Can One Really Condense a Full-length Novel into a Book Trailer?

Whenever I’m looking forward to a book release, I always monitor the message boards very carefully for any information—interviews with the authors, excerpts, reviews, etc. Lately, it’s been Smooth Talking Stranger, Lisa Kleypas’s upcoming contemporary romance, that’s been the focus of my search. I was quite excited when I saw someone had posted a link on the message boards. However, once I clicked on the link, I cringed—it was a book trailer.

I admit I don’t know how long book trailers have been around, or how popular they are; certainly there are other pre-release marketing efforts such as excerpts, that i anticipate more. I love reading excerpts of upcoming books. I love reading summaries. I love interviews. But I detest book trailers. Most of the time, I can’t even make it through the video, even if I’m excited about the book. They are, quite simply, painful to watch. There’s something just awkward and vaguely embarrassing for me to see a random collection of stock images of skylines, inanimate objects, and body parts put to elevator music, with text fading in and out on the bottom of the screen. It’s even worse for me when they hire someone to be the voice of one of the characters.

I’ve put some thought into why I despise book trailers so much (though it probably isn’t healthy to spend so much energy disliking something that has no effect on my life whatsoever). I’ve finally decided that my problem with book trailers is that they try to turn something from one medium into another. Most of the time, writing isn’t visual or auditory (with the exception of picture and audio books). Any pictures we see, voices we hear, or accompanying theme music, is all in our heads; and for me, my reading is rarely translated into images in my brain. I’m all about the words.

Writing can be translated into images. Many wonderful movies have been adapted from books. And of course, there are many, many romance novel covers that are little more than photoshopped images from some database. But, for the most part, both of these work. I like movie adaptations. I like cover art (well, sometimes). But book trailers fall somewhere in between the single stationary picture, and the acted movie—and do badly on both accounts. Trailers might make a bit more sense if they were the direct equivalent of their movie counterparts. However, the translation between book trailers and movie trailers isn’t even; excerpts are already the literary equivalent of movie trailers.

Book commercials on TV are also usually poorly done, as well. I remember seeing commercials for the latest James Patterson or Nora Roberts on television, and they were little more than a stationary, monochromatic screen, with a picture of the cover and the title and author and release date with a trying-to-be-suspenseful voice summarizing the book in a sentence or two. Not exactly attention grabbing.

The best non-print book advertisement I’ve encountered was a radio commercial that ran on my local hit music station over the summer. It was for a book for elementary aged students, though I forget the name and author. They had an actor read an excerpt of a particularly suspenseful section, only a paragraph or two long, and cut off on a bit of a cliff-hanger, with, “To find out what happens, read this book.” Yes, it blended two mediums—literature and radio—but it worked. It didn’t try to put images to the words, or translate it into something that came out awkward or uneven.

I’m sure there are many people who disagree with me, who love trailers and having pictures and music set to a book they’re looking forward to. But for me—I’ll stick to the writing, and not move too far away from that.

-Jane Granville

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23 Responses to Can One Really Condense a Full-length Novel into a Book Trailer?

  1. Robin Bayne says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. With maybe one or two exceptions, they are just hard to watch.

  2. Jessa Slade says:

    I know a lot of people hate book videos, and all your points are valid. But for some reason, I really like them. I’m a sucker for all trailer material. I’d happily go to the theater to watch 90 minutes of trailers. The explosions! The fight clips! The slow pan over kisses! The swelling French horns or rock guitars! Love it. I also prefer appetizers to entries, but I swear I do have an attention span. Sort of.

  3. Jane Granville says:

    Jessa– I actually agree with you about movie trailers; they’re one of my favorite parts of going out to the movies. I usually get so engrossed, I forget what movie I’m actually there to see. But it’s just not the same with book trailers for me!

  4. Tee says:

    Book trailers? I don’t think I ever saw one. How could they possibly work well for books? I don’t visit that many different reading sites, so maybe that’s the problem; the ones I visit may not feature them. Probably I pass right by them without realizing what they are.

  5. Beth W. says:

    Oh good. I thought I was the only one who just doesn’t like book trailers. I just totally don’t understand the appeal. I refuse to watch them, after seeing a couple, and can’t imagine how one would ever make me want to read a book

    The radio and literature worked better, probably, because in both radio and books you have to use your imagination for the imagery, which is almost ALWAYS better than whatever someone puts on a screen.

