In the digital era, authors and publishers are going beyond words to find readers. Surf YouTube these days and you’ll find author Rick Riordan talking about the Olympus, and Lena Dunham, the star of HBO’s `Girls’ helping people with their personal problems in 12 wepisodes about her book “Not That Kind of Girl.’’ Both are trailers from last week’s best selling books.
A book trailer® is a video made to advertise a book. In fact, there are different kinds of digital video that promote books. They can feature animation, slideshows or authors talking to the camera, cinematic Hollywood-style narratives or even fan-made trailers. Although they haven’t gained much attention, they are a common practice in the book industry.
In 2002 Sheila Clover English was trying to publish her book, “Circle of Seven.” English realized that she needed to do something special to make her book standout. “I thought if movie trailers help advertise movies, then why not book trailers for books?” she said.
A few months later she produced a short video for Christine Feehan’s book “Dark Symphony,” a gothic novella about a blind piano player and a vampire who falls in love with her. English made DVDs including behind-the-scenes, and sent them to booksellers and publishers. “At the time, of course, there was no YouTube,” she said. The video became one of the first book trailers ever produced.
In 2004 with her new company, Circle of Seven Productions, English began placing book trailers on television and in movie theaters. By the same year she secured a registration for the term “Book Trailer” at the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Today book trailers are not a novelty anymore but the general audience is not consciously aware of them. The experience of buying a book online often includes visiting sites such as Amazon, eBay or Barnes & Noble and neither of them shows book trailers when checking a book. That is a big contrast against the fact that almost every publishing house like Simon & Schuster or Random House have an active YouTube channel, or a video dedicated website like HarperCollins’ HCTV.
Despite the lack of publicity on these promotional tools, book trailers are being made constantly achieving sometimes thousands of hits and hundreds of comments on YouTube as in the case of the Neil Patrick Harris book, “Choose Your Own Autobiography”.
A closer look to the top 10 overall best selling books last week (as seen at Publishers Weekly reported from the Nielsen BookScan) illustrates this obscure side of the book trade.
Of eight books in this chart, only three of them don’t have trailers: “Killing Patton” by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard (nonfiction novel), “Minecraft: Construction Handbook” by Matthew Needler (game handbook), and “The Book with No Pictures” by B J Novak (children’s book). These books, nevertheless, have visual promotional material like audiobook excerpts or TV interview segments.
Here are the trailers that accompany the five remaining books of this chart.
Book trailers can be as highly produced as any other medium but also can be fluffy and lacking substance. “People are fairly sophisticated in what they like to watch,” said Brianne Halverson, co-founder of Orange PR & Marketing, a book publicity, digital marketing and media strategy company in New York.
Halverson, who worked as a publicist at Simon & Schuster and as director of publicity at HarperCollins for over 10 years, said book trailers are just one piece of the larger puzzle that is a marketing plan.
“I’ve never heard of someone saying ‘this trailer was released and suddenly the book took off’,” she said. “But it can built buzz, it can establish the personality of a writer, it can be something that can be shared, so there’s lots of pluses to having a book trailer.”
Dennis Johnson, cofounder of the independent publisher Melville House located in Brooklyn, NY is a veteran in the book industry. Although he produced the Moby Awards, one of many defunct celebrations of this format for the best and worst book trailers, his opinion about them has change. “I don’t think they turned out to have a very influential place in the industry,” he said.
Melville House produced two versions of the Moby Awards in 2010 and 2011 but abandoned the concept because it was deviating the company from its track as publisher.
“We had a great time doing them, we pretended it was the Oscars,” said Johnson who admits he became far less interested in book trailers.
Johnson said it seems to have become rare for one book trailer to go viral enough to really catch the reader’s attention. Regardless the dividing opinion about the usefulness of books trailers the practice continues. “I think the big houses are going to keep making them for a while because there is a whole industry around it now,” said Johnson.