Literary Shorts Gain Traction, by Scott Alexander Hess

Can a clever literary film teaser actually boost a book’s sales?  Increasingly, authors who gave the “book trailer” concept a thumbs down are reconsidering. Brian Gresko, editor of the anthology When I First Held You (Berkley Books, June 2014), was initially ambivalent about the use of book trailers, but he has warmed to the marketing tool and is featuring the film short for his book prominently on his site.  “I’ve come to like trailers when they’re done right. They can give an author an opportunity to talk about his or her work, or tease it in an interesting way,” says Gresko. Gresko cautions, however, that to boost a book, the short needs to be smart and well-crafted.

 “Gary Shteyngart’s trailer for Little Failure was very funny, irreverent, and also insightful (in what it says about celebrity culture), just like Shteyngart’s work. It’s also loaded with celebrities, which makes it fun to watch,” says Gresko “I also like the trailers for Miranda Beverly-Whittemore’s novel Bittersweet, which are creepy and tantalizing, and make me excited to read the book, but they don’t tell me exactly what the book is going to be about, which is seductive.”

But how thrilling does a literary short need to be to really engage a “twitterfied” nation? Adam Cushman, who not only created a trailer for his debut novel Cut (Black Mountain Press), but runs the Los Angeles based company Red 14 Films, whose business is to create literary shorts, says you need to hook the audience in the first ten seconds. “Every choice you make is important: music, cinematography, tone, and especially the video title. On some level there’s still a general feeling that when it comes to book trailers anything will do. But it really won’t do. If you don’t respect your audience and thrill them, entertain them, and most important, show them something new, they’ll probably continue to think that most book trailers are awful. Which they kind of are,” says Cushman.  Cushman’s company also shot trailers funded by an inventive Kickstarter campaign which raised over ten thousand dollars. 

“Many in the publishing industry see true potential in book trailers as an interactive and engaging cross-media collaboration, believing that they can do for print what the music video did for the recording industry back in the 1980s,” says  Rocco Rivetti, associate producer at Red 14 Films.  Rivetti adds that the Kickstarter campaign was a rallying point for four authors, with the backing of their publishers: Jason Ockert, Monica Drake, Scott Dominic Carpenter, and Matt Bell, who worked in collaboration with their publishers, Dzanc Books, Crown Publishers, MG Press, and Soho Press.

“I view an investment in a cinematic book trailer as just that: an investment. If it creates some short-term buzz for your book, then great, but I think it’s probably better viewed as a way to raise longer term awareness for authors and their work,” says Joshua Kornreich who just dropped a trailer for his new novel Knotty, Knotty, Knotty (Black Mountain Press, 2014). His trailer: 

As an author (my latest novel, The Butcher’s Sons, will be published by Lethe Press in the fall of 2015, and my debut novel, Diary of a Sex Addict; is being translated into German soon), I found a great teaser could do wonders for a book. Indeed the film for my short story “The German Soldier” (thanks to dynamite film maker Blake Drummond) has gotten more buzz then the story itself. But good buzz, as they say, is good buzz. 

The German Soldier (Promo) – Short story by Scott Alexander Hess 

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