  6. Sheila says:

    Very interesting take on book video. Book video allows books to compete with other entertainment industries. Publishing has pulled itself out of the dark ages and are making video and promoting online.
    Audio books were not an instant hit. People didn’t want someone else’s voice in their head, or to hear someone’s voice as a character because it took away from the reader somehow.
    Yet, we all overcame that. Though I’m sure there are people who still don’t care for audio books.
    If you don’t like something, bypass it. But, if it works for others and it brings more people to books, why not let that happen?
    A lot of young people like the trailers. These are people we hope will grow up to be book buyers. During the PubWest event last year a panel of teenagers all remarked that they watch book trailers.
    It’s not just the future, it’s now.
    Book trailers are primarily meant for non-traditional readers. Traditional readers will use the back cover copy, book cover, book review or chapter excerpt to choose a book.
    I wish it were possible for all people in this industry to support something because it brings in new readers or attracts interest to books instead of spending so much time talking about what they hate about it.
    I, for one, am for anything that brings attention to books in a positive way. To young people, to anyone.
    It’s unfortunate this blog concentrates on a negative theme concerning book trailers. Especially since this site is looking at showing them and talking about a relationship with the top producer of book trailers that would benefit this site and readers.
    Of course I could be wrong. Perhaps this blog represents the feelings of AAR?

  7. I’m going to put in my two dissenting pennies in here.

    The problem with book trailers isn’t that they cannot be done well, just usually they aren’t. And I believe the problem comes from the fact that people who actually make the trailers have never read the book. They are given an outline, and outlines cannot be anything but generic.

    However, when it’s done by someone who knows the book inside out, it’s different. Inspired by the lego book review Jane of Dear Author did for Claudia Dain’s The Courtesan’s Daughter, I decided that for my book trailer, I would mount a scene from just beyond the excerpt, not word for word, but the essence of it.

    It was a confrontational scene that basically contained the whole crazy arrangement that was going to carry through the book. And the thing about it, to address Jane’s issue, is that it does rely on my words. It acts out my scene, with paper dolls in period costume. People have told me it’s funny.

    Take a look.

    Book trailers will never be as good as movie trailers. And I do agree wholeheartedly that excerpts are far superior for deciding whether a book will suit you. But I don’t think they have to be awful, that’s all.

  8. Lynn Spencer says:

    Sheila- The post above is simply one person’s view. It’s not an “official” AAR line on the subject. Our reviewer is explaining why trailers don’t work for her personally and there are those who agree with her. There are also those who happen to like trailers and who would probably agree with you that they are a valuable tool for bringing in readers who may not otherwise consider reading a particular book or even the notion of reading romance at all.

    You mention above that audiobooks were not an instant hit with anyone. So it is with book trailers. They don’t work for this reviewer, but I know we have people on staff here who do like them, including me. I tend to be a very visual person, so I find them effective.

    Having read her piece, I don’t think Jane is seriously suggesting that trailers be banned. The post’s author concedes that she knows everyone isn’t going to agree with her. And I for one think that’s fine. Even if we come at it from different angles, we can all still love books and love the genre without necessarily agreeing on the specifics.

  9. AAR Sandy says:

    Jane, books have to be promoted. Few people admit to being affected by advertising in any form, but the fact is they are.

  10. Diana says:

    I haven’t seen many book trailers because they simply haven’t really been on my radar. Curiosity compelled me to view the Smooth Talking Stranger video after reading your blog.

    Actually, I think this one is really quite lovely and evocative. Nice voiceover, nice images and true to the book (I’ve read it).

    Why you’d find this so offensive is baffling.

  11. Jane Granville says:

    Sheila– As Lynn said, I’m not opposed to the existence of book trailers. If it works for some people, then go for it. I’d be thrilled if book trailers brought new readers in. My point is that I have yet to see one that has made *me* want to go out and buy the book, and from the ones I’ve seen, I just don’t get their appeal. I guess I’m more of a traditional reader, in that respect. Also as Lynn already said, these are solely my views. While others have agreed with me, I write for myself, not as a representative of AAR as a whole.

