Saturday, November 04, 2006

YouTube video sets stage for novel

A film version of the opening chapter of Michael Connelly's 'Echo Park' is posted on the website to whet readers' appetites.

By Dawn C. Chmielewski, Times Staff Writer
November 4, 2006

Books have long been made into movies. Now, they're heading straight to YouTube.

Author Michael Connelly adapted the first chapter of his new murder mystery, "Echo Park," into a 10-minute film for YouTube and other online video sites in an attempt to attract readers.

Harry Bosch, Connelly's dark protagonist who is a detective in the Los Angeles Police Department, made his brooding debut online before "Echo Park" reached bookstores last month. The video, shot for about $10,000, ends with the tagline: "Read what happens next in 'Echo Park.' "

"I do believe this was a tool in getting people excited," said Connelly, a former reporter at The Times. "It was on the Internet, it was on YouTube, before the book was out. It sharpened excitement. So when the book came out, they were ready to buy it. I do know statistically that the first week of sales for 'Echo Park' was the best first week of sales I've had."

Book publishers face the same challenge bedeviling all media: how to compete for attention in an ever-growing entertainment market that includes TV, cable, online social networks, downloadable music and video, podcasts and video games.

The average time Americans spend reading has declined from 117 hours a year in 1999 to about 105 in 2006. Meanwhile, about 172,000 books were published last year — more than 19 new titles published for every hour of every day of every week.

"The author and the publisher realizes there isn't just clutter in the marketplace, there is massive clutter in terms of competing with other books," said Albert N. Greco, senior researcher at the Institute for Publishing Research in New Jersey. "Then, you compete with newspapers and magazines and video games and cable and satellite and music and doing nothing."

Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux was among the first to try YouTube as a way to bring literature to the masses.

In August, it released a video book trailer to coincide with the release of "The Mystery Guest," a memoir from French writer Gregoire Bouillier. Others were soon to follow.

Broadway hired Santa Monica-based VidLit to create a book video of humorist Bill Bryson's memoir, "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid," using an audio book reading and black-and-white family photos.

"If you never saw Bill Bryson before, you definitely get an idea of what it's about," VidLit founder Liz Dubelman said.

Little, Brown and Co. produced a movie-slick trailer for "Echo Park" as part of an extended promotional campaign that mixes traditional book readings and television appearances with less conventional approaches, like podcasts and downloadable audio clips.

"The philosophy is just to create a movie-releases type of excitement for it," said Anthony Goff, an associate at Little, Brown's audio and digital media group.

Connelly wanted to do more.

He developed a script with Terrill Lee Lankford, a screenwriter whose credits include "Storm Trooper" and "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers."

They selected a location with special significance — the apartment building where Robert Altman shot the classic film "The Long Goodbye," from the book of the same title by author and screenwriter Raymond Chandler, creator of hard-boiled Los Angeles private eye Philip Marlowe.

Lankford hired actors Tim Abell, who appeared most recently in "Soldier of God," and Bill Bolender, whose television and movie credits include "The Shawshank Redemption."

Lankford and Connelly hope the online video does more than spur book sales. They hope it will persuade Hollywood studios to bring Bosch to the big screen.

"We're not saying this is studio-level quality, but that piece is about mood, it's about atmospherics. That's what Harry Bosch is about," Lankford said. "It was kind of a steppingstone to say Harry Bosch could exist. We could make a movie of this."

I had started watching this before I read the book, but I just couldn't get through the whole ten minutes. I'd love to know how other people reacted to it. Here is a link to the YouTube video: Echo Park

YouTube video sets stage for novel - Los Angeles Times

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Selling Literature to Go With Your Lifestyle

Published: November 2, 2006

Most customers at the Anthropologie store in SoHo come for the delicately woven knits and the ultrafeminine floral dresses. But these days at least some are coming for the books.

Last Sunday the merchandise and books were coordinated with near-perfect precision. Resting beside a black sweater ($68) and a jet-black skirt with orange embellishments ($118) were copies of Annie Leibovitz’s “A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005,” big and black and gleaming, for $75. A pop-up book called “One Red Dot” echoed a display of polka-dotted canvas sneakers, while another title, “The Persistence of Yellow,” perfectly matched a strategically positioned yellow knit sweater.

