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Interview: Eric Anderson of Bookscreening

A few weeks back we encouraged our readers to take a look at Bookscreening, the book trailer blog that we predicted could become the “next big nice simple thing” in the world of publishing. Since then, we’ve put our money where our mouth is (as it were; no actual money or speech was involved) by offering several of our own videos for viewing on their site—an offer they’ve graciously accepted (see here, here, and here). Now, intrigued by Bookscreening’s concept and impressed by its sleek new design, we’ve conducted a Manual of Style interview with Eric Anderson, the site’s founder and editor. The topics we covered ranged far and wide, from the great books of the past to the publishing trends of the future to the magic of cats seen up close. 

AMoS: When was Bookscreening founded and why did you decide to create it?


EA: We founded Bookscreening in the beginning of summer 2008. For the past year, we have been interested in the growing medium of book trailers, but it was a hit-or-miss search when we wanted to watch them. Authors and publishers post them on YouTube and Vimeo, but they quickly get lost in the noise. We created Bookscreening with the hope that it could become a hub for anybody interested in watching previews of upcoming book releases.


As a hub, we felt that getting viewer’s feedback on the trailers would be an important component to pushing the medium forward. Authors and publishers that just track sales numbers related to rolling out a book trailer are only seeing a small part of the picture. How do you know if you’ve made the right kind of trailer for the book? How well does it resonate with potential readers? At its core, a book trailer conveys what the book is about, but through its style, tone, and production, what is the overall impression it gives the audience? Our hope is that more and more viewers will comment on the trailers, letting the creators know what works and challenging them to think more critically about what they are producing.


AMoS: To what genre(s) do you see the book trailer as being particularly well-suited? Are there genres to which you believe it’s essentially unadaptable?


EA: From a production standpoint, Children’s Books and Graphic Novels translate most easily into trailers. Because there are already illustrations to work with, the producers of the trailer can spend less time storyboarding, or searching for stock photography, and focus on inventive ways to communicate the message of the book. Art and photography books, like those published by Abbeville, share that same strength.


In terms of audience, we see the majority of trailers currently being created for Youth Fiction, with Romance and Thriller novels a close second and third.  Visually compelling, digital media is probably the best way for an analog medium (the book) to reach out to audiences that increasingly live mainlined into digital networks. Which is why we believe that despite an initial repulsion to book trailers as a marketing gimmick, even unlikely genres will begin to use video as a means to connect with readers or even as an extension of the work. We think about the creative possibilities for literary and experimental fiction and get excited for what could be. I’m not sure if there is any genre that wouldn’t benefit from video in some form.


AMoS: What do you see as the future of the book trailer or book video? Will these soon become standard in bookstores? On TV and the Internet?


EA: While there are efforts to implement video previews in bookstores, it is hard to imagine how the audio and visual overload of video displays would be appropriate in that context. And more and more people have the internet in their back pocket, so the relevance of in-store kiosks with their sticky keyboards and broken trackballs has a limited life. A more realistic scenario for the future is that books themselves will interact with mobile devices, enabling customers to watch book trailers as they peruse the shelves.


The returns on investment in TV advertising are waning, too, so unless you’re looking for a late night TV spot to sell books about the occult or a miracle cure for everything, there is probably not much of a future for book trailers there. Although, hats off to Alvin Eicoff for his Mysteries of the Unknown commericials for Time Life Books, I begged and begged for that set as a kid.


The future of book trailers is web-based, but how will they reach their audience? Some publishers will have more resources at their disposal to straddle the boundary between the digital and analog worlds within the traditional retail space (as in the book to mobile scenario). However, the democratization of publishing, through print-on-demand, e-books, etc. means that more and more little fish are looking for a way to cut through the noise.


Social networking and Web 2.0 holds a great deal of potential for authors who want to target a specific audience of readers and generate big buzz with a tiny budget. Authors are uploading their videos on Facebook, MySpace, their personal websites, and now even Amazon is hosting video previews on their product pages. Like anything, though, continual inventiveness will be key to staying ahead of the curve. If the art and production side of book trailers continues to progress, we envision that videos accompanying summaries of books online will become an expectation rather than an exception, with the videos acting as an additional, moving book cover.


AMoS: If you had to make a book trailer for The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, what would that look like? How about Principia Mathematica?


EA: “A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.” –Emily Dickinson


The power of poetry lies in its words being spoken out loud and the interpretations of those words based on uniquely personal experiences. A video about the poems of Emily Dickinson should focus on the voice, and what better voices than those of contemporary poets such as Pinsky, Glück, or Graham who have each tried to re-introduce us to Dickinson’s work? No attempt to replace the images or music of the imagination, but a respectful nod to the interpretive nature of poetry and Dickinson’s own reclusive, eccentric nature with the speaker alone in an empty, whitewashed room, reading a selection of her poems from the book.


