Did you read the book from that movie?

New Radar blogger Brett McLaughlin is the executive editor of O’Reilly’s Head First books and a Java developer-turned-author.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that media is changing the way books are viewed. In fact, video – and YouTube in particular – has already changed how books are sold. Most big fiction releases are heralded by short “book trailers” that give an almost movie-like feel to the contents of the book.

But in a recent article published by the Christian Science Monitor, I was surprised to see that there’s an even more notable link between movies and the sale of books:

In the upcoming Christian movie “Fireproof”, screenwriters created a book as plot point. The movie tells the story of Caleb Holt, a firefighter with a troubled marriage. To help prevent divorce, Caleb’s dad suggests he read a book called “The Love Dare.”

The book changes Caleb’s view of marriage and transforms his life. As soon as preview audiences saw the film, they began flooding bookstores with inquiries.

The only problem: The book didn’t exist.

It does now, however.

Brothers and associate pastors Alex and Stephen Kendrick, also co-directors and producers of “Fireproof,” sat down and penned such a book in the space of a few weeks. It hasn’t hit bookstores yet but has already sold 300,000 copies and may go on to become the bestselling Christian book of 2008.

This is pretty remarkable. Keep in mind, we’ve long seen books-turned-into-movies re-released with movie-centric covers. We’ve seen movies come out, and then books released that are adaptations of the movie, in cases where the movie’s based on an original screenplay. But books that happen to be featured in movies? That’s a new one.

Is this an isolated case? Or perhaps a phenomenon related more to religion and self-help tomes? Not so much; from the same article:

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s the story of the “Sex and the City” book. When Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) sat in bed reading a book called “Love Letters from Great Men” in a scene in the film, women viewers everywhere decided they needed a copy.

Again: As the press was quick to report, the book didn’t actually exist. (At least not with that title.)

But there was something close enough: a 1920s title called “Love Letters of Great Men and Women” reissued last year by Kessinger Publishing. On the strength of the movie, the book suddenly became a hot item for booksellers.

So what does this mean for publishing as an industry? Even more poignantly, what does this mean for learning books; the sort of books that O’Reilly and other technology, math, science, educational, etc. publishers routinely put out?

I’m not completely sure, although I plan on positing a few ideas in the coming days… but one thing that is clear: the competition for a book sale is no longer just other good books. Movies, videos on YouTube, even the latest Metal Gear Solid game on PlayStation 3 are increasingly key competitors. They’re informing buyers about what to buy, in very unique and surprising ways.

And when the competition is no longer just books, everything changes… whether we acknowledge it or not. Anyone – or any company – that doesn’t realize and react is going to be hurting before decade’s end.

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  • monopole

    And I keep looking for a copy of the Necromicon…

  • Show of hands… anyone think that “The Love Dare” or “Love Letters of Great Men and Women” merit being read by many? Maybe I’m growing jaded in my old age, but most of what this new web 2.0 world seems to be enabling is infotainment, of the “opiate of the masses” sort. How’s about devoting the time you’d have spent reading an as-yet-unwritten book to teaching a kid struggling to learn to add and subtract?

  • As a pioneer of book trailers (and the copyright holder of that term) I’m delighted to see publishing use new media to reach out to readers, perhaps encouraging new readers.

    Part of my own mantra has been “Competition isn’t the next book, but the next blockbuster release and new video game” so I had to smile when I saw your post said something similar.

    We are currently working with the University of Central Florida and some forward thinking schools and libraries where we use book video to encourage reading and teach reading comprehension skills through new media. An entire curriculum has been written by professors at UCF and many schools use it with great success!

    People have evolved into visual creatures. If seeing a video or a movie encourages them to read a book I’m thrilled to hear it. And I don’t really care what book they read. I just want them to read.

  • Paul Johnson

    A couple of other precedents spring to mind:

    * The character “Buzz Lightyear” from Toy Story was meant to be a spin-off from a successful childrens cartoon series. After Toy Story became a big hit, the cartoon series in question was also produced.

    * About 10 years ago the Yellow Pages in the UK ran a TV advert featuring an elderly man phoning around second hand bookshops for a copy of “Fly Fishing, by J. R. Hartley”. At the end of the ad it was revealed that the man was J. R. Hartley. A few months later the book was published.

  • Paul Johnson

    A couple of other precedents spring to mind:

    * The character “Buzz Lightyear” from Toy Story was meant to be a spin-off from a successful childrens cartoon series. After Toy Story became a big hit, the cartoon series in question was also produced.

    * About 10 years ago the Yellow Pages in the UK ran a TV advert featuring an elderly man phoning around second hand bookshops for a copy of “Fly Fishing, by J. R. Hartley”. At the end of the ad it was revealed that the man was J. R. Hartley. A few months later the book was published.

  • In season 2 of Lost, Sawyer reads a manuscript for Bad Twin, a novel later released by Hyperion and publicized as “the highly-anticipated new novel by acclaimed mystery writer Gary Troup. Bad Twin was delivered to Hyperion just days before Troup boarded Oceanic Flight 815, which was lost in flight from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles in September 2004. He remains missing and is presumed dead.”

    I haven’t read it and don’t know much about it beyond the fact that it’s sold almost 40,000 copies so far.