    Sandy– Oh, I know I’m affected by advertising. :) I’ve sat through too many marketing lectures to believe that I’m immune. And actually, I’m fascinated by a lot of the new and innovative ways that authors and publishers are marketing books and using the internet. Book trailers are just one of the ones that REALLY don’t work for me. I think they’re probably the only promotional tool I’ve encountered I don’t get.

  12. Lynn Spencer says:

    Sherry- I have seen several book trailers, but I hadn’t seen that one. Very funny – and I love the comment on attractive blond male dolls!

  13. Donna says:

    As a writer who is considering book videos, I do get that this is just one person’s opinion. I’m still on the fence about whether they will bring any new readers my way, because the very audience some are talking about – younger, newer readers – might not be fans of my work.

    However… it seems like a fun thing to do, and as an author with a smaller publishing company, I’m looking to be creative in my publicity.

  14. Claire says:

    I’ve seen one book trailer, the Smooth Talking Stranger one. I didn’t like the southern accent and I’m from the south. It just sounded fake to me. Also it seemed like the video was cut and pasted together. Maybe if the production qualities were better it might work for me. I’m not sure if it would make me want to get the book if I weren’t already familiar with Lisa Kleypas because I don’t know if it made that much of an impact. I’m open to seeing more of these but I hope the people doing them would read the book and have more than just an outline to go on if that is true.

  15. Maria says:

    I’ve been a big fan of book trailers…I’m all visual and absorb things quicker that way. I love the book trailers because it gives me the chance to see the book in a different way!!! I remember watching a thriller one and end up buying the book. Mind you, I’ve never read a thriller movie…never got me to look at them but clicking on the book trailer introduced me to looking at it differently (I wanted to know what the scary looking doll was all about).

    I don’t know about any of you but I admit that if I had a choice between buying the same book with different covers, I grab the one with the cover that shows the characters on them. I cant imagine someone not intrigued of what the characters might look like… My point is, its the same with book trailers for me! They got me to pick up that book and look at it…getting the product into someone’s hands. Thats the same with book trailers. Don’t tell me that when you go to someone’s website and there is a video on it you wont be tempted to click and watch it. That’s one step closer to selling your book. I mean, why do you think publishers spend money to have great and attractive book covers? If its not important, why do they bother paying money to hire an artist, photographers and models for the covers. Book trailer to me is the NEW book cover in the internet world. If it attracts people to your site its more chances of you selling your book. They might not like the book trailer when you go to your site but you stimulated people to notice you and maybe will buy your product versus someone who just goes to your site and not see anything interesting other than your book list or synops. Maybe I’m wrong but that’s my opinion. I hope people here look into things…work to help the deteriorating publishing industry rather than just say something mean… constructive criticism is more effective.

  16. Lynn,

    LOL. You should have seen what poor Mr. Bingley looked like. Bertie Wooster!

  17. Sheila says:

    As a quick follow up to this. The video mentioned on this blog, in a less than positive manner, was picked up by Borders and B&N. Borders loved it so much they sent out a link to it in their romance newsletter, which goes out to 1.5 million people and then they put it on their site-

    So perhaps, at the end of the day, book trailers fall into the same category as every other entertainment medium. It’s subjective. Some people will hate the same book video that other people think is the best book video ever made.

    And, though you want readers to love a book video, sometimes it’s worth having one just to have the right people see it and like it. Borders liked it enough to feel 1.5 million people might like to see it. And that some of them might even buy the book because of it. The author didn’t have to pay a dime for that extra promo, she just needed to have a book trailer.

  18. MaryK says:

    “Don’t tell me that when you go to someone’s website and there is a video on it you wont be tempted to click and watch it. ”

    Actually, I will tell you that. I’ve only seen a few book trailers that I found watchable so I avoid them now. The only ones I watch are Linnea Sinclair’s. She makes her own and is very finicky about how they look.

  19. xina says:

    I think they are very silly and not interesting at all. I don’t bother to click on them. The last 2 I watched was one for a Kleypas book and another from Randall Wallace. While I really like these authors, I’m not interested in the trailer. I love excerpts but the trailers are very amateurish.

  20. Kiragirl says:

    See, i have to say I’m just the opposite. There are some bad trailers out there but there are some bad books too. I love to read but i don’t always have time to keep up with book lists and lots ofblogs. i like looking at the video ads because they give me ideas.

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