Writer’s Hell Has Arrived

Watch This Book
In bid to boost sales, authors try viral videos;
Plugging a novel on roller skates

Meg Cabot, best-selling author of “The Princess Diaries,” regularly posts videos of herself online performing puppet shows with Barbie and Madame Alexander dolls. Jodi Picoult, author of another best-seller, “Nineteen Minutes,” stars in home-movie style videos that show her hanging out with her family and shopping for groceries. Chuck Palahniuk, known for edgy novels like “Fight Club,” has staged a video interview with the fictional main character of his new book.

In a book industry flooded with titles and facing sluggish sales, a growing number of authors are going to dramatic lengths to attract attention. The latest tactic: producing and starring in zany videos aimed at the YouTube audience.

Publishing houses strongly encourage the practice, though some authors find the videos undignified. Thriller writer Vince Flynn says he felt “like a dork” when he recently recorded a book trailer in Central Park. “I know a lot of old-school writers resent it,” says Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. “But it might help sell books.”


There is scant evidence, however, that the average book trailer actually has much impact on book sales. Despite Doubleday’s recent video upload for the self-help book “We Plan, God Laughs,” by Sherre Hirsch, the book has sold only about 3,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70% of U.S. book sales. And even though Jami Attenberg’s trailer for her novel “The Kept Man” is reminiscent of Miranda July’s short films, only 3,000 copies of Ms. Attenberg’s recent book have sold. Most trailers cost about $2,000 to produce.

Emphasis added by me.

Dear god!

Three thousand copies?!!? Divide that amongst fifty states and that’s sixty copies of the book for each state!

But then:

There are a few cases where the gamble has paid off. Last year, Harper Perennial created three videos to promote “The Average American Male,” a novel about an unnamed man in his late 20s who plays videogames and holds his “annoying girlfriend” in contempt. The trio of videos, meant to offer a window into what gallant-seeming men are supposedly “really thinking,” has garnered several hundred thousand views on YouTube, plus more on MySpace and other sites. The book has sold about 25,000 copies to date, according to Nielsen BookScan.

Emphasis added by me.

But still: twenty-five thousand copies?!!? After all of that viewing?

Mr. Cuarón’s trailer for Ms. Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” broke the half-million mark and the book has sold 89,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan. But it’s far more typical for a book trailer to attract a few hundred views, and even those that capture viewers don’t necessarily soar to the best-seller lists.

Emphasis added by me.

That really, really sucks. Over a half million views but less than even 100,000 sold?

Yeah, yeah, I lectured everyone else about response rates.

But this is the first time I’ve seen some hard figures relating to books.

This will call for some thinking. When I have the damned free time!

Previously here:

The Night I Called Harlan Ellison
East Coast Corporate Liberal Meets An eBook
Writer Richard Herley Gets Bad News
Writer Harlan Coben Shares His Favorite Link Ever
Orson Scott Card Rips J.K. Rowling
Quote: J.D. Rhoades
Quote: Ken Bruen
More Words About One Thousand True Fans
J.K. Rowling Trial Ends
M. Dylan Raskin: The Curse Of The Writer
Reference: Author Magazine
J.K. Rowling Is In NYC For Her Silly Lawsuit
Warren Ellis Twists My Dendrites
Mark Billingham: Writer, Crime Victim
Harlan Coben: Writer’s Perspective
Quote: Warren Ellis (Again)
Writers Don’t Fear The Future: Publishers Do!
Red Room: Social Net For Writers
Quote: Warren Ellis
Quote: Jean Rhys
More On The 1KTF Matter
When One Thousand Means Over Fifty Thousand
Harlan Ellison (Again)
I’m Infecting You
Self-Published Ebook = DIY Or Vanity?
A Spirit That Can Conquer The World
Self-Confidence Vs. Self-Delusion
More Writers Getting Screwed
Iain Banks Interviewed
Defensive Pessimism: Part Of The Real Secret
Quotes: Benn Jordan
Edgar, The Fount
Quote Fight
Quote: J.K. Rowling
Quote Goodness
A Quote To Learn From
You Go, Ringo!
Harlan Ellison
Why Don’t More People Read?
More About Trent Reznor And Saul Williams
Hollywood’s Worst Nightmare: Obsolescence
DIY Book Marketing
The New School: Saul Williams Vs. Trent Reznor
Trent Reznor Meets Real Life And Weeps
Print Publishing Is In Self-Destruct Mode: eBook S.O.S.
Writers: Laugh Last, Laugh Best
Video Vitamins For Our Souls
Who’s Flogging Their Work Online?

Explore posts in the same categories: Books - Other, Reference - Writing, Video - Online, Writers - Living, Writing

2 Comments on “Writer’s Hell Has Arrived”

  1. There are other statistics that cover a wider range of videos that are better than what WSJ found. The WSJ article concentrated on limited stats and the illusion that marketing trends compromise literary dignity.

    What the article didn’t say was that trailers are popular with young people online. That schools now use them to promote reading and have students making them in class.

    It also doesn’t address that trailers are not solely for direct sales. Name awareness, branding and cross-genre promotion are other uses for book video.

    It didn’t really talk much about the difference between and author interview and a true book trailer (there is a difference).

    It’s nice to be able to look at a video and know how many people took the time to click on it and watch it. You don’t get to know how many people actually watched a tv commercial, listened to a radio spot or read the USA Today ad before putting it at the bottom of a bird cage. Since you don’t know those numbers you can fantasize that those marketing endeavors working.

    A great marketing quote is “Half of all marketing works. You just don’t know what half.”

    YouTube is not a good gauge for how a video is doing. It is just the gauge most people go to because they don’t know better. I’ve seen a terrible trailer get over 100,000 views because it had a lot of sex in it and in the description. Did the book do well? I didn’t see it on any lists. And the author wasn’t bragging about it. My guess is that it did not do well.

    100,000 views on YouTube is not equal to 10,000 views on GoodReads or BN Studio. The strength of those targeted views absolutely outrank those of YouTube. People keep looking to quantify, not qualify views. That’s a mistake.

    But beyond the whole “view” thing book video offers a variety of opportunities that print or tv just can’t offer. A trailer will be working 24/7 for years. A trailer can be played over and over, shared and engaging. They also allow books to be where they couldn’t go before and in ways that attract a new generation of readers.

    Do you have to sell your dignity to participate? I can only speak for myself when I say that MY dignity isn’t that fragile.

  2. Preston Sinclair Says:

    By what other method can the reading public learn about a particular book? I’d like to know. My blog seems to work well. Since launching http://www.bentpage.wordpress.com, I”ve had a great response from people who didn’t know my book was out there. So, efforts must be made, as undignified as they may be.

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