Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Summer Slowdown

Your queries have been met with silence. Your agent has inexplicably vanished. Your editor has departed for parts unknown. What gives?

The answer: it's summer.

The publishing industry doesn't exactly go into hibernation during the summer months, but it's fair to say that business slows down substantially between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Aside from physical production, everything winds down a bit: offers from agents, acquisitions from editors, &c, &c. It's sort of the calm before the storm of the holiday season (October through December).

If you're currently submitting a manuscript, don't be surprised if it takes longer than usual to hear back. Not only is there an industry-wide downtrend in acquiring new work, but the majority of publishing professionals take vacation during the summer months, meaning that at any given time a large percentage of available staff are out of the office. Even if your agent is around, if (s)he depends on his/her assistant to filter submissions and that assistant is in Cancún for the week, you probably won't be hearing back about your novel for at least that long.

My advice? Spend the summer writing. As I've mentioned before, I waste spend my non-publishing, non-blogging time as a poet, and since most literary journals and magazines are affiliated with universities, they either close submissions or are much slower in responding during June, July, and August. I take this time to recharge my batteries, burn a little well-deserved vacation, and write/rewrite in preparation for the autumn submission period.

What about you, mes auteurs? Are you submitting now? If not, how are you spending your writing-related time?

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Vanishing Advance

You may have been hearing about this from other publishing professionals or from fellow writers, mes auteurs, but in case you haven't heard, the average advance has declined a bit over the past couple of years. Much of my evidence for this is either proprietary or anecdotal, so hopefully there are a few literary agents or editors in the house to confirm the trend.

In case you're curious, though, there are a few reasons I think lower advances have been—and continue to be—the norm.

Belt-tightening. With forbidding economic indicators such as unemployment still high and talk of a double-dip recession floating around, editors and publishers have become much more frugal in terms of the advances they offer. Many have modified their P&Ls to reflect current sell-through and consumer habits, and decreased demand for physical books has resulted in decreased up-front cash for authors.

Publishing is a business, and we've got to try to make money on as many books as possible in order to stay in business. Speaking of physical media, another reason (à mon avis) for lower advances is:

The shift to electronic media. Because e-books don't face the same kind of supply chain/distribution challenges as physical books and are not returnable, it's easier for publishers to run P&Ls for e-books and to simply offer higher royalties than to stick with the advance model.

True, the vast majority of titles currently acquired are eventually released as concurrent physical and electronic books, but I don't think the day is long off in which a substantial section of the market will comprise e-only titles. Once that occurs, I think the idea of the advance will become even more antiquated; it's much easier to pay an author a fixed percentage of dollars earned in the more or less real-time environment of e-book sales than to bother with advances.

In fact, much (though certainly not all) of the work done by advances is obviated by the fact that:

Advertising and marketing budgets for e-books are often lower than for physical books. While a publishing house—particularly a large one—will pay the advertising and marketing costs for their lead titles, there are many midlist titles and titles published by smaller publishers for which the burden of lining up media and marketing falls squarely on the author. The advance is a way of mitigating this hardship; authors can use the money given to them by publishers to pay to promote their books (e.g. conduct book tours, create book trailers, and so on).

As advertising and marketing have become easier and cheaper—predominantly by way of social networking services like Facebook and Twitter—the cost of promoting books through these channels has necessarily also fallen. If publishers feel they can pay less money for the same commercial success from any given title, they absolutely will. Wouldn't you?

So that, dear readers, is my take on why average advances seem to be declining in this industry. It may be a relatively short-term reaction to the continuing economic uncertainty inherent in the recession, or (as I believe) a long-term reaction to the drastic changes that are occuring in the publishing industry as it transitions from physical to electronic media. Regardless of which, I think it signals an industry-wide recognition of the challenges the business is facing.

What do you think, gentle readers?

Friday, June 24, 2011

It Came From the Round Up

Friday round up, with Laura:

Welcome to Friday, friends and foes. Although Game of Thrones ended last week (boo), we only have until Sunday until True Blood starts (yay!). Some might go so far as to say that True Blood the show is better than the books. Having never read the books, I have to say I wholeheartedly agree. In other books-on-film news, J.K. Rowling launched Pottermore on Thursday. There were many oohs and aahs (and it may be that Rowling is a marketing genius), but I fall in the camp of, "WTF is Pottermore? This launch didn't explain anything about it, except that the HPotts will be e-books now. Hurray?

