Friday, September 08, 2006

Down With the Sickness

vi-rus [vahy-ru,s]
1. an ultramicroscopic (20 to 300 nm in diameter), metabolically inert, infectious agent that replicates only within the cells of living hosts, mainly bacteria, plants, and animals: composed of an RNA or DNA core, a protein coat, and, in more complex types, a surrounding envelope.
2. Informal. a viral disease.
3. a corrupting influence on morals or the intellect; poison.
4. a segment of self-replicating code planted illegally in a computer program, often to damage or shut down a system or network.

mar-ket-ing [mahr-ki-ting]
1. the act of buying or selling in a market.
2. the total of activities involved in the transfer of goods from the producer or seller to the consumer or buyer, including advertising, shipping, storing, and selling.

Yesterday I was discussing promotional plans with one of my authors, when he said something that really touched a nerve. What he said, in so many words, is that any time a corporation puts money into viral marketing, it will fail. After hanging up I thought about this, whether what he said was true, and whether putting promotional money behind a concept like viral marketing was simply contradictory by nature.

He said while a corporation's first instinct might be to throw $100,000 behind one piece of a viral marketing plan, they would be infinitely more successful by spending $5 on a thousand different pieces.

When I think of viral marketing, I think of funny emails and links forwarded to friends and colleagues. I think of organic material that reaches a tipping point and takes on a life of its own. I think of it as something that can't be planned or pencilled into a marketing budget, where there's really no rational explanation for its popularity or success. But is that really fair? And is it true?

Not in all cases. A few years ago, Little, Brown published a book called YIDDISH WITH DICK AND JANE. It was a parody on the popular grade school primers, and to promote it, Little, Brown commissioned something called a VidLit, a short promotional video for the book which would ostensibly be forwarded around the internet and persuade people to pick up the book. At the time, VidLit was a relatively new tool, and when the VidLit for YIDDISH WITH DICK AND JANE premiered on the internet, it was passed around like a bong at Silent Bob's house. It spurred massive sales for the book, which sold out its first printing in about 3.5 minutes, and has since sold nearly 200,000 copies. The book likely would not have been as successful without the VidLit, and needless to say others began to copy the model.

After the success of the YIDDISH VidLit, the tool was overused and dulled worse than a three-week old shaving razor. Because YIDDISH was a high concept humor book whose audience was very much in tune with the internet, the promotion worked. I remember seeing the trailer and sending around the link to at least half a dozen people. But soon VidLits began popping up for every kind of book imaginable, from chick lit to mysteries to business. VidLits were created and aimed for audiences who, let's face it, weren't exactly the kind of book buyers who send around internet videos to their friends. If somebody sends you a funny link once in a blue moon, you're happy to pass it around. If they send you a new link every other day, eventually the task will get wearisome. Many of the VidLits I've seen are incredibly clever and well-made, but I don't think they've had nearly the impact as the beta models.

For an example of what sounds like good out-of-the-box viral marketing, check out Atria's promotion for Diane Setterfeld's THE THIRTEENTH TALE (which offers a special leather-bound copy of the book to bloggers who link to the contest. Of course I'm only mentioning this out of journalistic integrity. I hate leather.). I'm thrilled that publishers are taking more time to embrace the powers of internet and viral marketing, but what my author said makes some sense. You never want to be the last on the bandwagon--you want to build it yourself.

My author forwarded me this video, which is a parody of what happens when a company "overmarkets" a product. It's pretty funny and a little too accurate, and shows how easy it is to take something unique and make it bland. Promotion is a very reactionary type of business. As soon as something becomes popular (i.e. YouTube, MySpace) everyone looks to promote their product on it. So by the time "corporate money" is thrown at it, the fad is already either dying or oversatured to the point where it's impossible to get noticed. Two years ago VidLits were revolutionary. Today they're fairly common. It's a lot easier to stand out when you're one of one than when you're one of fifty. The trick for viral marketing, it seems, is to be the first one at the party and gorge yourself on the goodies.

Otherwise, in the great words of Milton (Milton Waddams, not John Milton), "The people to cake ratio is too high."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Who Wouldn't Want to See Alan Greenspan in a Speedo?

