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Don't judge a book by its cover

Book trailers offer readers a new way to choose

Photo courtesy of Knopf

February 20, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST

In a world where Bowker Market Research reports is the world’s biggest book retailer and “likes” and “shares” mean more than a friendly recommendation, what gets read depends on more than just a couple of paragraphs on a book jacket.

Book trailers are often looked down upon in the world of literature. Blogs and even the occasional piece in The New Yorker contend that they cheapen the stories they’re meant to advertise and for good reason.

One of the first book trailers ran on television and was for John Farris’ 1986 novel, Wildwood. A melodramatic voice-over from John Zacherle ran over stills of the book cover and some truly hilarious acting. The result is horrifying — but not because it’s for a horror novel.

Wildwood’s trailer might be corny, but book trailers have come a long way since 1986.

Like pairing a screenwriter and director for a movie, production companies work with authors to find filmmakers that fit their vision. They hire actors and produce a quality product.

Despite the criticisms, book trailers offer things that simple books cannot. Their quick, sharable content is ideal for advertising via social media and catching online shoppers.

“It gives you more details in less time, and you can decide whether you want to go on the journey with the author,” says Michael Powers, the owner and director of Lawrence, Kan.-based book trailer company Collegiate Films.

Josh Duggan, a book trailer producer at Red14Films in Los Angeles, hopes to elevate book trailers from advertising to an art form.

“Hopefully, we can be making videos that are actually entertaining but also make you want to read the book,” Duggan says. “If we want to see book trailers become more integrated into the experience, then we’re going to have to really demand higher standards across the board.”

Powers also believes the quality of trailers is a problem within the industry.

“A book trailer that’s not put together well can have a negative effect on your book,” he says. “The standards for book trailers across the board need to be raised if it’s going to be taken seriously.”

Powers says the best trailers are those that focus on the author’s prose and don’t take away from the reader’s opportunity to imagine the characters. He says those that are unique and capture a story without revealing too much are the most successful. When done well, trailers have the opportunity to give readers insight beyond that of a book jacket summary.

“They’re just different ways to enjoy stories and storytelling,” Duggan says. “I don’t see what’s wrong with adding one more thing to it, one more way to express yourself, one more way to express stories.”

1) One More Thing: Stories and Other Short Stories by B.J. Novak

Do you like Mindy Kaling or making fun of French New Wave cinema? If the answer is “yes,” watch this trailer. If the answer is “no,” watch it anyway, and you might change your mind.

2) Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart

When you write a book, you get to pretend Rashida Jones is your publisher, James Franco is your husband and
Jonathan Franzen is your shrink. At least, that’s what Gary Shteyngart did.

3) Actors Anonymous by James Franco

Whether James Franco is a disillusioned actor or simply disillusioned; it’s still unclear. Either way, Actors Anonymous offers a unique look into celebrity status.

4) Lowboy by John Wray

In this mock interview, Zach Galifianakis takes on the challenging role of author John Wray, who might or might not have once eaten a novel but definitely wrote one. This trailer comes complete with beer, a beard and a binary typewriter.

5) Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

If the name David Sedaris isn’t enough to suck you in, maybe minimalist animation and some wry, observational humor will do the trick.

6) Stories II by T.C. Boyle

T.C. Boyle Stories II from Jamieson on Vimeo.

According to Duggan, T.C. Boyle’s trailers are “the classiest, most well-done” pieces. Simple, beautiful and intriguing, this might represent the best of the best.

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