PROMOTIONATION: Digging in the Dark — a Guest-post by Miranda Weiss

Miranda Weiss of Homer is the author of the newly released Tide, Feather, Snow, which Publishers Weekly called “a deeply honest memoir.” She will be appearing at Title Wave in Anchorage on May 28, and we’re very pleased she’s willing to share some of her promotional experiences with 49w, including the making of a YouTube video about a truly Alaskan subject.

When my editor at HarperCollins asked me to put together a promotional video for my new book, Tide, Feather, Snow, about my experience moving to Alaska after growing up in East Coast suburbs, my mind began to race. What would that entail? What kind of video would make people want to buy the book? How could I do it? It would be great if the video could, you know, take on a life of its own, my agent said when I mentioned the assignment. You mean go viral? I asked. Yes, she responded. No pressure there, I thought.

Take…on…a…life…of…its…own. Wasn’t this what my book was supposed to do?

This idea conjured images of the few wildly famous YouTube videos I’d seen—the Lolita talking about nothing in particular from the edge of a bed in a nondescript bedroom, the guy who performed unremarkable dance moves in front of landmarks all over the world, the band of cute urban hipsters whose dance video on treadmills I had watched maybe a dozen times.

It would have to be funny, I thought. Somewhat bizarre. Kind of sexy.

I put the idea out of my mind.

Until my husband planned his first winter clamming trip. There is nothing he loves more than digging razors on the beaches of Ninilchik. I consider dipnetting for salmon a much more efficient way to get protein and have never been much good at spotting clam shows. But there did seem to be something promising about clamming in the frigid dark for the video. It did fit the “bizarre” quotient, although there would be no nudity at zero degrees on a windy winter beach. I signed on.

I asked a friend if I could borrow the video camera she uses to record her kids. But once she said yes, I floundered. Could I really put together anything watchable—and in the 2-3 minute range my editor had specified—without editing skills or equipment? In the midst of my floundering, George, a friend of my husband’s who runs the one-man Headwinds Production Company in Homer agreed to help.

We gathered our clam guns, headlamps, and a borrowed Coleman lantern. George started recording as we were getting ready to leave. On the drive up, we discussed what the video could be like. It should be funny, I told George. Maybe play off a caricature of Sarah Palin and the various myths of Alaska. George didn’t say much but once we drove out along the dark beach, he turned his camera on again.

The temperature hovered around zero degrees, and I could see nothing outside the halo of light around the lantern. We lit a bonfire and then got to work. The beach was beautiful on that night. The minus tide had exposed cantaloupe-sized anemones that sparkled with frost. Salty slush lay in puzzle-shape patterns across the sand. An owl flew silently along the edge of my light. An hour or so later, I had three clams in the bottom of my bucket and my toes felt fused together. I wandered back to the fire and sipped off a flask. George had turned his camera off.

The next week, George and I met to talk about the video. I was still caught up in my vision of funny—quirky—cute. That has nothing to do with your book, George said. The video should be like your book, be the same voice as your book. I’m embarrassed to admit that idea hadn’t occurred to me. Wasn’t the consumer world that would hopefully devour the video—and then the book—only attracted to the flashy and quick? My book is slow, gentle, lyrical.

George’s vision felt like a revelation. I didn’t have to reinvent the world of my book. It already existed. What I had to do was use the video to usher potential readers into it.

I wrote and recorded a script that sounded like the book, and George put a rough cut together. A month later, we had a finished product.

What we ended up with is something that feels like the book and gives readers a taste for the world of the book. I shared it with family and friends. They loved it. It made George’s girlfriend cry.

In the final weeks before my book was released, I found myself going over again and again ways to pitch the book, and ways to use new media to get coverage of the book. Instead of being euphoric about the release of my first book, I was a nervous wreck. I slept fitfully and bolted out of bed at 5 AM. My heart felt as though it was in the midst of a two-week-long sprint. I couldn’t even relax enough to read a friend’s beautiful new book that had just come by mail, let alone flesh out the proposal I’d started for my next book.

During those weeks, I had dozens of conversations with fellow writers about how to tap into new media in order to promote the book. We discussed blogs, Facebook groups, online sites that review books, ways to pitch my books with others to increase impact, and commercial magazines that review books. And I took care of the basics: I hired a local woman to design a website, and posted the video there. I posted the video to my Facebook site, and friends posted it to theirs. My publicist planned a West Coast tour; I added events to it and began to get the word out to people I know.

The video has gotten 340 YouTube hits last I checked. Hardly viral. Now I’m trolling around online for sites that might post it. One of the marketing gurus at HarperCollins referred to my video as “the best tool we’ve got” to promote my book. Isn’t that supposed to be the book itself?

I know we live in a new economy that depends on new media. But honestly, I get exhausted by thinking about ways to cast my book again and again into the world so that it might get hooked, at least momentarily. And I’m tired of the idea that in order to succeed as a writer—in whatever way I define that—I’ll have to become deft at using new media to promote my work.

But I’ll go like mad for as long as I can stand it to get my book into the world. I’ve put years into Tide, Feather, Snow and what I really want is for people to read it and to feel something—anything—from living within its 267 pages. And, of course, I want to sell copies so that I can sell the next book and hope to maintain my glamorous lifestyle: a 13-year-old Subaru, a 30-year mortgage, a nasty second hand boot-buying habit. In all honesty, I’m looking forward to getting back to my work.

1 thought on “PROMOTIONATION: Digging in the Dark — a Guest-post by Miranda Weiss”

  1. Good stuff, Miranda — really enjoyed the post. This new media thing takes some getting used to. You’re right on about George Overpeck, too. He’s good, smart, and terrific to work with (I know: he did a book trailer for me, too).

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