THING 4. From Sweatpants to Lingerie: Enhanced Content for Your Natural Assets (and Your E-Book)

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

shutterstock_139445759“Not only has [the bodyguard] brought me new jeans and Converse, but also a pale blue shirt, socks, and underwear. Oh my. A clean bra and panties–actually to describe them in such a mundane, utilitarian way does not do them justice.”
Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James)

“During the Term, the Submissive will wear clothing only approved by the Dominant … If the Dominant so requires, the Submissive shall wear during the Term any adornments the Dominant shall require…”
– Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James)

 You’re Perfect…Now Change

In case you don’t know (or haven’t figured out by reading this series) Christian Grey is a demanding Dom, and he doesn’t mince words. Here’s Grey telling Anastasia Steele why he wants to spank her: “I enjoy punishing you. I’ve wanted to spank you since you asked me if I was gay.”

Wait—what? That’s right, kids: when she interviewed him for the college paper, Ana Steele asked him if he was gay. To be fair to the luckless Ms. Steele, she didn’t write the questions for that interview, her friend did; she’s just the 4.0 GPA recent college graduate who rattled them off like a witless clown without reviewing them first. Later, angry with her friend for embarrassing her, the friend defends her peculiar query with this factoid: the 26-year-old Grey has never been spotted with a woman at social events.

During the interview, Mr. Grey answered her intrusive, irrelevant question with a simple negative. I mean, what’s he supposed to say? “The reason you don’t see me with women in public is because I mostly keep them tied up in my ‘play room’ for being bad”? Probably not good for whatever business he’s in. (It’s never quite clear, although he does spend quite a bit of time on the phone trying to send pallets of food aid to Third World countries.)

sassy gay friendOn the other hand, by the time I choked my way through Book One of the trilogy, I decided that Ana could be forgiven for thinking that Christian Grey was her new Sassy Gay Friend after he dwelled so obsessively for 500+ pages over her innocence, her hair and especially her clothes. (Let’s face it: Ana Steele could’ve used a real Sassy Gay Friend to spring a “What are you doing? What, WHAT, WHAT are you doing?” intervention on her nearly every other page before shaking his head at her and lovingly declaring, “You’re a stupid beeyach.”)

Christian Grey is a bit of a fashionista, you see. Not for himself, since he seems to own nothing more than a white, button-up shirt and a pair of gray pants that are always described to be “hanging loosely around his hips.” (Honestly, you’d think a man who made that much money could afford a little more variety and a better fit.) No, he’s much more interested in Ana’s wardrobe—or appalling lack thereof. In fact, he’s positively desperate to micromanage her couture—so desperate, in fact, that he makes these über-fictional, sartorial observations:

“Is this [pair of sweatpants] what you sleep in? You should be in silks and satins, you beautiful girl. I’ll take you shopping.”
“I want to lavish money on you, let me buy you some clothes.”
“You look lovely, Anastasia, this halter-neck dress suits you, and I get to stroke your back, feel your beautiful skin.”


Here…bought you a little something.

Okay, first of all…take her shopping? Let me buy you some clothes? Sorry, I can’t picture any man saying that to a woman he wants to date (not even one he wants to spank). Also, unless he’s a fashion designer, no man knows what a “halter-neck dress” is. Hell, I don’t even know if I do.

Unfortunately, none of these helpful hints are successful in convincing Ana to give up her ubiquitous sweatpants, jeans and Converse sneakers, so he drops the subtlety and just stocks up the ol’ Grey House Submissive Closet with about a million dollars of clothing she’ll spend the rest of the book bitching about. (“Honestly, do I really have to wear these fantastic Jimmy Choos…again?” Gah.)


Enhancing My Bits and Assets

Last October was when I first thought seriously about developing enhanced content for my e-books. If you’re not familiar with this concept, enhanced content is interactive or extra content located within the e-book itself—a video, graphics, animation, hyperlinks, additional character backstory, music, for example—that enhances or adds to the experience of simply reading the book.


Or, as Booksquare put it so aptly back in 2010: “Short answer: nobody knows. Longer answer: the magic elixir publishers are injecting into e-books in hopes they will entice people to pay higher prices.”

