Electronic books are set to rival our beloved, dog-eared shelf-mates. In 2009, Amazon sold about 2.4 million Kindles and in 2010 the figure jumped to 8 million plus. I decided I might as well embrace the change and begin thinking about an electronic version of my book The Storm Leopard. Most e-books reproduce the printed version as accurately as possible but some companies are experimenting with interactive or enhanced e-books. These include video clips and audio files and may for instance provide the choice of the text or the author reading from the text, with seamless interchange between the two. A suitably romantic way to begin the embrace, I thought, would be to produce a book trailer, or book video as it is sometimes called. This is a short video that introduces a conventional book, which is usually posted on YouTube, Google Video, MySpaceTV, Revver, AuthorsDen and other online media networks. It is still quite new but like e-books, book trailers are taking off right now.
So I started off with a bit of research on book trailers – mainly looking at examples and reading some of the online articles. The general consensus is that the aim of the trailer is to give the viewer a hint and leave them intrigued. If it is too explicit about the characters and locations, then the trailer will interfere with the reader’s freedom to create their own mental images. This is a design issue unique to the book trailer genre. In books, words on the page create an image that exists in our imagination. The skill is supposedly to find the right balance between cinematic over-production, which can be too prescribed and melodramatic for a book, and an uninspired series of stills and straplines (pithy statements). The voiceover in which the author talks about the book or reads extracts is a way to connect the viewer to the story and that is what the trailer is about – storytelling.
Book trailers are still in their pioneering phase with quite a lot of diversity in length and content. Most range between 1-6 minutes in length. The usual advice given is to keep the book trailers short as otherwise you are likely to lose your audience, and it is has been noticed that two and half minutes is the maximum length allowed by cinemas for their trailers. However some 5-minute book trailers, such as Patrick Watson’s This Hour Has Seven Decades are so good, I would happily watch them for longer. (Trailer links are given below.)
So far I’ve distinguished five styles. I’ve labelled the two dominant ones as ‘documentary’ and ‘cinematic’ and three less common ones as ‘story’, ‘animated’ and ‘artistic’. Some trailers share elements from more than one style.
(a) Documentary – where the author parks themself in front of a picturesque (or not-so-picturesque) scene and talks about the book they’ve written and why you should read it, sometimes interspersed with graphics (e.g. Patrick French’s India).
(b) Cinematic – movie style which shows the story happening in pictures or video-clips with either text or a voice-over of a short, intriguing synopsis. (e.g. the short trailers by Circle of Seven Productions).
(c) Story – film that encapsulates a simple story (e.g. Allergic Girl by Sloane Miller).
(d) Animated – usually in the form of an animated story (e.g. Northern Lights by Michael Kusugak)
(e) Artistic – portrays the essence of the book artistically. Paulo Coelho’s trailer of Amor is the perfect example and in a league of its own really but then a book on love lends itself perfectly to this style.
Two popular techniques amongst producers of book trailers are the use of cliff-hangers which leaves the viewer suspended and wanting more of the action, and the creation of some feeling or emotion to draw the viewer in. Many examples of the former can be found in the trailers made by Circle of Seven Productions. An example of the latter is Jami Attenberg’s The Kept Man.
Here are a few more examples to illustrate the different styles:
Five Seconds (Javier González)
Circle of Seven Productions: this company is winning the most Davey awards for book videos (as judged by the International Academy of Visual Arts). Most last about 1 minute and promote fantasies or thrillers.
Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails (author Michael Kusugak and illustrator Vladyana Krykorka)
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (Bill Bryson)
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (Wells Tower)
The best style probably depends on the type of book. Thrillers and fantasy lend themselves to the cinematic style; biography and travel lend themselves to the documentary style; books with a strong central theme may lend themselves to the artistic style. I hope to post details of a trailer for The Storm Leopard soon.