As for Principia Mathematica, I’m not going to touch that with a slide rule. Although, there is an example where the message is less about what it would be like to read the book (probably like listening to a lecture on philosophy generated by a TI-81 calculator), and more about generating an appreciation for the work—its place in history as a foundation for modern mathematics that blew the minds of the mathematicians, logicians and philosophers of the time. Perhaps ending with the line, “This trailer…strike that…your entire modern life as you know it…brought to you by Principia Mathematica.”


AMoS: What is the most stylish book trailer you’ve ever seen? (Abbeville videos excepted, of course.)


EA: How could we not mention Abbeville’s “Cats Up Close” montage, which is one of our favorites (regardless of the graphic scene involving Kevin). But alas, if we must choose from non-Abbevideos, our vote would be for “Atmospheric Disturbances” by Rivka Galchen. It is deceptively simply, consisting entirely of animations derived from the book’s cover art and accompanied by a beautiful piano track. All supporting the simple line “Last December a woman entered my apartment who looked exactly like my wife.”


AMoS: What lies in the future for Bookscreening? Any exciting new features or partnerships with other media?


EA: Some very exciting things will be happening this fall for the Bookscreening.com team. One of which will be the mid-October launch of our multi-media production studio—LivingJacket.com. 

And on Bookscreening.com, keep an eye out for our upcoming series of articles on book trailers—history, style, production—along with a few other surprises.

A delightfully teasing note to end on. Many thanks to Eric Anderson for his time and stay tuned, along with us, to Bookscreening!

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Marginalia: GalleyCat, Beatrice

In our past Marginalia entries we’ve given short shrift to publishing blogs—perhaps naïvely assuming that our readers’ interests fall on the artsier, fartsier side of the Abbeville equation—but all of that’s about to change. Today we’d like to introduce you to MediaBistro’s GalleyCat, the most comprehensive and stylish insider publishing blog on the Web. What’s that—you’re already a fan? Well, we’d like to tell you why we are too.

Reason #1: Like us, they enjoy making grandiose claims: they call themselves “the first word on the book publishing industry.” Unlike us, they are merely being accurate. Reason #2: They cover the publishing world from every possible angle, featuring interviews with authors, publishers, agents, and other insiders; industry news, buzz, and commentary; book trailers (book trailers?—somewhere Harold Bloom is quietly weeping) for hot upcoming releases; links to top publishing blogs and articles; and reportage on publishing events (i.e., parties) around the city. This last could be considered GalleyCat’s specialty. Their stories about rooftop galas and the like help remind us that we work in a glamorous profession, throwing a little glitter over the endless sea of proofreader’s marks staring up at us from our desks.

Finally, Reason #3: Their logo is a cat. We like cats.

One of the editors of GalleyCat, Ron Hogan, also keeps a book blog called Beatrice.com that we highly recommend. Beatrice is a more focused project that features extended excerpts from Hogan’s conversations with authors. The site has been around since 1995, which in Internet Years makes it as venerable as the East India Trading Company. Unlike that company, however, it is still very much in business, and you should go see for yourself what’s made it stand the test of time.

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Abbevideo: Cats Up Close—UP CLOSE

In a recent post we remarked on the prescience of our 1998 volume Cats Up Close, which anticipated the proliferation of such websites as I Can Haz Cheezburger?, Stuff On My Cat, and others that have taken over the Internet—and indeed culture—as we know it. Now, at last, we’ve reclaimed the trend we started all those years ago with our latest installment of Abbevideo: A Cats Up Close Montage. What some might call “filming our cats and pretending it’s work,” we call “giving you the oustanding media content you so richly deserve.” The video can be seen below or on our website here. Mroww.


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Who’s a Pretty Kitty? Who Is?

Before I Can Haz Cheezburger, before Stuff on My Cat, before Cute Overload and all its legions of imitators came the grandkitty of them all: Abbeville Press’s Cats Up Close.

Though not quite as famous as its online descendants (which at this point account for roughly 85% of all Web traffic), Cats Up Close was to these sites what The Velvet Underground was to so many bands in the decades after it: the original cult favorite that launched a thousand mainstream acts. As today’s pampered kittens bask, yawn, and stretch in the limelight, few of them realize that the stars of our volume—including the little Abbecat below—were paying their dues and epitomizing cute back when the word “blog” was just a horribly misconceived twinkle in someone’s eye:

Ah, those were the days. Cats were cats, dogs were dogs, and just having a cute face wasn’t enough; you had to have style. Just look at this paragon of feline elegance, perched atop a lacquered wooden desk:

Fortunately, Cats Up Close did spawn at least one imitator (or should we say copyc—nah) worthy of the original: Abbeville’s own Tiny Folio edition of Cats Up Close. That’s right: all the outrageously adorable cats from the first volume, peering out from a book that’s as tiny as they are! No need for shameless plugs here; you might be able to resist our salesmanship, but can you resist this face? Or this one?

…Or maybe you’re a dog person?

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