Listen. I don't like things that are confusing. I like to be told what YA is essential, how much I have to pay for events at indie bookstores, and where I can buy my newsprint scented candles. I don't want to have to use my own brain to find out that the new version of The Rules has perhaps the worst advice I've ever heard, or that there is irony when 50 Cent writes a book on bullying. How do I know if e-books come out too quickly? What are the different routes for selling a million copies of a self-pubbed e-book? I'm stumped, and kind of sleepy, and don't plan on thinking thoughts anytime soon.

Not wanting to think thoughts is, coincidentally, why so many celebrities put out kid's books. It's much quicker to write than a for-adults book (unless like Snooki, you have your ghost writer do the heavy lifting). On the flip side is the new Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly memoir. Collectively they are a Congresswoman, an astronaut, and survived a gunshot to the head. They are invited to my house in memoir form (or real form!) any time. Also invited to my house are more stills from The Hobbit, and my new favorite thing ever, a poetry book by Keanu Reeves. Bring it on, world.

That's it for this week—have a good weekend, and see you next time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Long and Short of It

Caveat: this post pertains more to those of you writing literary fiction than genre fiction, mes auteurs, but I do think there are aspects that writers of genre fiction may find enlightening.


I'll be the first to tell you that short story collections don't sell well—it doesn't matter whether you've had short fiction in The New Yorker, it doesn't matter whether you earned your mfa at Iowa, it doesn't matter whether you're drinking buddies with the ghost of Flannery O'Connor—they uniformly don't sell very well. Often an agent will only take a short story collection from a promising new author on the condition that they also get his or her first novel.

However! The short story itself can be a way of grabbing an agent's attention, and getting yourself represented is half the battle. For example:

Publishing short stories lends you street cred. True, the agent is more interested in your writing than in your biography, but a biographical note that includes "Chester A. Author has recently published fiction in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, and The New Yorker" will almost certainly catch an agent's eye. That doesn't mean (s)he will immediately sign you, but (s)he might decide to send a request for a partial rather than a polite rejection.

Literary agents read literary journals. I know a few (and know of several more) agents who regularly read literary magazines in search of new talent. The more you publish, the higher your profile.

Literary agents recommend writing and writers to each other. Even if your dream agent hasn't read anything in which you've been published, (s)he still has plenty of friends, colleagues, and friends of colleagues who may have. Remember: a huge number of new authors are signed based on recommendations rather than via queries culled from the slush.

Publishing short stories entails writing short stories, and writing short stories entails a ton of practice. It goes without saying, but if you've written enough to publish several short stories in reputable magazines and journals, you've put a fair amount of time and effort into your writing. I've said it before and I'll say it again: patience and discipline are worth more in this business than talent and luck (though you'll need some of the former and a lot of the latter).

There you have it, amigos and -as. So now, prithee, inform me: which magazines/journals do you regularly read or subscribe to? Where do you find new authors? Which authors or stories have you read recently that you loved, were excited about, or recommended to others?

Monday, June 20, 2011

In Fact, I'll Commend It Again

Television for Children Ages 8 – 10

Raunchy Late Night Comedies

Science Fiction/Fantasy with a Strong Female Lead

If any of this looks familiar, we'd probably be bros in real life: these are a few of the category recommendations Netflix has recently made for me. Whether it's via Netflix, Amazon, or our friends and families, recommendation is an undeniable and potent factor in our media consumption decision-making.

Now for the book-related part of today's segment! Some books I've recently been told I absolutely must read:

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Bossypants by Tina Fey

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

What's been recently recommended to you, gentle readers?