In other words, enhanced content is the lacy lingerie of the e-book world: of course it’s not necessary, but it sure does enhance the interactive experience (and, like Victoria’s Secret, publishers are secretly hoping that consumers are willing to pay extra for it).

As a self-published bestselling author, I’d heard of enhanced, immersive, and interactive content many times in the last few years but as of this past October I was still of the mind  that it had too many strikes against it for self-published authors, especially for fiction. Here’s why:

1. The Device Problem. Many e-readers weren’t capable of displaying enhanced content, especially embedded audio or video.
2. The Genre Problem. With few exceptions, it has found success mostly in nonfiction titles with instructional content—such as cookbooks—and it seemed likely to remain that way.
3. The mobi/ePub problem. Kobo, iTunes and Barnes & Noble devices use the ePub format which supports embedded video and audio. Amazon’s mobi format didn’t support either, and most self-published authors gravitate towards Amazon’s (exclusive) KDP Select program.
4: The Money Problem. Self-published authors would find the financial costs and time investment of producing the content prohibitive.
5: The Pricing Problem. Enhanced content books are often pricier than their traditional e-book counterparts and self-published authors have a hard enough time commanding more than $2.99 for their novels, let alone charging for more for additional content.

In short, I couldn’t see any benefit to self-published authors for developing enhanced content for their books—which was really too bad in a way. With full creative control over their product, self-published authors could very likely develop and bring enhanced content e-books to market much faster than the traditional publishing houses.

I eventually set the idea aside, thinking I’d look at it again at some point in 2013 as the new generation of e-readers came on the market.

Better Devices for Enhancing Your Reading Pleasure

shutterstock_1325348991. The device problem. Many e-readers weren’t capable of displaying enhanced content, especially embedded audio or video.

On December 20th of last year, Digital Book World posted its “Top 10 Bold Predictions for Ebooks and Digital Publishing in 2013.” I’ll admit, I was a little shocked by #2 on the list: Enhanced Content. The opening quote of the piece encapsulated what I’d concluded in October: “Every year, we say this is going to be the year of the enhanced ebook.” (Or, as the ever-observant Ana Steele would say: “Not that old chestnut.”)

Despite the less-than-optimistic opener, the post went on to say that things had changed since 2010 when enhanced content was first predicted to be “the next big thing” [all emphases in the quotes below are mine]:

  • “there will be an increased appetite for illustrated and nonfiction books that did not sit well on e-readers”
  • “…more people will have the devices that make reading enhanced ebooks pleasurable with the precipitous rise of tablets.
  • “…more publishers will be producing the…content for those devices that people want to read.”

Device ProblemIn other words, technological innovations and consumer demand were set to drive the development of enhanced content now that the newer generation of e-readers and tablets made the content easy to consume. Excellent news, too, because it took care of the device problem—and not a moment too soon.

Why? Because one week after the DBW piece came out, I spent an entire day in Boulder on a film set shooting interactive content for one of my books.

Lingerie: It’s Not Just For Non-Fiction Anymore

shutterstock_1385370082. The genre problem. With few exceptions, it has found success mostly in nonfiction titles with instructional content—such as cookbooks—and it seemed likely to remain that way.

At the beginning of December, I was contacted by a producer and an investor who were behind the enhanced content version of Dennis Leary’s Merry F#%$in’ Christmas animated e-book. A follower of the Expert Publishing Blog, they had read a couple of my books and wanted to know if I was interested in talking about putting enhanced content into them. We met the next week and several times thereafter to brainstorm.

Now, I was already perfectly aware  of “the genre problem” before the  December 20th DBW article reinforced it by predicting that “there will be an increased appetite for illustrated and nonfiction books.”

Like I said, the two men I worked with on my first project had produced the animated enhanced content in Dennis Leary’s book. My books were neither animated nor were they non-fiction, but that conventional wisdom did inform what I chose to do next.

Since the natural fit for enhanced content had been for non-fiction “how-to” books (cookbooks, bicycle repair, etc.), my first idea was of a scene in my novel Alice in Wonderland. In that scene the main character, Alice Faye Dahl, brags that she can explain how to play Texas Hold’Em poker in two minutes. It was a difficult scene to write, especially since card-playing is a very visual activity.

