Randy Ingermanson 

Randy Ingermanson has published six novels and received about a dozen awards for his writing. He holds a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from UC Berkeley and is the entire software department for Vala Sciences, a San Diego biotechnology company. Randy is the inventor of the "Snowflake Method," used by novelists around the world to design their novels. He the publisher of the Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, the world's largest electronic magazine on writing fiction. More than 1000 novelists read his daily blog, the Advanced Fiction Writing Blog. Randy's goal is to become Supreme Dictator For Life, and he may have already succeeded. Visit his site at www.SupremeDictatorForLife.com.

Book Trailers R Us

aka Randy Ingermanson

I was staring at my computer screen and typing furiously when the phone rang. A glance at the caller ID told me that it was my plumber, Sam. I kept typing. Experience tells me that a call from Sam is best left to voice mail.

After only two rings, it quit. A leaden feeling settled into my gut. My wife has more sense than to answer Sam. She must. She mu—

A loud tapping at my office door told me that she didn’t. My wife poked her head in the door. “It’s Sam, and he says it’s urgent.”

I picked up the phone. “No.”

Before I could slam it, Sam said, “Ain’t no reason to get all huffy. I wanted to let ya know that I took to heart that blog thingie you wrote last week.”

I had no idea that Sam followed my blog. “Which blog thingie?”

“The one about how Book Trailers is a load of crock, and how anyone who pays hunnerts of dollars on one is a doofus.”

“I didn’t say it quite like that. What I said was—”

“Oh yeah, you was more diplomatified, but that’s what it all come to.” “You done some fancy arithmetic about how many storybooks you’d have to sell to amortifize a trailer, and how a feller couldn’t never know if them extra sales come from the trailer or from something else. It was real clever, but of course, it was stinking wrong.”

I tightened my grip on the phone. “Wrong? In what way? The math is pretty simple. It’s a rare author who earns more than a buck a book in royalties. If a trailer costs a thousand dollars, it needs to gain a thousand extra book sales just to break even. And how could you possibly track that?”

“There ya go again, getting all theorified on me. But it don’t matter to me if you ain’t wanting to profit from my new business venture.”

I sighed. “Let me guess. BookTrailersRUs.com, or something dopey like that?”

I heard the meaty thump of a hand almost but not quite covering the phone. Sam bellowed, “Hey, Samantha, You-Know-Who’s on the phone, and he don’t like our new Web site name, and now he’s giving me a load of hooey about numbers. You wanna talk sense at him?”

Samantha’s voice was faint but audible. “Tell him he only pays for measurable results.”

That got my attention. The holy grail of marketing is measurable results.

Sam’s voice came back on the line. “Lookit, I guess you ain’t interested, so I better let you get back to—”

“Tell me about the measurable results.”

“Oh, well it ain’t that big a deal.”

“Tell me.”

A long pause. “It’s kinda experimental right now, and we ain’t ironed out all the kinks yet.”

I leaned forward. “Sam, if you know how to measure results on a Book Trailer, I want to hear about it.”

Sam cleared his throat. “The way it works is we make you a storybook trailer fer free, and then you pay us half the royalties on any sales we prove was a result of the trailer.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. There had to be a catch. With Sam, there’s always a catch. I spent the next ten minutes grilling Sam on how it worked. There was no catch. Sam actually meant what he said. It sounded like a can’t-lose proposition.

“All right, I’ll take a chance on this,” I said. “What do I have to do?”

“Just tell me about yer storybook. Then we make a trailer fer it. And not a cheap one, neither. None of this still-shot with voice-over doofusness. All our trailers has live action.”

“How many minutes?”

“You tell me,” said Sam.

“People have short attention spans. I wouldn’t go over a minute on a trailer.”

Sam grunted. “See, that just shows you don’t know nothing. Our trailers lasts a whale of a lot longer than that. You might say we ain’t experts, but since we’re taking all the risk, how about letting us be the marketing professionals and you just help us help you?”

I couldn’t argue with that, and I figured if it didn’t work out, it wouldn’t cost me anything. “Okay, we’ll play it your way, Sam. What about hosting?”

“Um, hosting?”

“Yes, a trailer can use up a lot of bandwidth. If a million people see this trailer, it could cost a lot of money in bandwidth charges. So whose hosting platform are we using, yours or mine?”

“My platform, of course. Now, just tell me what yer storybook’s about.”

I spent the next half hour doing exactly that.

Sam said “uh-huh” about five hundred times but didn’t ask any questions. I figured that was because I’d captured the essence of my story.

When I ran out of steam, Sam asked, “You got any cover art fer your storybook?”

“I’ll e-mail you that.”

“Last question. You got a book signing coming up for this storybook?”

