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Once a novel idea, now a must

Though a technological minimalist, Marianne Wiggins, like, totally got why she needed a video for her latest book.

June 15, 2007|Hillel Italie | Associated Press

NEW YORK — Author Marianne Wiggins doesn't pretend she's up on modern technology. She writes in longhand and doesn't bother with cellphones, except in her car -- "in case I have a flat."

But she needed no persuading when Simon & Schuster called her -- at home -- to ask that she make a promotional video for "The Shadow Catcher," her latest novel.

"I was all for it," says Wiggins, a USC professor whose other works include "John Dollar," "Almost Heaven" and "Evidence of Things Unseen," a National Book Award finalist in 2003.

"I'm a professor.... I'm plugged into what individuals in their early 20s are thinking about, people who live on the Internet. I'm not writing in a vacuum."

Wiggins is one of 40 writers featured on a video site launched Thursday by Simon & Schuster that includes clips of Wiggins, Zane, Jeannette Walls and Sandra Brown. The publisher expects to add videos for books by Vince Flynn, Michael Connelly and Jodi Picoult, among others.

Once a novelty, book videos are increasingly common and, publishers say, essential. Hyperion Books, HarperCollins and Penguin Group (USA) are among those using them. Powell's Books, a leading independent store based in Portland, Ore., plans its own series of films, starting with a video for Ian McEwan's new novel, "On Chesil Beach."

"I don't know if we're reaching people we wouldn't otherwise be reaching, but we are reaching people who are not necessarily reading book review sections or always watching a TV show," says Sue Fleming, Simon & Schuster's vice president and executive director for online and consumer marketing.

No one makes definitive claims that videos increase sales, but publishers and booksellers agree they can help, especially if they catch on at YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet. Brian Murray, president of HarperCollins Worldwide, noticed the recent attention given to a video for the best seller "The Dangerous Book for Boys."

"It was such a good piece that the 'Today' show picked up on it and aired the whole thing," he says.

Publishers say they want videos to be lively, but not too slick, and to help readers get to know the author and get a feel for the book. "The Dangerous Book for Boys" video works like a mock-home movie: A father and son (friends of the video's producer) play soccer, toss a water bomb and act out other activities described in the book, a how-to guide that covers everything from paper airplanes to go-carts.

Publishers differ on which books are ideal for videos, although they agree that poetry and short-story collections are bad candidates. Murray says he prefers works that are not of a specific genre, where "you have to communicate" what the book is about. Fleming says she's interested in targeting self-help readers and book clubs.

Wiggins was filmed on a pier in Malibu, about 30 minutes from her house. The two-minute clip shows the author walking about on a sunny day, her dark hair tossed in the wind as she discusses her current novel, which features the late photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis and a modern character named Marianne Wiggins.

"The pier is a place I go to frequently for the healing properties, for standing at the edge of the continent," Wiggins says, adding that she chose the location. "There was no script. It was all very informal and easy to do. It took about an hour.

"I don't know any writers these days who would say that it is beneath their dignity to make a video. Sales have been flat for publishers, and I want to find readers. If my publisher suggests something like this to me, I'm certainly going to go hand in hand with that endeavor."

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