By Helen Marshall and Laura Marshall

Book trailers are a fairly recent phenomenon in the industry: from the professionally developed mini-movies put out by the major houses to the slide-show with moving text favored by the poor in cash and video skills.

About a year ago, we decided to try our hand at making trailers. Let me say upfront: there was a learning curve. Both of us had some experience in the necessary skills: developing promotional texts, graphics editing, and a willingness to learn new programs and, basically, try shit out. The early experiments are a little laughable (and also a touch illegal – sorry! – we did use unlicensed music, footage and images for which we woefully repent). But later on we got fairly good at being able to put out cheapish, easy-to-makeish book trailers for ChiZine Publications.

The next series of posts is going to show some of the products we made, go into our rationale, and compare them in both style and effectiveness to some big-house productions. But first, we wanted to take a moment to outline some of what we learned.

1.      There’s no such thing as a book trailer.

What we mean by this is that book trailers come in all shapes, sizes, and genres—some of which we’ll talk about in more detail as we go.[1]  But the thing to remember is that everyone—EVERYONE!—is making this up as they go along. Book trailers have no fixed form because no one really knows how to make them work. What people know is that trailers seem to work for videos. And YouTube seems to be very hip with the young people.[2]

2.      There is no real distribution channel for book trailers.

Making a video is one thing. Getting it out to millions of people with another. We’ve all seen videos of cats licking pandas, or sneezing puppies, or teenagers wiping out on skateboards that have managed to get a trillion hits on YouTube.[3] Not so for book trailers. So how do people get book trailers out to people? If there’s no distribution, it doesn’t matter if there’s a great product, so if you’re thinking about investing in trailers then also think about what you’re going to do with them.

3.      Cheap and dirty is more damaging than no book trailer at all.

These days, it’s really easy to put out your own book. It takes very little skill and little money. Video…is different. The problem is that we are all used to big budget video productions. That’s what the standard is. If you made your trailer as a slide show of images with fancy transitions, it probably won’t cut it. This is something that’s supposed to be selling you as a writer. And, remember, writing big budget is easy. That battle sequence with ten thousand people? Not so easy to do on video. Better to have nothing out there then something that might make your viewer assume the book was written by a precocious four-year-old.

There have been a number of other websites that have begun to start discussing types of book trailers. The Quotable categorizes them according to film styles—the art film, the documentary, the mockumentary, animation, stops motion, and full cinematic (which they call the completely awesome book trailer…with real actors and costumes!). Book Trailer Toaster categorizes them as follows: reading out of the book; an outline of the book; one on one with the author; and the live action book trailer (also, ultimately, the completely awesome book trailer). These are useful categories to start looking at because they show different approaches. The Quotable goes by style; Book Trailer Toaster seems to be discussing something closer to kinds of promotional videos that could be used for a book.

So here’s what we’re doing: we are going to be categorizing them by different types of content. What does a book trailer say to the audience? What parts of the text does it utilize? What is the trailer’s relationship to the book?[4]

Our categories are:

  1. The Character Trailer
  2. The Synopsis Trailer
  3. The Blurb/Review Trailer
  4. The Teaser Trailer
  5. The Text-Based Trailer

Over the next few blog posts, we are going to explain and show examples of these different types of trailers, and try to analyze how they might be used to promote the book. At the end, as a very special treat, we’ll take you behind the scenes to show you how we put together a couple of low-cost, low-skill trailers that still have a professional look to them!

So, lights, camera, action! Let the show begin…!

[1] After having put together a book trailer for a friend, for example, I was told we don’t call them trailers, we call them promo videos. But maybe that’s just because they are a classier breed of people than we are… I like the term trailers!

[2] We recognize using words like “hip” makes us decidedly “unhip.” We’re okay with that. We read books. How hip can we be?

[3] Maybe what we need is more books about sneezing pandas! They are so fricking cute!

[4] Was it created by a precocious four-year-old?

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