regarding the book trailer

I’ve had a few emails, so let me say briefly:

Book trailers are a fairly new approach to advertising forthcoming novels. There are a lot of them out there, all you have to do is search on Google Video or YouTube. The quality is pretty uneven. Some of the best ones are (as is to be expected) the professional book trailers done by, or paid for by, publishers.

A couple I like a lot:

Bennett’s Portrait of an Unknown Woman

Malkani’s Londonstani

I’m not so enthusiastic about the trailer for Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, but that’s just my taste.

Generally I prefer book trailers that are collage-like with music/audio backgrounds. The ones I’ve seen that are live action with dialog … well, let’s just say that they don’t work for me. At all.

Brenda Coulter has a post about how she created her trailer for A Season of Forgiveness. If I have time I’ll put together a summary of how I did mine. Brenda works in the world of Windows and I’m on a Mac, so my approach was different.

If you look at book trailers on YouTube, you’ll see that some of them aren’t too fussy about where they get their images and/or music and audio. Most do take copyright seriously (as we are, after all, authors and make our living from royalties), but a few don’t. I bought the rights to some of the royalty-free images I used, but most of them were made available for use under the Creative Commons license. Ditto for the music. Full credits at the end of the Tied to the Tracks trailer, in case anybody is interested.

In a comment, Anne reminded me about Cory Doctorow‘s work on behalf of Creative Commons and the principles behind it. Cory releases the full texts of his novels in electronic format on the day the hard copy is released for sale in bookstores. Sometime I’ll have to find out how he and his publisher worked out the details of this.

Finally, a note: if you have time to go over to YouTube to have a look at the Tied to the Tracks trailer, please do. And while you are there, if you’d care to rate the trailer, that would be kind of you. The trolls are already out and active, in force.

aha! moment

You know the hardest thing about writing a series? The publisher would really love it if each book stood on its own. That is, somebody picks up Book Six in a bookstore and is interested enough, after reading the first few pages, to buy it.

What they don’t want is for that person to realize that there are five earlier books in the series and give up right there.

So it’s a challenge, bringing new readers up to speed without boring the loyal readers to tears. And the gymnastics required to avoid info-dumping are tiring. That’s one of the hardest things about this novel.

Then yesterday somebody said something that made a light go on.

Anybody familiar with the Niccolo series by Dorothy Dunnett? These are probably the best historical novels I have ever read; I love them each and every one. But they are not easy. Tremendously detailed, hundreds of characters accumulated by the end of the series, a writer who doesn’t coddle her readers.

I usually re-read the whole series just before a new novel came out, which I enjoyed doing — but which many would not. Then with the last book (maybe not every edition of the last book, but with one at least), she provided a one-page summary of each of the previous books. They were very well written, just enough background information to get somebody into the novel before them.

Lady Dunnett did this for her readers, sure. But she also did it for herself. It alleviated the need to build all the backstory into the first couple chapters, so she could concentrate on moving forward with the story.

I am not Dorothy Dunnett. Not even close. It feels like hubris to even consider following her example, but it also feels like an excellent way to resolve some issues.

It will take a chunk of time to actually write the summaries, but I think it would be a good investment.

Any thoughts on this? Would you find such summaries a good thing, or irritating, or would you just skip by blithely?

a helping hand

Chicago’s Mayor Dailey (the first one, not his son) was infamous for his bon mots. My favorite: “They have vilified me, they have crucified me; yes, they have even criticized me.” When asked about the fact that pretty much every relative of his was employed by the city, and if that wasn’t nepotism, he looked genuinely surprised and said (in paraphrase): if you can’t help your own kids, who can you help?

Nepotism is one of those things that puzzles me. I don’t know how to feel about it. I do know how I feel about people who get huge book deals on the basis than nothing more than a famous face or name (I’m looking at you, Suzanne Somers) or some horrific crimes (OJ). It stinks, but worrying about it is a waste of time. The famous get book deals easily, because their names and faces are well known and such a book (whether excellent or foul) will sell itself. Those who are attached to the famous can sometimes grab a ride on this train. Sisters of murder victims, friends of serial killers, assistants to actors, lesbian daughters of conservative vice presidents. Whether or not these books will sell is more of a gamble, and sometimes one that doesn’t pay out (as in the case of the book written by Cheney’s daughter).

Then there’s the more direct kind of nepotism: a person established in some field guides his or her child into that profession. And what is wrong with that? The daughter of a master carpenter will most likely have an easier time getting a union card when she wants to start her training; people who own small businesses often bring their kids into the shop or factory so they can learn what they need to know to take over some day. The children of actors have an easier time getting into the business — but whether or not they stay around has more to do with how well they perform.

The same is true of insanely successful writers. Ann Rice has a son who writes novels and has made a name for himself, though in a quieter way than his mother. And now Stephen King’s son has come out with his first novel. Joe Hill (as he calls himself) has written a horror novel called Heart-Shaped Box. I noticed it when I was in the bookstore today, because it was in a stand-alone display, and the blurbs were from really big names. That is unusual for a first novel, so I picked it up and read the flap and the back cover and the blurbs.

