Monday, January 30, 2012

Book Trailers - What's the Deal?

It seems to me that the whole concept of book trailers has taken the world by storm in the past couple of years.  I wonder where the concept even came from. I do recall seeing TV commercials for L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics, when I was a kid. But I either never noticed others, or that was pretty much it. Well, unless you count the thing the Latter Day Saints used to do. But I'm having a real hard time figuring out the origin of non religious books as trailers.

Regardless, I've heard a few marketing professionals chime in on the subject and say that they aren't so sure that even the very best ones are that effective in pulling in prospective readers.

Me, I think it's much more likely to make the book being marketed come off as corny. And me being one of those creative types, I would absolutely love to put one together. If I had the time, I would spend a good couple of months putting it together - and as one of those people that really wants to do everything myself, I'd also probably try to do everything from creating the background music, to shooting the footage, to adding the special effects. I would probably end up pouring my heart and soul into a 60 second thing that a few dozen people would actually watch, and even fewer would appreciate.

Which is why I hope I never get it in my mind to make one.

But, thankfully, other people do that sort of stuff. Like I mentioned before, I think the vast majority of book trailers are embarrassingly bad. A small percentage are fine, but do little to peak my interest beyond what I might have already felt about the book being marketed, and just a very, very few, are pretty damn good.

Now, last week, Alex J Cavanaugh was politely asking for folks to hop on over and vote for his book trailer in a competition at You Gotta Read Videos.

The voting ended, and our intrepid hero, Alex, finished in third place. There appeared to be a late rush in voting that allowed him to rise in rankings and place third in order to receive his award for excellence. My humble opinion is that he should have won the darn thing, as his trailer is just amazing - not to take away anything from the others that entered, I did spend time this week trying to watch them all, and some of the others were also pretty good. But it is rather subjective,  I just think Alex's is pitch perfect. Why? Well, let me give you an example of one that is by all accounts, amazing, yet still somehow manages to be corny:

That was about as big of a production as I've ever seen for a book trailer. Complete with pretty cool fx, slow motion filming, choreographed fight scenes, excellent costuming, and even live animals. That was not cheap to make - there was an investment of real money in this. My first impression was that it was a stunning achievement. But a repeat viewing made me think of those straight to SyFy movies that are a bit awkwardly acted and somehow always find a way to miss the mark. And when I think of it in those terms, I realize that is what I'm looking at here. I'm disappointed. Yes, it is unbelievably awesome, but it's still cheesy.

Because once you start involving actors things get real complicated - and most book trailers rely on volunteers or very cheap people to get the production done, I don't think you'll find many award winning performances as a result . Here is, in my opinion, the best book trailer I've ever seen that involved a real person:

And I thought it was stunning, not the same level of production as the previous one. But in a lot of ways it was more effective on me (of course, Alastair Reynolds is my favorite author, so I am biased because I geek out about anything that has his name attached).

Scott Sigler managed to create a pretty good trailer for his sci fi/horror novel Ancestor using (I think) a lot of volunteers. I'm sure his publisher chipped in something, but I do recall during the lead up to filming his open requests for fans that had video production experience to be a part of this trailer.

So even though I think the level of money involved in each production went way down with each successive one I've listed so far, I don't think there was any real drop off in quality, and in some cases, the effectiveness was better.

This brings me to Alex's trailer for CassaFire, which has been out for a little while. The direction chosen for his trailer (as the previous one for his novel, CassaStar) is to go all CG. Doubly impressive considering that unlike the other book trailers, this one isn't from one of the Big Six publishers, or from NY Times bestselling authors. This is from a small press and considering the level of difficulty involved - and the resources available (I assume), this is one amazing achievement:

If I were to nitpick, the voiceover was perhaps a bit too mechanical sounding, but that's a pretty small thing over all. This is something that is up there with the very best book trailers I've ever seen. Well done to everyone involved.

Funny though, what I think is the single greatest book trailer ever, bar none, isn't a book trailer. However, if what I've read is to be believed, it is actually a short film, again, a labor of love for everyone involved, with a budget of $0. Well, if you consider it's done by Hollywood professionals in their spare time, using Hollywood equipment and talent for every facet of the film, then you can say that it really isn't a $0 dollar production. But still, if this is the sort of thing folks can turn out in their spare time then I think writers ought to be courting film students and Hollywood folks looking to add something to their resume for future book trailers. Watch the short film below and tell me that wouldn't easily be tweaked into the best book trailer in the history of the world:

And by my count, that's five videos I've asked you to watch. If anyone actually takes the time to watch them all let me know in the comments below. I'll be sure to make a big deal about it in my next post.