Alice Tutorial border

Still shot from the Alice in Wonderland Texas Hold’Em enhanced content tutorial.

Why not turn Alice’s tutorial into a video? I thought. Which, as I explained already, I did, right after Christmas. (It will likely be added to Alice in Wonderland this month.)

So there it is, I thought. My enhanced content. It’s not that I wasn’t pleased with the result but other than providing a better explanation for Texas Hold’Em than could perhaps be provided in prose, I didn’t feel that the added content had taken my novel from sweatpants to lingerie territory. A nice, comfortable pair of jeans, maybe, but other than appearing in a novel (versus non-fiction), it wasn’t really breaking any new ground.

Right after the New Year, I thought about it some more and decided that I wholeheartedly disagreed that enhanced content was specially geared for non-fiction titles. Sure, enhanced content is found almost exclusively in non-fiction now, but this fact struck me as more of a lack of desire on the part of traditional publishing to take risks with enhanced content in fiction without first seeing proof that it could work.

In fact, I felt like my novels—all written in first-person, present-tense—were perfect for enhanced content. What better way to “immerse” the reader than to make them feel even more a part of the story than they already do when reading first-person, present-tense? So I made a list of other scenes from my novels that might make good candidates for enhanced content:

Genre Problem

  • A “video tour” of the places where scenes from The Frog Prince took place inside Schonbrunn Palace in Austria.
  • Recreating a brief TV clip of a (fictional) late night comedian’s monologue in Alice in Wonderland.
  • Recreating a memorial service video for a character in Sleeping Beauty.

In this simple, five-minute brainstorming session, I had neutralized the genre problem. Sure, if I actually did go on to develop one of these projects, it would have to be of extremely high quality. But there were still other problems that had to be addressed before I would even think of moving forward.

Amazon’s Mobi Dick Problem

shutterstock white whale3. The mobi/ePub problem. Kobo, iTunes and Barnes & Noble devices use the ePub format which supports embedded video and audio. Amazon’s mobi format didn’t support either, and most self-published authors gravitate towards Amazon’s (exclusive) KDP Select program.

The mobi format is Amazon’s white whale obsession. Despite the fact that it has severe limitations when it comes to enhanced content (text can’t flow around images, embedded video is not supported), the company refused to part ways with its rapidly outdated format, mostly for proprietary reasons. What do I mean by that? Well, it’s simple, really: the mobi format is owned by Amazon, whereas the ePub format is free, meaning any platform can use it as the format for their e-books (as Apple, Kobo and Barnes & Noble do).

In mid-January, I took the two ideas already discussed—1. Technological advancements in tablets  and e-readers would drive consumer demand for more enhanced content; 2. Done appropriately, consumers would accept enhanced content in fiction—and I made a rather calculated prediction. Namely: Amazon would be forced to switch to the ePub format or find a workaround for the Kindle—fast—or they would risk losing market share.

It was then, in mid-January, when I decided to move forward with developing a new kind of enhanced content for e-books. Since all of my novels were enrolled in KDP Select, I had to work with whatever mobi format was in existence when I finished the project. Over the next two months, I basically worked on the project knowing there were two possible outcomes: one where Amazon abandoned mobi for ePub and another where I created a “workaround” for readers viewing the enhanced content using the mobi format.

When Mercy Pilkington from GoodEReader and I call each other, it’s to talk publishing and e-books. An industry expert, Mercy and I have been professional acquaintances since she covered the “alternate ending” version of my novel Sleeping Beauty in early 2012. On March 12th, I called her to show her the rough-cut of my enhanced content project and told her that I was going ahead with it because I was betting that Amazon would have to do something about their mobi problem in order to support what I’d just shown her. She was intrigued by the idea and after asking a few more questions, the call ended.

mobi dick problemJust over two weeks later on March 29th, Mercy called to tell me that she was poised to break the news: Amazon would provide updates for the Kindle Fire so that the device could accommodate enhanced content. Oh, and could she get a quote from me about how this change affected authors like me?

