17 March 2007

What is VidLit? (Director's Cut)

My last installment of updates on LTR included an embedded video of Tara Ison’s new book, The List. Being an avid reader, I was somewhat confused by this phenomenon as I’ve never come across the likes of it before. Authors write books, right? They do book signing tours, and create websites, develop a MySpace page for their latest book (It’s strange that I even can say this with such ease and flippancy today), give readings, and show up at conferences eager to be plucked from the masses to become the next greatest thing. So you might imagine my surprise to see this relatively unusual form of promotion for a novel. I have never, in all my book buying glory, encountered this thing called “VidLit.” If I’ve never experienced it, I’m guessing quite a few readers have never encountered it either. And so, like the good academic I have been trained to be, I set out on a research mission.

What, exactly, is VidLit?

VidLit is actually VidLit.com, a company that produces book trailer videos, as well as unique VidLits for short stories, social commentary and some, it seems, just for fun. Liz Dubelman, the founder of VidLit and an Emmy winning producer and director, recruited Paca Thomas, an Emmy winning sound designer, and VidLit was born. (Check out the VidLit.com Masthead)

Like Google, the name of the company has become synonymous with the product and action. Whether intentional or not, this appears to be the case. The marriage of the company and the product name seems to be a direct result of the lack of similar professional competition and the high quality of VidLit’s work. That is not to say they don’t have competition from independent video producers!

Okay, so what about the product?

The product commonly referred to as VidLit has been described as many things: A music video for a book, a visual calling card, something akin to a movie trailer, even a moving poster. In very basic terms, VidLit is a promotional tool that takes the effective aspects of movie trailers (their short, evocative nature), technology (Flash films—though people are starting to organize their own “VidLit’s” using actual film, as is the case with Ison’s promotional film for The List), the prescient knowledge that attention spans are waning, and the wonderful insight to cross traditional boundaries of publicity for a genre to reach as many people as possible. Each VidLit can include a reading by the author, a dramatization of key plot points (think movie trailer here), a spoof of the book, the list goes on and on. Nothing seems out of bounds for this medium.

When did this come about? Is it new?

Well, that depends. VidLit first hit the scenes in a big way in 2004 when the folks at Vidlit.com launched a VidLit to promote Yiddish with Dick and Jane by Elis Weiner and Barbara Davilman. Amidst lawsuits and bandwidth breaking hits, the new phenomenon took hold. VidLit.com has created promotional VidLits for authors such as Bill Maher, Bill Bryson, M.J. Rose, Timothy L. O’Brien, and Christopher Buckley.

VidLit has been discussed repeatedly over the past three years with articles appearing in Publishers Marketplace’s Publishers Lunch, Slate.com, PublishersWeekly.com, Bookstandard.com, USAtoday, Poets&Writers, Inc., and even among notable bloggers like Miss Snark. Expect to hear more about VidLit, though, as they’re currently producing VidLit entries (called NewsLit Newsreels). They have all the flavor that Slate.com readers expect, and are something to watch for.

It is not too far out of bounds to expect this form of publicity to become a staple in the author’s repertoire. But the use of this medium raises a number of questions: What is the direct goal of this kind of marketing? Is it to raise awareness about a particular book? How effective have they been (In the case of Yiddish with Dick and Jane, quite) over all, and what are the forecasts for the future? That brings me to questions to you, the readers. Authors, are you considering using this form of publicity? Publicists, are you pushing this as an option? And Readers, will this effect whether or not you read a book?

~D.M. Papuga