Monday, September 21, 2009
Many thanks to Aggie and Kepler’s for inviting me to blog here about my new novel, 31 Hours. I feel fortunate to be in such great company of readers and writers. I’m going to do three blogs covering marketing, money and love. I’m starting with marketing because I’ve become intrigued by book trailers—by what they can do, and what they can’t—and I wish we were all in a room together to discuss it.
Because I come from a background that included both television and radio, I grew interested early in the idea of reaching beyond print to draw in readers. In 2003 for my second novel, The Distance Between Us, I put together an audio recording with crucial help from my husband, who works for NBC and MSNBC. In 2006 for my third novel, The Camel Bookmobile, we pulled together a video from my visit to the real camelback library in isolated northeastern Kenya.
Still, none of this quite prepared me for the full-on book trailer, which somehow seemed both more complex and, simultaneously, not complex enough. Here’s what I kept stumbling over: I love novels. They incorporate an overlaying web of ideas and questions, a crescendo that builds as the pages turn. Many of us spend years writing our books. How can we, on a shoestring budget, condense this layered ocean of fictional life into a 120-second book trailer that works?
31 Hours, for example, is about missed connections. It’s about how we parent our young adult children, and it’s about the possibilities and limitations of intuition. It’s about the edgy poetry of the subway. It’s about religion and spirituality in the modern ironic world. It is about empathizing with a panhandler, or a man planning violence—the kinds of people we may not be inclined to like. It is about suspending judgment long enough to listen.
Yet if I tried to include all or even most of this in my book trailer, my website designer and friend Rose Daniels convinced me, I’d be doomed to failure.
“Making a trailer lets you distill the emotion of a book,” Rose told me. “You can’t tell the whole story in a two minute trailer (and you shouldn’t). Instead, you create visuals that express the overall mood/tone of the book. I love bringing the energy of a story to life with images and sound. When creating a book trailer, you must reveal enough of the story to intrigue the reader without giving too much away. You have to leave room for the reader’s imagination. For instance, I feel you should never reveal what a main character looks like.”
In some ways the 31 Hours trailer is a home-grown effort: I always wanted the eerie and mysterious image of a young man shaving his legs, the “mother” seen from the back is me and my 19-year-old son Che took most of the photographs for the trailer. But in most ways, Rose is the brains behind the operation, breaking new creative ground.
We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time with the book trailer. In February 2007, award-winning author Gayle Brandeis created one of the first book trailers I ever knew about for her novel Self Storage.
“The film is very rudimentary, not flashy at all—I used my digital camera, which only films very short spurts of video, and the most basic iMovie tools—but it was great fun to put together,” she told me recently. “I have two books coming out next year and am trying to decide what sorts of trailers I could pull together for each of them. It's certainly fun to think about taking the book off the page and into a whole new media; it gives the book a fresh jolt of life, a new way to send its tendrils out into the world.”
What do readers want to see in book trailers? What makes them interested in reading the book itself, and what sends them running the other way? What I wouldn’t give to listen to a panel of readers pondering this topic.
For more on book trailers, Ron Hogan has written a number of great articles, and this is one of my favorite: Finding the Short Film in Your Novel (for Less!).