Friday, November 13, 2009

We'll Order Now What They Ordered Then

By Kevin Guilfoile

This week I received a box of new foreign editions of CAST OF SHADOWS. That's always a special thrill, seeing new covers, new page layouts, new visual interpretations of your novel.

When I opened the Chinese edition, I discovered this beautifully designed, tri-fold insert advertising EVERY SECRET THING by Laura Lippman. And I couldn't stop looking at it. I spent much more time examining this piece of advertising than I did exploring the new incarnation of my own book. I turned it over carefully in my hands, wondering exactly what was printed on it. I assume it has an excerpt of some kind. Quotes and blurbs. Maybe even a discount offer, I really don't know but it was such a pleasant surprise.

I know the future of book promotion is in new media. I'm certain of it. E-readers have become more affordable and easy to use, and when we start hearing real numbers for ebook sales over the next year I suspect we will be surprised at the rate at which people are adapting to the new technology. We shouldn't be. But we always are.

The problem is we're still in the experimental stage when it comes to influencing people with online media.

For instance I think book trailers might someday be an excellent means of promotion. In some cases even necessary. For my second novel, which comes out next year, I'll almost certainly make one. But I'm worried that I haven't seen many book trailers that I think actually work. They are targeted too randomly, for starters. In terms of production they always pale in comparison to film trailers. And promoting a big book with a little movie is a little like promoting a painting with a radio sketch. The experiences are just not transferable.

On the other hand, this elegant piece of paper, printed in China and which I couldn't even read, made me want to buy a book far more than any web trailer I've ever seen (admittedly, I've already read and enjoyed EVERY SECRET THING, but that's beside the point). It was testament to the power of print. And to the fact that old media still has a few bullets in its gun.

My shelves are lined with vintage paperbacks with ads for other books printed on the aftermatter, and here was evidence that this old idea can still be a good one. A reader has purchased a particular book and the publisher is saying if you like this book, here's another you might enjoy. It's a benefit to the reader, it's a branding opportunity for the publisher. It's advertising that is relatively cheap and precisely targeted (the latter always being the hardest thing to achieve). And for those of us who still believe there is something magical about words printed on paper, the pitch is made in an especially seductive way, on a gorgeous piece of paper that I might keep. As a bookmark, or just an object of admiration.

Maybe there's a lesson in that. It made me feel good, is all I'm saying.

Also, an update. Two weeks ago, I posted about some home videos taken by my wife's family--one of Chicago's great snowstorm of 1967, and another of Chicago's great snowstorm of 1939. Scott Jacobs of The Week Behind was inspired to find more videos from local snowstorms of yore. Good stuff.

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1 comment:

Michael Dymmoch said...

I'm sure you're right about electronic books, Kevin. But until those of us who grew up with physical books die off there will still be plenty of traditional books sold. To quote John Connolly, "If you put 10,000 titles on your kindle, what are you going to furnish your house with?"