Books are turning up in the oddest places these days.

With book sales sagging — down 2.6 percent as of August over the same period last year, according to the Association of American Publishers — publishers are pushing their books into butcher shops, carwashes, cookware stores, cheese shops, even chi-chi clothing boutiques where high-end literary titles are used to amplify the elegant lifestyle they are attempting to project.

What began as a trickle of cookbooks in kitchen shops and do-it-yourself titles in hardware stores has become, in recent months, the fastest growing component in many major publishers’ retail strategies.

“It’s a way for the book business to stay alive,” said Abby Hoffman, the vice president of sales and marketing for Chronicle Books in San Francisco, which sells most of its 350 offbeat titles each year to places like high-end grocery stores, children’s clothing stores and wineries. “Anyplace that sells merchandise is a place to sell books.”

When Starbucks got into the book business last month, it hitched its brand to Mitch Albom’s latest inevitable best seller, “For One More Day,” helping propel it to the top of the lists. But the shift in the business can more clearly be seen in the sale of lower-profile authors in lower-profile settings, where the right title in the right location can make all the difference for a book that might otherwise sink without a trace.

Mike’s Deli in the Bronx, for instance, has sold more than 4,500 copies of Ann Volkwein’s “Arthur Avenue Cookbook” at $25 each. That book otherwise sold only 8,000 copies nationwide, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks sales at major book chains, independent bookstores and online retailers, but not at places like Mike’s. But it sold so well at Mike’s that David Greco, the deli’s owner, began stocking more titles, including “The Italian American Cookbook” by John Mariani and “Con Amore: A Daughter-in-Law’s Story of Growing Up Italian-American in Bushwick” by Bea Tusiani.

Mr. Greco says he must factor in at least one expense that bookstores don’t: “When you deal with salami and mozzarella, its a little greasy. So we keep the books in plastic bags.”

After years of concentrating on big-box retailers like Borders and Barnes & Noble and online retailers like Amazon, many major publishing houses are retooling their tactics to take advantage of this new frontier.

Simon & Schuster, one of the industry’s largest publishers, is urging its sales representatives to punctuate their bookstore rounds with impromptu pitches at promising shops and markets they spot in their travels. The Time Warner Book Group routinely changes the color or design of book jackets at a store’s request so the book will color-coordinate with merchandise. And HarperCollins plans to design books for its spring catalog in shades of “margarita and sangria,” greens and reds that store owners have told the publisher will dominate that season’s color palette, said Andrea Rosen, vice president for special markets.

At Penguin Group, sales representatives have begun pushing into rural areas that are short on big bookstores, selling at cattle auctions, among other places.

The total number of books sold outside bookstores is impossible to discern. BookScan’s sales figures typically account for 60 percent to 70 percent of a book’s sales, but those figures do not include copies sold in nontraditional places.

Nonetheless, publishing houses know how it has affected their bottom line.

In the last four years Simon & Schuster’s special market sales, as they are called, have grown by 50 percent, surpassing total sales to independent bookstores, said Jack Romanos, the publishing house’s president and chief executive.

“The publisher now has a responsibility to put books in front of more eyeballs,” Mr. Romanos said. “The market was always there, but I don’t know that most publishers were as aggressive about trying to develop it 10 years ago as they are today.”

Some placements make intuitive sense: publishers sell a baby book to a specialty store like Buy Buy Baby; cookbooks go to Williams-Sonoma and other cookware outlets; glossy fashion books to clothing boutiques; design books to stores like Restoration Hardware. But some matches may not be so obvious. Even Bath & Body Works, at Westfield Garden State Plaza in Paramus, N.J., for instance, sells a half-dozen titles on subjects including weddings, gardening and travel to Provence.

With the proper placement, a book displayed at a national chain like Urban Outfitters can easily sell more there than at any other retailer, including blockbuster stores like Barnes & Noble. A recent article in Publishers Weekly noted that one surprise fall hit, “Wall and Piece,” written by the graffiti artist Banksy and published by the Century imprint of Random House in Britain, saw its biggest sales at Urban Outfitters and independent bookstores.