Here’s an excerpt from her piece:

One of the first authors to be standing ready for this development is Elle Lothlorien, who is currently in production of a video-enhanced ebook. “It was just a matter of time before Amazon went in this direction,” she said in an interview today. “A video for an ebook that was developed as an ePub for Nook or iPad, when the readers saw it, the video would simply play within the book. The Amazon mobi platform didn’t support that, so you would have to have a link that took [the readere] out of the book to a video somewhere, then that reader would have to come back to the book. You don’t want to take the reader out of your book.” —“Kindle Fire to Now Accommodate Video-Enhanced eBooks”

And with that, the mobi problem was no longer a problem.

Sleeping (Beauty) in Silks and Satins

2013-01-22 Sleeping BeautyAs I said before, I had decided in January to move forward with an enhanced content test project. Out of all the ideas I mentioned earlier, the natural fit for what I was trying to prove—namely, that developing enhanced content for fiction was a viable idea—was the memorial service video in Sleeping Beauty. Let me quickly explain why.

Imagine you’re reading a book where all the characters are gathered around to watch a memorial service video and that this video not only contains a photograph montage of the deceased but also impromptu eulogies from two friends—all of it synched to a heart wrenching song. Like anyone can tell you who’s been to a memorial service in the last ten years, video montages of the deceased are all the rage—and rightly so. They’re emotional, evocative, and they have a “right here, right now” feel to them that is impossible not to be moved by.

shutterstock_140683954Of course, you’ve probably also read this type of scene in a book before and I can tell you that as an author it’s one of the most difficult types of scenes to write. Why is that? Well, describing one photograph is simply a matter of typing a couple of sentences. When you’re talking about describing twenty-five photographs that flash by, one after the other in a video montage, a picture really is worth a thousand words. I mean, you can’t very well expect a reader to choke their way through multiple paragraphs of photograph descriptions.  And as for music, well, you know what they say about that: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Words simply can’t capture the emotion, the essence of music.

So I wondered, Why let all the other grieving friends watch the memorial service video while the reader is left to simply read it like an obituary? It hardly seemed fair. Imagine instead that in place of reading a description of the video in your novel, the reader is able to watch the video with the rest of the characters’ friends. And if reading about the video makes readers emotional, I thought, just think what actually seeing the photographs and hearing the music will do.

Here is a small excerpt from this very scene in Sleeping Beauty (click to enlarge, click the “back arrow” to return to the blog):

Sleeping Beauty Excerpt

Halfway through the photo montage, two friends of the deceased record each other on the beach, giving awkward, heartfelt eulogies:

“I miss everything about him,” says Gray on-screen. He looks stiff and uncomfortable as he delivers his tribute. “The good, the bad, the ugly. Even now he’s not here, but it still feels like he’s here. It’s baffling, you know? Really baffling.”

Cut to a shot of Rev sitting in the sand, looking more self-assured. “If you were his friend, you laughed a lot. “If he didn’t like you, you probably yelled a lot. But if you needed something—anything—he’d give it to you, right down to the shirt off his back.”

There are more photo descriptions and lyrics, but you get the idea. Plenty of emails, comments and reviews over the last year-and-a-half made it clear that this was one of the scenes in the book that brought many readers to tears. And that’s because by this point in the novel, readers have spent several hundred pages with this character and they have come to know him and even love him. In other words: he’s a friend.

Before we go any further, it would probably be best if I gave you a chance to watch the video. This is not the rough-cut I’ve been referring to; this is the video that now takes the place of the video description in the e-book version of Sleeping Beauty. This isn’t like any other enhanced content you’ve seen before. I worked very hard to find the best directors, producers, and musicians and pull it all together for an experience that will, I hope, surprise you—even if you haven’t read the book.

[Like anything else in a novel, however, it truly works best when you “know the whole story.” So if you would like to read Sleeping Beauty and experience the embedded content as part of the story, it is FREE in the Kindle Store today, Wednesday June 5th, only!] 


How Much Would You Pay For Quality Lingerie?

shutterstock_1407280094: The Money Problem. Self-published authors would find the financial costs and time investment of producing the content prohibitive.