“Next month at Powell’s. But I don’t think a trailer’s going to be much use for that. I’ll be speaking, and the experts say that a good talk has more to do with sales at a book signing than some lame trailer running on a laptop. And there’s no way to measure the results of a trailer.”

“You worry about your talking and I’ll worry about the trailering. And try to get there early.”

* * *

Honestly, I forgot about Sam and his trailer in the month that followed. I didn’t hear anything back from him, and I had a zillion things to do. Which explains why I cut it close on leaving for the signing.

Powell’s is the largest bookstore in the world. It’s right across the river from me in Portland, Oregon, and it normally takes about

forty-five minutes to get there. I left an hour before my signing was to begin. Traffic was fine on the freeway, but once I got into downtown, I hit a major traffic jam. After being gridlocked for half an hour, I called the bookstore rep to let her know I’d be late for the signing.

“That’s okay, it’s going great without you!” Or I thought that’s what she said. A lot of noise clamored the background.

The closer I got to the store, the more snarled the traffic became. I finally parked six blocks away and ran to Powell’s. I was now an hour late. The bookstore staff were going to kill me. Gasping for breath, I rounded the last corner.

In front of the entrance to Powell’s was an enormous poster of my book. On a trailer. The kind you haul hay in. I’m not making this up. It was a huge trailer, with a high platform.

Dancing atop the platform was Sam’s niece, Samantha, wearing a beauty queen outfit so small it could fold up inside a Band-Aids box. A sign above her head read, RAFFLE TICKETS FOR A DATE WITH MISS BUDWISER 2010: $40. In smaller letters below: GIT A FREE BOOK TOO!

Hundreds of cheering young men were crowding in around the Book Trailer, waving pairs of $20 bills. A cadre of efficient clerks were exchanging raffle tickets for the twenties.

I spent about ten seconds deciding whether I was going to throw up. This could not be happening. It could not be happening. Could not—

“Seems kind of Sir Real, don’t it?” bellowed a voice in my ear.

I spun around. Sam’s grin was as wide as Professor Lockhart’s in Harry Potter.

“Sam, what the devil are you doing?” I screamed. “This . . . I’m . . . you’re crazy . . . my novel . . . serious fiction . . .”

“We already moved three thousand copies of yer storybook. They run out after the first hunnert copies, but they’re giving out rain checks on the rest. Samantha’s got some nice legs, don’t she?”

“She . . . yes . . . completely irrelevant!” I shouted.

A clerk erased a number on a blackboard and chalked a new figure.

“Oops, make that four thousand,” Sam said. “Ain’t bad at forty bucks a pop. Course, the bookstore gets twelve ninety-nine fer each copy, which means you get about fifty cents apiece, after giving half yer royalties to us, and we get—”

“Twenty-seven dollars apiece!” I shrieked. “You—”

“Well, don’t get all snippy with me.” A huffy look crossed Sam’s face. “We got expenses to pay. That there trailer had to be custom made. Just like I promised, we provided the platform. We paid for the band width, which you got to agree is pretty good.” He pointed at a bright pink band painted all around the sides of the trailer, with SAMANTHA in flaming red letters every few feet.

“You misspelled Budweiser!” I hissed. “And what does my book have to do with beer?”

Sam just grinned. “We ain’t affiliated with no beer company, and any bud who thinks so needs to get wiser.”

“Sam, this whole thing is absurd! It’s—”

“Well, just lookit who’s the big marketing expert now,” Sam growled. “You was hoping to sell maybe a hunnert storybooks today? Which would earn you a whole hunnert dollars, which you was going to split with us? That’s what I charge fer answering my phone. What kind of marketing sense does that make? That’s absurd, spending all kinds of time and money marketing yer storybooks when you could be earning money from yer marketing.”


“Just do the math, will ya?” Sam punched numbers into a calculator. “We got another two hours on yer book signing, but even if we stop now, we’ve sold four thousand raffle tickets at a profit of twenty-seven dollars and one cent, and that comes to . . . over a hunnert thousand George Washingtons. ’Course we got expenses and will have to pay fer dinner and a movie ticket fer Samantha and the raffle winner and her chaperone—”


Sam scowled at the hordes hooting at Samantha. “Well, just lookit them young fellers. You wouldn’t let one of them go on a date with your daughter, would ya?”

“Of course not.”

“So that’s another expense fer me. I gotta buy me a new tux so I’ll look good on Samantha’s date with whatever chump wins the raffle.”

“Sam, you are the lyingest, cheatingest, no-good, dirty, low-down—”

Sam thumped me on the back heartily. “—marketer you ever seen,” he finished my sentence, grinning like a wolf. “Well, ain’t that the nicest thing you ever said to me. I can’t wait to see yer next blog, when you explain why Book Trailers is the hottest thing in marketing fer the coming year.”

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