The point, publishers say, is to follow customers who might not otherwise visit bookstores into the places where they do shop, rather than waiting for customers to show up at bookstores or click on and other online sales sites.

People who buy books at farm-supply stores, for instance, are a prime potential market because there may be no bookstores in their rural communities, said Barbara O’Shea, president of nontrade sales for Penguin. “There is nobody selling books, so we’ve gotten these places to sell books,” she said.

The phenomenon is an urban and suburban one, as well.

Martin & Osa, a new clothing retailer aimed at 25-to-40-year-olds, stocks dozens of titles in its four stores and is planning to add more, including a “reading list” of graphic novels, fiction and nonfiction for customers. “We try to offer them things that aren’t mainstream, more unusual, more unique,” said Arnie Cohen, the chief marketing officer.

At Anthropologie on Sunday, Ruth Rennert lounged among the throw pillows on a mustard-yellow sofa — not far from that display of yellow sweaters and books — leafing through “Jackie: A Life in Pictures,” about the former first lady. Shopping for books in a setting like this, she said, is preferable to enduring the hustle and bustle of big bookstores.

While the bulk of books sold in some of these places are novelty titles — like “Bruce Aidells’s Complete Book of Pork” from HarperCollins, now in hundreds of butcher shops — in recent months a broader list of titles has also begun to emerge.

Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” is for sale at Urban Outfitters, for instance. Staples, the office-supply chain, began carrying business books several years ago, but more recently has added titles like “Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential,” by Joel Osteen.

And publishers have stumbled on advantages that often come with this territory: outside of a bookstore, a title enjoys less competition, a more inviting display space and the store’s implicit stamp of approval.

“You walk into Restoration Hardware and you want the couch and the vase and the nightstand, and then you want the two books that are on the nightstand,” Ms. Rosen said. “The books complete the story.”

Selling Literature to Go With Your Lifestyle - New York Times

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More Pop

I checked with the fabulous Young Adult librarian, Karyn Dombrosky, at my library because if there was anyone who would know about the status of Pop and the likelihood of it appearing on the library's shelves, it would be this Goddess of all things pop culture and young adult. Not only had she ordered a copy, she had also read it. She liked it, thought it funny and cute but definitely graphic in the portrayal of sex - although not necessarily in a bad way.

Because it is an uncataloged paperback, there aren't nearly as many hoops to jump through to get the book into the library. But shelving it is another matter, and Karyn wasn't comfortable enough with it to just put it out there. Instead, she plans to turn it over to the branch manager to determine whether it should be shelved in the adult or young adult section. Generally books that have a protagonist that is a teenager and revolve around teenage angst would be shelved in YA, so we'll see.

Karyn then introduced me to Johnny Hazzard by Eddie De Oliveira. The hardcover came out last year but we had just gotten in, again, the uncataloged paperback. Karyn called it the "boy version" of the Pop book - a sexual coming of age story but told from the male perspective. Miraculously the book fell open to a graphic sex scene that included my favorite new phrase, (although I must confess that I'm unsure of its exact meaning) "spank the cheeky monkey."

Then our unrestrained librarian turned the tables on me and asked what I thought as a parent of a young teenager. She is aware that I don't believe in censorship as a rule, and this was no exception. After reading that bit of Johnny Hazzard, my feelings are that I wouldn't bring it home and say hi honey, here's a great book you should read, but on the other hand, I wouldn't mind if my daughter brought it home on her own. Although frankly, I do know other parents that would mind. A lot.

Books that feature sex among adolescents is a touchy subject but I still feel it best to err on the side of openness and availability. If you don't want your child to read certain books, then monitor what they take out from the library or buy from the bookstore or borrow from their friends - but don't ask the library or bookstore not to sell it to anyone else. And even worse, bookstores shouldn't censor themselves; after all, they are in the business of selling books and you can't sell what isn't on your shelves. Leave it up to your customers to decide how to spend their dollars.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Jessa Crispin Pops A Question To Borders
October 26, 2006
By Jessa Crispin

It's no revelation that today, getting a book published is only the beginning of an author's battle: The old fantasy that just having a book "out there" might be enough for it to find an audience has been replaced with the reality that an author has to take control of her own publicity—because as likely as not, the publisher-assigned publicist has moved on to a bigger, more marketable titles—in order to get potential readers into stores to buy books.