5: The Pricing Problem. Enhanced content books are often pricier than their traditional e-book counterparts and self-published authors have a hard enough time commanding more than $2.99 for their novels, let alone charging for more for additional content.

Unlike Christian Grey, most self-published authors don’t have tens of thousands of dollars lying around to blow on a risky venture such as developing enhanced content projects. Christian Grey is busy blowing his money on more lucrative, risqué adventures…such as Anastasia Steele. In fact, most self-published authors, like most traditionally published authors, still have day jobs.

Before I embarked on this project in mid-January, I knew I wanted to answer one very specific question: If a self-published author did decide to develop enhanced content for their e-book, how much could they reasonably do on their own, keeping the costs minimal? Because as Ana Steele no doubt understood after signing the contract with Christian Grey (which stipulated that she must purchase designer clothing with a stipend he would provide), saying you’re going to do something and actually doing it are two different things. In fact, my Calvin Klein-esque enhanced content dream might—with constraints imposed by my abilities, time and money—turn out to be a consignment store nightmare. Sure, I was intimidated, but I decided I would try to find the answer anyway.

Instead of going all-in and trying to tackle the project as a whole, I decided first to make the  “rough-cut” video I referred to earlier to keep costs low, test my abilities to learn something new, and to show the early version to a “focus group” to see what the reaction would be.

Avid_Studio_boxI started with my teen son (aka “The Boy”). I explained what I was trying to do and he suggested that we go to Best Buy to look at movie-making software. (A side note: these are the best times to avail yourself of a teenager’s help and you would be wise to bow to their superior Nerd Knowledge.) For over an hour The Boy investigated the various types of software, pointing out the pros and cons of each. Finally, he decided that Avid Studio would work best for someone like me: a technological intermediate with a willingness to learn (and a hacker kiddo upstairs to provide tech support). The software included a tutorial DVD as well. I spent about $150 plus tax on Avid Studio, took it home, and loaded ’er up.

shutterstock_81837415I’m going to be honest with you right now and tell you that although the learning curve wasn’t as steep for me as it was for Ana Steele (it takes her, like, five attempts to learn how to kneel submissively in her underwear in the Red Room of Pain—and he hadn’t even pulled out the riding crop yet!), it did take many, many hours to learn the software. The good news is that this wasn’t because it was difficult (the tutorials really do help—a lot) but because there was just so much to learn. (On the bright side, you only have to learn it once.)

Using Avid Studio ($150), a song I already owned, and images from Shutterstock ($179), I had a rough-cut version of the memorial service video uploaded to YouTube by the third week in January. And more importantly, I’d partially answered my question “If a self-pub did decide to try to develop enhanced content for their e-books, how much could they reasonably do on their own, keeping the costs minimal?” So far I was only out $329.

It was time to show it to someone else so I grabbed the two closest people. I knew right away that I’d done a decent job when two things happened:

1) I showed it to The Boy and he mumbled, “That’s pretty good. Yeah.” (This is approximately four more words than I normally get out of him at any given time. Also, “yeah” here should be translated as “Great job, Mom! You’re a freakin’ genius rock star! I hope I’m as great as you one day!” Anyone with teens will understand.)

2. I showed it to my mom (who had read both versions of the book) and she wept at my kitchen table for five minutes after the video ended as if a close friend had died. Which I guess he kind of did.

Over the next couple of days, I hunted down several friends and made them cry. Hell even a male friend who hadn’t read the book got a little “Hold on, I think I’ve got something in my eye” after he watched it. Much like Christian Grey, I was always helpfully and sympathetically nearby to hand them tissue after the damage had been done.

shutterstock_140480929Still, despite the success of the rough-cut video, there were still plenty of problems to overcome, money-wise and knowledge-wise. The first one was the song I’d used to synch with the video. The second was the personal eulogies recorded by the friends.

Some of you may have a raised eyebrow over the use of the lyrics to “Can’t Cry Hard Enough” in the pre-video version. Fear not! In 2011 I had requested and was granted gratis permission from Peer Music to use the lyrics to “Can’t Cry Hard Enough” in Sleeping Beauty. Since I already had a relationship with the company, I contacted them to find out how to go about obtaining a license to use the song in my video.

