Friday, November 18, 2011

Book Trailers

How do we feel about book trailers?

Sure, movies have been borrowing from books almost since movies began.  Books borrowing from movies?  Not unless it is a lame novelization.  More specifically:  trailers?  The book world has long relied on good cover art (though publishers have weird ideas on "good" sometimes) and the back of the book blurb.  Maybe some quotes by cool authors who endorse the book.  We relied on the bookstore.  You wandered through the isles.  Maybe pick up a book based on cover or name familiarity here or there.  You read the back blurb.  If it holds any appeal, you flip open to a few random pages not only to get a real sense of this authors' style and whether you mesh with the story, but also:  the smell.  You smell the wood pulpy, acidized and ink smell.

But here's the problem.  You can't smell a book found on an internet site.  Kindles don't smell either.  Bookstores are dying.  Even the really amazing hole in the wall used bookstores where you find things not even in print anymore.  And the whole world smells of dust and books.

So a new industry is born:  book trailers.  The problem is we are still media people.  We aren't book trailer people.  My friend Reeb (yes, he was named that at birth) cuts trailers in L.A.  He went to film school and was always at least a head and probably a whole body above his peers.  But it took him a while to get used to trailers.

Trailers are their own beasts.  Still shots and voice overs don't cut it.  Maybe you are using motion, actors, a film camera and lighting.  That still doesn't mean you know how to make a trailer.  Trailers are dada post modern nuggets.  Watch movie trailers.  It's quick, flashy cuts and random lines that are oh-so-quotable.  Does it really tell you what the movie is about?  No.  It just has to get your interest.  It may be even employing scenes that hit the cutting room floor long before--that you will never see.  Trailer editors watch one movie, over and over and over till they have the damn thing permanently ingrained in their brains.  They look for that one moment they can use to get your attention.  That split second cut you won't even notice go by.  The name of the game is to get your attention, because they have a minute or so on a commercial break to do it if they are lucky.

The book world needs to study this art intensively.  Watch successful trailers from the movie world over and over.  Read the book over and over and over looking for those exact spots and lines to use.  Or deviate completely and have something not happening in the book happen.  It's a joyous, boundless, near nonsensical art and we need to study it to know how to adapt it.  Books force a certain linear sense.  Even the nonlinear novel generally is read by paging forward.  A trailer isn't looking for a linear, nugget of a story.  You are not reinventing your query letter on film.

If we are going to learn this art--because at the moment I think we are mostly sucking--we have to learn movie trailers, and then we have to learn what we can take from them and what we need to adapt.  We definitely need to have some more fun with the damn things.

The one I'm working on will probably be a little longer than a standard movie trailer.  I feel I have the room as I will be working off the net and not being crammed between things on TV or before a movie.  Still, I'm keeping it short.  My next book out is Shining in Darkness--the first high fantasy I'm putting out, though of course people are still sarcastic and petty.  Sprites, the size of humans, each focus one particular facet of the One--everything.  Firelight, the main character, for instance, is a white hot burning fire sprite and is made of flames.  A Prophecy is involved.  Half Gods fight.  Rollicking fun.

However, I have chosen to do the movie trailer with stop motion animation of My Little Pony gore.

There is a reason for the My Little Ponies.  Mysterious to all but a few who know me well.  Someday I may reveal it.  Or maybe you can guess.


  1. I have not, to date, seen a book trailer that leaves me dying to read the book any more than I pay any attention to Amazon's (or Netflix's for that matter)"recommended for you" lists. I have seen a lot of movie trailers that really make me want to watch the film (sometimes I am also really sorry after I have watched it). You are right, flashing from still shot to still shot with Musak in the background and a voice over just doesn't do it. However, in the movies - even if the trailer includes parts of the film that were cut, at least the characters in the trailer are in the movie. The thing I love the most about books is that I can imagine the characters any way I want (generally consistent with descriptions in the book). I would hate to see book trailers that use live action actors to promo books. I am looking forward to your Little ponys and hope others stick to anamation of one kind or another. It is easier to dismiss when i actually get to the book.

  2. I miss bookstores for all the reasons you mentioned, but yes, I think trailers for books probably are the coming things.

    My Little Pony gore? Really?

  3. That's true, Rick. An actor-based trailer preempts any imaginative visualization of the characters--or at least it could. Then again, the same could be said about many book covers, which I am in the habit of ignoring entirely as a reader, but cause much angst among writers. We don't have the choice of who we work with, usually, and many a poor writer gets stuck with a cover that they feel completely doesn't represent the book/is so damn ugly or boring it will hurt sales. I've been lucky. The artist chosen to do my covers--Stuart Downing--I am in love with.