But what about a promising writer who finds herself at a huge disadvantage—essentially before even heading out of that starting gate—because one of the largest bookstore chains in America is refusing to stock her book?

Aury Wallington recently went from writing for television shows like Sex and the City and Veronica Mars to writing a young-adult novel called Pop! Her tale of a seventeen-year-old virgin and her quest to have sex is funny and reminiscent of another young-adult novelist. Wallington explained, "I wanted to write a book that would serve a new generation of girls the way Judy Blume's Forever served me—answering questions that I was too embarrassed to ask anyone, and showing the emotional issues of sex and virginity through a character I could identify with."

But sexual content in young-adult novels is a tricky issue right now, with books like Craig Thompson's Blankets getting pulled off of library shelves in Marshall, Mo., library because of an image on its cover of a couple lying in bed together, even though there isn't any sex depicted. As for Pop!, Wallington describes the book's sexual content as "on-screen, so to speak, although the language and act itself are not graphic."

While Barnes & Noble made the decision to carry Pop!, that’s not what happened at the other big store. Ami Hassler, children’s buyer for Borders Group, Inc., said, “It is true that we monthly review many titles and because the space in the YA section is not unlimited, we make choices every day regarding what to carry and what not to carry. Other factors in this decision include the format of the book, the price, the cover design, and the competitive landscape.”

So where does that leave Wallington and her book? Hassler does say that Borders will special-order Pop! if a customer requests it. But having the book available, and visible, in the stores is important. After all, a book’s marketing campaign has to be that much more convincing if a customer has to remember enough about the book to special-order it through a major retailer.

Wallington was disappointed to hear that Borders wouldn’t be carrying her first novel, especially with no clear answers as to why. Sexual content? No established audience? Perhaps it really was just the cover artthough that seems pretty unlikely, considering the image is of a soda can emblazoned with the title. Wallington believes the young-adult section is in need of books like hers. “There are so many contemporary young-adult novels that trivialize teen sex, where the characters are so glib and sophisticated that sexual intimacy seems like no big deal, and sex has few or no physical or emotional consequences, as opposed to the awkward, confusing struggle that most real teenagers go through, which I tried to capture honestly in my book.”

She continues, "I've been so pleased with the reaction I've gotten to Pop!, both from readers and organizations like Planned Parenthood (which is running an interview with me about both the book and the issues surrounding sex and virginity on its website, that I was surprised and disheartened to learn that Borders won't be carrying it, especially since sex is such an immediate and overwhelming issue for most teenagers and there isn't a whole lot of current YA fiction which addresses the subject frankly without sensationalizing it."

Wallington's work will appear in Borders stores—just in the form of Veronica Mars DVD sets instead of Pop! Meanwhile, Wallington's editor at Razorbill, Kristin Pettit, is optimistic. "We remain hopeful however that Aury's voice will be heard through other channels."

I wonder if my library will be carrying this book? I wonder if yours is?

Monday, October 30, 2006

AGAINST THE DAY by Thomas Pynchon lands on my doorstep...

...and it makes quite a thud. I hated V, which is the only Pynchon I've read, but it's been a while since he's published and my hatred has simmered down to a general feeling of discomfort so I figured what the hell, I'll give it a try. I'm an English Lit major, I'm supposed to like this sort of thing. I can be like the cool kids, dis genre fiction and wax euphoric over novels with no plot. Oy.

I had a few days between reading assignments and I thought I'd plow through it and see what happens. But people, this isn't a book, it is a doorstopper. Over 1100 pages. Many, many characters and the setting spans numerous countries, some of which are made up. I can't do that in a weekend. And I've been sick and I'm too weak to even pick the freakin' thing up. It will take me a year to get through this and I don't know if I have the stamina for it.

Stay trials and tribulations of dealing with Pynchon to follow...

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