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Peter Cox

Book Videos Don’t Work? Try This One

Going Viral? This Book Video's More Like An Epidemic!

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Looks like she’s seen a ghost…

Our ghost gets a briefing from the author

The manifestation gets the reaction we hoped for...

Panic reigns!

And a happy author!

We wanted to do something unusual to spread general consumer awareness for Michelle’s new book, THIN AIR.  Her previous bestselling ghost story, DARK MATTER, was published five years ago and is currently being filmed by the producers of the Oscar-nominated BROOKLYN.  Orion’s Publicity Director Helen Richardson and her team had done a terrific job getting THIN AIR chosen by Simon Mayo for his BBC Radio Two Book Club – the single best piece of book-focused publicity you can get on conventional media these days.

We had previously used a consumer PR agency, Ketchum, to handle the launch of Michelle’s wildly successful WOLF BROTHER series, so we were well disposed towards non-specialist agencies.  Readers are, after all, simply consumers who decide to read a book in preference to any other leisure activity.

After seeing pitches from a wide range of agencies, we settled on Frank PR for their low animal cunning (whoops – meant to write “excellent creative strategy”).  They proposed the idea of a prank video and since no-one had ever done this before for a book, we bit.

The director was appointed even before a script was worked out.  We picked Andrew Gillman – a television director with a long track record in comedy, including Peter Kay, Lee Evans and the award-winning The Day Today with Chris Morris and Steve Coogan.  As it turns out, Andrew had started his television career with the computer-generated character Max Headroom, which was significant in terms of the effects we would later use.

Finding a suitable shooting location turned into a bit of a nightmare.  We initially wanted to shoot in a book shop, but in central London it proved all but impossible.  We considered about two dozen other locations, ranging from the Theosophical Society to the Alpine Club.  None of them was right.  Whole days were spent trudging around town, fruitlessly.

Eventually, Hachette came to our rescue, with the offer of two large meeting rooms – one for the reading itself, and the other for the all-important technical control room.  The look is very clean and modern – quite the opposite of what you might expect for a spooky ghost story.  I think that is part of what shocked the audience – you don’t expect to experience paranormal activity in an average office environment!

The setting up was very complex and time-consuming.  Fortunately, Hachette were very understanding when it came to having spectral actors, makeup artists, video technicians and theatrical special-effects consultants milling around their offices.  Hopefully, it brightened up their Friday!  The ghost effect itself is a closely-guarded theatrical secret, although you may well have seen something quite similar recently featuring in a certain magician’s show in the West End. Not even Michelle was allowed in the room when the filming was happening, so it’s no use asking her how it was all done!

The audience consisted of horror fans who in some ways I think were ideally predisposed to having a massively extreme reaction when the one thing they never expected to happen did actually happen – a real-life paranormal manifestation!  They knew their “reaction” to the book would be filmed, but no-one realized just how visceral that reaction would be!  Michelle gave a little introductory talk, and then left them to the tender mercies of our actor and technicians. We had chosen some of the creepiest lines in the book for our actor to deliver, and at the crucial moment, it all happened, as you can see – pranked!

The video was a hit right from the start.  Easily exceeding 100k views on Youtube, that figure was dwarfed by the explosive start it got on Facebook.  We were hoping for something around 500k views there… instead, it took off virally – you might say epidemically – and shot past the 1 million mark in less than 48 hours.  We’re now looking at something in excess of 5.5 million views there!

Compare that to Tom Hiddleston’s book video (7k views), or Caitlin Moran (2k) or even Ian McEwan (200) and I’d say we’re looking good!  And the video will continue to pay dividends beyond paperback publication.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, we have conclusively proved that book videos can work, given a commitment to high creative standards and proper resources.  THIN AIR has opened the door on this.  It’s time for the publishing trade to sit up and take note… videos are powerful marketing weapons!