Thursday, May 08, 2008

Book Trailers Examined

Book trailers are a source of fascination right now in both the publishing industry and the blogging world. Publishers like them because they're internet-friendly marketing devices for books, which were previously pretty tough to represent online. Bloggers like trailers, I think, because they give them some moving pictures and sound to jazz up their otherwise fairly static, text-heavy sites. And, occasionally, something to mock.

Most often, the book trailer acts as a platform for the author to talk about the book in a straightforward, interview style. This is by far the most common type of book trailer, and, I think, the least effective. Trailers of this style fail for a number of reason, not the least of which are unintentionally humorous background scores or unwanted secondary "messages." Take this trailer for Tom Rob Smith's new thriller Child 44, which is a favorite new book of many here at Vroman's, but which got a merely okay review from Janet Maslin in the New York Times today (I'm having some trouble embedding this video, so if it doesn't appear follow this link to watch it):

The author sits in his apartment with a drab yet beautiful view of some European city and more or less tells you what the book is about. Okay, except that what he's saying isn't as interesting to me as his apartment (which probably says something about me?). Sweet digs! This video plays like porn for aspiring authors: Work hard on your novel, and someday people will watch a video of you as you sit in your shabby-chic leather chair in your minimalist apartment and intone meaningfully about your atmospheric thriller. Since I imagine all novelists spend two hours each day writing and four hours imagining themselves on Charlie Rose, I suspect that authors secretly like this kind of book trailer quite a bit (although, when asked on Charlie Rose, they'll say it's just part of the business, and that they're not really into the whole "branding thing").

A more successful strategy is to make a sort of clever short film out the trailer. The gold standard for this sort of trailer is the fingers-as-legs short film promoting Sloane Crosley's I Was Told There'd Be Cake:

Clever, right? It says something about the book in a memorable way, and yet doesn't have a single talking head. Talking heads are boring, no matter how interesting or attractive they are. [I have to stop here for a second and go on my Sloane Crosley rant. About two weeks ago, every single publishing industry-centric blog ran like twenty stories about Sloane Crosley, talking about how she was everywhere and wasn't it amazing and how would she deal with the backlash...What I gathered from these posts, whether it was intended or not, is that a lot of bloggers think Sloane Crosley is really cute. Was that the primary message of those posts? No, but it was definitely there. I'm not saying any of this to be critical of Sloane Crosley, who is, let's face it, cute, and whose book seems funny, and who is obviously, judging from her book trailer and her dioramas, way more creative than the average bear. But enough already, bloggers! Show a little dignity. I mean Tom Rob Smith is kind of dreamy in a Hugh Laurie-meets-Chris Martin kind of way, but you don't see people sending him virtual teddy bears on Facebook now, do you? And if I see one more post that starts with "I Was Told There'd Be [A Launch Party, A Blog Post, An Interview]," I will go on a three state killing spree (or curse silently at my desk, whichever is more convenient at the time). Okay, that felt good. Back to the post.] Is it a coincidence that Sloane Crosley is a publicist and that her book trailer is a little more savvy than the others? I think not.

So when your publicist wants you to sit down for an interview for the book trailer, and you're in a conference room at Simon and Schuster with a bottle of Volvic water and there's a big poster of your book behind you, rather than thank god you wore your tweed jacket, think of the fingers. If your people insist on the talking head format, maybe you can demand that you appear shrouded in shadow, like a corporate whistle-blower, or that you be animated, Waking Life style. That might be fun. Anyway, I'm curious to hear from others what book trailers they like and why?

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