The Top 3 Reasons Why Book Trailers are Worthless

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure book trailers have been done before. And they weren’t successful then either. We all remember the thirty-second television ads that you’d see from time to time for a book. There was always a disconnect—watching a visual medium trying to excite you about a nonvisual medium. First, books are SO personal and the images we create in our heads of the stories and settings of books are so unique to our own personal world construct, that it’s hard to see what would work in a mass media presentation. Has a video ever succeeded in selling a book? Ever? It’s one thing to see a movie of a book you’ve already read. Most of us can switch gears pretty quickly to align our vision of what Hogwarts looked like with that of Director Chris Columbus’. And ever after that, of course, it’s his vision we see in our heads as we read the rest of the series.

I was watching a BBC time travel show last winter called “The Outcasts,” (really good BTW but cancelled after one season) and at one point the camera focused on the main character’s face as she opened up a chest that held an alien creature germane to the survival of the colony. The camera hesitated a tad too long on the woman’s face and I found myself thinking: “If you do a cut away to the next scene without showing us what it looked like (presumably to save on the production cost of creating the alien thing), I’m going to be pissed. If I wanted to use my imagination, I’d read a book.”

The point is, we have certain expectations from each of our mediums. Trying to pretend that a book is a movie and that we are excited and teased by it in the same way as a movie is silly. For one thing, our experience with a book will typically be more invested than with a movie. A movie may cost the same but it’s only about 90 minutes of your time. A book will likely go with you on your daily round and fall asleep with you at night. You will access the book on your own schedule, and dip into it or read it straight through based on your mood and timing—not your neighborhood Cineplex’s. It’s a relationship. Whatever actress or animation you see in the book trailer is not who you would have created in your own mind. The book trailer actually succeeds in making the world created in the book less real.

Top three reasons not to waste your time producing a book trailer:

  1. If the production is decent, you—as the author—will come off looking a little smarmy and slick. And not-so-deep down we all know it just means you spent money for a professional video editor. It has nothing to do with the promise of the quality of the book.
  2. If the production is lame, and indie book trailers often are with their sappy music, indecipherable text fonts, and amateurish slides, most people—used to very sophisticated video productions—will run like hell from you and your book.
  3. Finally, not only is the medium of video inadequate to sell the complex, detailed world expected from a book, but so is the time allotment. Sixty seconds—the recommended length for a book trailer—just isn’t long enough to do the job. Wrong medium, wrong message. Books aren’t movies. They can’t be advertised like movies.

Also, my brief visit to Wikipedia today informed me that book trailers were originally created to get nonreaders interested in picking up a book. That makes sense. If someone doesn’t read, he likely gets his stories from TV or movies, so a movie would be a good way to try to reach him.  But, unless you’re trying to talk your audience into reading, rather than specifically reading your book, it’s probably a better use of your time to let the indie filmmakers keep their trailers and you do other things to promote your book!

Having said that, I’ve got a book trailer for my book Toujours Dead that was loads of fun to do, (I’m an amateur film editor) though I won’t be repeating the experience anytime soon. Anyone else have a feeling one way or the other about the benefits of book trailers? Or proof of how a book trailer helped to sell books? Love to hear from you!

20 thoughts on “The Top 3 Reasons Why Book Trailers are Worthless

  1. Interesting post. Makes me really think — I haven’t done a book trailer as I’m still finishing my book but I’ve seen more and more of them so it has been on my mind (and I didn’t really want to and now you’ve given me good reasons not to – thank you.)

  2. Thanks for sharing this interesting point of view. I’m of the same mind even when it comes to movies of books. I love using my imagination as I read, which the movie often changes completely. But I do also love short video’s about books as author interviews or author commentaries – not visualizing the book but getting to know the author in a more personal way. I recently made one of these, cost me nothing and lots of people “liked” it.

  3. interesting. us older (born in the thirties or early forties) have a huge advantage in the imagination department. we (the whole family) listened to the radio and read books, every scene of every show and the characters who occupied them, from inner sanctum to the Cisco Kid or Red Skeltons mean little kid had to be imagined with the help of a few well placed sound effects, we grew up imagining Fiber Maggie’s Closet, and Buck Rogers space ship. It was all there in our heads, every detail, we learned early how to create other worlds in our heads, Today I earn my living by drawing those images that come so easily into my head and flow out of my brush onto the page, people ask how do you come up with those images, followed by you’re so creative. my answer is, no I was trained as a child to form pictures from words on paper or flowing out of the radio, we were lucky because we were deprived of someone elses idea of what this or that looked like we had to learn to read, listen and imagine all the magic worlds that words create in our minds. close your eye’s and turn on your mind. create.

