When I finished the edits on the final proofs for my latest book, I thought it was time to relax. Then Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad. Hours later, I got a call from my editor telling me that my publisher wanted to adapt my new book, God Is Not One, to this new Apple magic. So along with a YouTube book trailer, I would need to put together an autobiographical video and other "bonus material" for an enhanced iBook. Oh, and my deadline was about a week away.
When it comes to promoting my books, I am Mr. Amenable. If my publicist gets me a television gig, I am happy to show up, smile, and sport a properly nondescript tie. If she gets me a radio gig, I am happy to show up in my pajamas and try not to say "Um" too much. So, of course, I said yes to my editor's request. But how was this all going to happen? And who would make sure it didn't embarrass me?
The day after my editor called, I found myself in a television studio filming an interview for the forthcoming WGBH-TV series God in America. Running the show was Greg Barker, a talented director whose 2009 film, Sergio, drew rave reviews at Sundance. He was accompanied by an assistant director, a cameraman, a sound man, and two interns. After we finished, I told Greg how YouTube and the iPad were blurring the lines between text and video, authors and directors. He spoke of book trailers he'd seen that were so rinky-dink they swore him off not only the book but also the author—forever. As I drove home, I felt nostalgic for those bygone days when writers were writers and television was television and never the twain shall meet. I also started worrying about how I was going to create anything even mildly professional for either YouTube or the iPad. If this was the brave new world of publishing, I was the Cowardly Lion.
The next morning I called my editor. I had spent a few years writing a book that made me proud. Now I was supposed to spend a few days producing two videos? He said he had no interest in producing second-rate content to accompany a first-rate book, and added that my publisher, HarperOne, had recently hired someone from MTV to oversee video production.
After some talk of using HarperCollins's new book trailer studio in Manhattan, we decided to film at Boston University, where I work, with a local firm called Shave Media. After some back and forth on concepts for the videos, all I had to do was get my hair cut, put on a decent outfit, and show up.
A recent Wall Street Journal piece on book trailers observed that some authors find this genre "undignified." "Terrifying" is the word that comes to my mind. But now that my trailer is up on YouTube, I'm just relieved. Its quick cuts are a bit too manic for my boomer brain, and I definitely wave my hands around too much for a non-Italian. But the trailer isn't rinky-dink. In fact, it makes a pretty good case for the book, and my mother isn't the only person who is giving it a thumbs up.
The other video we filmed is available on the enhanced iBook. This autobiographical video isn't bad, either. In fact, it almost makes me seem likable, though apparently I haven't gotten over that habit of flapping my hands in front of my face.
I am enough of a Buddhist to know that change is unavoidable, and that suffering comes to those who resist it. So while I don't have to like it, I have to admit that the iPad is a game changer. Because of its audio and video capabilities, it blurs the boundaries between books and Web sites, books and television shows.
For my next book, I won't be able to get away with traveling to Jerusalem or Bali with pencil and notepad, searching for a few choice quotes. I'll need to bring an audio recorder and a video camera, and figure out how to integrate into my "book" the sights and sounds of this Hebrew prayer or that Balinese cremation.
With the coming of the iPad, writers are careening into a new age of media convergence. The Buddhist in me knows I should sit back and enjoy the ride. But I'm just holding on for dear life.
Stephen Prothero teaches religion at Boston University. HarperOne published his book, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter, last month.