August 15, 2013

Book Trailers: Approved For All Audiences

Not that kind of book trailer.

 By Evan Munday

Marketing a book of poetry can be difficult. First off, it's poetry (I kid, I kid!). But seriously, by and large, any new collection by a poet is a compilation of his or her most polished, most interesting new material. There may be nothing linking one poem to the next outside of their writer. And as a publicist, it's your responsibility to boil all this hard work and brilliance down into a simple hook or a few lines. Marketing a poetry collection that falls within this framework can prove difficult; you may have to trade on the past acclaim of the poet or maybe highlight one or two central poems. But this wasn't the case for Jon Paul Fiorentino's Needs Improvement.

Fiorentino's sixth collection has a thematic thread that runs through the entire book; from its mock report cards to its exam-writing instructions and diagrams representing the work of well-known theorists to the title itself, the collection is all about education. Namely our current educational system here in the Western world.

When Fiorentino and I first talked about a marketing plan, it was clear he was keen to work within this theme. This manifested itself in a few ways, most prominently on the cover. I took Fiorentino's idea of an old-timey report card and modified it a bit, updating it to (perhaps) the late 1980s, complete with dot-matrix font and sprocket holes. We emphasized the inherent joke of the title, and handed it to reviewers on a silver platter, really. We even included Nicole Brossard's complimentary blurb as a sort of 'teacher's comment,' which fits, given that she was a formative influence on Fiorentino's work.

We didn't take the educational theme as far as we might have, though. It's not like there are any teaching or trade magazines or journals on my review copy list. Originally, we'd planned to produce a sort of a promotional giveaway: a self-help cassette tape to 'help with the improvement'. The tape would have featured audio of Fiorentino both reading poems and providing advice on how to become a better poet, 'maximizing the poetic potential within!' But this idea was scrapped (or profoundly altered) once Fiorentino began work on a trailer for the book.

"That's my jam!"

We haven't done too many trailers at Coach House Books. As a fairly small press, we don't have the budgets to produce high quality trailers, and I'm always unconvinced of their effectiveness. A trailer could get picked up by various websites and become the world's next "double rainbow" or it could be viewed and circulated only by the author's close friends. As such, the book trailers that Coach House has done have been very patchwork and cheaply made: a compilation of unicorn images for Suzette Mayr's novel, Monocerous; a location-based word search for Gary Barwin's The Porcupinity of the Stars; and an obviously fake endorsement by Leonard Cohen for Subway sandwiches for Spencer Gordon's Cosmo. It was a similar case for Needs Improvement.

The trailer trades on another theme that runs through the collection, and indeed, all of Fiorentino's work: a nostalgia for past cities. But the choice of using the poem "In Perfect Winnipeg" was musician Rob Benvie's. As Fiorentino says, "Rob and I had talked about doing something together for a while. I sent him some poems and he chose 'In Perfect Winnipeg' to set to music. He sang a temporary vocal track, and I sought out Clara (Legault) from Motel Raphael to lay down the final one."

Winnipeg comes up a lot in his work. "I Google Winnipeg every day," Fiorentino says. "I stumbled across this 8mm footage on YouTube quite by accident and I loved it so much, I contacted the person who posted it (Kert Gartner) and asked him if we could use it for a music video." The end result is a dream-like tour of a Winnipeg from several decades ago.

After the trailer was made, the cassette tape idea was abandoned. We instead produced CDs (easier to record, more of an indie-album feel) featuring that song and a few tracks of Fiorentino reading over soundscapes. It makes a nice added bonus to review copies we send or the books we'll sell (I hope) at events. And as we ramp up publicity efforts with Manitoban media outlets for Fiorentino's appearance at Thin Air (a triumphant hometown return to Winnipeg!), I plan to link to this song and trailer in my pitches and press releases. The trailer is a perfect illustration of Fiorentino's long Winnipeg connection. Who knows? The song could be come a minor, if melancholic, anthem of the city!

Evan Munday is the publicist for Coach House Books.

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