Are there others out there that are also amazing that I've missed? What are they?


Gail said...

I woke early and have watched them all...I have no words.

M.J. Fifield said...

I did not watch all the videos but some of them (like Alex's trailer) I've seen before.

And I love the SyFy Saturday night movies. They're so bad, they're awesome. And they make great drinking games...

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

And I feel honored that my book's trailer is included!
Can't tell me that last one was done on a budget of nothing. Pretty high tech.
I'd seen the first one before. Now that you mention it, a SyFy craptastic movie does come to mind!

Grumpy Bulldog, Secret Agent said...

I never watch book trailers but then I only ever go to YouTube to post videos on my blog. Sometimes on Syfy or something they have commercials like for Dean Koontz's latest book. Not that it made me want to read the book. I guess unlike movies I need to know a little more about the book first. Just a snob that way I guess.

Anonymous said...

I've seen some good trailers. Many are just too long or look like Power Point presentations with words and music. But there are some really good ones. I love the Lego Men trailers.

Matthew MacNish said...

That first one is pretty incredible. I suppose being a bestselling author afford a bit more production value.

Tonja said...

I've seen Alex's, but I didn't watch the rest. I honestly prefer to read a blurb.

Brinda said...

I don't think you should spend a lot of time and money on a book trailer. It's fun to do one if you can make a decent one, but some of the best ones take movie production dollars. The best story I've heard is that movie producer Tim Burton saw the book trailer for Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter and decided to make a movie.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I have no idea if book trailers actually mean anything as far as sales go.

Briane P said...

Okay, I only watched that last one and I did it because your last couple of lines sounded like a challenge, but MAN, would I like that to be a book/movie/something! What a great idea, if I understood it.

As for book trailers: I made a couple, and they were hacky, and they did not help sell my books in any way that I can ever identify, although they did probably leave me liable for copyright infringement claims.

The one I like best is here:

But it was more to see if I could do it than any hopes that it would work.

You know what, though? I just had this idea for a story about a robot that thinks it's part of a family...

M Pax said...

I've only done some videos because a friend of mine loves making them. Otherwise, I would have none. If she didn't do them for me, I wouldn't think them worth the time or expense...not that I spend much on them.

Cindy said...

I think one has to be careful if they make a book trailer. I have seen some that have convinced me the book is boring.

On the other hand, I'd love to have a book long as it is well done, of course.

I don't like contests where people get their friends to vote and they go online saying "vote for me" those contests aren't accurate and they don't mean anything. The person with the most friends wins..usually.

boopia said...

Well, embarassingly, I did not even know book trailers existed, but in the sound byte era and with so many people watching YOUTUBE etc. it seems like a wonderful marketing idea.

Book trailer for Jackson and Central? We have the services of a professional actress :)

Trisha said...

Before I started blogging, I'd never heard of books having trailers ;) A whole new world had opened up. I must admit that usually I don't bother to watch them. I WILL watch these, but only when I'm at home again. :)

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine learning a new piece of software and spending months creating a book trailer.

I don't watch them either.

But I'd like to have every single piece of marketing material I can get my hands on too.

I'm torn, but I guess it doesn't really matter. I'm cranking out books and doing the cover art is already overwhelming enough!

Tracy said...

Yeah, I'm hoping I am never asked to make one, since technology and I don't mix well on most occasions.

I really enjoyed Simone Elkeles' book trailers for the different books in her "Perfect Chemistry" series. But I'll also admit that I'm biased towards pretty male actors, and Alexander Rodriguez (no, not the Yankees 3rd baseman) fits that bill quite well. :)

Andrew Leon said...

I don't care for book trailers. They come off like trailers for -bad- B movies, and that doesn't make me want to read a book. I get that they're trying to get movie watchers to read, but they're just marketing to the wrong audience. And, as long as Hollywood keeps turning books into movies, those people don't have any reason to go read the books.

Jay Noel said...

Holy crap, that one for Black Prism looked like it was for a full-length movie.

That's my biggest gripe about these huge productions - it leaves little to the imagination. That's why I read books - because I get to take what the writer has given me and go on my own journey.

People who watch a lot of movies and TV but don't read won't be turned on at all by book trailers. Readers are readers after all.

Mark Noce said...

Yeah, I also am sometimes bewildered by marketing trends and trailers, but then again I don't think I'm the typical target audience.

Nancy said...

I do not like book trailers. I also don't like it when I search on the internet how to do something and can only find a video. I like text.