From Publishers Weekly

In this companion to their successful off-Broadway show of the same name, authors Wolfson and Fogel have as much fun with their Jewish roots as is humanly possible, exploring and excoriating Jewish history, culture and stereotypes. The tone is light and farcical, the humor decidedly-but cleverly-lowbrow. Fair warning to the devout: to these authors, nothing is holy. An excerpt from Moses' progressively desperate (and profanity-laced) diary reads, "Had to drink my own URINE today. Breath smells like pee. AND I'M STILL F___ING LOST." Other topics of study are food (including petchah, one of the "foods we're not so proud of"), a primer on conspiracy theories ("Did Jews stunt the growth of Gary Coleman so they could create Diff'rent Strokes?"), and a Jewish Guide to Life ("From Bar Mitzvahs to Bowels"). While the syncopated factual-to-offensive rhythm can wear thin, and familiar jokes abound ("Christmas Vs. Hanukah," anyone?), copious illustrations, tables and unexpected side-notes (an eight-part "Phone Conversations with Jewish Mothers" series) keep the material fresh, entertaining and downright shocking (a mock-up of Alan Greenspan in a Speedo and a large gold chain qualifies as all three). If you've ever pondered how exactly Noah spent his time aboard the ark ("Shuffleboard was available on deck 2") or what gefilte fish really is, you won't be disappointed. Just don't forget the final exam.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Death to the Trees

Fall is upon us, and along with the annual crop of dead-in-the-water movies like "The Wicker Man," publishers begin to fell rainforests by the acre. Announced six-figure first printings are as common as $.99 Frosty the Snowman decorations, and advertising rates skyrocket. Last winter I published a terrific humor/pop culture book, and my jaw dropped when I found out that the ad we bought in Entertainment Weekly was more than the author's entire advance.

Peruse your local bookseller and you'll find stacks of tomes from perennial mega-sellers like Patricia Cornwell, Vince Flynn and James Patterson to newcomers with massive marketing budgets like Jed Rubenfeld's THE INTERPRETATION OF MURDER, which received a snazzy full-page color ad on the back of the New York Times Art section today. There are even a few stalwarts changing seasons, like Brad Meltzer, who traditionally publishes in the Spring, and John Grisham, who offers his first book of non-fiction with THE INNOCENT MAN. Plus there are sleeper hits waiting to be discovered, like Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson's JEWTOPIA, based on their hit play. I'm not just saying that because I edited it, but because it's honest to god one of the most creative books ever published. Think Jon Stewart's AMERICA written by an even more neurotic Jerry Seinfeld.

Part of the reason I love wandering around bookstores is checking out the new paperback editions of old hardcovers, mainly to see if they have different designs, what the concepts are, and trying to figure out why the publisher likely chose that direction. In my experience, if a publisher releases a paperback with the same or similar cover to the hardcover, it means the hardcover met or exceeded expectations and they don't want to fix what ain't broke. If the paperback has a drastically different cover, it means the hardcover didn't meet expectations and they're hoping a new, eye-catching package will attract a paperback audience that wasn't there for the hardcover. Zadie Smith's ON BEAUTY, which I'm currently reading and enjoying, took route #1, with an elegant simplicity which was retained for the paperback. Tom Wolfe's I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS took route #2, putting the original design in the trash compactor and going all meta on us by eschewing the title altogether.

Hardcover of ON BEAUTY
Paperback of ON BEAUTY

So far I've been very impressed with the marketing behind Meltzer's THE BOOK OF FATE, first with the announcement that it would be cross-promoted with his popular "Justice League" comics, and just this week when Meltzer did several web-based interviews on Perez Hilton, Pop Candy, and AOL. I wasn't impressed just because in each piece Meltzer was interviewed by a different celebrity (the only time you'll see Adam Brody and Barbara Bush in the same sentence), but because between the comics and interviews Hachette/Warner seems to really be targeting younger readers. Whether this was intentional or an Arrested Development-esque, "Well that was a freebie" I can't say, but I like it.

Needless to say, publicity for most thrillers generally consists of newspaper advertising, a few reviews here or there, maybe interviews in People and Time, hardly the milieu for the Gawker crowd. I'm glad to see this, partly because high concept books like Meltzer's seem such a natural fit for younger audiences weaned on high-concept storytelling (see: Caribbean 2, Pirates of the). I'll be very curious to see what fate has in store for THE BOOK OF FATE. And if you haven't yet, pick up a copy of THE FIRST COUNSEL, my personal Meltzer favorite.

