In a rambling two-story loft in Pittsburgh, Paul Fireman is changing the way major publishers sell their books to readers.
Borrowing a marketing tool from the film industry, he began to produce video trailers to promote books a few years ago. He created one for "PostSecret," which grew out of a project by a writer who had invited people to send him anonymous postcards with a secret they were willing to share. The video is a slideshow of the postcards with their brief messages -- "My mom chose my stepdad over me"; "Jail isn't anything like the movies" -- with poignant music in the background and narration by the author, Frank Warren, describing the project.
It worked. It quickly got more than 2 million views on YouTube.
"What is truly remarkable is that the videos live on, so they continue to market the books," said Fireman, head of Fireman Creative, a communications and technology firm. "I just read comments left this year for a video posted four years ago."
Fireman Creative, like other marketing firms, is now producing and promoting trailers for many of its publishing clients. Much like their movie counterparts, these videos function as teasers designed to hook readers by giving them a dramatic short preview of the story.
The trailers are typically between two and five minutes long and usually are found on YouTube and publishers' websites. Some trailers feature re-created scenes from the book; others showcase the author reading from his or her work, or depict images associated with the book.
Publishers of all sizes are embracing social media by calling on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to promote their authors and their books. In addition to trailers, many publishing houses now promote books via social media and live-streaming Web events.
"Social media is reshaping the way we communicate and publishers are quickly embracing new tools to engage readers," said Fireman, 46.
Trailers and Web events began in an effort to reach more readers and to stave off high marketing expenses. Traditional book promotions can be costly, so trailers often perform the same function at a fraction of the cost.
The trailers, coupled with a strong online media presence, are effective, said Shawn Nicholls, director of online marketing at William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins.
"While we are selective in terms of producing and distributing videos, there are opportunities to create original video content for authors with a strong social-media platform," he said.
Algonquin Books' online and paperback marketing director, Michael Taeckens, believes that social media matters because of the high volume of users. Algonquin recently began promoting its book club via streaming video events where viewers can watch author interviews, email questions to the authors and buy their books online.
The club features 25 paperback editions from the publisher's stock, including "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen and "In the Time of Butterflies" by Julia Alvarez.
According to Pamela Spengler-Jaffee, senior director of publicity at Avon Books, these events work.
"We are able to bring hundreds, even thousands, of additional virtual attendees to a book signing. If the store has set up the capability for online attendees to order signed copies of the book, we can accrue hundreds of additional book sales from the event. It's a win-win-win. The author is happy. The fans are happy. The bookstore is ecstatic," she said.