Jo-Ann Mapson: More About Video and Facebook

Jo-Ann, Stewart, and Henry

A little bit more on video, then I’ll move on to my experience with social media. 

Lois Gilbert, like any good filmmaker, knows you shoot lots of footage.  The magic of the composition comes together with editing, the same way it does in writing.  With the unused footage, we decided to make a couple more videos, one called “Outtakes,” the other synopsizing my books.  It was expensive, so I wanted to keep them short.  Turns out, eleven books aren’t easy to discuss in under three minutes. Years ago I’d seen and admired Alaskan writer Dana Stabenow’s video of her Kate Shugak book series.  Check it out.
Seems as if that kind of video should be easy enough to pull off, but just like in writing, the things that come off the simplest really have a ton of work leading up to the perfectly terse, informative end.  Not so easy.  Here’s what we did.  The video is available on YouTube.  Look for “11 books by Jo-Ann Mapson.”
Now check how few views it garnered versus “Jo-Ann Mapson Writes.”  Less than a third.  I puzzled over it, especially when the first one did so well (for me).  Was it me?  I’m getting old (more about that later).  After seeing myself on camera, which is always a huge wake up call, I ran out and bought lots of makeup.  I tend to do that anyway, every couple of months, catch a glimpse of my sun damaged, liver spotted skin and be extremely horrified, rush to the makeup counter at Dillard’s and end up spending $200 on crap that makes me look embalmed.  (I believe Jenna Marbles already did a video on this so I will leave it at that.)  For the money I spent on the videos, this less-than-successful effort ended up being a great but expensive lesson.  Why didn’t this one work?
Showing, not telling!  Ring a bell?
Video #1 was showing.  Video #2 was telling.  Turns out, that’s as deadly in film as it is in writing.  Yet more footage remained.  We used the final footage to do an actual outtakes video, which fared a little better, but nothing compared to the first video.

So there you go.  I spent a fair chunk of money, some of it tax-deductible, and every bit of it educational. I paid Lois off over three months, which was very kind of her to allow, as I’m living on a part time salary now.  *Side note:  I’m always surprised that people seem to have a notion that writers are rolling in the do-re-mi.  Nothing could be further than the truth.  Teaching is my career, writing is my indulgence, my attempt at “art.” Probably 10% of writers enjoy a cushy career, buy summer houses, buy really expensive toilet paper, or get to send all their kids to Ivy League colleges, and really, how cushy can it truly be?  Everyone is always about one paycheck away from homeless these days, and if one book sells and the next one tanks, the money will be the first place that will feels it. Very quickly it becomes apparent that stuff you “had to have” is really more like an anchor.  I can’t live under that kind of pressure, and I’m no longer sure anyone has to, or should (more about this coming, I promise).

I’m extremely lucky in that my husband is able to create video book trailers on his computer, so the only costs on that were his time and iStock photo/movie footage purchases.  I think book trailers are good, but the best book trailer isn’t going to transform a crappy book.  The public taste may be crass or commercial to you, but guess what?  In these economic downturn times, people may read to escape, or to get themselves through tight spots, or chemotherapy.  They are the ones with the wallets, so they make the choices.  When’s the last time someone who isn’t a writer called you up and said, “Oh, my gosh, I have just read the best book” and it was something older, more obscure, or literary?  Yes, the crappy book may hit the bestseller list and stay there for years with no rhyme or reason (Fifty Shades of Terrible should have its own, separate list, IMHO). 

But I believe good writing is necessary in the long run for any kind of real success.  For the book to have a life after the first 3 months of publication.  Strive to write a book that can be reread, timeless in its issues, relevant to yourself, and the chances are, it will endure.  My son used to work at the Monterey Borders, long gone, and he said rarely did anyone go past the “New” books section into the stacks.  And we wonder why books are dying?

After that happy news, here’s a little about Facebook:  A year before Solomon’s Oak was published, I decided to try friending Facebook people with dogs. I started with people who displayed pictures of sight hounds because I have 3 Italian greyhounds.  My best friend’s spouse, Scott Kiefer, calls my hounds “The Insane Clown Posse.”  One of the funniest interviews I ever did was with the Anchorage Daily News.  The reporter could hardly stop laughing as she knocked at the front door.  My door was glass on the top half, so naturally, the little dogs boing-boinged up and down like pistons to see who was there whilst barking and looking like demented meerkats.

These guys weigh in at about 12 pounds and yet they’re responsible for eating one entire couch, the insides out of $300 Ugg boots, much expensive chocolate, necessitating veterinary costs in the thousands, they think once winter arrives why should they have to go outdoors to pee if we don’t?  I could go on, but all it does is make me look extremely stupid.  But dog people love their dogs.  I spent less than $5K on two old horses’ medical care, the dogs, well, I’m embarrassed to tell you the monthly budget.  

So I spent one hour at the end of every writing day sending friend requests to anyone who had a sight hound with this friend request: “Hi.  I’m Jo-Ann in Santa Fe.  I have 3 Italian greyhounds and I’m a writer.  My books always feature at least one dog.  Hope you’ll give them a try.”
Did that have an impact on my readership?  Massively! And it continues to.  But to keep that interest going, I have to post book news or dog pictures or my newest Old Gringo boots purchase, weekly.  To say it’s an essential part of selling your book, no, I wouldn’t say it’s vital, but it was free and sure didn’t hurt.  I can’t tell you how many people have been my FB friend for years, who post on my page constantly, articles about bloat in greyhounds, or the latest theories on vaccines for this delicate breed, or Isoflurane anesthetic, one day write: 

“Oh, my gosh, are you Jo-Ann Mapson the writer?” And then they buy books for other friends, and so on and so on. 
Facebook, however, is a dangerous time suck.  You go on to see who’s posted a photo of their vacation to Africa, or adorable must-purchase greyhound pajamas, or that they’re getting a divorce, or they just read this article about cutting onions in half and leaving them around your house and they will remove bacteria, and you look up and 3 hours have passed. Email, book postings, blogs; everything has the potential to take away from your writing time.  You have to set boundaries, prioritize, and make that writing day the main event, no matter what.

In my next post, I’ll talk about writing, aging, and shock—retiring—and where I see myself terms of that.  Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment.

Jo-Ann in Santa Fe
Jo-Ann Mapson is the author of eleven novels and a book of short stories. Her work is widely anthologized and her literary papers are being collected by Boston University’s Twentieth Century Author’s Collection. Finding Casey, featuring some of the characters from Solomon’s Oak, was published October 2012. Core faculty and co-creator of The University of Alaska Anchorage’s low-residency MFA Program in Writing, she lives with her husband and their three Italian greyhounds in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she is at work on a new novel. Owen’s Daughter will be published in 2014 by Bloomsbury Publishers. Meet her on YouTube or at her website.

4 thoughts on “Jo-Ann Mapson: More About Video and Facebook”

  1. Very interesting comment about show/tell in video as well as written word. Lots of good, candid, hard-won advice in here.
    Thanks for sharing it.

  2. I'd venture to say that only 1% of writers can purchase summer homes; a ton of hard work for dishwasher wages!

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