Without boring you with a lot of detail (there are resources on the internet that tell you how to do this), there are multiple licenses one needs to obtain for a song before one can synch a recording to a video and make it available on the internet for sale: publishing, mechanical/synch, internet streaming…the list goes on! (And for added fun, these licenses are rarely held by the same entity.) My contact at Peer Music suggested taking the publishing license they were willing to grant for $500, and find a musician to cover the song. This would save me the trouble of trying to request licenses for the original song from Peer Music and Warner Music Group. “Plus you’ll own the song,” he told me.

I panicked a little. I mean, how much would it cost to hire someone to record a song? There would be studio costs, I’d have to pay the musician(s) for the time involved, and who knew what else? And there were also the two “impromptu eulogies” in the book version of the video that were recorded by the deceased’s best friends on a beach in California. I really wanted to include this, but how much was that going to cost? I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

And how in the world would I recoup my costs? For a self-published author, I have always believed in “pricing high” and rarely price my novels less than $4.99-$5.99. My hunch was that readers would balk at paying more than that.

That was when I realized that the “Money Problem” was a one-time problem and that the “Pricing Problem” was irrelevant. Before I explain, let me skip ahead here a bit and tell you that the creating, producing, and distributing this project ended up costing me about $900. Now, that’s not chump change, but for the quality of what you watched and the caliber of the people who were involved, it’s a bargain basement dream-come-true and certainly within the means of most gainfully employed self-published authors (or those lucky enough to be writing full-time).
Money problemMoney Problem solved.

The “how will I pay a musician and actors” problem was actually what made me realize that I was thinking about the “Pricing Problem” all wrong. First of all, the goals of self-published authors and traditional publishers aren’t necessarily always the same (nor can they be). Traditional publishers have a lot of capital and connections at their disposal, so it’s natural that they’d want to recoup the extra money spent on enhanced content by charging more for it.

I’d like to share with you an extract from an email I received on Wednesday, May 22. Note the sentence in bold [emphasis mine].

Dear Elle: I read Sleeping Beauty and thought it was a great read… I did not want it to end.

I get these kinds of emails, posts on Facebook and tweets on Twitter every day, most of them involving requests for a sequel to this book or that book. But there are other ways to extend the story for the reader beyond the last page. If you take away nothing else from this post, try to remember this:

itunesThe goal for self-published authors is not to figure out a way to charge extra for enhanced content because that goal is unlikely to be realized. No, the goal is as it ever was for novelists: to create a world within your novel that is so real and distinct and emotional that readers are reluctant to let it go, even after they reach “The End.” In business-speak, this means that you must monetize your enhanced content on the back end (which is a really fancy way of saying “make money from a different product after the consumer has already purchased the first product for the regular price”).

Pricing problemI decided that I would charge the same $4.99-$5.99 for my novels that I’ve always charged—even with the enhanced content in it—and instead I would focus on the song as a way to generate revenue, betting that my readers would love it as much as I do. I’d have the song recorded, upload it to iTunes and charge 99 cents/download. In fact, that would not only be the way I would monetize my enhanced content but the potential revenue from the song would give me a way to encourage other people (musicians, actors) to get involved in the project.

Bear in mind that while there have been times when my royalties have been high enough to allow me to pay a company to do these types of projects, my interest has always been how the average self-published author might do them. And the majority of self-published authors, I can assure you, are more worried about making the mortgage than dumping $10,000 into an enhanced content video. That means trying to think of how to do things on a shoestring, which invariably translates into 1) a DYI attitude and lots of elbow grease; 2) an understanding of the “you know people who know people” hypothesis.

You Know People Who Know People Who Know Lingerie

lingerieDespite constantly threatening to take Ana shopping, Christian Grey is a busy, busy man (all that food aid, yo) and he’s not always around when you need him, but that’s okay because Christian knows people who know people, and he has an army of staff to cater to his every need. And what he needs is for Ana to wear sexier, more expensive clothing. When Ana pukes all over herself and sleeps it off at in his hotel room, Christian’s bodyguard/lackey pops up the next morning with new jeans and “bra and panties…exquisitely designed fancy European lingerie.” In one of the few funny lines of the book, Ana muses: “I flush to think of Buzz Cut in some lingerie store buying this for me. I wonder what else is in his job description.”

