By Callie Oettinger | Published: June 3, 2011
“Ah… Little Lamb. Ah, say… Ah, Little Lamb. Dost thou know… I, say, I say, dost thou know who made thee?
We were seniors in Ms. Wilmers’ high school English class and she had just finished asking us:
“Why can’t you imagine the vision of a song or a poem in your own head? Why do you need videos?”
She wasn’t able to help us create a shared visual image of the poem and blamed it on our reliance on videos. For her, video didn’t kill the radio star. Video (and Foghorn Leghorn impressions) killed her students’ imaginations.
Last week I read Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” for the first time in years. And though I can’t remember if Ms. Wilmers introduced it to me, I thought of her because the words were overwhelming and I could see President Lincoln and Whitman’s grief over his assassination in my head—and I felt it yanking at my heart, pulling it up through the back of my throat. And then I asked myself Ms. Wilmer’s question about videos—except instead of with music, for books.
If we can create a vision in our own head, why do we need video to do it for us? And:
Do videos sell books as they used to sell entire albums?
If you’d asked me a few years ago, I would have answered with a loud:
“Yes, they sell books.”
And if they didn’t, I assumed the author hadn’t done it the right way.
The idea was that it could be used as a marketing piece, but that it wouldn’t have the look of a marketing piece. Steve knew stories sold more than commercial pitches, so he went for more of a documentary feel, which told a story. He did an amazing job—but it didn’t travel that far off its YouTube page or Steve’s site.
Steve avoided doing something closer to a movie trailer, which is something we’ve seen other authors fall into. They create pieces that are teases, which give bits and pieces, and catch your interest, but which don’t tell a story. And while I’ve been drawn to movies and books with cool trailers, it’s usually a word-of-mouth recommendation that pulls me in. There’s more than the trailer to the sell.
So what happened to Steve’s Killing Rommel video? And what about Ms. Wilmer’s question about why we need videos?
We don’t need videos—but they do help.
A video would have helped Ms. Wilmers eliminate the Foghorn Leghorn images, and clue us into what Blake meant. We were still being introduced to Blake and though we didn’t need a video, it would have helped a few of us—same thing with new readers. Authors don’t need a video, but it can help introduce them to new readers.
And if Blake had created it, it would have been an opportunity for him to extend his art via another medium—and share the exact image in his mind as he wrote his verses. Instead of a short trailerish commercial or a long-form film, it would be amazing to watch him talk about how he approached his work—to see his face, his expressions, his emotions.
I can’t prove this, but I’ve often wondered if the Killing Rommel videos needed more Steve.
Yes, Steve’s front and center narrating a script he’s written, but it’s a serious Steve. It’s not the one I’ve gotten to know, who is quick-witted, with a dry sense of humor—the one who has opened his life up for sharing via his Writing Wednesdays and other series. Maybe, instead of telling a story in the style of a documentary, the videos should have been more of what drew Steve to the topic, why he chose what he chose to write about Rommel—more of a director’s cut for a film, talking about a specific scene in the book, pulling it out to show why it is important, why it was written, what it took to write it, additional research available, and so on. Maybe we needed the story behind the story—how Steve got to Rommel, similar to how he’s been sharing how he’s gotten to The Profession.
I don’t have an answer to what happened with the Rommel videos. I like them, but I don’t have a solid reason why they didn’t move.
Do you know?
And I don’t have much of an answer for Ms. Wilmers, either. We don’t need videos. But they do help. I’m certain her follow-up question would be:
“Why do they help?”
For me it comes down to getting to know the author a bit more. That’s what sold me on buying everything from the album to the line of mesh gloves an artist wore in her music videos. There was something more personal about seeing the artist, seeing her vision. It didn’t mean I didn’t have my own vision, but for those artists I was getting to know, it is what set them apart from the rest of the crowd. I’m going to buy that new book or album, or go see that new film, from the artists I already love—whether or not I have the video. The video helps me learn about those I don’t know and serves as a reminder that those I do know have something coming out.
Speaking of videos…
Steve’s publisher Crown created a video for The Profession. They did a great job with it. Sharp stuff. Click here, on the book video link to view it.
Will you be let us know your thoughts on it?
What do you like, not like?
Does it “work” for you?
Is it something you’d share with others? Why? Why not?
Do videos encourage you to buy books? If not, what else gets you shopping?
And if you like videos for books, what would you like? What would you share?