Thursday, June 14, 2007

What's Not to Like? Let Me Count the Ways...

Today's Washington Post has an article by Bob Thompson about the virtual tour of Ian McEwan for his new novel, On Chesil Beach, Take Him to His Readers: Booksellers Trade Paper for Film to Put Author on Tour.

"Virtual tour" means that a film of McEwan is being sent around to bookstores instead of the author himself. The brainchild of Powell's Books in Oregon, the film was unveiled at BEA and has been widely discussed in the trade and on blogs such as GalleyCat. Thompson went to the premier screening in Washington, sponsored by Olsson's, at the "funky" Warehouse Theater on 7th St.
The lights go down, the credits roll, and heeeeere's Ian. He's mild-mannered, soft-spoken and as up close and personal as he could be without actually being there....

What else does the film offer that you wouldn't get at an in-person reading?

Well, there are countless moody pictures of Chesil Beach itself, on the Dorset coast. And there are numerous commentators, among them McEwan's Doubleday editor, Nan Talese, who talks about being astounded at McEwan's insight into women's feelings. When she brought this up with him, Talese reports, "He was very sweet and said rather quietly: 'Oh, well, I've known a few women.' "

But for an author event to work without an author, both McEwan and Weich believe, it has to be about more than watching a movie.

"It's really what happens the moment the film is finished that matters the most," McEwan said at a recent publishing conference in New York, where he saw the finished Powell's product for the first time. It's "what readers then say to each other -- the idea of communities of readers responding to this."

I just viewed the trailer for the film on the WaPo site, which means that I watched:
  1. a commercial for Windows Mobile;
  2. a commercial for a film that's a commercial for a book.
My professional assessment: PUH-LEEZE!!!

The trailer is icky-sticky treacly, more suited to genre romance than "literary" fiction. From the outset, with McEwan intoning over soulful strings, "They were young, educated and both virgins..." I was rolling my eyes. By the time he read a passage describing Our Hero licking Our Heroine's nipple, I was squirming. No way I could watch the entire film without groaning, howling or laughing uproariously. Probably all three.

News flash: McEwan's a lousy reader, even after (presumably) multiple takes.
"The reader in me doesn't especially want to see this before I read the book," says [Susan] Coll, who seems the most skeptical of the three novelists [who helped lead a discussion after the DC screening]. And "at what point, I wonder, does it feel like an infomercial?"
Answer: Immediately.

Here's another news flash, per my previous post:
People don't want to be read to; they want to connect with the author. The audience in Washington was connecting to Susan Coll and the two other authors who spoke with--not at--them, not Ian McEwan.

Thompson concludes:

As for McEwan himself, he's a happy camper. After the New York screening, he pronounced the Powell's film "very lightly and carefully done,"....

Besides, compared with what he described, with restrained horror, as "the three-week stab around the United States and the 25 media escorts" -- well, what's not to like about a virtual tour?

Bella concludes: PLENTY!

Publishers, how about taking the money you'd spend on a fancy-shmancy bookfommercial (TM) and using it to send a real live author--with a real live personality--out on a real live book tour? I'm sure you'd get plenty of takers. I could even suggest a few myself.


Eric Riback said...

I'd also say that if they want to use video/film in place of a tour, put it on youtube and the author and publisher web sites and promote that.

Or mebbe bookstores should start being like other retailers and have plasma screens constantly running promo loops.

Having been to an author event last night, I agree: I was there to see and interact with the author. If I wanted to see him on TV...I'd watch his TV appearances (such as the satellite tour he did that morning).

Christian said...

I wholeheartedly support this brand of publicity and hope it goes mainstream. That way if I show up to a book signing in person, dude, I'm a hero JUST FOR SHOWING UP IN PERSON. They'll mention me on all the major news programs as The Author Who Gave Two Shits. Here I come, Ms Winfrey!

Daydream sequence initiated. Good day...

Anonymous said...

I was at the D.C. event. Sad, tragic really. Treacle is the word. Voyeurim without a point. At points the chamber music overpowered McEwan's reading from his pointillistic piece about viriginity that should have been just a short story. In any event -it's marketing sheet music to the choir - it will not change the publishing landscape as we know it.

Van der Veen

Bill Peschel said...

To see Terry Pratchett, whose work I admire, I drove nearly two hours from Hershey to Washington D.C. to see him and buy books for him to sign.

I would drive from Hershey to Hershey to see a film of him, if I didn't have anything better to do that night.

Despite what Ella Fitzgerald said, there's a big difference between live and Memorex.