So how does a Denver mid-list bestselling, self-published author  (i.e. me) go about throwing together a pretty decent video that features SAG actors on-location under the pier and on the beach in Santa Monica, California, as well a montage of photographs synched to a song performed by an award-winning artist whose song “We Ain’t Done Yet” was featured by Major League Baseball during the World Series—all of it going well beyond the level of a PowerPoint slide show and taking her e-book from sweat pants to lacy-thong-and-halter-neck-dress-level?

If you guessed that I pulled rank and used my awe-inspiring status as a bestselling novelist to get the right people on the phone and then threw handfuls of cash at them, that would be…well, laughable. First of all, very few self-published authors have any clout at all (and if they do, they don’t leverage it into e-book videos; they get themselves a seven-figure, print-only deal). As for the “handfuls of cash” idea, that would be utterly false; like I said before this entire project cost me approximately $900 out-of-pocket.

Now, people are often surprised by the creative ideas I throw out, telling me that they’ll involve a lot of money upfront. But the fact is that I know people who know people—and so do you. You just have to ask. When I needed a bunch of photographs of the heroines in my novels, I didn’t call up the priciest costumier, set designer and photographer in town to arrange a photo shoot. No, I simply found photographs on the internet that I wanted to recreate, put the word out that I was looking for someone who had a good camera and a knack for photography, recruited one of my dance troupe friends to help me scour craft stores for the necessary items, another friend to be one of the models, rented a dress and bought a few cheap wigs and viola! May I present the heroines from The Frog Prince, Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, and Rapunzel…all shot in one day for about $800, including props.

Book Heroines Photo Shoot

When I needed someone to cover the song “Can’t Cry Hard Enough,” I put a post on my Facebook page asking if anyone knew someone who would do it and I heard back from dozens of people! I also asked a few musician friends I know if they’d be interested. Some weren’t but one of them, Andy Hackbarth, said he was.

Andy Hackbarth

Andy Hackbarth

You might go to Andy’s website and think, “Oh, well, this guy is an award-winning singer and songwriter. I don’t know any award-winning singers and songwriters.” First of all, you might not, but you do know musicians (or know people who know musicians) who would love to tackle this kind of project. Also, you’re probably jumping to conclusions about how I know Andy in the first place; it’s not because I’m a bestselling novelist—far from it! I met Andy in 2009 when he was setting up to play a gig at the Mercury Cafe in Denver and I was upstairs at a Lindy Hop/swing dance event. We exchanged phone numbers and have been friends ever since. (And it’s worth pointing out that back in 2009 I hadn’t even finished The Frog Prince.)

I showed Andy the video and told him that instead of paying him upfront, I would be interested in doing a song revenue split with him. For every download for 99 cents, I would have to pay 9.1 cents to Peer Music for the licenses. That still left me with 91 cents so I offered Andy 20 cents/download if he would record the song. He agreed and within just a few days the song was ready. I thought I could never love a song as much as I love the original but it was perfect.

Next, I had to tackle the problem of the eulogies. Should I include them or not? Honestly, my rough-cut video didn’t include the eulogies and it made women from 18-81 cry like infants, so why bother? I finally decided that I would at least put a little effort into troubleshooting it and if I couldn’t find a feasible solution within a few days I’d just move on without it. Then I picked up the phone and called my friend Daniel Brothers.

Again, you may think, after watching the video, that I have all these great connections because I’m an author but it’s simply not true. I’ve known Danny since 2006 when he was a film student at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He was making a movie short for a student project and needed children for some of the parts. I was acquainted with his parents so I agreed to let my two kiddos take part in the project.

[An amusing anecdote here: when Danny couldn’t find anyone to play the bitchy, tired single mother of the lead in the film, he roped me into doing it. This won’t even require any acting! I thought. I’ll just show up and act like I do every day at home! Anyway, this is why when you search my name on, there is an entry for me for a movie short called “Wings.” End of anecdote.]

Tyler and Dove

Tyler Cook and Dove Meir.

