Thursday, June 16, 2011

Guest in Progress: Dan Elish on Book Promotion, YouTube-Style

Nothing makes me happier than announcing that my dear friend Dan Elish has a new book for young readers—the title alone makes me happy: The School for the Insanely Gifted. Dan is immensely talented, writing for kids, adults, and the Broadway stage! Check out his advice for promoting a book with a video—definitely check out his YouTube video—and super-definitely, check out the new book! Pertinent links are below.

Five Tips for Making a Really Cool YouTube Video to Promote Your Book
By Dan Elish

I had a great time writing my book, The School for the Insanely Gifted. A middle grade novel, the book tells the tale of Daphna Whispers (musical genius), Harken Thunkenreiser (mechanical genius) , Cynthia Trustwell (genius actress), and the other students at the prestigious Blatt School for the Insanely Gifted in New York City. In no particular order, the story involves a flying car made out of four cabs and a bus, a chewing gum computer, a journey to a hidden village in the crevices of Kilimanjaro, a Broadway musical called The Dancing Doberman, an extremely strange bad guy, and a gaggle of insane students who ultimately save the day for gifted children everywhere.

The School for the Insanely Gifted is my seventh novel for younger readers. In the past, I have mostly been content to let the publisher’s publicity departments do their thing and hope for the best. But this time, I thought I’d try to do something more creative. I mean, I have lots of friends on Facebook – why not try and use the social media to get out the word?

My first idea was to make a fake website for the made-up school featured in the book: The Blatt School for the Insanely Gifted. (You can check it out at With the help of a good friend who is a web designer, the site came out well, but was it the type of thing that people would send around the internet?

No, I needed something that could go viral! First, I thought of recording every student in my daughter’s school reading out loud from the first chapter. But then my wife got a better idea: why not write a song about the book and make a youtube video? To make a long story short, that’s what I did. Not only was it a blast to do, I think it might really help spread the word. And it was easier than I might have thought. Here’s what I did:

1. This might be the hard part. Years ago, I moved to New York to write musicals, which means that the idea of writing a short original song didn’t seem overwhelming to me. But if the idea of writing something original seems too intimidating, you can always rewrite the lyrics to something popular. That might work even better. Try to make the lyrics describe the book as wittily as you can. This is important: Be sure to put in lines that are conducive to being illustrated in a video. Specific, funny images are key.

2. Record the song. This part costs a little money. I booked a small recording studio, lined up two friends who can sing and recorded the song. All told, it took two and a half hours. If you can’t play a musical instrument, ask a friend, do it a capella, or use a karaoke track.

3. Originally, I thought I’d have to pay someone a small fortune to make the actual video for me. Then I discovered all the cool stuff you can do on I-Movie, which allows you to synch your video and photos precisely to the corresponding lyric in your song. I-Movie also has a lot of neat bells and whistles (fun titles and graphics) that were fun to throw into the mix. If you aren’t a Mac user, there are loads of movie software programs you can download that essentially do the same thing.

4. Now that’s it’s done, download your video onto youtube. Again, I thought that this would be hard. It isn’t. I-Movie shows you exactly how to get your video online.

5. Then promote! I assume that most of you have a bunch of friends on Facebook and Twitter. Well, the day The School for the Insanely Gifted comes out (June 22nd), I’m going to ask everyone I know to send the video to everyone they know. Hopefully, there will be some sort of snowball effect.

So what are you waiting for? Finish your book, then shoot your video. Here’s mine:

I hope you like it. Won’t you help promote my career by sending it to everyone you know?

About: Dan Elish wrote the book to the musical 13 which played at the Mark Taper Forum and won the 2007 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for best production; he was also nominated for best writing. 13 went on to play on Broadway at the Jacobs Theater in the fall and winter of 2008. Dan is also the author of nine novels, including The School for the Insanely Gifted (for kids), Nine Wives (for grown-up types), and Born Too Short, which won a 2004 International Reading Association Students’ Choice Award for young adult literature. Dan has also written music and lyrics for six musicals, scripts for TV (notably Cyberchase and The Wonder Pets), and has won scholarships and fellowships to The Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild and lives in New York with his wife and two children.

Pertinent links:


YouTube video:

Order the book from Amazon:

Dan’s previous guest post about the differences in writing for kids and adults:


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.