In today's New York Times there's an article about author Claire Messud, and how Knopf hopes her new book THE EMPORER'S CHILDREN will bring Messud commercial success on par with her critical acclaim. An interesting article, more so in that just a few weeks ago the Times ran a similar piece about George Pelecanos, focusing on how, despite being one of the most critically-acclaimed crime novelists working today, he hasn't found the commercial success of colleagues like Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly.

I'm very skeptical of these kind of articles, because despite the tremendous publicity one gets just from being featured in the Times, the overriding theme is that the author isn't as popular as he/she or the publisher would like. There's an inheret negativity, and of course the article always goes out of its way to mention the pumped-up marketing plans the publisher has in store for the new book. Yet for Pelecanos Little, Brown's seems to be working, and based on bookscan THE NIGHT GARDENDER is already his most successful hardcover ever, with plenty of life left heading into holiday season.

So I guess the moral is there really is no such thing as bad book publicity, and since books get a mere fraction of the attention as movies, television and music, in the end an article in the Times is still an article in the Times.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Well, here we go, five days from today I'll be a married man. Just incredible how much work goes into planning a wedding, I'd equate it to a full time job, but it's more like a full-time corporation since Susan, my parents, her parents, our bridesmaids and groomsmen have been working their butts off since last October. I think we would have made Jack Welch curl into a little ball and cry like Nancy Kerrigan.

I finally managed to catch up on lost sleep from my bachelor party. I can't think of anything more fun than a limo ride from NYC to Atlantic City with some of your best friends, drinking champagne and beer while eating the greasiest fried chicken this side of Kentucky. And it was worth it just to watch my friend Adam walk around the Tropicana drunk at 3 am wearing a green apron (yes, apron) that read, "Irish People Make the Best Lovers." And he's about as Irish as Jerry Seinfeld.

On the book front, my publisher has accepted the outline for THE REGULATOR, which of course will be hacked to pieces and glued back together when the book is actually done. And on the day job front, I'm finishing up edits on a novel that we have big hopes for. Such a great feeling when you read a book, have the chance to acquire it, and then fall in love all over again when editing it. With any luck, I'll be putting two books into production before I leave next week.

Watched the end of the Agassi/Becker match, if there was ever a sports moment where I came close to shedding a tear it was Andre's heartfelt tribute to the fans. Just a classy act from one of the biggest stars in the sport's history. And if you grew up in the 80's and didn't own a pair of those green Agassi sneakers, you were the biggest dork in the world.

RIP Steve Irwin, aka The Crocodile Hunter. I was incredibly sad to see this, as Irwin was one of the biggest champions of the natural beauty of planet earth. My sister spent several months on Australia a couple of years ago, and said Irwin was beyond being a national hero, somebody the country both loved and respected. Hope you're saying, "Crikey, have a look at that one!" in a big, blue lagoon in heaven.

Bought two books I plan on bringing on the honeymoon: Zadie Smith's ON BEAUTY and Sarah Langan's THE KEEPER. THE KEEPER got a terrific review in Publisher Weekly, plus she and I share the same agent, so I had to give it a try. ON BEAUTY got just unbelievable reviews and seems like a thick, meaty book that I might love. Looking forward to biting into both of them.

Plus a book I published at my old job, WELCOME TO JESUSLAND, just came out and had a terrific display in the "Humor" section at Barnes & Noble. It's a damn hilarious book that satirizes the religious right, and a book that, if I end up going to hell, will surely have been a large factor. Needless to say you must buy it.

Also just bought the 3rd season of Nip/Tuck and went on a marathon watching binge this week while I was moving out of my studio. I think after the simply amazing first season, the writers started smoking some serious hash, which resulted in some of the truly out there moments from season two (like Sean getting it on with the Kimber Doll). Still, though, it was a terrific blend of outrageous storylines grounded by top-notch acting and family scenarios we could all relate to (ok, except the Famke Janssen transexual thing). Season three, though, they must have replaced the hash with some sort of crack/LSD/cocaine/Elmer's Glue combination, because they turned the outrageousness up to 11, but took away all the realistic relationship interplay that held it together. The acting, as usual, was strong, but the characters were put through such insane predicaments in nearly every episode that the emotional highs and lows didn't have nearly the impact they did in the first two seasons. Heck, Christian getting raped was nearly a throwaway subplot, figuring prominently in the first episode then being completely forgotten about until they needed the evidence to find the Carver. Forget Julia COMMITTING MURDER, which is completely forgotten about in the very next episode (though it did lead to a tremendous scene, where after the plane crash, Sean debates his choice of plastic surgery versus traditional medicine).

