Dramatizing Your Nonfiction Book

Many novelists dream of selling the film rights to their books for big money. Certain kinds of nonfiction, like memoirs, true crime, and political exposes, are also popular with Hollywood. In most cases, however, publishers won’t be interested in the film rights for your cookbook, business book, or how-to.

But don’t dismiss the performance possibilities of such a book too soon. It’s possible, for instance, that your how-to book has the makings of a TV series. There are whole cable channels devoted to cooking and many other popular Do-It-Yourself shows. If your book lends itself to such a treatment, tell your publisher up front. For one thing, it can increase your advance. For another, publishing houses probably have more of the resources and connections needed to get such a show off the ground.

Video Options
Just because your book is unsuited to a full-length film or prime-time TV treatment (or the studios just haven’t been interested) doesn’t mean video isn’t an option for you. Anything that you would demonstrate live in a presentation or class based on your book (or the presentations or classes on which you based the book in the first place) can be turned into video, either for sale on its own or as a marketing tool to show potential readers how valuable your book is.

Video for Marketing
You can use almost any video camera to create short video clips to publish on your book’s website or upload to your book blog. The homemade quality can actually act in your favor, because it conveys authenticity: here is a real person using these techniques in his or her real office/kitchen/workshop. If you include other people in your demonstrations, make sure you get their permission—in writing—before you publish the video. (This is even more important when you’re selling the video, but private individuals have the right to say where pictures of them will be shown.) And don’t forget to include a shot of the book, its title, your name, and ordering information in the clips.

Digital video formats can be a tricky thing, what with issues of cross-platform compatibility and the need for browser plug-ins. If you create it in Windows MovieMaker, Mac users won’t be able to watch it, and so on. But with the spread of broadband and the advent of the video iPod, there are more and more options for creating and distributing video online. The VideoEgg Publisher allows you to upload video files or send video directly from your video camera, webcam, or mobile device. It then converts the video into a Macromedia Flash file and provides you with a player link for your website. (Visit www.videoegg.com for a free demonstration.)

Video for Sale
If you want to sell the video version of your book on a CD-ROM or DVD, you’ll want to invest a bit more in things like lighting, sound equipment, professional camera people, and editing. A nearby university or college such as Emeryville’s Ex’pression College for Digital Arts (www.expression.edu) may be able to provide the facilities and people you need on a non-Hollywood budget.

If your book is about computers, full-motion screen recording software like Camtasia (www.camtasiastudio.com) makes it easy to create step-by step demonstrations. This can be much more effective than still screen shots interspersed with text. You can use your book just as it’s written to create a voice-over to accompany the video demo.

This funny-sounding word was coined to describe audiobooks released as podcasts instead of on CD or cassette. (I suppose if you released your book videos this way, that would create a Vodiobook.) To create a podiobook, you just read sections of your book into a microphone connected to your computer. (I recommend Audacity, a versatile free tool for recording and editing audio files. Get it at http://audacity.sourceforge.net.) Then you upload the file to a host like Podiobooks.com or to your own podcast blog. Recording a chapter a week doesn’t take much time.

If you don’t want to give away your whole book for free, you can still create a podiobook by reading shorter selections from different chapters, just enough to get prospective buyers interested. Or you can read some of the material that got cut during the editing process, or new related material you’ve discovered since the book was published. As with the infamous Google Print (now Google Book Search), it’s up to you how much of your material you release at once. As with the videos, remember to tell listeners how to buy your book.

Creating a free podiobook isn’t likely to damage either print sales or your chances for selling the rights to a professional audio recording, unless you’ve got a terrific home studio and the right kind of performance background, and want to spend hours editing, adding appropriate music, etc. (And if you do all that, by all means sell the CD or full-length download.)

Audiobooks are convenient for commuters and auditory learners, but that doesn’t mean listening entirely replaces reading. For one thing, it’s hard to look things up in the index or track down a particular quote with an audio (or video) recording. And you can’t underline the important parts or look at the tables and illustrations. If your podiobook subscribers like what they hear, they’ll buy the print version for themselves, their friends, and their colleagues.

Just because Hollywood isn’t going to option your business book doesn’t mean it can’t be a star of stage and screen.

© 2005 Sallie Goetsch

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