  • Ross-

    I think that “The Love Dare” (and I suppose, to some extent, “Love Letters of Great Men and Women”) were and are important to the people that ordered them. I’m not supposing that putting a book in a movie (or the other way around) creates value. Rather, I’m supposing that we have to accept and embrace that we can’t just keep putting out so-called “good books” in a traditional format, and deliver them in a traditional manner, and expect people to read them.

    More to your specific point, I’m interested (and have a lot of thoughts) in how we can take the lessons we’re learning from new media, and apply them to teaching people to add and subtract, read, write, and compose. That’s where the interest is, in my opinion.


    The UK ad is of utmost importance, because it’s a case of intention. The other examples (the books in the Christian Monitor post, the book from Lost [which I own, oddly enough], and the Buzz Lightyear series) were driven by demand. The UK ad, by all appearances, involved planning from the start. Lots of good thought to put into how we can use these things intentionally, as well.

    Thanks all…

  • Didn’t Kurt Vonnegut do this many, many years ago with “Venus on the Half Shell” by Kilgore tRout?

  • Alex – it was actually Philip Jose Farmer who came up with the clever idea of ripping off Vonnegut by penning a novel by Kilgore Trout. He really caught the style, but no, it wasn’t Vonnegut.

    That was in the same period when Farmer wrote Tarzan Alive and (I think) a Doc Savage knockoff as well.

  • Kyle Thompson

    Regardless, it works. Check out Love Dare on the NY Times Bestseller list next week…over 1 million copies already. I was given a copy and it’s simple, but deep. It’s a day by day read so very easy to read…more difficult to live out the actions it “dares” the reader. To love unconditionally each day isn’t easy. If you think so, I dare you to try.

  • Dan

    My favoritist part of Venus on the Halfshell was the list of “other books by Kilgore Trout” in the frontmatter. As a kid, that one piece completed the magic trick. I still want to read “Son of Jimmy Valentine.”

  • Ah … shades of I, Libertine, by one of the masters, Theodore Sturgeon (he of the “Ninety-five percent of everything is crap” quote).

    When Jean Shepherd (the “Christmas Story” buy) was on WOR in the 1950s. He cooked up a hoax one night, asking all his listeners go to bookstores and ask for a novel titled I, Libertine, which did not exist. Ian and Betty Ballentine, of Ballentine Books, glomed onto this and brought in Ted Sturgeon to write the book. It was published as by Fred Ewing in 1956.

    The cover showed an 18th-Century gent hobnobbing large-busted women in low-front gowns. Above the title were the adjectives, “Turbulent! Turgent! Tempestuous!” At the bottom of the cover was a line from the book: “Gadzooks!” Quoth I, “but here’s a saucy bawd!” And all for 35 cents.

    When I was doing some freelance editing for Baen Books in the 1980s, we talked about doing something similar with a space opera title, but the idea never gelled.
    –Mike Banks

  • That second adjective was supposed to be “turgid.” Judging by the quote on the cover, I, Libertine certainly was that. I’m sure Betty Ballentine had Sturgeon lay it on with a trowel.

    For those of you who read science fiction, here’s something SF and fantasy writers have been doing since the late 1980s: using the titles of real but obscure books, sometimes outside the field. Nice twists on the time-honored trick of “Tuckerizing,” a name used to describe putting a real person in a novel, usually in a walk-on role.
    –Mike Banks
    P.S. Maybe Jim Baen did something with that idea.

  • Tim,
    Phil Farmer’s biographies of Tarzan and Doc Savage were marvelous, and I think the beginning of a modern sub-genre. My paperback books are packed, but I believe it is in Tarzan Alive that Farmer talks about a unification theory in which Lord Greystoke, Doc Savage, Sherlock Holmes, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and other fictional heroes (or their ancestors) were each affected in the womb by the strange emanations of a meteor that grounded among their respective parents, out for a Sunday carriage ride. (I’m thinking this was the Wold Newton meteor strike.)

    The beginning of it all–the public unveiling of the fictional-as-real, at least–has to have been a piece in Esquire (presented as fact): “An Interview with Lord Greystoke.”

    I first met Phil at the Worldcon, Boston, in 1980. We discussed the concepts of fictional characters being real, with Holmes as a template. The following summer we were both at a con in Indianapolis.

    While waiting for a panel to start and sharing a chicken salad sandwich, I asked if he’d thought about writing a novel by Peter Jarius Frigate. He said yes, but that it would be a long time coming if he ever did. With only a few short stories under my belt, I asked the obvious question, “I wonder if I could write a PJF novel?”

    “Go ahead,” Phil replied with a shrug and a smile.

    I did publish several novels thereafter, but as yet haven’t gotten around to one “by Peter Jarius Frigate.”

    Incidentally, for those who’ve read the Riverworld novels and may have wondered: Peter Jarius Frigate looks exactly like a younger Philip Jose Farmer, by intent. Just as the tall, cadaverous Rolfe, a literal spear-carrier and dungeon guard in one of the Amber books looks like Roger Zelazny. Not incidentally, Rolfe spends most of his time at the lonely duty post writing a family saga, shot-through with elements of morbidity (to paraphrase).
    –Mike Banks

  • Michael R. Bernstein

    There is a good discussion of ‘objects produced through suggestion’ here:

  • I’ve seen the LOTR series and after the movie I’ve read the entire series of books. The books are really amazing and the movie too. Is very well done, comparing with the story from books.