky, you’ll sign nonstop for your half-hour…

      I got to ALA with BEA memories, anticipating a long, eager line of people who couldn’t wait to get my autograph. The day before my session, I observed a really well-known author autographing at a booth who signed only five or six books in the entire half-hour. The reason, my publisher’s marketing people explained, is because books aren’t given for free since librarians have budgets to purchase books…

      ALA isn’t about quantity, but rather the quality of interaction. A single convention connection could lead to dozens or even hundreds of sales, if the person who finds and loves your book is a reviewer or an influential librarian…

      O’Brien’s advice is straightforward. If the publisher sponsors your trip, go. If you’re using your own money, you may be better off putting that money toward postcards or a new website, which can give longer-term results. However, if you decide to go anyway—it’s a place to see and be seen, and deductible as a business expense— be sure you ask your publisher for a pass onto the exhibit floor and a signing at a booth.


    A PAN (Published Authors Network) Retreat in Atlanta featured presentations by two Amazon.com reps, wrote Nichole Burnham in her PANache column in the November 2006 RWR.

    Dan Slater works with the Amazon Shorts program (www.amazon.com/ shorts), which allows readers to download 2,000-10,000 word short works of any kind (excerpts, stories, background pieces) for 49 cents. Amazon gets a six-month exclusive to the works and splits royalties with the author. Links to the author’s entire backlist of titles appear on the Short page along with biographical info on the author. Slater said that Shorts are “an opportunity to drive sales on new books and backlist titles. Readers can try an author’s work at a low price.”

    Amazon Connect (www.amazon.com/ connect) is an authors’ blog at Amazon. The blogs show up on the author’s book detail pages and on the home page if a customer has already purchased that author’s books at Amazon.

    Sara Woods said that authors do not give up any copyright on material they write for Amazon Connect, despite online rumors. The agreement merely grants Amazon the right to post the material. The Content page has a detailed FAQ that covers these issues.

    Follow-up to the above: SFWA’s own Andrew Burt and Sean Fedora have negotiated several important improvements to the Amazon Shorts contract. These include keeping more rights for the author, eliminating the “perpetuity” clause, faster payment, royalties that do not decrease after exploiting dramatic rights, more author consultation, an improved confidentiality agreement, and the fixing of other troublesome language. Amazon is also discussing creating and marketing a special area to highlight the works of SFWAns.


    The Mystery Writers of America (MWA) have been inventively exploring ways to give the organization and the mystery field better promotion. They’re using Authors Coalition money to hire “New York-based public relations firm Danielides Communications to drum up interest nationwide in the Edgars and other MWA news.”

    In addition, their Board approved travel funds for MWA panelists at the Miami Book Fair and will partner with the “America’s Best-Selling Authors” radio show in a crosspromotion effort. No money will change hands, but the radio show wants to feature MWA authors, and the show and MWA will link to each other on their websites.

    One further note from their TTD newsletter. They’re changed the name of their successful Kids Love a Mystery program to MWA: Reads. KLAM committee chairman Daniel J. Hale said the national youth literacy program wants to reach out to students in all grades, from kindergarten to high school. The new name also puts MWA’s participation front-and-center.

    Along the same lines, Sisters in Crime announced in the December 2006 InSinC newsletter that they’re also using Authors Coalition money for promotion. This money will go to “assist independent bookstores and public libraries in promoting author events that are not funded by the publisher.”


    Coming soon in your mail, requests like this:

      Thank you for your interest! Supporting your publisher helps to bring you the books you love. Books like After the Gold Rush, stories by Lewis Buzbee. Your support also helps your publisher provide a variety of education and outreach services tailored to your community.

      Individual donations from readers like you represent the single largest source of support.

      Be more empowered. With your support, Tupelo Press books enrich the lives of all Americans. Thank you!

Think I’m kidding? Though I copied the prose template from the PBS site, Tupelo Press is a real-life non-profit 501 C3 corporation that “relies on the generous donations of individuals, foundations, and corporations,” according to Campbell Geeslin’s Publisher’s Row column in the Fall 2006 Authors Guild Bulletin.

Readers can join at the lowest rung for $25 to $99. Big-walleted philanthropists can be Writers, Associates, Literati, Sponsors, Benefactors, or Laureates, or even join the Editor’s Circle. On top of all those, naturally, is the elite of elites: the Publisher’s Circle. A $25,000 contribution elevates you to Angel.

Buzbee’s book was being handed out as a sample of the “extraordinary new and established literary talent” that Tupelo Press publishes. Can’t we just forego the middlemen and get the Doge to act as our patron?

Organization, Publication, Address, Web Address

Authors Guild, Bulletin, 31 E. 32nd St. 7th Floor, New York, NY 10016, www.authorsguild.org/

Mystery Writers of America, The 3rd Degree (TTD), 17 E 47th St, 6th floor, New York, NY 10017, www.mysterywriters.org/

Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers’ Report, 14615 Benfer Rd., Houston, TX 77069 [new address], www.rwanational.org

Sisters In Crime, InSinC, PO Box 442124, Lawrence, KS 66044-8933, www.sistersincrime.com

Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Bulletin, 8271 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048, www.scbwi.org/

Western Writers of America, Roundup Magazine, MSCO6, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM, 87131, www.westernwriters.org

Copyright 2007 by Steve Carper

Back to the top of the review

Back to Science Fiction and Me
Back to Home Page