Book trailers

I have a friend who can’t seem to get behind the idea of a book trailer, so figured I’d put my thoughts out there and explain a bit about why I support them.

The easy answer — We live in an increasingly visual society, and a book trailer is a quick way to get people excited about books.  Take this trailer for Stephen King’s Under The Dome for example:

I don’t own the rights to this, it’s merely an illustration.

Thirty seconds, and you’ve been good and teased on the book’s premise.  What’s wrong with that?  Well, as my friend would say, we’re trying to make books more like movies, and in doing so, robbing the reader of their own imagination.  To put it bluntly: we’re catering to the illiteracy of our society.

Here’s why I disagree: I don’t see this clip as a “trailer” (as it’s billed), but as a commercial.  Why shouldn’t books get advertisements?  We can see “trailers” about housewives using laundry detergent without spoiling our own experience with the product.  Otherwise books are advertised without actually telling us anything about the book.  “Hey, a new thriller book is out.”  If you don’t know the author, how do you know you’ll be interested?

I think book reviews are an excellent tool, but only insofar as you’re relying on someone’s opinion.  With a commercial, you get a chance to see what the book is intended to be.  It’s sort of like saying, “Here’s what I want to make you feel when you read this book.  Does something like that interest you?”

So as I see it, book trailers are raising awareness.  It’s up to the filmmakers to properly raise this awareness–to tease us–without spoiling the experience.

***update***

BONUS THOUGHT: After sleeping on it, I wonder if book covers didn’t experience a similar skepticism during the transition from plain-leather-binding to printed works of art.  One could make a similar argument that cover art limits the reader’s imagination by introducing visual representations of characters and story world.  Even so, one could make the case that cover art allows a potential buyer to instantly glean an understanding of what lies within the pages, and that book trailers are merely the next technological leap in this vein.

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14 thoughts on “Book trailers

  1. I think making a distinction between a “book trailer” and “book commercial” makes the idea a whole lot more palatable for me.

    A while back, we did a post on book trailers ( http://thecanaryreview.com/2011/09/15/small-chirps-book-trailers-the-next-big-thing/ ) and still agree that the concept is strange and gimmicky. More often than not, though, the problem is the low quality and terrible trailer-making decisions on the part of the author. Though there are exceptions.

    This is an example of a book trailer (not book commercial) that does what it’s supposed to; it makes you want to read the book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYiw5vkQFPw&

    • Hey Canary, thanks for the comment. I read your post, and your sentiment strikes me as very close to that of my aforementioned friend.

      I think where you and I can agree, is that execution is paramount to the success of a book trailer. The link you put up is a perfect example; it makes me want to read his book! And it did so in under two minutes. A magazine blurb could never hope to have the same results in the same span of time.

      Honestly, most movie trailers ruin the movie. The result would be even worse for a book. That’s why I plan on staying involved in the trailer process for my own work, to make sure it only teases and piques the potential reader’s interest.

      • That’s an interesting thing to say–about the movie trailers usually ruining the movie for you. For me, it’s quite the opposite. I see a movie trailer, and instantly want to go see the movie–nevermind that the movie trailer was for Ghost Rider 2.

        • Haha! I suppose I’m a bit of a story purist, and my best moviegoing experiences are ones in which I know almost nothing about the film. There are story beats the writer chooses to unfold in their own unique way, and a lot of those are spoiled for me by trailers. But that’s a whole different bone to pick!

  2. To me, all trailers are commercials. A commercial is supposed to entice you to buy a product. A trailer is supposed to entice you to buy a product (a movie ticket). As long as book trailers/commercials are done well I think they are wonderful tools to promote books.

  3. There’s also the consideration that a book review will only go, at first, to a relatively limited readership of literary-style magazines. By the time that Newsweek or Time picks up a book to review, it’s already blown up. When first starting up, you’re stuck in the readership wastelands of the New Yorker or Atlantic. It seems that a video clip “commercial” for a book could more easily proliferate by word of mouth than a 1000-word review.

    • Good point, Damon. Not to mention that a reader is generally *paying* to read these magazines, and any first-year business student can tell you making people pay for access to your ads is not the most efficient way out there.

  4. I’m glad you mentioned staying involved in trailer production for your own work. We’ve all seen movie trailers that managed to completely misrepresent the tone of a movie (like the commercial for Mad Men that was targeted at Walking Dead viewers). The studio can change the musical score and the pace of the editing, and that counts for a lot, but you still get to see images and dialogue from the actual movie. An experienced (jaded) viewer might be able to sense what is going on. But in the case of a book, I see a lot of potential for publishers to abuse the process and market whatever aspect of the book they think will sell.

    I think everyone would have to agree that good book trailers are a good thing.

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