The twenty-tens was a decade of book trailers like never before. In fact, book trailers barely even existed in the early 2000s. A lot has changed in the book trailer world since then, especially over the past ten years. The format has evolved significantly as the cultural importance of social media has been amplified to the level of becoming a “necessity” for participating in modern society. That’s a scary thought, but it’s a good thing for book trailers. Authors need them now more than ever.
We all know that endless scrolling is bad for the psyche. However, if you have a book to promote, your book trailer had better be somewhere in that content stream. At best, book trailers proclaim new works to the world by cutting through the noise and turning viewers into readers. It’s getting harder to do this as the internet becomes an increasingly noisy place. This is why many current book trailers look as good as film trailers.
The New Age
Now, as we really start to dig our heels into the new decade, it will be interesting to see the heights to which the book trailer will soar. Not only will we see compelling visual representations of books in under a minute, but we will also feel them with our other senses. As the tech billionaires are mining our data while we’re busy swimming in the metaverse we may see the odd book trailer pass over the sky of our digital awareness. We might even be able to star as the protagonist or villain of the book trailer, in a choose-your-own-adventure style experience, while our bodies waste away from lack of sunlight and nourishment.
Yes, there is a lot to look forward to in the coming years. For all of the fear and confusion, it’s also kind of fun to be on the cusp of infinite colossal changes in technology. Obviously, book trailers will be swept up in this wave. How could they not? All forms of art and media will be revolutionized. However, it is our firm, if not wildly naive and optimistic view, that books will never die! Therefore, the book trailer will be given new life. But before we can speculate in a meaningful way as to where book trailers will go from here, it’s important to understand how they have changed in recent years. So, let’s take a deeper look at where we’ve been and where we’re headed within the book trailer universe.
Early Book Trailers
In the first decade of the millennium, the typical book trailer format was a simple slideshow of pictures and text. However, some used this format quite well. For instance, check out author Stephan Graham Jones’ 2006 trailer for his book Demon Theory. Jones uses found footage and slasher film stills cut together in a hypnotic, subliminal rhythm that catches your attention while producing a creepy effect.
It’s actually pretty funny looking back on this neolithic period from where we’re standing now. Quantum leaps in technology are happening all the time. We’re headed for a world where the digital realm will be almost indistinguishable from the analog one. That reality makes book trailers like this one from 2003 even cuter. Look at this artifact!
A Decade Of Book Trailers In Review
In the years between the early oughts and the teens, authors leveled up their book trailer game out of necessity. The format had to evolve with the technology as users moved away from platforms like Myspace and migrated to Facebook. The birth of Instagram in 2010 swept up a wave of users and eventually introduced the younger generation to social media. All the while, YouTube and Vimeo remained consistent platforms for authors to store and share video content across mounting social media platforms.
Now everyone is editing and producing their own videos on TikTok. As a result, book trailers will further evolve and adapt to engage more users on the platforms hosting them. Paid promotions like Google Ads for increasing views on YouTube and Facebook Ads for boosting social media engagement for book trailers are all part of the game. Paid promotions don’t seem to be going away anytime soon and should always be taken into account when authors are creating a book trailer budget. What good is a great trailer if no one sees it?
Most authors making slide show trailers in the early 2000s couldn’t have predicted the ways in which technology would shape the book trailer format. In 2011, we began to see a major shift in production value. Bestselling authors like Chuck Palahniuk and James Ellroy who embraced book trailers early on helped to popularize them. In addition to touring a book in person, authors realized they could engage audiences with online book promotions, 24/7.
Epic Book Trailers From 2011-2021
This book trailer for Blood’s A Rover by James Ellroy signaled a shift in the care with which authors doted on their book trailers. This one came out in 2010 and changed the game. It’s a beautiful period piece of LA true-crime grit. Late sixties noir at its best. If you didn’t know it was a promotional piece for a book, you might think it was the trailer for a film.
Even though Blood’s A Rover raised the bar for how a book trailer should look and feel, some major authors still opted for the low-budget approach. Check out this silly little throwback to the slideshow format for Damned by Chuck Palahniuk, released in 2012.
