Thursday, February 28, 2008

Judging a book by its...trailer?

Do you recall that great line from Sunset Boulevard where fading silent movie actress Norma Desmond defends her role in the movies? She cites her looks, her expressions and says, “You can’t write that down.”

It’s true. There are feelings one can convey through a single image or look that even the best writers would find hard to describe. So it’s only natural that the trend towards using cinematic tools is now in vogue for bookselling. Book trailers have the power to convey dramatic elements of a story in ways a book jacket cannot.

Author Brenda Coulter disagrees that this is a good method for books however saying that most trailers are simple slideshows with a soundtrack. She also dislikes that so many of the trailers cannot be viewed by a huge percentage of Americans due to dial-up connection. Now, to be fair, Ms. Coulter wrote her opinion two years ago.

The art form has come a long way, baby!

Take the trailer for Ann Patchett’s latest novel Run It shows an aqueous blue background with bubbles continuously floating over images of people, houses on the rich/poor ends of the spectrum and selected descriptive passages from the novel. The singular piano accompaniment to this trailer creates an inviting, if not subtle, undercurrent of mystery and secrets. You could probably view this trailer in a library.

By contrast, viewing author Dan Ronco's novel trailer for Unholy Domain might get you kicked out of the library. It comes at the viewer full stop with fast-paced images of money, guns and Terminator-reminiscent threat, all set to a soundtrack that keeps up the intense back-beat like a Jason Bourne chase. Now, this is a book I want to read AND watch.

Somewhere between these two thematic trailers is my book, Janeology which so hauntingly couples water imagery with hints of dark family secrets trickling down among the generations. The unrelenting tribal drumbeat of the music ratchets-up the tension until you feel like the hairs on your neck stand at attention. If only a CD of the music could play as a reader turns the pages. (Fortunate author that I am, this trailer was created by THE inventor of the novel trailer art form, Kam Wai Yu, who has been developing this art since the 1980s.)

I am intrigued by the very way images, music and ideas come together in less than five minutes to give potential readers a sense of the book. And this new view into book trailers makes me wonder: Will we choose books the same way we choose movies – from a two-minute glimpse? Would you rather go to YouTube to scan several short videos to make your reading selection? Or do you prefer to scan the bookstore new release table and thumb through the pages in hand?

If you're like me, you like doing both.


Karen Harrington is the author of JANEOLOGY, the story of one man’s attempt to understand his wife’s sudden descent into madness and murder.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I saw your trailer Karen, it's a spooky, unsettling piece of work. It left me with a vague sense of drowning.

Lynn Hoffman, author of bang BANG