Monday, January 14, 2008

Are we writers or are we techies?

Patricia Smiley here...

Like most authors these days, I’m always open to new ways to introduce my novels to readers. So on Saturday, I attended two technology workshops aimed at schooling me in the advanced art of book promotion. One session featured an introduction to creating documents in Publisher as well as how to build Power Point presentations. I do a lot of public speaking, so I thought it would be fun to jazz up my talks with color and animation.

Another session dealt with podcasting and book trailers. For those of you whose knowledge of podcasting is blurry at best, the term refers to an Internet radio show on demand. Podcasts allow fans to go to your Web site and listen to interviews, lectures, or witty patter on the subject of your choice.

At the close of the classes, I walked away from the computer with the following new wisdom:

  1. Building a Power Point presentation and doing my own postcards and bookmarks now seems within reach.
  2. Creating podcasts from scratch takes too much time, effort, and money. More to the point, it is unproductive to spend my time learning a skill for which I have limited application.
  3. Producing a bad book trailer reflects negatively on your novel. If you must have a trailer, hire a pro to do it.

That last point was deeply disappointing to me, because I’d been looking forward to channeling my creative urges in a new direction. Book trailers are the newest hot thing. Everybody seems to have one, and I hate to be left in the technological dust. So on Sunday morning I started scouring the Internet for production companies that make book trailers.

My new wisdom proved unassailable: Bad trailers are not good. Some of the efforts I viewed, even those done by “pros,” failed to impress. First, I noticed that the background music in most of the trailers sounded the same—like the scary score from JAWS. Of the trailers that featured actors, none of the performances were, shall we say, of Oscar quality. Even the voice-overs tended toward dorkiness. I came away realizing that unless I could persuade Hilary Swank to play Tucker in my trailer, I should probably avoid any kind of live action. I think I'll ban speaking, as well.

On the other hand, I found some good trailers. Here’s one done by Mind Over Eye for my friend Louise Ure. Her book, THE FAULT TREE, was released a few days ago, and it’s getting great buzz.

Circle of Seven Productions seems to produce their share of book trailers these days. Here’s a link to their site in case you want to check them out.

Author infomercials are big at the moment. I found some interesting examples at the Turn Here Web site.

As I clicked from site to site, confronted with one mind-boggling choice after another, I began to feel the heavy weight of technology threatening to crush my spirit. I considered the pressure authors feel to set up Web sites, facebooks, MySpaces, CrimeSpaces, podcasts, blogs, trailers, book tours, and book-club talks, and I began to wonder if readers really care about any of those things or if they simply prefer to crack open a book cover and read the flap copy.

What say you?

P.S. If you’ve always wanted to know how a Publishers Weekly editor decides which books to review, check out this blog.

Happy Monday!



  1. I think a Web site is a must for an author these days. Through that, readers can contact the author, find out where the author is appearing, and read about the books.

    That said, I'm leery of facebook, Myspace, and even crimespace. I'm on crimespace but haven't done pages for the former two. Mainly because my teenage niece laughed when I told her I was thinking about it, saying, "I don't know anyone who's on Myspace to find a book to read."

    I do design my own bookmarks, postcards and business cards, but I know how to use Photoshop. As for a book trailer, I'm playing with iMovie but my efforts are rudimentory at best. If an author doesn't know the programs, I think we should just stay away from them.

    I think in the long run, people just want to hear from someone, word of mouth, that a book's good. Technology impresses us, but I'm not sure the reader is even really registering it.

  2. Karen, I agree with you. Word of mouth is what makes a book successful. Technology impresses young people, but we're still not sure if any of them read :O)

  3. Oh, Patty, my mind is befuddled just reading this post! Remember, I am the most technically challenged of the Naked Authors team, so I am also faintly terrified of podcasts and all the other new media opportunities (having said that, I'm recording a podcast next week). I've often thought that some sort of visual back-up to my presentations would be a terrific idea, but not known how to go about it - it's now clear I should wrangle my way into Powerpoint.

    Facebook is the one I don't really understand, to tell you the truth. I keep getting emails telling me that I've been listed as a "friend" of so-and-so and could I confirm it on Facebook. Sure, I'm a friend, but once I've gone onto Facebook, then what am I supposed to do? It all looks like another way to burn time that could be spent writing.

    And that's why the title of your post hit a nerve. People often ask if I'm a full-time writer, and I have to say, "Well, I'm a full-time administrator, email answerer, copy-writer, telephone assistant, office gofer ... oh, yes, and I write!"

    To the final point - WOM (word of mouth) - that will always be the most efficient method of spreading the news on anything. In addition to my fiction, I also write business-related articles, and in interviewing people in organizations of all sizes, public and private sector, I often ask them about their promotional processes, what works and what doesn't. Amid all the technology, the money-spinning efforts, WOM trumps the lot of them. But all the other things we do prime that particular pump, which is why they cannot be discounted.

    Now, I've a heap of mail in my website inbox that need some attention, so if you excuse me ...

  4. 1. Great trailer for Louise Ure's "The Fault Tree." And a big congrats to Louise for those starred reviews and impressive blurbs.

    2. Unlike Jacqueline, nobody invites me to be a friend on "Facebook" or anywhere else, so I'm not tempted to learn how to do it.

