I looked at a bunch and then decided to categorize them into five catchy nearly arbitrary categories depending on their approach.
- The Blurb Spot,
- The Mood Medley,
- The Narrative Snippet, <<<<<< YOU ARE HERE
- The God-Awful Infomercial, and
- The “Hey Looky Here!”
Done? Okay, good. Your country thanks you. (I can feel the royalties rolling in.)
Book trailers are a convergence of film making, literature and commercials. In the Narrative Snippet, the film making aspect is most pronounced.
The main characteristics of this type of book trailer is long narrative reading and visual portrayal (acting) of the narrative. Material is usually pulled directly from the story, actors are often employed to portray characters from the book, and long narrative snippets are acted out or narrated over the action.
Because of their complexity, Narrative Snippet Trailers, also often include production credits because so many people can be involved in their making. They are little movies.
Now grab your popcorn and settle in.
We’re going to look first at a trailer for Ann Marie Meyer’s Middle Grade book, Up in the Air. (I interviewed Ann Marie a while ago and at the time didn’t know she had a trailer. Or I did and forgot. I’m glad to have an opportunity to publish it now. It’s cool.)
Jolly Fish Press, who is my publisher too for Eleanor and The Finger Trap, but more on that later.
Ann Marie’s trailer captures the essence of the book - childhood imagination and play. Who hasn’t dreamed of flying? Who doesn’t know the exhilaration of swinging? Who hasn’t tried to recapture that feeling at forty-six and found themselves throwing up at a school play ground?
You can see elements of the Book Blurb and the Mood Medley as I’ve discussed before particularly at the end with quotes from reviewers and such, but the heart of the trailer is the snippet narrated over the swinging girl. Those words are, appropriately enough, the first lines of Chapter One of Up in the Air. Spiffy.
Ann Marie uses this trailer not only on the internet but at live events. She tells me it
is a great ice-breaker for young audiences when she speaks at schools and libraries, which as a Middle Grade/YA author she’s want to do. It’s a fantastic segue into discussing the book as a whole and capturing kids’ attention.
While we’re in a light mood, let’s look now at the book trailer for Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, by Jane Austen (yes, that Jane Austen) and Ben H. Winters.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, are all about. Like the book, the trailer pretends to be a typical historical drama but we get a twist. The trailer does in video what the book does in text - turn an established, recognizable genre on its ear.
We’ve all read Austen (I hope) and other period pieces, and seen our share of them brought to life on the screen. Maybe your wife just made you sit through an insufferable display of hours of Keira Knightley in gossamer clothes pining at the camera as Elizabeth Bennet looking like she’s waiting on a hiccup until you want to suck our own eyes out of your heads with a shop vac. Then again, maybe you haven’t had that experience, but you’ll still understand the reference to historical drama/melodrama that the video and book are all about.
Building upon established and familiar tropes - Jane Austen, historical romance, mealy-mouthed easily offended sniveling Nineteenth Century middle class English female characters, we’re entertained by the addition of a sea monster. It’s refreshing, and if we just endured Knightly’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice, we might even have cheered when one of the characters is dragged to a terrible death. Maybe it wasn't the exact character we wanted to see dragged away, but it’s close and that makes us happy. I know I smiled.
This trailer is great. It is effective and funny and I dare say, probably more successful than the book it’s selling. This trailer was Amazon's Best Book Video of 2009 (Editor's Choice). I didn’t even know there was such a thing, but there is, and this video won it. Cool beans. Thus the trailer itself has become an honored work of art, transcending its origin as a solicitation meant to direct interest elsewhere, to a piece of art in and of itself. I don’t know how many people actually bought Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, let alone read it, (I couldn’t get through the first one), but as of this writing, on YouTube alone, 382,000+ people have seen this two and a half minute trailer. That is some exposure. You’ll probably send a link of it to someone you know now. It’s that good.
I’m not sure that the dialog and events shown in the Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters trailer actually happen in the book, but we can assume it’s a good representation of what we might expect to find in it. Similarly in the next trailer, I doubt what we see actually happens events from the story, but this dramatic narrative serves to introduce the book and present us with its moods themes it contains. Check out this trailer for Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.
Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children went on to be a New York Time’s best-selling book, number 1 in fact. My jealousy will not be going away any time soon. The trailer has 350,000 YouTube views which makes it very successful there too.
So here we have a self-made book trailer taken to another level. Riggs is a visual artist as well as an author and Quirk Books is a fan of the book trailer (they published Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters) This produced a perfect storm of creative ability, license and budget.
This trailer is particularly effective at directing attention to the book it's advertising. It’s slick and engrossing, emotional and evocative and a cliff-hanger. It introduces the book without revealing much about it. My interest is piqued. And what is it about old photographs that is so damn creepy? Really. It cuts to the bone. Well done Riggs, well done indeed. Call me when you're in Utah. I'll buy you a drink. I know where to find them.
Speaking of creepy, check out this next trailer for Greg Chapman’s Horror Novella, The Noctuary.
Richard Grove, a professional actor I know from Army of Darkness beside my beloved Bruce Campbell. Greg met Richard through his horror writing acquaintance, Lisa Morton, who’s at the heart of lots of things Horror, not the least of which is some kind of involvement with The Bram Stoker Awards which overlooked my debut occult thriller BEATRYSEL for first novel this year.
Not that I’m bitter.
The credits on YouTube claim that Greg’s trailer was “Made with Windows Movie Maker and Adobe Soundbooth.” Simple tools in the hands of a talented artist. Richard, as Greg’s friend, donated the awesome voice work. It’s good to have friends.
What I love most about this trailer is how straight-forward it is while still competing (if that’s the right word) with the other heavily produced examples we’ve looked at today. The strengths of this trailer are its images and words. These elements are the actual work of the artist (Dawn Dominique is credited for the illustration book, but Greg did these for the trailer). Add to this a sinister soundtrack, a professional voice actor, and simple video effects, it delivers a real chill for a chilling book. I’m interested.
Greg calls the trailer his “primary marketing tool.”
A trailer like this has much in common with an author reading– you know, those awkward events at bookstores publishers put together before parking a starving author at a table behind a stack of books looking forlornly at bookstore patrons trying not to make eye contact. Yeah, before the lonely sharpie spinning time at the table in the corner, the author often gets a few minutes and a microphone to read from their book. This is the live form of this kind of Narrative Snippet. Think how much heartbreak can be saved if video stores would just show cool book trailers like this one?
Since a book trailer can be seen online anytime you want, downloaded, owned, distributed and stored, a direct narrative snippet like this it can also be likened to a free chapter that publishers often offer online as way to grab a reader’s interest. In a lazy society like ours where attention span is measure in soundbites and reading for pleasure is a dying hobby, updating an effective marketing strategy like free chapters into a Narrative Snippet book trailer is a natural positive evolution.
I know I’m going long today. So we’ll wrap this up with a video sent me by Simon Sylvester who said “this is the best one I’ve ever seen.” Take a look at the book trailer for Gun Machine by Warren Ellis.
Mulholland Books published Gun Machine. They have some clout. Not only did William Gibson (my hero) give the book a blurb which appears in the trailer but they got Wil Wheaton to narrate it. Don’t get me wrong, Ellis is good, really good – his prose crackles and his book is awesome, but so is this trailer.
Gun Machine isn’t illustrated, but when you’re putting written prose to visual imagery, illustrations are a good way to go. Ben Templesmith (an illustrator of some renown) does the drawing here and it’s interesting to just watch the pictures come together in this video. Hell, I’d watch it just for that. Add, the noir narration and it’s a solid winner. Is it the best one I’ve ever seen? I don’t know, but it’s awesome.
Okay, I’ll leave you alone. Go back to work. Feel free to comment on this down below. I’d like to think someone’s getting something out of all this. Oh, and go buy BEATRYSEL too and look for my short story The Point, in Little Visible Delight.
Next week I'll be at the Life The Universe and Everything convention so there might not be a blog post, or there might be several, but about other things. But soon I'll get to "The God-Awful Informercial" and the "Hey Looky Here" book trailer, plus some quotes from insiders about the phenomena and effectiveness of book trailers. Maybe.