By Anna Patrick, Associate Digital Publicist
When a new movie first starts generating buzz, what is the first thing that pops up when you Google the title? The movie trailer. So many authors and publishing practitioners in the book world have been asking: does this translate for books?
Book trailers are a fairly new trend, and while the debate over their worth has echoed across the vast reaches of book blogs and social media, the answer seems to fall into an abyss of the “yes,” “no,” “maybe” chorus that has left many in the book community still scratching their heads.
First, let’s address the cons: they can expensive, returns on investment can be unclear, and they will likely never outrank Amazon, Goodreads, and broad platform book blogs on a google search.
Jonathan Franzen’s book trailer for Freedom speaks to the sigh of defeat that the publishing industry and many authors feel about the potential of cheapening literature through the medium of film:
Some literary journalists have condemned the use of visual advertisements as well, such as Shirin Najafi from Rumpus who wrote: “A trailer inherently removes an element of the imagination process… by suggesting a sort of inadequacy.”
However, with that said, a great book trailer can captivate an audience in a different way than the typical text-based review can, and the novelty of giving a book a visual canvas to play off of can get an author attention that might otherwise be skimmed over in a traditional book review or feature. Many practitioners in the publishing industry as well as both first-time and seasoned authors have opened up to the concept of the book trailer because despite the aggravation of complying with YouTube, their mission, ultimately, is to get books into the hands of readers.
Sites like Buzzfeed, Book Trailers For Readers, and Rate My Book Video have gained in popularity by featuring book trailers, and in some cases allow authors to upload their own directly for promotional purposes.
In short: if readers can emotionally connect to what they see on screen, they can connect to your book. Goodreads and Amazon both feature a video section on a book or author page, so even if the overall viewership of book trailers are called into question it can be argued that a book trailer can work to compliment existing content.
Here are a few great book trailers, and a look at what made them successful:
Gary Shteyngart’s book trailer for his memoir, Little Failure, features famous actors.
Penguin Random House decided to bring some major star power to Shteyngart’s book trailer for his new memoir Little Failure. The powerhouse cast included James Franco, Rashida Jones, Alex Karpovsky from HBO’s Girls, Jonathan Franzen, and Sloane Crosley.
In this hilarious trailer Franco and Shteyngart are set opposite each other as starry-eyed lovers. For those authors or publishing houses who may not be looking to budget around star recruitment, there is still a powerful takeaway from this trailer: it worked for Shteyngart because it let the audience see his signature strengths unfold, showcasing his celebrated self-deprecating humor and infamous social satire. In the trailer the viewer gets a sense of Shteyngart’s voice and style, and leaves potential readers wanting to know more.
The Little Failure book trailer exemplifies that successful book trailers should capture the author’s voice in a way that is compelling and honest. But being backed by star power certainly doesn’t hurt.
Joe McCormack’s “Brief,” stars the author himself in a short and telling trailer.
Author Joe McCormack captured the essense of his book on screen in a total of 47 seconds - which is a feat in itself.
What worked for McCormack in this trailer was that it did justice to the title and message of the book: it was brief. In Brief McCormack sets today’s social landscape as noisy and rife with distractions that lead the average person to stop reading an email after 30 seconds or less and to check their smartphone over 100 times per day. In order for a book trailer, or any form of film clip, to compete with this information overload is for it to be short and pack a punch.
This book trailer highlights the potential that authors have to not only create a book trailer that grabs readers, but to do so in a way that is manageable. McCormack pulled his team together to make the trailer, from the narrator to the filmographer, and perfectly communicated what a reader can expect from picking up his book. For a book about communication, McCormack represented both himself as an author, and his book, truthfully.
In less than a minute viewers are left with a dynamic image of the author as well as the book. Ultimately, a successful book trailer will allow the central message of the book to act as its true north in the screen-writing and creation process.
The book trailer for Theory of Remainders by Scott Dominic Carpenter (Winter Goose Publishing), focuses on mood and reviews.
Carpenter’s trailer for Theory of Remainders, by Red 14 Films, employs heavy pathos to lull readers into the grey, gritty mood that they can expect from within the book’s pages.
From this trailer, which almost reads like the trailer of an Oscar-winning film, the mood of the book is clearly translated to potential readers. With only critical acclaims as bread crumbs, viewers follow Carpenter’s descent into a world of angst and unease without clamoring for additional detail.
In this example, cinematography is enough to allow readers to grasp what they can expect from Theory of Remainders. The author himself does not appear in the minute-long clip, yet his presence can be felt, as if he has become a ghost of himself like the man whose existential disconent plays out on the screen before us.
Though these are just a small sampling of the plethora of gripping trailers that have come to light in the last two years, we can take the growing presence of book trailers as a testament to the expanding reach of books on film, solidifying the sentiment that books have a flexible cross-medium hold on readers that allows room for endless possibility.