Websites and Books
In 2002, Random House approached Jefferson Rabb about creating a promotional Web site for a promising new historical thriller. Rabb, known for his elaborate Web sites for clients like MTV, Sephora and Elie Tahari, had built only one site for a book before. The finished product, with its eerie original music, crisp graphics, and intricate quizzes and ciphers, looked more like an up-market video game than an ad for a novel.
Publishers have long hoped that, say, a jacket by Chip Kidd or an author photo by Marion Ettlinger will increase attention and sales by signaling that a book is a big deal. In recent years, as publishing houses have encouraged writers to create a robust online presence, a new team of experts has emerged. Rabb and a handful of others are now the go-to people for book-specific Web sites and videos, and many authors are willing to shell out big money — usually from their own pockets — for the privilege of working with them.
The task of the book Web designer can be a tricky one. “Book sites present challenges that fashion and other sorts of sites do not,” Rabb said in a telephone interview. Because of the nature of the book medium in general, and the hope of selling movie rights in particular, “any time I get too specific about the appearance of a character, people start to get very nervous,” he added.
“When you’re writing a book, you’re certainly not sitting there thinking, ‘And wait till they see the Web site!’ ” Larsen said. “But it does offer a great opportunity to experiment with delivering character and narrative across different mediums.”
But do book sites really help sell books? As in so much of publishing, no one quite knows. “I don’t know how well the success of book Web sites can be tracked, but they do get thrown into that priceless bucket of buzz.”
Back in 1996, Meltzer built what was arguably the first author Web site for his first novel, “Tenth Justice,” including character interviews and the first chapter. His publisher thought he was nuts.
“The publishing world is very resistant to change,” Meltzer said. “But there are always people — mostly the young and the hungry — who are trying new things. The days of just holing up and writing in solitude are gone. Today, you can’t be a successful writer without having a little Barnum in your bones.”
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