Honoring — And Poking Fun At — Book Trailers

Thursday night, the best and worst in book trailers will be honored in the second annual Moby Awards. Trailers are a regular feature of book marketing these days. And the Moby Awards are a send-up of this relatively new literary phenomenon. Robert Siegel talks with Dennis Johnson, publisher of Melville House publishing and creator of the Moby Awards.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This may sound like a movie trailer.

Unidentified Male #1: Cartel has their sights on the Laguna Beach (unintelligible). Two young marijuana kingpins won't give it up without a fight.

SIEGEL: But it isn't. You can find out what happens in that fight not in a movie but in a book. It is a trailer for a book. Trailers are a regular feature of literary marketing these days and their quality varies widely.

But as Dennis Johnson will tell you, most of the trailers are not very good. Johnson is the publisher of Melville House, a small publishing company, and he is the creator of the Moby Awards for book trailers. And tonight, he'll be handing out the second annual awards for the best and the worst. Dennis Johnson, welcome to the program.

Mr. DENNIS JOHNSON (Melville House Publishing): Thank you. It's great to be here.

SIEGEL: And let's be clear from the outset, this is not, the awards, not a genuine effort to honor book trailers, more a chance to poke fun at this genre. Why?

Mr. JOHNSON: Well, it's both, actually. There are some great book trailers. You know, it's like any other art form, there's 98 percent dreck, but there's two percent magnificent. But the reason we want to poke fun at it is that it's kind of early days for this in the book business and it just seemed like, you know, maybe book people should be worrying about books more than movies.

SIEGEL: Now, you have a lot of categories and one of those categories is most celeb-tastic performance, honoring we assume, the best celebrity appearance in a book trailer. And I'd like us to take a listen to one of them. This is the comedian Dennis Leary, pushing his own book "Suck On This Year." And it sounds like a real winner.

Mr. DENNIS LEARY (Comedian): I know this is a book trailer but I'm going to be honest with you, this isn't even a real book. You want a book, here's a book "Freedom," Jonathan Franzen's bestseller. Let's be honest, you probably have this at your house or you will have it at your house. You're not going to read it, it's 600 pages. You're going to pretend you read it, so your friends and your relatives think you're cool and smart. "War and Peace"...

SIEGEL: And he goes on to list other long books that few people are going to read, he says. Unlike his book, which he says will take 12 minutes to read. Is this a common theme in book trailers, the denigration of other books in favor of a writer's own book?

Mr. JOHNSON: Yeah, it's amazing, isn't it? You know, in a way the whole concept of making a movie about your book is a denigration of your book. They're apples and oranges.

I mean, one thing I noticed most this year as opposed to last year was that there was very little variety of form. And I felt like I was really looking at people's dreams, in the most part. A lot of what we had submitted was by self-published writers, which is, you know, a different thing than it used to be.

And you felt that you were watching somebody conceptualize their career. That they envisioned themselves writing this amazing sexy book that was going to be a huge hit and that was going to lead to this amazing, sexy movie that was going to be a huge hit. And here's the movie. So, what we were getting was, you know, actual condensed narratives.

SIEGEL: Now, but at the other end of the spectrum well, we just heard Dennis Leary mention Jonathan Franzen's novel "Freedom." And Franzen also made a trailer for that book but it's a very different style. And it is nominated for the Moby Award this year for worst performance buy an author.

Mr. JONATHAN FRANZEN (Author, "Freedom"): Well, this might be a good place for me to register my profound discomfort at having to make videos like this, since to me, the point of a novel is to take you to a stiller place.

SIEGEL: That's a tough performance to beat in that category, Dennis.

Mr. JOHNSON: It's kind of essence (unintelligible) in there. It's a reenactment of his Oprah discomfort. He's very uncomfortable with talking or promoting his books. But it was an amazing video where many people weren't quite sure it was for real.

You know, I've had to talk to a few people that that was actually made in his publisher's office and posted on their website, they knew all about it.

SIEGEL: That satisfied the clause in his contract that he had to make a video for the book.

Mr. JOHNSON: Exactly, exactly.

SIEGEL: Here's one bit of another trailer. It's narrated by the kind of voice that only does coming attractions.

Unidentified Male #2: It was simply gone, the only light in a boy's dark life ruthlessly taken. Now, as a rising Russian Mafioso, the violence of Stefan Korsak's life knows no weakness.

SIEGEL: This is a trailer for a novel called "Chimera" by Rob Thurman. Is it common for a trailer to sound that much like a movie trailer?

Mr. JOHNSON: Oh, yes, I mean, that's totally common. And in fact, a lot of these are being made by people who make movie trailers. That's why they sound that way, that's why they look that way. You know, they also have these awful soundtracks. We have the worst or most annoying soundtrack award because that is very typical.

SIEGEL: So, are the cleeg(ph) lights and the red carpet out for tonight's Moby's?

Mr. JOHNSON: There is a red carpet. There is a Golden Whale award that we hand out.

SIEGEL: As in Moby? As in Melville...

Mr. JOHNSON: Yeah. It's true, yeah. We couldn't find a sperm whale, it's a beluga whale but it's close enough. And we spray-painted it gold and we'll be handing that out tonight. Or if you want to get your own, they're 14.95 at Toys 'R Us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JOHNSON: And we're expecting quite a crowd. We had standing room only last year and I think it'll be bigger this year.

SIEGEL: Well, Dennis Johnson, thanks a lot for talking with us about it.

Mr. JOHNSON: It's my pleasure. Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Dennis Johnson is the founder of the book blog Moby Lives and tonight's Moby Awards, which honor the best and worst in book trailers.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.