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Great Late Night Round Up

Friday round up with Laura:

Happy belated round up, friends and foes! It's late, but hopefully soon you'll hear Samuel L. Jackson reading you the sweet, sweet words: Go the Fuck to Sleep. If that's not your jam, you can preorder your copy of Pawnee by Leslie Knope, which I super want. Or you can grumble about the whole Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher thing. People are grumbling. (I am one of them. — E)

I've brought you a list of the top 100 nonfiction books, so you have something to read until the big Pottermore reveal next week. And you can read about Amanda Hocking before you can read her new books. Fun? Paper or ebook, she'll still need an editor. Let's hope one of her novels isn't a (gasp) fake memoir. The shock would send me off the edge, and make me in dire need of extreme survival books for my extreme sadness.

I'm full of information now, so mourn the death of first print, be jealous of the top Amazon reviewers who get swag, and see you next week!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Publishing Time

I was reading an article in The New Yorker awhile back by a foreign correspondent in West Africa who introduced to me the phenomenon of "African time." This consists of a much more relaxed attitude toward scheduling, punctuality, and time in general across many African countries than is traditionally found in the United States.

In case you're curious, there is such a thing as "publishing time," and it's similar in some respects. An editor might sit on an e-mail for two weeks even though it could be answered in five minutes; an assistant might take a week to read a partial even if (s)he could reasonably get to it in an afternoon; a marketing or sales manager might take several days to post materials to an internal website even though it could probably have been done much sooner.

A lot of this is the result of the kind of prioritization and reprioritization that is endemic not only to publishing, but to any major corporate enterprise—some projects just keep getting pushed back. Some of it, however, is due to the nature of the business.

Publishing—at least in general, and at least below the very top echelons of management—is not a fast-paced business, and the sense of urgency and desire for efficiency you might find in the offices of an investment bank or law firm don't generally exist, simply because publishing doesn't generally attract the sorts of people you often find in those fields. Couple that with the overworked staff of smaller publishers and the bureaucratic red tape of the Big Six, and it's no wonder you haven't heard back about that royalty check question you posed a month ago.

Publishing professionals are not inefficient or lazy, but a combination of multitasking/prioritizing and the culture of the industry means that it may take awhile for your e-mails to be returned, your manuscript to be read, your questions to be answered. Be patient, but don't be afraid to send reminders or request something a second time if your initial query is met with a protracted silence. We're not ignoring you, I promise! We're just busy. And a little strange.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Prithee, Inform Me: Summer Releases

'Tis the season for new releases, mes auteurs, and I was curious as to which you're most excited about!

While there are a number of books I'm dying to read, I'm most looking forward to A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin (July 12th, fiction), Vertigo: The Living Dead Man Poems by Marvin Bell (July 1st, poetry), and In My Time by Dick Cheney (August 30th, memoir). That last one should be pretty interesting.

In music (in which I have really eclectic taste), I'm pretty excited for Alpocalypse by "Weird Al" Yankovic (June 21st). Why? Because it's his first studio release in five years and the album contains a track called "Polka Face." Done and done.

Finally, in movies, I am super amped for the Green Lantern film this week (June 17th)! I've been waiting for this movie since I was about six, folks. If it disappoints me, I may never recover.

What about you, cats & kittens? What are you looking forward to in books, music, movies, and more over the next three months?

Friday, June 10, 2011

V.S. Naipaul, Videos, Vampires: Round Up

Friday round up with Laura:

It's been a while, friends and foes, but I'm back—with tons of important book news. Most important: have you seen the Breaking Dawn trailer? It's... well, I dunno, it's fine? I know Mitt Romney is excited, even if we're not all in agreement about whether or not lit professors should read Twilight. If you're looking for book-to-movie trailers, I can also provide I Don't Know How She Does It, the trailer, the trailer for Mr. Popper's Penguins, a True Blood sneak peek, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, trailer edition. I've also got the best and worst book trailers.

For those who'd rather not waste half an hour on videos (although why not? It's Friday!), I've got a cup full of controversy for you. First was the case of V.S. Naipaul v. women, where Naipaul holds that women can't write. And it must be true, because a man said it. QED, society. Heck, I'm not even writing this, I'm dictating to a typing chimp who edits for me. A male chimp, of course. Then again, the chimp bombed this quiz of guess what gender wrote this, so what does he know?