I hope season four goes back to the show's roots, and remembers that its strengths lie in the Sean/Christian/Julia triangle. I do want to point out that John Hensley (Matt McNamara) came into his own this season wth several VERY strong episodes, though the writers basically forgot about him for half the season, and it still irks me that they have a 29-year old playing a high schooler. It's getting harder and harder to hide Hensley's wicked beard stubble.

Also, if you haven't yet, go see "Little Miss Sunshine." Just a wonderful movie, more amazing in that nearly every character suffers some horrible twist of fate that kills their dreams, yet you end up leaving the theater with a smile. Plus it has the best dance scene since Napoleon Dynamite cut a rug. Plus it made me want to go find a girl who looked like Olive so I could kidnap her for myself. Um, that didn't sound good...

Now on to season 3 of Arrested Development, which I haven't seen yet (if I miss the first episode of a tv season, I absolutely cannot watch any more until it comes out on DVD). Such a shame that this show was cancelled, I hope the execs at Fox wander around in a Gob-like stupor the next few years muttering, "I've made a huge mistake."

P.S. Regular columns at M.J. Rose's Buzz, Balls & Hype will resume once I realize with horror that my vacation is over amd I have to get back to work.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Sexy Book...I'm Bringing Sexy Book

Forget Justin, forget Jay-Z and Bee-yonk, forget Shaquira and Jessica and 50 and Al Gore. Everyone knows the real sexy is at Barnes and Noble. And this fall, these five books are bringing sexy back...TO THE BOOKSTORE.

Voltaire! Emilie du Châtelet! Dead white men with wigs and quills! I can almost hear Shakira shaking her fly Latin booty as I flip the eroticized pages...

we're meant to be together...
hey la boule boule...
hey la boule bouleeeeeeeee...

Not to mention the author wrote a book called E=mc². I don't know what that little floating '2' means, but it sure looks sexy...

Just check out this sexy flap copy, and try keeping your pants on:

How do I apply leadership principles if I'm not the boss? It's a valid question that Maxwell answers in The 360 Degree Leader. You don't have to be the main leader, asserts Maxwell, to make significant impact in your organization. Good leaders are not only capable of leading their followers but are also adept at leading their superiors and their peers.

What Maxwell is really saying is that good leaders can lead their followers...right to the bedroom. Boump chicka boump boump.

Just read that, you know what happens after you take your shoes off...glide into the dining room for a sumptuous meal of the mayonnaise-based John Snow's Fish Salad and a side of Summer Borscht with Fresh Beets...

That's right, you'll be shaking your Barefoot Contessa all night long...

Now can you keep up, Ina Garten, make me lose my breath...(cue heavy breathing)

God wants you to be sexy. And as a woman, God wants you to be confident enough to be sexy. Whether you embrace the sexiness God intends is totally up to you. But damn does that silhouette on the cover look hot!

Joyce Meyer, sexy author of Battlefield of the Mind, teaches you the seven secrets of female confidence. And unsurprisingly, four of them involve leopard-print bustiers, a life-size poster of Maxwell, and a jar of Skippy peanut butter.

So pick up a copy of The Confident Woman, and let God show you how to get down with the sexiness.

Is it just me, or was Tuesdays With Morrie just about the steamiest book since Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead?

Before you can even think about answering that, here comes Albom's new steamy overflowing latte of a book, For One More Day.

Now if you have a truly sexy (and dirty, you cat!) mind like Mitch Albom, just think about all the sexy things you can do in twenty four hours. Let's just say Morrie might want one more Tuesday after all...

You know what they ain't the size of the ship, but the motion of the ocean. Well check out this new book from Clive "Sexiest Man With a Beard Alive" Cussler. He has a huge ship and a rocking ocean. I don't think you'll hear anyone say, "You've sunk my battleship" this fall!

And if that doesn't make you sexy, think about Matthew McConaughaughaughney shirtless doing yoga on a beach with Lance Armstrong. You don't need to be in the Sahara to experience that kind of primal sexiness.