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Blockbuster Book Trailers

by Will Wlizlo

Tags: authors, book trailers, Tim Pawlenty, Stuart Ross, media, subTerrain, Will Wlizlo,

Fighter planes rip across the sky to a backdrop of soaring violins. Freckled, pensive children stare blankly at the camera. An American flag flaps robustly, confidently in the wind. And above it all, a man speaks urgently of freedom, accomplishment, legacy, and extraordinary strength. This trailer—clichéd in all the effective ways—isn’t for a World War II-themed blockbuster. It’s for a book called Courage to Stand—an autobiography and platform piece by former Minnesota governor and 2012 Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty. Underwhelmed?

Pawlenty is just the latest author to schlep his book with the help of an emerging visual medium, the book trailer. (Although, in T-Paw’s case, there are also some presidential aspirations thinly veiled by the commercial.) The medium gives authors a chance to defend their own book, its merits and motivations, with sleek moving images and charming anecdotes. We’ve even plugged a trailer made for experimental literature by Jonathan Safran Foer. And why not? We all pay $50 a month for broadband for a reason, right? Shouldn’t advertisements be delivered to us, not in static block of text, but in streaming high-definition video?

At least one author isn’t sold on the new sales technique. After seeing another author’s book trailer, Stuart Ross—Canadian writer, professor, and literary editor of This Magazine—puts it more bluntly: “For some reason, it just bugs the shit out of me. Not Gary [Barwin’s] trailer itself—the fact that now we have to make goddamn book trailers! It’s not enough to write a book. To do launches and readings. To tweet and BlechBook. Now we have to be movie stars too.” The quote comes from a column in subTerrain, in which Ross chronicles the production of his first book trailer.

I have ten minutes before my class starts. I scrawl “Stuart Ross Book Trailer” on a  piece of paper. I open up PhotoBooth on my Mac and hold up my sign, wiggle it around a bit, put it down, and pick up my book. “Hi, I’m Stuart Ross and this is my fucking book. It’s called Buying Cigarettes for the Dog. And it’s got stories in it. And I hope you’ll buy it.” I grimace and fill the screen with my sign again, muttering. It’s my first book trailer and it’s 25 seconds long.

The video was eventually picked up by Huffington Post for an article about the best and worst book trailers, which garnered Ross’ video about 3,200 views. He concludes: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you put your mind and about ten minutes to it.”

Source: subTerrain (article not yet available online)