The other shenanigan wagon was the whole "is YA too dark?" article. To which I say: as long as Jaycee Duggard's abduction, captivity, and innumerable rapes are on the 6 o'clock news, no, it isn't. Problem solved. Or, if you'd prefer more arguments, here you go. If you need a little more direction, here's what Toni Morrison has to say about life, what Junot Diaz has to say about the apocalypse, and what his editor had to say to Roald Dahl. Also, a bonus: what text punctuation says about you.

So check our your periodic table of storytelling, get your Angry Birds cookbook, and I'll see you next week!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Market Update

It's been awhile since I've talked about what seems to be selling, mes auteurs, so below are the five categories I've noticed particular growth in over the past few months.

Keep in mind that (1) these are based on a healthy mix of data and anecdotal evidence, and (2) these are my thoughts on what seems to be selling now, not what will necessarily be popular in a year (the earliest your book would come out, assuming it's acquired in short order).

Graphic novels. It's likely these are seeing a bump because summer is superhero movie season, but it's pretty clear that this category is up from earlier this year. And (according to BookScan) it's not just properties with movies out/forthcoming, such as Thor or Green Lantern, so if you happen to be a graphic novel type of guy or gal, this is good news for you.

YA apocalyptic fiction. This (to my mind, anyway) was probably touched off by Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games in the same way vampire mania was touched off by Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series, but I feel like I'm seeing an awful lot of end-of-the-world scenarios (Harold Camping's failed Rapture prediction and the New Age folks' Mayan 2012 nonsense notwithstanding).

Weird diet books. I've seen everything from "only eat raw foods and if you eat a cooked vegetable you will die" to "feel free to eat your weight in bacon." Some of this is probably seasonal—while a ton of diet books come out in January, I figure there's always a beach season bump—but I feel like I've been getting an earful about Paleolithic diets, raw food diets, Mediterranean diets, and no- or low-carb diets for months.

Thrillers/horror novels. While I still firmly believe the mass market paperback is on its way out, sales appear to be holding steady in this format for thrillers and horror novels (not so much straight mysteries, for some reason). Again, it's beach season, and I imagine anyone without a Kindle is buying a stack of inexpensive paperbacks for the beach or pool.

Romance. A perennial favorite, romance is probably doing well for the same reasons as the aforementioned thrillers—it's generally inexpensive and great for beach or poolside reading. Romance readers also tend to buy repeatedly and generally buy more books per purchase than other readers, so the effect may be amplified by those kinds of consumer habits.

That's all I've got for today, cats & kittens. What books have you been hearing about/reading about/seeing everywhere lately?

Monday, June 6, 2011

It Came From The Cloud

First, many thanks to our five guest posters from last week! The activity in the comments section and on Twitter seem to indicate that all were fun, informative, and well-received, and I tip my digital hat to the five of you.

I'm still unpacking and settling in from my vacation, so today's post will be about you. Prithee, inform me, ladies and gents: how do you feel about Apple's iCloud?

Personally, I fear that Apple will use my information for iNiquity™, but that could just be my own paranoia talking. While I initially balked at the idea—Apple has made its name principally as a hardware, rather than software, manufacturer—I've since realized that this is a pretty smart move for the company. Most of the people I know who own Apple machines own multiple devices (laptop, desktop, iPhone, iPod, iPad, &c), and being able to link them together via the magic of the iNterwebz™ makes a lot of sense.

So, while I'm not sure I'll be partaking in Apple's newest venture—what about you?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Guest Post: My Novel Cracked 10 Amazon Top-100 Lists—YOURS Can Too!

by Phoenix Sullivan

That headline is true. But is it truth?

We're jaded, right? Bombarded by marketing every day, we turn a blind eye to all the "Look At Me, Me, ME" headlines. Until one pops up that hits our hot button. That promises to help us write better, attract an agent, get published or gain a huge audience. Deep in our hearts, we know better than to be reeled in by such claims.

Tenet One of good marketing is to not make false claims. There are laws against that, even if you're happy to ignore ethics. But what's the definition of "false?" As Cyrano so aptly put it: "...a lie is a sort of myth, and a myth is a sort of truth." Marketing spins its gold in shades of myth.

Readers see a headline about a book being on a list and, while they might not be persuaded to buy, it makes a favorable eyes-on impression. Being "on a list" legitimizes not just the book but the buyer's purchase of that book. It makes buying less-risky behavior. What the casual reader will never ask is: Which list? They're happy just to register the statement at face value.

