Coming to a Book Near You: Awful and Awesome Book Trailers

September 2, 2010


In a world where movie adaptations corrupt the imagination (picture Harry Potter, not Daniel Radcliffe), book trailers — videos for would-be bestsellers — were inevitable. Is this bad? Good? Silly? “I think on the whole they’re a stupid thing,” says Dennis Johnson, head of Melville House Publishing and founder of the Moby Awards (like Emmys for book trailers). Still, “it’s another way to talk about books.” Some aren’t half-bad — and the travesties offer the sad hilarity of a kid’s botched science project. So, load up YouTube and join us where low budgets and high culture meet!

STANDARD ISSUE
The most common format is essentially a histrionic PowerPoint presentation that outlines the story in a simplistic manner. Most often seen promoting horror, crime, suspense and teen fiction.

» Example: The video for Meg Cabot’s vampire novel “Insatiable,” a send-up of genre trailers, has all the critical elements — portentous voiceover/text/music, mugging actors, generically moody photos.

» Is This Useful? “They do as good a job of telling you what the book is about as a commercial for cornflakes does of telling you what a box of cornflakes is about,” says Johnson.

» Dangers: Consumers may decide to skip the reading part and just say they can’t wait for the movie.

AUTHOR TALKY-TALK
Writer stares into camera and, often visibly uncomfortable, muses about his/her latest work.

» Example: Notorious Oprah-hater Jonathan Franzen begins his soliloquy on “Freedom” with “this might be a good place for me to register my profound discomfort at having to make videos like this.”

» Is This Useful? Talky-Talk can lend valuable perspective to a text — unless you’re a post-structuralist, in which case, shut up. Also, most authors aren’t going to be on TV, so how else can you tell if they’re hot (hey, Jeannette Walls) or if the cover photo was just well-lit (everyone else)?

» Dangers: Readers may find themselves disillusioned if their favorite novelist turns out to be a tool.

BY FANS, FOR FANS
Largely confined to teen and vampire literature. Most consist of film clips cobbled into a faux movie preview.

» Example: Devotees of the Hunger Games and Vampire Academy series are masters of the form. A rare non-cinematic example is “Drip Drop,” a parody of Key$ha’s “Tik Tok” summarizing David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas.” It’s likely the only fan video ever made for a Booker-shortlister.

» Is It Useful? They are a gauge to rabidness of fan base, not much else.

» Danger: The film-style trailers use shots of real actors, so you risk having Hayden Panettiere seared into your brain as the heroine before starting “Teen Vampire Metaphor for Sex and High School.”

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
A minority are legitimately awesome. “The best ones have been the funniest ones,” says Johnson. “It’s a good form for humor because it’s short.”

» Example: The video for “Super Sad True Love Story” stars author Gary Shteyngart as an illiterate version of himself; James Franco and several famous writers cameo. Shteyngart became better versed in the trailer medium only after making his own: “Now I sort of understand exactly what I’m satirizing.”

» Is It Useful? Artier efforts may not say much about plot, but they do convey tone. And they’re good publicity! Shteyngart says he was recognized as “that dude who can’t read” by a passerby in Manhattan.

» Danger: Threat Level Zero!

BOOK TRAILERS: SO EASY, ANYBODY CAN MAKE ONE! (EVEN US)
1) Free music. We layered GarageBand’s pre-recorded tracks for an “original” score. Or try Incompetech.com‘s compositions.

2) Ominous text. Nix the voiceover and set the mood with title cards. Start with “In a world where …”

3) Dramatic stock photos. Free images are easy to come by. Stockvault.net is a great source. Lightning is a classic choice.

4) Critical acclaim. Quotes from influential names are a must. We used: “Express … moved USA Today one notch up the food chain.” — Erik Wemple

5) Conclusion. Don’t forget to show the book! To see our trailer, view the embedded video above.

UP THE AWFUL/AWESOME
Add a new dimension to any ad with YouTube’s Transcribe Audio, which uses speech recognition to create on-the-fly captions that mangle anything more complex than a Midwesterner enunciating in an empty room. Click the “CC” in the lower-right of the player. (If it’s not there, you’re out of luck.) Choose “Transcribe Audio.” Enjoy.

Photo Illustration by Express

Holly J. Morris is Express' managing editor for features.
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