Fast forward to 2013. Daniel Brothers now owns a production company in L.A. I explained the project to him and he not only agreed to take part but immediately emailed me head shots of several actors he thought would fit the part based on my descriptions. What can I say? Some people have a knack for this sort of thing. Out of all the head shots he emailed, the first two, Dove Meir and Tyler Cook, were exactly what I envisioned for the characters. As for his costs, I offered to cover those once revenue from the song (which I now owned) started coming in.

No Fancy Pants, Please

Of course, there are readers who are not excited about the prospect of anything besides the written word invading their reading experience, and I get that—I really do. Fear not, because I’ve anticipated the needs of those readers as well. If a reader would rather not access the enhanced content, they can simply click a link that skips the video and allows them to go on and read the prose description of the video. The reader misses no part of the story by skipping the interactive content and everyone wins.

sleeping beauty

Album cover for “Sleeping Beauty Novel Soundtrack”

The song “Can’t Cry Hard Enough” on the album “Sleeping Beauty Novel Soundtrack” (no, seriously) is available on iTunes. Oh, and you may recognize the photograph we used for the album cover.

If you have any questions about how the video was created, please feel free to leave it in the comments and I will answer it as soon as possible! And, as always, thank you for reading.



Expert Publishing Blog
Elle Lothlorien

About Elle Lothlorien

A “military brat,” Elle Lothlorien was born in Germany and spent her childhood in such far-flung places as Puerto Rico, Charleston, S.C., Italy, and Washington D.C. Sadly, the only language she ever became semi-fluent in is English. Elle’s first two self-published romantic comedies, THE FROG PRINCE and SLEEPING BEAUTY went on to become Amazon bestsellers. She is considered a “reluctant expert” on the business of electronic, independent publishing (also called “indie-publishing”), and frequently writes and speaks on the topic. Elle lives in Denver, Colorado. She keeps two dachshunds around the house to provide comic relief. Find out more about her and her books by going to her website, or by following her on Facebook and Twitter.

6 thoughts on “THING 4. From Sweatpants to Lingerie: Enhanced Content for Your Natural Assets (and Your E-Book)

  1. NoTalentHack

    Hi. Thanks for sharing this; I’d often wondered how an independent author might go about creating enhanced content. It looks as if you’ve got a workable process. Your video is great – how long did it take to shoot the guys on the beach? Also, how much enhanced content do you think should be included in a typical ebook? While I realize a lot of your motivation was to experiment with the form, it seems to me most readers (maybe that’s the wrong word) who are seeking enhanced content are going to expect more than one video. Wouldn’t that drive the cost up significantly?

    1. Elle LothlorienElle Lothlorien Post author

      I am very glad you enjoyed the video. As for the portion shot on location in Santa Monica on the beach…I was 1,500 miles away in Denver when this took place but the producer tells me it took a few hours. These were professional, working actors and there weren’t that many lines. My guess is that it took longer to set up the equipment than it did to shoot it. 🙂

      “…how much enhanced content do you think should be included in a typical ebook?”
      It just depends. If it’s a graphic novel or a children’s book, perhaps you could include a lot. I think authors need to be very, VERY careful with enhanced content in fiction. There’s a very real danger that the concept could be overdone and turn readers off. If I was reading a book and there was a hyperlink, graphic, audio or video jumping out at me every other page, I would stop reading it. I tried very hard to make the enhanced content in this case what was already a NATURAL PART OF THE STORY. I am not in favor of authors contriving situations *during* the writing process that they could later develop into enhanced content. It just so happened to work out for one of my books this way.

      “Wouldn’t that drive the cost up significantly?”
      The cost of producing the enhanced content? Or the cost of the book for the reader? Not every type of enhanced content will include video. A character could show another character a photograph and the reader would have the option of viewing the photo. An author could do that for the cost of one Shutterstock download.

  2. Doug Welch

    Extraordinary! Incredibly creative! Thank you for sharing this. Like you, I felt enhanced eBooks were out of the question for self-published authors, especially those who wrote fiction but now you’ve given me a new perspective on the issue. And the video is superb. I’m in awe. It’s certainly something to think about.

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