But you're not a casual reader. You're reading beyond the headline. Not because you give a rat's patooty about which lists, but because you want to know how YOUR book can get on those lists, too—am I right?

You've probably read about the importance of metatagging everything you do online for better SEO—search engine optimization. Amazon in no different. When you upload your book, Amazon lets you choose two categories (genres/subgenres) out of a set of predefined tags. So even if, like mine, your novel set in the Dark Ages is a cross between women’s fiction and historical fiction and features strong romantic elements as well as war, you can only choose two pre-set categories for it. The good news is Amazon lets you input more key subject tags—these of your own making—limited only by a ceiling on the total number of characters you can use.

Input your subject tags wisely! They serve two purposes. The first is to help buyers find your book. That means a couple of the tags may just be a word that people might input into the search field when they're looking for a book like yours. I included "knights" and "Camelot."

Category tags are predefined by Amazon.
Subject tags are defined by whoever uploads the book.
They can be anything, limited only
by a predefined total character count.

The second purpose is one you can use to your marketing advantage: subgenre lists. My novel, Spoil of War, is part of the King Arthur canon. People reading historical fiction will likely use "Arthurian" as a search word, so I created these related tags: Arthurian romance, Arthurian fiction, historical fiction Arthurian. Romance readers, though, would likely refer to the time period as medieval, so I included a "medieval" tag. Include multiple ways of phrasing your subgenres if you can. Because here's a secret: Your rankings on the bestseller lists depend on EXACT phrasing of these tags—"99 cent" and "99 cents" may well return different results.

By creating areas of smaller markets for your book using subject tags, your book is no longer competing with the entire Amazon catalog but just its designated genres. That could mean anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand books.

Now, Amazon has a nifty little filter for its book searches. The default filter for whatever term you enter is "relevance." I have no idea how relevance is determined; part of it is based on words in the title and description, of course, but it also somehow changes with number of sales. It’s good to be relevant, because few readers will ever filter the first results they get. It can only help your relevancy rankings if the title you input contains the search words. For example, I deliberately included the tagline "An Arthurian Saga" in my title.

By changing the "relevance" filter to "bestselling," the search engine will rank the books returned in your results by whatever calculations Amazon uses to determine bestselling rankings. You can also produce lists that include all books in the Amazon store or just those in the Kindle store. (Barnes and Noble has a similar search, only they use the term "top matches" instead of "relevance.")

So that’s how I manipulated Spoil's way onto 10 of Amazon's bestselling lists. And since anyone can go out and reproduce these lists for themselves, my conscience is clear in touting the book's status on them, with the caveat that these lists change hourly.

With a little planning on the front side and scrolling through search results on the hind end, no reason why you can't also spin the rankings in your favor, as well.

But this only works for books selling hundreds of copies daily, right? YOUR book that's selling only a couple of copies per day doesn't have a snowball's chance of appearing in any impressive-sounding category. *Snort* Smoke and mirrors, folks. Amazon rankings are calculated using historical and current sales. I launched Spoil of War on March 31 and sold 37 copies on the US site, 13 copies on the UK site, and 11 copies through B&N in April. For May, as of May 20, I’d sold 32 copies on Amazon US, just 3 on Amazon UK, and 10 at B&N.

I tracked my rankings from May 18 to 20, and you can see the shift in rankings that only 1 or 2 purchases per day can produce.

Now that I've got the numbers to brag with, I just need to figure out how to reach more readers to let them know that buying Spoil of War is a non-risky, community-sanctioned purchase. Everyone must be buying it. It wouldn't be in those top-100 lists otherwise, right?

True or truth? You decide.

In the corporate world, Phoenix Sullivan was a professional writer and editor for 23 years. She blogs at, a site to help writers hone their queries and synopses, and a place to show off the beasties on her small farm in North Texas.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Guest Post: Eating the Elephant

by Lexi George

As a mom with a full-time job, I’ve always had to squeeze time out of my busy schedule for writing. I’ve been writing steadily for more than fifteen years, but for the first few years it was hit and miss, a little writing here, a little writing there. No pressure or time constraints and no real goals, other than to finish the manuscript I was working on... at some point.