The Rise Of YA Book Trailers
No other literary genre rakes in the book trailer views like YA. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to getting a lot of views. However, there is good form. We know what works and what doesn’t thanks to the boundary-pushers who chose to view their book trailer as a work of art in and of itself. So, what have we learned over a decade of book trailers? Authors do best when they treat their trailer as an extension of their work. Period. Here is an opportunity to convey the tone and vibe of your story to potentially millions of viewers.
Katie Alender is one of these trail-blazing authors who decided to go big…and she gets big results. The book trailer for From Bad To Cursed has almost 3 million views. No wonder her books sell like mad. She consistently makes professional book trailers with “name” talent, like this one from 2011 staring Zendaya.
The trailer for Katie Alender’s As Dead As It Gets stars Bella Thorne and looks like a Twilight film. Right on target for her YA demographic. Look at all those views! This book trailer was released in 2012 and clocks in at 5.5 million and counting. Just goes to show what a professional book trailer with star power can do for a novel.
Kiera Cass is another one who releases high-quality book trailers for her YA novels. Like Katie Alender, Kiera Cass’s book trailers get millions of views because she commissions professional work. Casting actors with “a name” also helps. This one for The Selection has over 1.3 million views and is a great example of a high-quality book trailer.
More Cinematic Hits From A Decade Of Book Trailers
Since book trailers really took off and became a common method for promoting books over the last decade, there are simply too many to give props to all of the best examples. However, there are a few stand-outs that deserve a notable mention.
This Film 14 produced trailer for Chosen: Girl Of Myth And Legend by Giselle Simlet is a cinematic wonder. The viewer is lured into a false sense of security as an average scene turns weird. A girl grabs a slice of pizza from the fridge then spontaneously combusts and finds herself transformed into a battle princess in a mythological forest. Check out this cinematic book trailer laden with special effects!
Also released in 2015, this simple yet wonderfully shot book trailer for Magonia by Dahvana Headley reminds us that minimalism is sometimes the most elegant approach. The music, scenery, and acting combine to convey a tone that can be felt but not quite articulated. Ethereal maybe? One can only guess that this is also the tone of the story, which is what we’re trying to communicate when making a book trailer. Scope it.
The book trailer for Trust by Kylie Scott is one of my all-time favorites. It reminds me of that hard-to-watch scene in Boogie Nights when Don Cheadle swoops a bag of cash during the Mexican stand-off moment in the donut shop. This compelling trailer from 2017 has a similar twist and it looks like a scene from a feature film.
Savage Son by Jack Carr is a military thriller featuring a Navy SEAL hunting Russians with a crossbow in the snows of Siberia. Or is he being hunted? Pulse-pounding drums thump us along through this high-octane book trailer from 2020.
Into The Future
This 2021 book trailer for Escape From Chernobyl by Andy Marino shows how far one can boost production value simply by making the right cinematic choices. Snow flurries fall while a Russian radiation meter goes haywire beside a rotary phone off the hook. This single shot shows us the effect of the nuclear meltdown. A janitor is sweeping when suddenly, steam bursts through a pipe. Ok, some CGI is required but nothing too crazy. And it’s effective! Then we see a man in a hazmat suit with fire reflected in the lenses of his mask. We get the whole story from a few simple shots. With a little implied fire and destruction, this book trailer looks like it was directed by Michael Bay.
As we stay plugged in, more things are competing for our attention. So, if you’re creating media designed to market a product, it needs to be top-notch. Nowadays, a well-crafted book trailer can look indistinguishable from a trailer for your typical Hollywood blockbuster or major “indie” film. That’s a far cry from the Ken Burns style slide shows typical of book trailers from the early oughts and teens. The modern public simply won’t stand for a half-hearted YouTube concoction of slides and fonts. Those days are long gone!
Patrick Salway is a writer, musician, and actor living in Los Angeles. Follow him on social media @blone_noble and @veneer_publications. Listen to VENEER.
If you enjoyed this piece, check out The Best Book Trailers Of 2021!
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