10 July 2010

Book Trailers—Why and Whither?

I’ve given book trailers a shot, and they aren’t doing anything for me.

Part of the problem is that my computer set-up and the number of other programs I tend to run mean that videos can be slow to download. And even if they do display smoothly, I usually find myself just listening to the audio while I work on something else. It’s not like I have to see what suit Jon Stewart was wearing.

But even among internet videos, book trailers keep striking me as a solution in search of a problem. I understand they can be part of branding—creating an appropriate feeling about the book and the author. Trailers might be effective at enticing reluctant readers, though I can’t help thinking that truly reluctant readers would simply go on to more videos.

Of course, trailers do help to occupy authors as they wait and wait for their books to be produced. And they do give publishers a way to assure booksellers that those authors are raring to market their wares.

But for me, I feel like I’m much further along if I spend the time that book trailers demand reading about the book in question, or even reading the book itself.

Yet trailers may be becoming necessary. I say this after watching the trailer for M. T. Anderson’s Suburb Beyond the Stars. Here’s an author who’s developed a following for types of books without even having a website until earlier this year. But of course that website needs a book trailer.

Naturally, the trailer is well done. There’s some funny Rutles-like deconstruction of the form, as I would expect. And the visual surprises that Betsy Bird warned us about. But this is M. T. effin’ Anderson. If the prose doesn’t win over potential readers, will footage of bare trees and cellars in Vermont do the job?

I fear book trailers will become like author blurbs. Blurbs are a pain to generate, some are better than others, and no one in the business believes they mean much. But people fear that an absence of blurbs means a lot. A book without blurbs (or extracts from previous laudatory reviews, which are better anyway) looks like it has no support. And you wouldn’t want your book to be the only one left out, would you? Would you? So we keep chasing blurbs.

Am I missing something about book trailers? Do they actually reach new readers, and how? Do publicists push for them? Do authors enjoy making them? Are they a flash in the pan? Will they be tacked onto digital book reissues, like DVD extras? Has this simply been an excuse to type “M. T. effin’ Anderson”?


Richard said...

It's ten minutes long. I don't care to sit and watch a ten minute ad for anything. (My record is actually 9 minutes 43 seconds, but that was an exceptionally entertaining promo.)

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I have to join you in not really liking/getting them. I've admired a few that are beautiful or whatever (like Lisa Mantchev's for Perchance to Dream - whoa!), but I mostly don't watch them. Maybe it's for a younger generation than we?

J. L. Bell said...

I’ve seen some kids (and adults) who can’t not watch a TV if it’s on. So a video could catch those people’s attention and direct it to a book. But wouldn’t the next moving picture just grab their eyes again?

Gail Gauthier said...

A lot of the book trailers I've seen have seemed very amateurish. They definitely didn't attract me to the book. I've also wondered just where readers are supposed to see them. Okay, at author websites, but the viewers are already at the website. Something else attracted them there, not the trailer. Book trailers are not like movie trailers that end up on TV where viewers can't help but see them.

I suppose bookstores could run them nonstop on terminals around the store. But, once again, the viewers would have to already be in the stores.

After saying all that, I do have to admit that I thought the trailer for Shiver was lovely, and I did read the book because of it. (Can't remember how I stumbled upon it.) I would also consider trying to do one the next time I publish, mainly to make my website seem courant.

J. L. Bell said...

I just learned that after I wrote this but before it posted, the New York Times addressed the same burning questions. But in the Style section, so it doesn’t matter.