Be nosy: The trailer for Matt Beaumont's novel Small World was created by students at the National Film and Television School as a part of a contest sponsored by Random House. Watch the trailer for 'Small World.'
Long a staple of the film industry, book trailers are now standard operating procedure in the world of publishing. Posted on YouTube and on publisher and retailer websites, these tailor-made short video clips are meant to become viral and generate buzz about books.
Most trailers rely on pulsating music and pretty fonts to push the books; some feature dramatic voiceovers. Take the trailer for Seth Greenland's new book, Shining City. Unnamed women repeat the book's title while Greenland introduces himself:
"My name is Seth Greenland, and I've written a new novel called Shining City. It's set in Los Angeles, so naturally it begins in a hot tub with a pimp and three hookers."
Though Greenland's video does feature a crowded hot tub, the trailer — and others like it — aren't meant to be a cinematic version of the books they advertise. Rather, they're an attempt to catch your eye in the hope that you'll remember the author's name — or at least the title of the book. Author Alexandra Sokoloff says she'll never try to market another book again without a trailer.
"There's a certain audience — like the paranormal romance audience — that expects a trailer at this point," explains Sokoloff. "They've seen them from their favorite authors, and they expect ... to have a trailer."
Though the trailers are becoming a ubiquitous part of the industry, they weren't always the norm. In 2002, Sheila Clover was an aspiring writer looking for some way to make her books stand out when she stumbled upon an idea.
"Movie trailers work for movies," she remembers thinking. "Maybe I'll do something for books."
Clover Googled the term "book trailer," and nothing turned up. So she saw an opportunity and went for it; her company, Circle of Seven Productions, is now one of many where authors and publishing houses commission trailers to market their work.
Though most book trailers appear only on the Internet, some of the more highly produced videos are shown in theaters before a movie. Last year, Oscar-nominated director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) teamed with journalist Naomi Klein to make a trailer for her nonfiction best-seller The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.
This year, Random House held a competition that encouraged students at the National Film and Television School to submit trailers for three of its books. The winning entry for Matt Beaumont's novel, Small World, is a quirky, stylized short featuring a photo montage of noses followed by quick introductions to the book's idiosyncratic characters and a command to "be nosy, find out what happens to us."
Lisa Gallagher, a senior vice president and publisher at William Morrow, says that trailers are vital — both for authors with well-established fan bases and for those still looking for a following.
"We're trying to put these videos in front of potential readers in the hope that they will be interested enough to pick up the book," says Gallagher. "That's the ultimate goal."