30 Nov How to Sell A Book In America (part IX): the Video Trailer

If you haven’t heard of book trailers, that’s understandable. They’re something new and, so far, untested. But they appear to be growing in popularity. Book trailers are like movie trailers, except they’re for books. You may wonder why anyone would produce a trailer for a book because, at first glance, it doesn’t make sense: a video that promotes a text? A movie trailer, on the other hand, make sense because it’s simply an extension of the movie: excerpts from the film itself. But there’s no rule that says a certain medium, like text, must confine its advertising to that same medium. So, video trailers are to books what audio (radio) trailers are to movies or print ads are to music albums. At bottom, the book trailer is an indication of how we’re mixing media to good effect these days.

I made an animated trailer for my illustrated novel, Kiss Me, Stranger, because a trailer made sense — it brings the book alive and puts the story in front of readers in a very direct and (I hope) intriguing way: Kiss Me Stranger trailer. Think of the book trailer as a pitch to prospective readers. It’s the most direct, effective pitch you can make because it employs sight and sound, music and motion. Static text can’t compete at this level. If you send an e-mail blast out to 1,000 prospective readers, chances are more of them will take the time to view a brief video than read a paragraph synopsis.

Still, many writers look askance at book trailers. Terese Svoboda, who made a trailer (her fourth) for her latest novel, Bohemian Girl admits: “Making a book trailer can be very expensive and time consuming, the time which could be better spent writing or in conversation about your new book.” Bohemian Girl Trailer here.

Steve Almond, who made a trailer to promote his latest story collection, God Bless America, adds, “Trailers probably are a waste of time and money — if you spend time and money on them. Mine cost me a grand total of maybe ten hours to make. Given that I waste that much time avoiding writing most days, I figured it was worth
a shot. My ‘pay’ to the amazing young women who filmed and edited (Burnt Twig Productions) is a gift basket that will include books and homemade CDs”: God Bless America trailer.

Even though I don’t have a filmmaking background like Terese Svoboda, I made my own trailer, animating it still-by-still in Photoshop, simply because I had no other resources. I asked friends to serve as voice talent, then recruited a splendid composer friend, David Smooke, to do the score. All for free. My second trailer — From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story – was also low budget, except this time a filmmaker friend, David Grossbach, offered to shoot it for me: From Our House to Animal House: A Love Story.

Obviously, it helps to network. Or, better yet, like Jessica Anya Blau, to be married to a filmmaker. The trailer to her first book, The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, is the work of a professional with an auteur’s flare (the same David Grossbach) : The Summer of Nake Swim Parties trailer. The trailer for her new book, Drinking Closer to Home is something completely different.

Carolyn Parkhurst was willing to pay for production to make a trailer for her novel, The Nobodies Album, but found “most … video production companies … were looking for corporate projects, not a quirky, low-budget, one-time deal.” So she emailed her friends for help and one of them introduced her to just the right filmmaker, Gabriel Rhodes. “He and cinematographer Hope Hall were great at throwing around ideas and putting the whole thing together”: The Nobodies Album trailer.

Michael Downs, for his debut story collection, The Greatest Show, enjoyed a similar experience with filmmaker Brian McDermott, who “shaped [my idea] in so many ways. . . . He found performers and scheduled the filming.” Downs is convinced that it’s more than worth it to “spend the money on a pro.” He also points out that making a video trailer is one of the few opportunities writers have to collaborate with other artists: “[My trailer] stands alone … as the collaboration of five artists, thrilling and disturbing in its own ways – far better than anything I could have imagined on my own”: the Greatest Show trailer.

Should every writer try to make a trailer? Carolyn Parkhurst says she’ll make another “only if I have an idea that will engage and entertain people.” “Don’t do it,” Michael Downs advises, “unless you have an idea that has a shot at going viral.” Steve Almond says, “If I do [make another trailer], it would only be to have FUN. It should feel like a creative act, not a promotional one.” I agree: if it’s not creative fun, why bother?

If you do make a trailer, Terese Svoboda says, “keep it simple and, if at all possible, funny.” And, cautions Jessica Anya Blau, “Make it shorter than you think–60 to 90 seconds. People don’t realize that three minutes is too long to ask someone to watch something that’s not about them!” “Try to find a student filmmaker,” Steve Almond suggests, “someone who’ll work on it with you as a creative act … Honestly, with the current technology, there’s no reason not to make your own trailer, if you have an idea that excites you.”

For me, it’s a creative challenge. I like making things. Why not a book trailer? Carolyn Parkhurst sums it up aptly for American writers at this literary/marketing juncture: “The book industry is at a weird moment right now. It’s less clear than it used to be what’s going to make people buy one book instead of another. We’re all throwing ideas around, and any strategy an author comes up with has as much chance of being successful as a strategy a publicist comes up with. But none of us seem to know quite what to do.”

This post originally appeared on the Baltimore Sun blog, Read Street