Guest Post: Judging a Book by its…. Trailer?

It was nice to learn that I was not the last human on the planet to discover book trailers! Yesterday’s Janeology post and trailer sparked a lot of discussion in the comments, so Karen Harrington, author of Janeology, offered to share a piece she wrote for her blog a while back about book trailers.  Thanks, Karen!

Judging a book by its…trailer?                       by Karen Harrington

Do you recall that great line from Sunset Boulevard where fading silent movie actress Norma Desmond defends her role in the movies? She cites her looks, her expressions and says, “You can’t write that down.”

It’s true. There are feelings one can convey through a look that the best writers would find hard to describe. So it’s only natural that the trend towards using cinematic features is now in vogue for bookselling. Book trailers arguably have the ability to convey dramatic elements of a story in ways a book jacket cannot.

Author Brenda Coulter disagrees that this is a good method for books however saying that most trailers are simple slideshows with a soundtrack. She also dislikes that so many of the trailers cannot be viewed by a huge percentage of Americans due to dial-up connection. Now, to be fair, Ms. Coulter wrote her opinion two years ago. The method has come a long way, baby!

The trailer for Ann Patchett’s latest novel Run shows an aqueous blue background with bubbles continuously floating over images of people, houses on the rich/poor ends of the spectrum and selected descriptive passages from the novel. The singular piano accompaniment to this trailer creates an inviting, if not subtle, undercurrent of mystery and secrets. You could probably view this trailer in a library.

By contrast author Caro Ramsey’s novel trailer for Absolution comes at the viewer full stop, with ominous images of knives and crosses bouncing across the screen in a shaky hand-held camera style, all set to an eerie single violin Silence of the Lambs-esque piece that would likely get you summarily shushed by a librarian.

I am intrigued by the very way images, music and ideas come together in less than five minutes to give a potential reader a sense of the book. And this new view into book trailers made me wonder: would we choose books the same way we choose movies – from a two-minute glimpse? Would you rather go into Barnes & Noble and scan several short videos to make your selection? Or do you prefer to scan the New Release table and thumb through the pages in hand?

Much like the current political environment where the key slogan of the day is “You Decide,” you can decide for yourself by viewing the trailers above, or even the one created for Janeology which is filled with haunting scenes of water imagery and dark family secrets, scored with music that will make your neck hairs stand at attention. (Fortunate author that I am, this trailer was created by one of THE inventors of the novel trailer art form, Kam Wai Yu, who has been developing this art since the 1980s.) 

Karen Harrington is the author of JANEOLOGY, the story of one man’s attempt to understand his wife’s sudden descent into madness and murder.

9 Responses

  1. The purpose of the trailer is to get you to read the book and for that reason, a trailer, if done well could entice a reader to pick up the book. The problem with a trailer for either a book or a movie, is that it is someone else’s interpretation of the material.

    I have a question.. how do you think having a trailer would affect a book as far of a future adaptation into film? There are so many books-into-movies these days.

  2. Thanks for hosting this blog post, Lisa!

    Ti – You are on point when you say that the trailer is someone else’s interpretation of the material. This is just like the cover art, however. All of it is in the hands of the marketing professionals who create and design all the materials. For me, I didn’t have great input into either of these tools for my book. But I think the artist – who did both my trailer and cover – did a great job of showcasing key elements of the story. I do, however, like trailers that include brief passages of text from the novel.

    Your question about film adaptation is an interesting one. I think the trailer would have very little influence on whether someone would want to turn a book into a film. Ultimately, a book goes to film because of its captivating story. And then, it goes through another iteration via a screenwriter and director. So many different interpretations of the same story. This, however, is turning out to be one of the true joys of talking to people about my book. Readers bring me interesting questions and assumptions (one lady, for example, wrote me about how certain she was that two of my characters were married…which they weren’t). So it’s like my writing prof once told me – When you finish writing, you abandon the story to the perceptions of others.



  3. I’ve only read Run of the examples you linked to, but I have to admit I thought it was really well done! Didn’t spoil the plot, but highlighted significant aspects of the novel (which I absolutely loved, by the way).

    Great post! Here’s another interesting article about book trailers:

  4. I’ve seen links for book trailers, but they just don’t interest me. If I wanted to see a movie, I’d see a movie. I also assume that a trailer could give you a clear picture of how characters are supposed to look. I prefer coming up with my own picture in my head as I read.

  5. The Wall Street Journal article was interesting as far as the hook they used. Since my company was named in that article I can share some insight not covered there. If you’re interested I wrote a lengthy reply to that article here-

    Book trailers have been around a long time. I think that the benefit of having been producing since the times before YouTube is that we were forced to find alternate distribution outlets before social media. Now we have those outlets plus the new ones.

    Whether you like the idea of them or not, if you could get your book cover and story to 300 booksellers, 5000 libraries, 50 social media sites, 400 online newsrooms and to 11 million bus commuters would you have a book trailer done?

    Everyone is still talking about having one. How to make them. How they should look. Whether or not they are worth it. In my opinion I think the questions should be, how do I make them effective? How do I get them to the right people? What other uses do they have?

    The great thing about it is that the publishing industry now has a vehicle and venue just like other entertainment industries. We’re not the odd-man-out anymore.

  6. […] Do we want trailers for books? […]

  7. Lisa, I just love your guest posts! Book trailers are something I’d have to get used to, but creativity is crucial in this day and age.

  8. […] been a lot of discussion about book trailers on this blog and elsewhere on the ‘Net, and the question is: Do book trailers sell books? As an […]

  9. A while back I encountered Brenda Coulter’s book trailer in YouTube. It came as a surprise, though., to hear she dislikes book trailers. Truly, I was disappointed in hearing this since she has an article on how to go about doing a book trailer, and which has been an inspiration to me as a writer.

    To anyone interested in seeing her book trailer, take a look.

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