    3. We've come a long way since Jacqueline Susann delivered donuts & coffee at 5 a.m. to the truck drivers who stocked the airport book racks. I am not sure this is a good thing.

  5. I first read about Jacqueline Susann's efforts - coffee and donuts to truck drivers, personal letters to EVERY bookstore in America, etc.etc., years ago. Like Paul, the fact that we've moved away from that sort of personal connection doesn't strike me as such a good thing. I try to write personal letters to bookstores, and when my first book was published I asked my editor if I could have contact names and addresses for all the sales reps. She was shocked that I even knew there were such people - apparently, surprisingly few authors think about how their books come to the attention of the independent bookstores. But once a sales rep, always a sales rep (that's me), so I wrote a personal letter to each one, thanking them for their work on behalf of my book. And I meant every word of it. The reps were all surprised and happy to be acknowledged by an author - and put a lot of effort into making sure the stores stocked that book, even when they wanted to wait to see if the book was worth the shelf space.

    Acknowledging the people who work hard to get our books into the stores is right up there with lighting a spark under WOM.

  6. Patty, thanks for the kind words about my video trailer. Another one that I think is particularly well done is the new one by Tim Maleeny ( We both spent our entire careers in advertising, and I think that background helped us in putting them together.

  7. Okay, I'm on my way out to buy donuts. Truckers beware!

  8. Patty, it was great meeting you on Saturday. It looks to me as if you walked away from the podcasting/book trailer experience thinking just about what I expected. And everything you've said is true.

    I've been editing video for many years, so creating a trailer is not that difficult for me. But I knew going into the class that there's a steep learning curve, which is why I asked WHY you folks wanted to do a book trailer.

    Book trailers are nice little feature to have on your website or on YouTube, but are they really cost effective? Spending even a few hundred dollars to have one produced seems like a few hundred too much when consider that getting people to watch them is most of the battle. And then getting them to buy the book, based on that trailer, is even tougher.

    Anyway, I'm glad you got something out of the class. It was a pleasure being there.

  9. Rob, you were a great teacher. I'm just technologically challenged. However, my offer is still open. I will gladly allow you to do my next book trailer. Don't you feel special?

  10. Patty,
    I'm not sure I'm willing to go much past a website. That takes time and money to set up correctly.
    Having said that, the response to that stupid Youtube movie I did has been spectacular. So maybe people do pay attention to it.

    I like the PW editor link you gave too.


  11. I can hardly wait for the sequel, James O. Shoot my book next. Pul-leeeze!

  12. Whew - hope I'm welcome among all the writers. But I did win a prize draw on an author's website once. (Thanks for the book and bag, Patty!) But I'm "just" a reader.

    Fun stuff out of the way, I own a software company - so tech is my thing -- But I've never FOUND an author via their website. I DO use websites to find out ABOUT authors and their subsequent titles (Jacqueline and Patty are both prime examples there). I rely on newsletters from a number of great independent booksellers from across the country and across the pond to find out about debut novels.

    All in all, word of mouth, Patty. Whether it's spread electronically or in person matters not. But it does matter. Oh - and appearances - can't stress those enough. I enjoy seeing authors (but not as much as I enjoy reading your work)! John Meadows

  13. I think you know how I feel, Patty: I hate cell phones, podcasts, blogs, YouTubes, Trailers, watching TV shows on a computer, and all that other tech stuff inundating us. Before I retired I walked out of Power Point presentations (just let me read the printed version they hand out, which they then read to you).

    I read Naked Authors and Murderati because you and Louise asked me to, else I'd have never known about it. I will occasionally go to an author's website for book or tour info, and am miffed that one of my very favorite authors, Rudolfo Anaya, doesn't have a site, so I have to work extra hard to get info about his new works. I'll occasionally read other blogs that you folks are guesting on, but I want to read books, not computer screens. (Louise's trailer WAS good, wasn't it?! And Jim's shoot 'em up was a real treat!)

    However, I would not have seen these had you good folks not directed me there. I'm not sorry for reading your blogs or watching your 'videos,' but I'd never get there on my own. But that's just me.

  14. That last anti-tech diatribe was from your Groupie.

  15. I am a voracious reader and I've not heard of many of the new (to me) techie stuff you mentioned. This is the first I've heard of book trailers. I personally use print media to find out about the books that I want to read, specifically Booklist and Mystery Scene. I basically use these to find out about authors that are new to me and to find out when my favorite authors are releasing a new book. I look at authors web sites infrequently. Mostly when I have found an author that is new to me and I want to check out the other books that they have written. If is a series of books, I like to read them in order.

  16. Thanks Groupie, John, and Gayle for your insights. Very very helpful.

  17. Late but not forgotten...

    Perfect trailer--

    One Porsche Boxster rolling down a scenic highway near Malibu.

    One Tucker Sinclair at the wheel, starring Patty Smiley, who turns to the camera and offers a patented dazzling smile.

    'nuff said.

  18. Thanks, Jeff, but that shot might just break the camera.

  19. Two feet of snow and still no good answers. That's just the way it is.

  20. Thanks (belatedly) for the link to my blog about my work at PW; I just checked my referrer logs and saw that you'd sent some folks my way. I'm glad you found it informative!

    Rose Fox

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  22. Incidentally, the link you gave doesn't quite go where you seem to want it to go; this is the correct link, without the .html at the end.

    Rose Fox