In my forties, with the ugly Five-O looming on the horizon like Godzilla with a bad case of hammer toe, I got serious about writing. If I was going to do this, I’d better get cracking, I told myself. I was going to finish the darn book and get published before my fiftieth birthday.

Good grief, fifty! Where did all the time go? If I didn’t do this thing by then, it was all over but the crying. Of course, I knew my odds of getting published were slim—my husband is a numbers guy—but I didn’t dwell on them. I had a goal.

With Doomsday looming ahead, most days I managed to carve out some writing time. I had a self-imposed deadline to meet, with dead being the operative word. Fifty, sheesh. D-Day crept closer and closer, and Godzilla eschewed orthotics.

As writing became a more regular habit, I began to get anxious if I didn’t get my daily dose of prose. There were still plenty of times when life intruded upon my creative efforts, so I cut myself a little slack. I set a goal of writing a chapter a week, which for me averages anywhere from 2500 to 3700 words. That way, if I missed a day because of work or the kids, I could make it up the next day without feeling guilty or anxious.

Did I mention that guilt is a motivating factor for me? Guilt is my friend and my enemy. It keeps me on the straight and narrow, but it also makes me crazy as a June bug.

I finished the manuscript I was working on before Doomsday, but I didn’t get published. I have the pile of rejection letters to prove it. A quite impressive pile of rejection letters, I must say. Enough to wallpaper several bathrooms.

Fifty came and went and I kept writing. I decided to try my hand at something else, a romance about Addy, a small town Southern florist and a hunky immortal demon slayer named Brand. Lo and behold, thanks to luck, prayer and a lot of help from friends, Demon Hunting in Dixie sold to Kensington in a three-book deal! Holy smokes! Great jumping Jehoshaphat, I’m a published writer. Whoo hoo!

Then I got a reality check. I was given my first deadline, a deadline set by the publisher and not my inner nag. I had to complete a 30,000 word novella in three months. Having learned a little about time management and goal setting over the years, I gave myself a goal of 10,000 words a month, highly doable, given the fact I haven’t quit my day job or turned in my mom card. I am happy to say I met my first deadline. The novella, The Bride Wore Demon Dust, comes out this August as part of a Halloween anthology from Kensington entitled So I Married A Demon Slayer. The icing on my cake of happiness is the fact that I’m in the anthology with paranormal romance writers extraordinaire Angie Fox and Kathy Love. Somebody pinch me!

Then my second reality check came: the deadline for book two of the demon hunter series. I’m hard at work on it, but I will admit it has been challenging. I am a slow writer (I revise as I go) and I haven’t given up my day job or put up my teenager for adoption. But I will get there!

So, my advice is to set goals, whether they be daily, weekly, or month. Whatever it takes to get your butt in the chair.

When you set out to eat an elephant, take small bites. That’s my philosophy and it works for me.

Oh, and by the way, I’m fifty-four. Life didn’t end at fifty and neither did my passion for writing.

Or my ability to dream and reach for that big, brass ring.

Hmm, wonder what I should shoot for next?

Lexi George is an appellate lawyer by day and a romance writer by night. She started her writing career in the third grade penning bad poetry about hydrangea bushes and Erik the Red. Ironically, she ended up marrying a Viking, a Northern boy who came to Alabama with the Air Force and stayed. She wrote poetry all through high school and college. And then she decided to go to law school and the muse left in a huff. The muse hated law school.

The muse returned when Lexi’s oldest child was a toddler and Lexi has been writing ever since. After piling up an impressive number of rejections on her first book, a fantasy romance that she worked on for more than ten years, Lexi decided to try her hand at something else. The result was
Demon Hunting in Dixie, a paranormal romance about demon hunters in the Deep South. The muse is very happy, and so is Lexi.

Visit Lexi on Facebook and Twitter (lexigeorge12) and check out her website at

Demon Hunting in Dixie is available from:,,,,, or your favorite retailer.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Guest Post: Book Trailers, Batman, and Short-Form Promotion

by Brendan Gannon

In March, author Rye Barcott posted about his experience producing a trailer for his book. He expresses a healthy skepticism regarding the value of the trailer. Great: it is indeed hard to judge the extent to which a trailer actually boosts sales. (For the record, by the end of the post he is optimistic about the value of trailers, as am I.) His skepticism, however, is due at least in part to his doubt that the trailer can convey the essence of his book: "Can a few minutes on a screen really do justice to such a rich experience? I don't think so."