Something fishy going on, is what I thought. The author blurb says only that Joe Hill lives in New England, but … definitely something odd about this.

When I got home I started checking, and I wasn’t exactly surprised to find out that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son — though that information is not to be found anywhere on Hill’s website.

So here’s the thing. You’re the son of the most popular and successful living author on the continent, and you want to write novels in the same genre. Your choices range from one extreme to the other: cash in on the connection, use your own name, allow the publisher to put a metallic sticker on the front cover proclaiming the new generation of King horror masters, use all the power of your connections to get whatever you can to place your novel in the public eye. Because marketing is pretty much everything, at least for a first novel.

Or you could go to the other extreme. Change your name. Don’t call yourself Joe King when looking for an agent, or when working with your agent to negotiate a book deal. Struggle along like most people, fighting for a decent marketing budget, trying to get the word out there.

I don’t know what I would do in this situation. I don’t know what I’d do if one day in the imaginary future I found myself consistently on the best seller lists and the Girlchild wrote a novel of her own. My urge — of course — would be to help. Introduce her to the right people, make sure she got an excellent agent (say, my agent, for example). Would she want that? Would it be a good idea? I have no answers. What I do know about the Joe Hill situation is this: he’s torn. He changed his name, but he used the connections he had to get a stupendous marketing deal, and high-flying blurbs. What other explanation is there for the kind of five star treatment he’s getting at Amazon, where they’ve buttonholed big name authors to do comparative reviews of a first novel?

I can understand that he would feel both ways about this: he wants to make it on his own, but trudging up a hundred flights of stairs when you’ve got a key to the express elevator, that must be a tough decision.

Joe Hill may have written an excellent novel. I hope he has. I’m going to read it, and I’ll let you know what I think. About the novel, not about the deal he got from his publisher. Because I just don’t know what to think about that.

Edited to add:

Just a little more about Joe Hill.

In a comment to yesterday’s post, Alison Kent provided a link to an interesting post by Jason at Man in Black. According to Jason, they really did manage to keep Hill’s connection to King a secret when they put the book up for auction. Jason seems to have solid footing for this claim, so good. Good for Hill. On the other hand:

Now here’s the Catch-22: Publishing the son of a famous bestselling novelist essentially assures that the book will get more publicity than 99.9% of debut novels. So a publisher would have to have some real brass cojones to simply ignore this incredible opportunity. Yet if all the coverage focuses on the father-son link and ignores the book–which, unfortunately, has happened in a few instances for Hill–you’ll get a ton of coverage and no sales. It seems Morrow has been trying to have their cake and eat it too, distancing Hill from King while “bashfully” conceding the relationship. Basically saying, “We don’t want the guy to be known only as Stephen King’s son, but come on, he is Stephen King’s son.”

So Morrow bids on a first novel they like, they win the bidding, and then they find out that the author is Stephen King’s son. Something like buying a lovely antique writing desk at a fair price and then finding a dozen long letters from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra in a secret compartment. Jackpot.

The thing to remember is that the auction is only the first part of the equation. After that, Hill’s agent went to work negotiating the fine points, and Hill’s connections played into that process. Obviously. Every year there are a couple of first novels that go for a lot at auction, and then get good marketing packages — but what’s going on for Heart-Shaped Box is way beyond even that standard. If they were really serious about playing down the connection, my advice (if anyone cared, or asked) would have been to cut back on the high profile blurbs. That’s where the connection to King jumps out and grabs you.

If you're wondering where I am:

I’m not here much, am I. I’m hardly on the forum, either. Because (1) I’m trying to write the Thing That Must Not Be Named. (2) I’m putting together the end of the month email newsletter and all the bits and pieces that go into it. Some interesting announcements, I think. And (3) Both the Girlchild and the Mathematician are ailing.

Re (2): You’ll only hear the interesting news if you sign up for the danged newsletter. And, I’ve got a small pile of books put aside for the person whose name I draw this time. So put your name on the list. You can opt out at any time.

The truth is, these days an author can’t afford to just let the publisher take care of marketing. Because they can’t, or won’t. And most of us can’t afford a first class publicist (or any publicist, for that matter). I do what I can to keep you amused, put interesting reading material in your hands, and remember my stories when you go to a bookstore or login to Amazon.

Of course I have no idea how much good any of it does. There are people out there who swear up and down that the right internet media blitz will put you on the best seller list, but in my opinion there’s a big dash of fate involved, no matter how much you invest in time, money and energy. Unless you happen to be Harry Frankfurt and you’ve got a publicist who can get you onto the freakin Daily Show with Jon freakin Stewart.

I will forever be wondering about that.

At any rate, I like staying in touch with the readers, but sometimes there are just not enough hours in the day.

If you’ve got questions you’d like me to answer, speak up. Then I will make a concerted effort to answer them (and thus, post).