vrijdag 16 december 2011

Book Trailers: Awkward Authors or Works of Art?

Book trailers have been around for almost ten years now, but they don't seem to create the amount of 'buzz' they are supposed to. This isn't stopping the publishers, though, as we see more and more book trailers popping up on the internet.

If you compare these book trailers to the ones we see in the cinema, you start to wonder why authors and publishers still even try. Creating a trailer for a film seems easy enough. You try to pique the interest of the viewer by showing them the most interesting parts of the story, by using the most visually attractive images you can have in your movie. You can't do this with a book, because there are no images. You will need to start from scratch and create a visual world for a textual medium, and as we all know from various movie adaptations, this doesn't always get it right. Before I wrote this article it seemed wise to research the subject and watch as many book trailers I could find. I learned that book trailers are no exception to the adaptation rule. A good example of this is the book trailer for Joseph Finder's Power Play, which makes the book look like a corporate version of Die Hard without the great one liners by Bruce Willis.


Instead of making me interested in reading this book it actually turned me off of it. Mind you, this was not a book trailer for a vanity writer who thought it would be 'fun' to also produce a trailer with his friends. Finder has written eleven novels, won several International Thriller Awards and is frequently reviewed in the New York Times. I'll admit that the New York Times isn't the penultimate authority when it comes the quality of books and their review of this particular one wasn't exactly raving, but it does mean that Joseph Finder is a serious writer, with serious writing credit.

Luckily there are also a lot of fun, interesting and above all good book trailers. An example I personally like is Packing for Mars: SpaceHygiene, a book by Mary Roach that tries to answer strange questions about going into space.


This trailer is quirky, funny and gives you a sense of the content of the book without giving away the entire story. Because Packing for Mars is a non-fiction work, not giving away the story doesn't seem particularly hard. When you create a trailer for a novel, however, this gets more difficult. A trailer shouldn't give you the feeling that you already know how the story is going to unfold. If that is the case, why would you need to read the book? An example of a trailer for a work of fiction that doesn't do this, is the trailer for A Super Sad True Love Story.



Instead of focusing on the story, it focuses on the author. They briefly explain what the book is about, but nothing is given away. Instead of conveying a story, it conveys an overall feeling that you can expect to find in the book. It conveys the style of the author, stating that if you enjoyed this trailer, you will enjoy this writer. Besides the funny tone of the trailer, it also uses so-called 'star power' by inserting famous actors and authors like James Franco and Jeffrey Eugenides, proving that even the literary world isn't impervious to using celebrities for advertisement. These author-oriented trailers don't always work as well as this one though and sometimes you end up with the author awkwardly talking about his book and the act of reading (yes, I'm talking about you Jonathan Franzen)

There are many more examples of good and bad trailers, but the ultimate question from a marketing point of view is in the end, do they work? Is it worth it for a publisher to spent his valuable time and money on a book trailer? This question doesn't have an easy answer. With every marketing tool it is difficult to point out if it actually influences sales or not if your customers don't specifically tell you. The only way to find out if they actually work is to ask every single person who buys a book if they saw the trailer and if this was the reason they bought it.
In 2008 The Wall Street Journal has tried to assess the effect of creating trailers on book sales. They came to the conclusion that 'there is scant evidence […] that the average book trailer has much impact on sales'. There haven't been more recent studies on this, which is a shame, because it would be interesting to see if this changed in the growing world of e-books.

Many publishers keep returning to the keywords 'creating a buzz'. The objective is to make people talk about the book and recognize it when they're browsing their bookshop. I said at the start though, that this 'buzz' doesn't really seem to exist. Many people haven't even heard of book-trailers and if they have, they don't seem to notice them.

An interesting take on book trailers comes from filmmakers Scott Thrift and Ari Kuschnir. Rather than seeing the trailer as a way to market a book, they approach it as a work of art on its own. Something to be a companion to the book, rather than a mere representation of it. Their own attempt at making a trailer for the supernatural thriller Blood and Ice is actually very impressive. 



It gives a small hint of what the story is about, but it mostly creates an eerie atmosphere. The clip is intriguing even if you even you don't know it's about a book. After watching many trailers I have to admit that I agree with them. My favourite trailers are the ones that don't give away the story, but create an extra dimension. They give an impression of the author and of the general atmosphere of the book. A trailer that is an artwork of its own, something remarkable and interesting, will definitely create that 'buzz' everybody keeps talking about.

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