Well, that got me to thinking. A trailer that doesn't effectively capture the spirit of the work would be a lousy trailer. Right? If the trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows showed Harry sitting in a tent for two minutes and forty seconds, we would not be impressed. Only two things separate a good trailer from a bad one:

• It conveys the essence of the work it represents.
• It's exciting enough to make the viewer want to learn more about, and ultimately pay for, the work it represents.

The general public would probably agree that some trailers make the grade. But we aren't the general public, we are authors! We labor for years on our personal masterpieces, weaving subtlety and meaning into a compelling narrative. How could a short flashy video possibly capture our books? This sentiment is similar to the complaint many would-be authors raise about query letters and synopses. Same idea, right? I created a sophisticated, many-layered narrative. How am I supposed to get that across in 250 words?

Why book trailers are awesome

The great strengths of a book trailer are the qualities that people doubt most. It's short. It's an audio/video representation of a printed work. It's for people with short attention spans. You wouldn't want it any other way.

These qualities mean your trailer can do things your book can't do, go places your book can't go. A trailer, like a haiku, captures big ideas through effective use of imagery and metaphor. A trailer conveys theme, mood, and motifs through use of color, light, and sound. A trailer vividly paints the world, the characters, and the stakes of your work. A picture, after all, is worth a thousand words, and you've got a minute or so of video.

Let's look at Batman as an example of effective short-form promotion. (Doesn't everyone?) When the movie The Dark Knight was about to come out, the studio knew they had a bundle of Hollywood hotness on their hands, and even before the trailers they had to get that across in the simplest of teasers: still images on posters, in print, and on the web. Hence the "Why so serious?" campaign.

This poster doesn't tell you much about the movie per se, but it does tell you what the movie is like. The blood suggests that Batman is a target, and that he is vulnerable. The lighting, the brick and the scrawls tell us the film will be gritty and hint at the Joker's low-tech methods. The tagline hints at the jarring contrast of the Joker's character: his drive to mock mainstream society and the disturbing, violent tactics he uses. It says if you like provocative, gritty and gothic you will like this movie. If you like campy comic book villains, you won't. Accurate and exciting. Done.

So how are you supposed to condense 60-80,000 words into a short video clip, or a one page query letter? By being authors. It's in the job description.

Yes, you can

Put another way: if you were an employee of the publisher, it would be unfair of them to expect you to write the book and market it. But you're not. You're a sole proprietor. You're ultimately responsible for your book, and everything about it; everyone involved in its journey to publication is effectively a contractor providing their services to you. The publisher is like a consultant. If they say make a trailer, you'd be wise to listen to them. That's how they earn their cut.

Another common sentiment is "it's not fair. I don't know anything about video/marketing/queries/etc." Sure it's fair. If you were expected to design a bridge or rebuild a carburetor as part of the publishing process, that would be unfair. You're a creative. If you can learn to write a book, you can learn to make a trailer, or at least learn to get a trailer made. The good news is no one expects you to change their lives in sixty seconds or 250 words. Refer to the above: convey the essence of your work. Be exciting. That's it!

Granted, plenty of book trailers we see out there are not very effective. Distilling a book's essence and capturing said essence in short form represents a challenge, and naturally some efforts fall short. Your job as a creative is not to fall short. Polish that query letter 'til it gleams and savagely trim that synopsis. Your job as a business person is to make sure your contractors don't fall short. If they're not capturing the essence of your work (in your trailer, in your website, in your promotional bookmarks) you're either not communicating effectively or you're working with the wrong person.

What say you, readers? Do I presume too much? Or should us writer-types apply our nose to the grindstone and broaden our horizons?

Brendan Gannon is a web developer and multimedia producer based in Boston. He writes YA/MG fiction and blogs at He thinks digital publishing and mobile apps are the bee's knees, but he's also very fond of paper.