  4. I admit I’ve never watched or been interested in book trailers. I like trailers only for certain movies and certainly not at all for books. Lile you said, books aren’t movies and shouldn’t be advertised as such, even for nonreaders because you’re promising a movie experience out of a book.

  5. I like watching book trailers. The best are entertaining. Not sure they persuade me to buy books though. Perhaps it might if it was the author reading an excerpt.

    I agree with the relationship with a book. At the end of the best books I’ve read, there is something of a wrench as I leave the world and the people. I can ask for no better than that; that the author makes the illusion seem real for the time I’m reading.

  6. Interesting. We’ve been chucking around some ideas for a trailer, but thought that the only way it could really work was if it was the kind of thing which gets send around the office – so it needs to have some kind of hook. I’d be very interested to hear what others experiences with them are.

  7. The LA Times recently ran an article on book trailers and posted links to one that was downright awful. You nailed the problem on the head: It’s a visual medium being used to promote a non-visual medium. Most book trailers I’ve seen look like projects from a high school vidoegraphy class.

  8. As a reader I can say that a trailer will not get me to buy a book for the reason you state, one medium vs another. I just finished Death by the Sea, and now I have very defined images of the characters and the settings. The trailer for Toujours doesn’t look anything like I anticipate seeing in the book. I prefer good reviews, author interviews and blogs. Which by the way has created a fan. Left a good review on Amazon. Will work my way through all your books.

  9. Someone on my Facebook page commented that they ran their book trailer at a recent book festival and got lots of interest. I, too, displayed my book trailer at a book festival last fall and, admittedly, I got a lot of people coming over to check it out. So I do think they can be a great tool to generate foot traffic to your book table or booth. I would argue, however, that I could’ve been running YouTube cat videos and they would’ve still come over to see me. I stand behind my belief that book trailers don’t tempt you into buying books. Good reviews, good covers and sampling are better precursors to that.

  10. I did a trailer for my thriller DEADLY STRAITS and I don’t regret the effort. My purpose, as a new and completely unknown author, was not so much to sell books as to entice REVIEWERS to at least consider my offering. I posted the trailer prominently on the Books page of my new website and embedded links to the trailer in emails I sent to prospective reviewers. I think my short email pitch to reviewers (both bloggers and individuals) was fairly effective, and I concluded it with something along the lines of, “Still undecided? View this short trailer to get a feel for DEADLY STRAITS.”

    I did the trailer myself using WMM and stock media (about $200 worth). It’s probably not ‘professional’ quality, but it’s presentable. I garnered something like 25 reviews in the first month or so, and I credit the trailer (at least to some degree) with stirring interest. I’m now at over 100 reviews on Amazon and 75 on B&N, and DEADLY STRAITS is selling well across multiple platforms.

    If anyone thinks a trailer alone is going to sell books, I feel they’re headed for disappointment. However, getting noticed is IMO, a multi-step process and a decent trailer CAN be an effective first step if used correctly. I doubt I will invest the time & effort into trailers for subsequent books, as I know have an email list of folks that are receptive to my work, but for my first plunge into the unknown, a trailer worked for me.

    The DEADLY STRAITS trailer is still up on my Books page if anyone wants to take a look:



    P.S. Thanks for a great blog. I’ve been a regular reader since I discovered you.

    • Thanks, Bob. I checked out your trailer and thought it was really good. I especially loved the music…really perfect for it. I admit there’s an argument to be made, especially for a new and unknown author, that a trailer might serve to alert prospective reviewers to view you as a serious professional. Again, as long as it’s well done, as yours was.

      • Susan, thanks for the kind words on the trailer. Actually, I’m in general agreement with you on the effectiveness of trailers except in specific circumstances. As with any tool, it helps if you start with a clear idea as to what you hope to achieve with it. Thanks again for the great blog.

  11. I absolutely agree with your points – trailers end up concretising the image of the book in ways better left up to the imagination of the reader. And unless they run to a high budget or are pushed through by a professional company (like Weta Digital) they will likely let down down a professionally written book with an avalanche of lame.

    But it seems to me that, in the sense that all art involves evoking an emotion in the recipient, the trailer will work if it’s got that professional edge and inspires a sense of anticipation about the wider emotional satisfaction a reader would receive from the book. And I think your trailer for Toujours Dead does just that! It’s fantastic. Thanks for a great post – and trailer!

    Matthew Wright

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