E-books are getting all the attention this year, but promotional videos for books have suddenly and quietly become a lot more fun than ever before.
I plan to feature the best of them regularly. Although this first list is made up of official trailers for U.S. titles, I'll also be showing the best fan-made videos -- some of them are knockouts -- and casting the net internationally.
Reader suggestions are welcome. We also want to hear if you agree, so vote on the choices that appear.Before I get to the list, I want to offer a fast opinion about what's happening, and why it's important for the publishing business beyond just book promotion. In my opinion, the videos are working because they're less faithful to the books. Authors, myself included, tend to use promotion to tell readers the reasons they should buy our books, instead of just making customers desire them. That technique works better for the ShamWow than for a novel. Fidelity to three hundred pages of prose is the last thing you want in a thirty-second spot. This matters because video of one kind or another -- live action or animation -- is going to eventually be part of the book itself, not just the promotional trailer. When electronic platforms become common, covers and chapter openers will be animated. What are now promotional trailers will take on the job of teasing and selling that's now shouldered by cover and jacket flap copy. Video will also be embedded in a book just as photos and static illustrations now are. Music will, too. The ideas and styles that are being developed in book trailers will, through this convergence, influence the books themselves. The people making today's trailers may play a role in tomorrow's books. After watching a lot of book trailers that don't make the cut, I've come to some conclusions.
- Hide the author in the attic.
- Pay for a professional voice-over. This doesn't apply to fan videos, but for anything with a budget, it's a must unless the author is famous for something other than writing.
- Could you please not open with a title card? Please?
- No house logo opening. Ever.
- Great music. Faster is better. You're already selling something that people think is a bit dull. Moody tones put it in the category of a movie, and it's not going to compare well.
- Brevity is the soul of wit. Let's define brevity as ninety seconds or less.
Why did it take sixty-five years for someone to come up with this idea? The video is as fun as the book: there’s vintage French music, flickering caption cards for that period touch, and a simple presentation of a well-executed book. Also: It’s short. This book has many more pop-up elements than do most pop-up books, yet the video zips along. It amused me. It sold me. Job done.
True to its genre: lighthearted historical romance. It jumps right in with an engaging character who’s up to mischief, fearlessly leaving the title card and cover image until the end. It’s proof that a great trailer doesn’t require pyrotechnics. Also fun for Quinn’s established fans: The actress looks like Quinn. That’s because it’s her cousin, Talia Gottlieb, who happens to be majoring in theater.
Authors, beware: Your publisher may not hire actors and put them in costume and actually light them properly. This publisher did even more—but to say more would be giving it away. For a book that’s meant to be silly, they took this job seriously. Well done.
Just as Jane Austen movies tend to come in waves, so do Jane Austen book trailers. This one is a family affair. The authors are mother and daughter, the director is their son/brother. They rented costumes and shot it in a bed-and-breakfast on the Jersey shore. It’s exceptionally well done, even though I wish it were a little shorter. The filmmaker made a very clever choice: Faces are kept hidden or are half-cropped out of most shots. Readers who already have mental images of these familiar characters won’t be jarred and can fill in the blanks themselves. Every publisher should be this lucky.
At first, the terrific animation made me want to drop everything and read the book. By the end, the script made me think twice. It was long and obvious and too determined to explain the ideas behind the adventure. It ends with a question that sounds philosophical rather than dramatic. For a writer as good and as big as Westerfeld, does the video need to do more than tease? Let’s see a second cut.