Eight Million Viral Views Later: In Search of the Ultimate Children’s and YA Book Trailer

In Children's, Digital by Kathleen Sweeney

Book trailers — surveyed here last week — are a complicated art form, half-entertainment, half-promotion. Making them appeal to children and teens can be even more challenging.

By Kathleen Sweeney

The big screen success of the Dave Eggers/Spike Jonze adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are would suggest that producing a book trailer for children would be as simple as producing an HD, live-action adaptation of the original text. No brainer right? Nah. That’s too expensive, challenging, and…well, unlikely (how many children’s publishers do you think have A-list hipster film directors on speed dial?). Instead, many children’s trailers take a ho-hum Ken Burns-style approach, with page-by-page illustration zoom-ins and fly-overs to a kind-hearted voice-over. Yawn, yes. Eureka, no. Though highly visual at its core, and so much amusement in a flip-through at a bookstore, the picture book often eludes effective screen translation.

Chronicle Books comes to the rescue with Press Here by Hervé Tullet. In an era of kid gadgetry and gaming, the simple, finger to paper press-and-point interactivity of its page-turns pops off the computer screen with a big dose of fun factor.


13 Words, a collaboration between Lemony Snicket and Maira Kalman, provides tongue-in-cheek pithiness to an illustrated collection of quirky and mundane words. Like most picture book trailers, the aim is to catch adult viewers (read: buyers), since the archness of this sequence would no doubt sail over the head of a five-year-old.


Marion Bataille‘s ABC3D takes the pop-up book to a whole new level. Capturing a “you are there” playfulness complete with 1930s cartoon era jazz riffs, the trailer elicits a “get me a copy now” mantra. ABC3D is just the kind of book toddlers love to rip apart and grown-ups secretly buy to hide on the top bookshelf. Fave letters in the sequence include the ‘E/F’ amalgam and the psychedelic spinning ‘S’.


For the optimal nerd alert, there’s the science fun of Theodore Gray’s The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe, a lush video set to Tom Lehrer’s 1959 epomynous song, “The Elements,” (which we wrote about extensively here). Who knew the periodic table could be so kinetic? And on the iPad, well, let’s just say it plays like a chemistry experiment in action…


Celebrities Wanna Write Children’s Books

With a Terry Gilliam-esque animated trailer for his book Soul Pancake, actor Rainn Wilson (of TV’s The Office) reveals an artier side of his persona, with comedy intact. “Rainn Wilson has an Artgasm” is a live action animation party, with hand-drawn words on crumpled pages unfolding from his mouth. It bodes well for re-watching and piques curiosity about the book, which is dedicated to “The overwhelming experience of viewing, pondering, or discussing a truly fabulous piece of art.”


In a rare case of the children’s book trailer before the book, comedian and SNL alum Jenny Slate co-produced, wrote and voiced Marcel The Shell, an animated video featuring a diminutive, sad sack shell whose pet is a piece of lint attached to a hair leash.


Eight million viral video views later, the project is now scheduled for publication as a bona fide picture book, according to this Publishers Weekly report.

YA Spells “Yay” for Trailers

With a much wider range of promo videos in the Young Adult book category, creative leaps have definitely energized teen media interactivity. New YA book releases include links to some alluring trailers.

The video promo for Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy, a sci-fi dystopia that twists on-line dating into a controlled society spans a deceptively simple 48 seconds and effectively cliff-hangers a desire to read more.


With an indie-rock soundtrack, words flame onscreen against an evocative New York City fast-mo backdrop in Gayle Forman’s Where She Went trailer, which deftly captures a slice of teen angst amid urban mystery.


Cassandra Clare launches a prequel to her series The Mortal Instruments with Clockwork Angel, a video promo embedded with film reel scratches and cosmic gear systems, fire-lit text and London map backgrounds in a high concept entry into a strange Victorian universe.


In a completely different vintage vein, clothing racks and thrift store memorabilia serve as a roving background for questions key-stroked in typewriter font in the promo for Vintage Veronica, a teen novel by Erica S. Perl. Like a lunch break spent nipping into a thrift store, the piece is spare, retro and fun.


Young Adult Trailer Blazers: John Green and Maggie Steifvater

Long-term success in the Young Adult market does not truly pivot on one trailer or another, but is increasingly linked, as in the case of John Green, a successful Young Adult writer with a large YouTube following, to dialoguing with and engaging fans via frequent blog and video posts. In Green’s case, this includes an alternating dialogue with his “vlogbrother” Hank, who provides high intensity repartee. Under the “NerdsUnite” fan moniker, here’s their how-to on how to be a Nerdfighter:


At over 350,000 views, the Green vlogbrothers are obviously populating the world with new recruits and selling many copies of Green’s Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns along the way.

While many books aimed at teenage girl readers currently ride the Twilight wave of angsty demon/vampire drama, occasionally creative approaches leap over the photo-based blockbuster wannabes. A stop-motion book trailer created with hundreds of paper cut-outs by Maggie Stiefvater for her novel Shiver takes a subtle slice through to the genre of girl meets wolf-boy.


Trailer innovation continues with her 2009 sequel, Linger:


In addition to offering free downloads of her co-composed songs and sheet music, Stiefvater chronicles the video-making process on her blog. Like Green, Stiefvater has tapped the multiplatform approach for maximum fan interactivity.

The trailer for Before I Fall, a debut teen novel from author Lauren Oliver, holds its own as a piece of eye candy experimental video, with or without the book tie-in. The premise of the book, about a popular girl who dies then has a second chance to return with the wisdom of an afterlife glimpse, captures the speed zone of a-day-in-an-adolescent-life with a sped-up/rewind style that is its own visual wake-up call.


Collaboration Central

It’s no secret that the most page-transcendent book trailers are visual storytelling collaborations. Emily Greaser www.emly.net is a motion graphics designer and photographer with a penchant for typography. Exquisite graphics, still photos and live footage coalesce in her recent trailer for YA author Jennifer Archer’s book, Through Her Eyes:


Recognizing that “a lot of weight falls on the authors to fund a trailer or make innovations in marketing,” Emily Greaser collaborated with Archer on establishing a visual direction drawn from “thematic elements of the book,” with a three-dimensional tech style based on animated stills and text.

While creatives have a definitive sway with innovation, the marketing team plays a huge role in multiplatform positioning of book trailers to produce buzz-worthy traction. Given the number of trailers out there with minimal views, this part of book science continues to evolve. Stacy Lellos, VP of Marketing for Scholastic Trade describes their approach. “Videos are always part of a larger marketing plan…We try to focus on the big idea behind each and write the best script to showcase a particular book or author.”

Given how teenage readers inhabit the virtual realms of social media, media tie-ins for this demographic have to spark to become viral shareware. And no periodic table exists for that kind of chemistry. According to Maggie Stiefvater, it takes “rubber cement, string, clay, cookie dough, and a little black magic.”

Kathleen Sweeney is a writer, blogger and multimedia producer. She currently teaches courses on pop culture and social media at The New School, New York (www.video-text.com).

SURVEY: Are Book Trailers an Efficient Use of Marketing Dollars?

About the Author

Kathleen Sweeney

Kathleen Sweeney, a multimedia writer, artist and activist, explores the intersections of creativity, video, social media and social change. Founder/Director of The Viral Media Lab, and author of Maiden USA: Girl Icons Come of Age, she blogs and publishes articles on media, pop culture, and technology, with creative nonfiction at Cowbird.