I consider myself a bit of a trailer expert. Or perhaps, trailer addict is a more accurate description. I’ve been known to declare that trailers are the best part of going to the movies. They're this perfect morsel of a story that has the right blend of intrigue, suspense, drama, romance and action (depending on the genre, of course). The trailer’s job is to entice the audience, pulling them into the film's world and demanding that they see it upon its release.
Trailers have a short timeframe to sell the movie, forcing filmmakers to cut out all the superfluous content and focus on the main characters, concept and plot. Yes, they can be a little cliché but good trailers also manage to create an atmosphere, developing a feeling of the story world in which you will inhabit upon seeing the film. It also sets audience expectations.
A good trailer can generate a buzz—you feel it in the audience, lingering long after the trailer leaves the screen. Often you wish you were about to watch that film instead. There are less elements to mess up in a trailer in a feature-length film. But do trailers also work for marketing books?
Penguin Teen Australia (PTA) host a bi-weekly Twitter chat on Wednesdays and last week's topic was book trailers—a relatively new phenomenon that I'm still formulating my opinion on. I understand that readers today are more tech savvy; they obtain book recommendations from social media as much as they do from their friends and bookshops—if not more. It makes sense to bring book marketing to the digital world.
Book trailers (should) allow potential readers to see what sort of story they’re signing up for. It takes them beyond the blurb and cover and into the themes and mood—in visual form. And this is where I think there's a disconnect. Film and novels are two different mediums, what works in a book will not necessary crossover successfully into a visual medium. We've all seen film adaptations of our favourite books and we know this to be true. The feeling of reading a book and immersing yourself within the writer's words is a very different experience than watching a punchy visual trailer. It's a more intimate experience.
Film trailers are an expensive marketing tool. As I’ve mentioned before, I work in the VFX and animation industry and often studios have spent months crafting the shots in a trailer, some of which don’t make it into the film itself. Trailer shots are designed specifically to promote the film’s genre and story in the most impactful way. They’re then paired with the perfect piece of music to evoke the right mood and attract the right audience. I’ve worked on trailers where hundreds of individuals have been involved in its making. This is very difficult to replicate with a smaller budget and team.
Certainly, book trailers can be made on a lower budget but their creators need to keep in mind that viewers are trained to watch trailers in a certain way. Audiences are accustomed to film trailer tropes and any trailers that are of a lesser quality can turn readers off. For me, the most important element in a successful trailer is the music. If you can nail the music, and therefore the mood, then audiences will be more forgiving of the quality of video content.
If this week’s PTA chat is anything to go by, both publishers and readers are still working out how best to use book trailers. Due to small production budgets, I believe the key is to acquire the right music and keep the narrative short and to the point—similar to a blurb where the focus is often on the main character and inciting incident. Also, book trailer creators can't forget that trailers are a visual medium, so there should be limitations on how much they rely on text displayed onscreen. In trailers, images and music need to tell the story, not words.