So it follows the course of human events that popular (and not-so-popular) novels are made into movies (prompting the ever-after statement, “The book was better.”). Once upon a time, books and movies, rightly, occupied different spheres. How would they meet? It’s not like they sold books in movie theaters or screened films in bookstores.
Ah, to return to those innocent times. The joy…
Seriously gang, it’s 2007. Nearly 2008. A new age has dawned and all that. So it makes perfect sense that one key way to promote books-made-into-movies is to, well, you know, work both sides of the media spectrum. Cross-promote, build on the audience of one for the other. Use modern technology the way the Internet gods intended it.
Part of the problem is that books and movies are produced by entirely separate entities. You have, for the former, the author and the publisher and whomever else the author or publisher hires. You have, for the latter, the movie producer/studio and a cast of thousands. There might be a little overlap when it comes to personal — the author might be a nifty screenwriter, the publisher might retain some sort of something-or-other — but generally the two media exist in separate spheres.
This is just wrong, wrong, wrong.
I looked at two upcoming films made from fairly popular books: The Kite Runner and The Jane Austen Book Club. I chose these because the novels found their reader base in what might be the last best hope for the publishing industry: strong reader word-of-mouth. Or, put another way, lots of people were excited enough about these books to tell their friends and family. And so on.
Logic — apparently “not my strong suit” — says that these same readers should be courted aggressively by the filmmakers. This means that rather than operating as separate silos, the online presences for the books and films need to have common ground.
For example, Khaled Hosseini’s book The Kite Runner is currently being made into what they call “a major motion picture”. Hosseini’s site, naturally, features this bestselling title, but also (and more prominently) features Hosseini’s new book A Thousand Splendid Suns. It’s an attractive site, but if there’s a mention of the upcoming movie, it’s well-hidden.
This is actually a typical problem: authors tend to promote themselves on their websites. This makes perfect sense. And the new book should rule. Some, but not all, create special sites for their books, but that really is the exception rather than the rule. Hmm, maybe that should be the rule. From now on authors need to buy the domain for their titles and create a robust online presence for the book. Authors, by the way, not publishers. There is nothing more important than owning your work.
If not a separate site, then the author’s site should be built in a way that allows each and every book room to grow. Here, you can work with your publisher to create robust, community-based presence that facilitates word-of-mouth.
The official movie website defaults to some sort of “club” page. It looks like they’re trying to target members of book clubs by offering prizes. It’s okay, looks like a brand-new site, nothing thrilling. If I were to create a site that says “Nothing here, move along”, this would be the site. There is no enthusiasm, no real attempt to build community. Hosseini posted a welcome message to the blog, but other than that? And, no, I’m not suggesting that it’s the book author’s job to build community for the mov–oh, wait, I am. In these modern times, the way entertainment publicity is done must necessarily change.
Stop thinking that the book and the movie exist in vacuums.
Then there’s Jane Austen Book Club site. It’s a very lovely site that evokes old books. I really like that fact that (after you scroll to the bottom of the page) the site links to various top-notch Jane Austen sites. Content-wise, it’s a (bit) deeper than The Kite Runner, but community-oriented? Uh, no.
There is also a helpful link to Karen Joy Fowler’s website in the “Links” section. Not the greatest site in the world (why is that authors have such horrible websites?) and, sadly, dated. In some ways, it is amazing that this book became the phenomenon it did. Anyway, it’s a good thing that the Jane Austen Book Club (Movie) site links to Fowler because, if you search for “jane austen book club”, Fowler is not one of the top results.
In fact, her website is the eighth result for this title. She falls below IMDB, the movie, Yahoo! trailers, Amazon, and even Apple. As noted above, Fowler’s site is, to put it bluntly, bad. And that’s bad for her. If I could bring all the world’s authors into a room and give them a pep talk, I’d start with “Your website is important.” Fowler should own these search results.
Hosseini and Fowler both make the classic mistake of separating the novel from the movie. They both make the other classic mistake of treating the web like a promotional afterthought (Hosseini’s site features a blog, but it’s obvious he’s not that into blogging; this is fine, but if you’re not going to do it, then don’t make the blog a top-level) link.
Dreamworks/Paramount and Sony Pictures Classics make the same mistakes as the authors of their respective books. Rather than building on the zeitgeist that made these novels reader favorites, they each chose to take the traditional and, yes, boring, route for movie websites. Where there could be genuine and sustained buzz built for these films, there is a black hole.
It’s not too late for the these books and movies — and it’s time that the rules of engagement change. Rather than maintaining traditional silos, it’s time to mix things up a bit.