Generally Bookish: On Book Trailers

Tomorrow, Marie Lu’s debut novel, Legend, will be released amid an impressive amount of hype for a young adult book. Between book blogs and Goodreads, I’ve been hearing about Legend for at least a month¹, and yesterday, a mostly positive review was printed in the Los Angeles Times. The basic plot—dystopian, of course—sounds right up my alley, and I’m pretty much sold on buying and reading it as soon as possible.

But here comes the “but”: last night I watched the book trailer for Legend, and the degree to which I cringed throughout was almost physically uncomfortable:

Let’s first acknowledge that nothing exists in a vacuum. Penguin, I’m sure, put a lot of thought and effort into marketing Legend, and this video is but one small piece of the puzzle. What’s more, the Penguin PR team has clearly done its job, as evidenced by my writing about this book well before I’ve actually read it.

However, why on earth would anyone think that this trailer is a good idea? The bad voice acting, the graphics that evoke computer games circa 1998…it’s as though there’s someone, somewhere, who wants to embarrass anyone who wants to read this book. I mean, I’m at the core of the target demographic², and I  found it off-putting.

Which brings us to my main question: if a book trailer doesn’t pique one’s interest, if it potentially repels, then what’s the point?

For the sake of comparison, I decided to look up the book trailers for some of my favorite reads of 2011. Here’s what was done in 2009 for Kristin Cashore’s Fire, a book so good, I’ve already read it twice³:

Again, let’s acknowledge something upfront: unlike movies, books don’t come with a bank of footage that can be cut into a truly excellent trailer. And any attempt to put a voice or face to a particular book or character is going to be met with resistance from some fans, no matter how carefully one treads.

And yet…really? A (faux?) British accent, Brigan awkwardly wielding what looks like a katana, and something about desire destroying the Dells? I would cry, were it not for the knowledge that this video is not the main, let alone only, means by which one is likely to discover this wonderful book.

Which again begs the question: what is the point of a book trailer? Why bother with one if it’s not able to stand alone in support of the book it features? And is there any way to create a successful trailer for a medium that is not inherently visual?

After further exploration, I’ve decided that book trailers improve the second they eschew voice overs of any kind. Little, Brown and Company got this right with their trailer for Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor, though I remain undecided about the video as a whole:

Having read (and loved) Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I question the packaging of the story, plus the video is fast cut, making the text difficult to read. Still, the graphics are pretty, and the overall feel is a step up from Legend and Fire.

To be honest, I’ve seen only one book trailer that actually increased my interest in reading its particular book, and this is for A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness:

Based on this trailer, I have some understanding of what this book is about, and more importantly, I trust that understanding and want to know more. Moreover, I have some idea as to how this book will make me feel—and I don’t think it’s coincidental that this trailer is for an already illustrated novel. There was no need to draw imagery from scratch, only to animate variations of what was already included, and this connection to the origianl lends the entire video authenticity.

I’m curious to know what others think about book trailers: whether or not they’re regularly sought out and watched, and how they might be made more effective as publishing houses continue to embrace the Internet as a way to cultivate interest in books. (And if you’ve seen any particularly wonderful trailers, please send them my way!)


¹Goodreads tells me I added Legend to my “to-read” shelf on November 1st.
²Likely +10 years, but hey—at least I have a disposable income!
³In the Katsa vs. Fire debate, I am 100% Team Fire.

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5 responses to “Generally Bookish: On Book Trailers

  1. I really don’t enjoy book trailers at all, and I feel mostly the same way about book talks. I’m not good at making them, and I don’t consider them a useful tool for reader’s advisory or book marketing. But the publishers seem to think they’re useful (though they’re awfully expensive to make when you consider how few people even know they exist) and some librarians love both and think they’re great.

    As an RA tool, I’d really much rather give an individual person whose tastes I know a targeted version of a book talk–describing the story in a way that accentuates the piece I think they’d like most. As a marketing tool, I think posters and signage are just as effective if not more, because book selling is really an on-site affair. Either you’re on the books online page, where the trailer isn’t going to be integrated, or you’re in the store, where you can pick up the book and flip through it to see if you find it interesting. A good summary, IMO, is much more useful than a trailer.

    My distaste for them is strong enough that I have a hard time even writing about it in a well-reasoned way.

    • I’d be really interested to talk to someone involved in making book trailers, because on the one hand, they’re expensive for what they are (YouTube videos that get ~2K views), while on the other hand, they mostly come across as very low budget—which is exactly why I don’t understand what they’re meant to accomplish.

      I think posters and signage are more effective in the long run, simply because they’re more likely to make a book’s cover recognizable, and in my case, recognizing a cover is more likely to make me pick it up and read the blurb, possibly the opening lines. Plus, we can go on and on about “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but at the end of the day, cover art is important.

      I do think that there must be some effective ways for authors and publishers to leverage the potential of the Internet. I’m just not sure what that would look like, exactly. Preferably nothing like the book trailer for Fire.

  2. The only book trailer I’ve seen and liked was for Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. The author did it himself, which I’m sure helped, and the book is another one that uses images (vintage photos) as part of its story, which probably gave the trailer the added visuals it needed. Most people I know (outside of book bloggers) don’t even know about book trailers. I don’t know that they help much.

    • This is why I’m so confused by them: if no one knows what they are, and the few people who do know what they are think they’re generally ridiculous, then what possible point could they have? At least as far as positively promoting a book?

      At the same time, I think video could be a really good way to promote a book, though I’m not quite sure what that would look like. Blargh.

  3. Pingback: TGIF | YA in the Second City

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