The book trailer dilemma (and Dangerous Neighbors)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

In this weekend's New York Times, Pamela Paul tackles the topic of the "de rigueur" book trailer ("The Author Takes a Star Turn"), citing the recent YouTube moments of, among others, Mary Karr, Jeannette Walls, and Kelly Corrigan.  To quote from the story:

But in the streaming video era, with the publishing industry under relentless threat, the trailer is fast becoming an essential component of online marketing. Asked to draw on often nonexistent acting skills, authors are holding forth for anything from 30 seconds to 6 minutes, frequently to the tune of stock guitar strumming, soulful violin or klezmer music. And now, those who once worried about no one reading their books can worry about no one watching their trailers. (A mother still nursing her 8-year-old: 25,864,943 views; recent best-selling maternal memoirist: 5,124 views.)

I read the piece with great interest, as I read all stories about the marketing (and fate) of books with great interest.  I read it with a flush in my face.  Citing book trailer budgets of up to $15,000, I thought of my own budgets (no pennies, just my time, which I leave others to value), my own resources (the photographs I know how to take and the video I don't), my own technology (iMovie, after I lost patience with Final Cut during one particularly hot, sweaty day), my own music choices (severely limited by lack of budget and lack of personal composing/performing/recording capabilities, though I do hum a mean "Twinkle, Twinkle"), my own microphone (which is attached to my unportable computer, which sits on my glass-topped desk in my glass-surround office), my own vision (and how sorely it compares to the final product), my own un-desire to sit in front of my little Apple camera and interview myself (what a monumental bore, I think, to interview myself), and my own aims (to tell someone out there what the book is about in 90 seconds or less).

Had I thought, for example, about how hard it would be to create a trailer for my upcoming historical novel, Dangerous Neighbors, I might have thought twice (I'm saying might have, only) before signing up for all the difficulties that simply writing the book entailed.  Because how, in fact, does a woman like me—lacking budget, lacking video talent—recreate the kaleidoscopic quality of that book?  The skating on the Schuylkill River, circa 1876.  The digging for clams at the Cape May beach in the era's bathing costumes.  The fire that swept through Shantytown.  The massive grandiosity of the Centennial grounds themselves.  The Laurel Hill Cemetery in winter, as it was then, not as it is now.  How does one talk about twin sisters, when there are no 18 year old twin sisters in sight, and nothing late nineteenth century to dress them in?  Dangerous Neighbors is a book in which high color is thematic and the pace ever quickens; the images from 1876—still images—are black and white and grainy.  Dangerous Neighbors features a baker's boy who rescues lost animals from the streets of Philadelphia.  Can one let a pig loose in Rittenhouse Square?

The "de riguering" of book trailers is, I think, a fascinating development, and I myself watch many trailers—applauding and admiring and, yes, envying writers like Maggie Stiefvater—writer, artist, musician, film maker—who can do it all.  This is not to say that there isn't much I can still learn, much I can work against, much I must transcend.  I'm in the book business and so, alas, I must crack the code on video problems that have, until now, proved confounding.


bermudaonion said...

I'm really not sure why book trailers are so popular. I do watch them at times, but it's almost always after I've read the book.

Maybe your son could make a trailer for you this summer?

Beth Kephart said...


You are so smart!

That was actually the plan. But my boy got a great internship and also works four days a week at a theater, meaning that he is barely home and I don't want to put additional pressure on him when he is.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I just had to stop by and say -- unless you feel called to do a book trailer -- DON'T! They can help you, but yeah, so could a spot on Oprah. They're just one of the tools you can use and they are an unreliable tool at that. Honestly, if I hadn't wanted an excuse to play with stop motion, I wouldn't have done mine. So if you can let a pig loose in Rittenhouse square, go for it. But if you can't? Just write the next book, which is always the best marketing. :)

(and thanks for the compliments)

Liviania said...

I hardly ever watch book trailers. They don't really sell me on books. Plus, it seems like something that would be hard for new readers to stumble upon organically.

But, they are new. That could change.

(And I do watch Maggie Stiefvater's, if only because I love stop motion.)

Melissa said...

Book trailers are a little bit of a puzzle to me, as a reader. Are they the "must-have" marketing device because everyone seems to be doing them or ... some other reason? As bermudaonion said, I'm not sure why they are so popular. They don't sway my opinion on whether to read the book or not, the written word holds that power and always will, I suspect.

(Really like your new trailer and the footage from the Please Touch Museum.)

Beth Kephart said...

These comments are so enlightening (and encouraging) and I thank you all for them. The article, if you can get onto it, goes on to talk about just how effective these trailers are (according to surveys) in securing readers for books. Time will tell. I like your responses much more than anonymized survey results.

Priya said...

I think your book trailers are wonderful. Either way, I don't watch that many book trailers, so like everyone else, I'm not too sure why they're so popular. I feel like they just give readers a little idea of what the book will be like. But most of the time, it seems like the trailer just contains the book summary with a couple visuals to go with it.

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