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Like the trailer? Buy the book!

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People love movie trailers. They’ll watch six in a row, willing captives in their seats, and get excited to see the new ones that air during the Super Bowl. But who has ever stopped what they were doing to watch an ad for a book?

Well, before the Internet, no one, really. But the advent of YouTube and other video-sharing websites has represented a new means of attracting readers beyond the usual blurb-blanketed jackets: the book trailer. This is a brave new world for an industry that is anything but brave or new, so naturally some trailers have turned out better than others. The main goal is to go viral, and, as with many wildfire videos, comedy has proved especially effective. Case in point: the recent trailer for the paperback edition of Gary Shteyngart’s near-future novel Super Sad True Love Story, which made fun of the author with the help of his famous friends, including James Franco and Jeffrey Eugenides. Shteyngart’s trailer even took home a Moby award in June, a prize sponsored by Melville House Publishing that’s given to both the best and worst of the book trailers. Also a winner this year was the trailer for Sloane Crosley’s How Did You Get This Number, a silly, collage-inspired animation. ”We started [the Mobys] last year when these were just starting to catch,” says Melville’s founder Dennis Johnson. ”We wanted a way to separate the great trailers from the dreck.”

So what are the elements of a great trailer? ”Brevity is number one,” jokes Johnson. ”Number two would probably be brevity. And number three? I’d say brevity.” Quirk Books, responsible for popular mash-ups like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, has embraced the new medium with a slew of cinematic trailers that cost $5,000 to $10,000 apiece (far more than either publishers or authors — who often foot the bill themselves — usually spend). ”Our goal is not to create a short film that’s going to win an Oscar,” says Quirk’s Brett Cohen. ”It’s to tell a story in 30 seconds that’s going to make you want to buy the book and share the clip.”

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