From the Desk of Patrick Madden: On Book Trailers

Patrick Madden is a professor at Brigham Young University. He is the author of the award-winning Sublime Physick: Essays (Nebraska, 2016) and Quotidiana: Essays (Nebraska, 2010), and coeditor, with David Lazar, of After Montaigne: Contemporary Essayists Cover the Essays. His essays have appeared in a variety of periodicals as well as in The Best Creative Nonfiction and The Best American Spiritual Writing anthologies.

Countless experiences in my life have confirmed that I’m not marketing savvy, so what am I doing making book trailers? Not to mention the fact that book trailers are so 2012, and even back then trailers had only questionable effects on sales, and sometimes those effects were negative! I suppose I’m resigned to being behind the times, for one, and I’m naively hopeful that my books might find readers beyond my circle of friends, but mostly I just love the creative process and want the launch of a book to be fun, for me at least. If it’s fun for others, too, that’s a bonus.

So let me share with you the backstories of the two book trailers I’ve been involved in, and offer them to you for viewing, in hopes that the five or so minutes you spend here will be enjoyable.

Most recently, to accompany the publication of my newest book, Disparates, I teamed up with my brother David, who’s a biology teacher and science enthusiast. His videos at Madden Science feature perspective-flipping examples, interviews with field experts, and lots of nature footage that Dave shoots himself. Because my book contains some perspective-flipping examples itself, I wanted to borrow my brother’s expertise.

I chose to represent some of the stranger pieces from the book, the pangram haiku, which are short 5-7-5-syllable poems that use every letter of the alphabet (click here to write your own pangram haiku). As you might imagine, these constrained essayistic poems can be quite punchy. It occurred to me that their tone felt like Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts. They had a similar vibe. So I wrote four brand new pangram haiku about the book itself and asked Dave to match them with some of his best nature videos and an appropriately new-agey soundtrack. A little bit of font-matching for the title script and scrolling captions, and we had ourselves a very Saturday Night Live-ish tangential advertisement for my book. Given that it’s a parody of a parodic television show, we figure we’re well within fair use.

Who knows if it’s “effective” or “marketable,” if it advances my “brand” to the hundred-and-fifty souls who’ve watched it. I hope so. But as long as the process of making it was diverting, and the viewers are tickled, I’m satisfied.

I was satisfied, too, with the unavoidably (but endearingly?) bad acting my friend Joey Franklin and I committed to video for my previous book, too. The idea for the Sublime Physick trailer came from an off-the-cuff, off-the-wall comment made by Brian Doyle about “Fixity,” the last essay in that book:

It’s like Sebald and Montaigne got drunk and wrote a piece together.

—B Doyle

When “Fixity” had found enough companion pieces to make a whole book, I asked Brian if we could revise his statement slightly to change “piece” to “book” and use it as a blurb, and he graciously agreed. What’s more, I saw him that fall and we recorded him speaking the statement, with a few flourishes. What’s even more, my oftmentioned friend Joey, sporting an excellent resemblance to Michel de Montaigne, had recently done a few surprise gigs as the Father of the Essay wearing (what’s even more!) a remarkable reproduction of the very outfit that Montaigne wears in his best-known portrait. The costume had only recently been expertly and graciously made by another writer and friend, Shelli Spotts. It seemed like all the ingredients were in place for a book-trailer enactment of Doyle’s quip, but we needed one last thing: someone who could direct and film the spot. Oh, and someone to play Sebald. For the first, I contacted another friend, Brent Rowland, a cinematographer, and for the second, I started growing out my hair so I could style it Sebald-like. That accomplished, Joey and I glued on fake moustaches and donned period-accurate costumes, then carted his old Remington typewriter and a few bottles of sparkling cider and root beer to the Black Sheep Café in downtown Provo, Utah, where we met Brent for many minutes of amateurish hamming and improvising the scene described by Doyle.

I’m still quite pleased with the result. And even if I can’t know if the trailer led to any book sales, I hope you’ll enjoy the silliness.

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