There Is No Such Thing as a Decent Book Trailer

Movies have trailers. TV shows have trailers. Video games have trailers. And they all work.

But book trailers? They’re terrible. Utterly terrible.

Lost in Translation

A movie/game/TV trailer is the perfect synergy of product and advert. It’s a visual representation of a visual medium.

A book trailer is a translation: a representation of one form of media (words) by another (visuals/audio). And as when anything is translated – page to stage, stage to screen, French to English, something is lost in that translation. Some emotional component, some nuance to the message.

Have you ever heard a TV or movie trailer on the radio? If so you’ll know what I mean. It’s very hard to convey how good something is when the audience can’t experience fully what it is you’re selling. Book trailers are the wrong type of advert for the product.

Interacting with the Box

Now that books are a part of the digital media fixture it should be the case that that problem is fixed, and that book trailers would be better; that through hyperlinks and hypertext embedded in trailers online you can connect with readers, taking them to a place where you can get a sample for your e-reader or an interview with the author, or exclusive content. But this just isn’t happening on any grand scale. Let’s take Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 as an example:

Now, all that trailer tells me is that Haruki Murakami has a new book out, that it’s called 1Q84, has two characters in it called Tengo and Aomame, and that things are not what they seem. That’s fine, but I can get that same information from a billboard or an ad in the newspaper – something I don’t have to go out of my way to click on. It’s just like every other book trailer – it’s just a box that, unlike the book, you can’t interact with or get emotionally involved.

You’re just watching, and you don’t watch a book. You take part in it.

Frankly, asking for something like a hyperlink in a book trailer is asking the bare minimum. That’s stuff that should have been happening five years ago. As the e-reader/tablet market has boomed the word has become another thing to prod with our fingers. Perhaps then the book trailer is obsolete. Telling a potential reader about a book in a 30 second moving picture show just won’t cut it. You need to create something someone can react to with a tap of the finger and/or something that will draw people in and want to find out more about your book. You need to create the itch.

The Itch

The purpose of an advert of any kind for any product is to connect with you. It’s to soothe an itch you didn’t know you even had. But rather than a connection there’s a weird fracture between a book trailer and it’s book. A book trailer always feels like a shadow of the work, rather than a representation. I think that’s because a book is a very personal experience, more so than any other medium of entertainment.


You and a book have a symbiotic relationship. You allow a book to sit in your mind, feeding it your imagination and being entertained by the results. You get out as much as you put in, and what you put in is your experience of the the world: all the accents you’ve heard, all the lips you’ve kissed, all the fear that’s slithered through you. Books are the ultimate interactive medium, so shouldn’t their trailers try to emulate that interactivity?

None so far have. They can only tell you what the book’s about, and maybe throw in a few adjectives for good measure – “Exhilarating!” “Moving!” “Hilarious!” – and the result is something like the 1Q84 trailer. Something that feels like a (well-made) Powerpoint sales pitch rather than something that’s trying to connect with you. There’s just no itch.

It’s all about You…

I wish I could think of a way to make book trailers better, or to find a replacement for them. I’m sure there’s a replacement/evolution, but I’m not an ad exec so I don’t know what shape that replacement would take. All I do know is that using a book trailer to notify people just that a book exists is unforgivably wasteful.

Books are about emotion, they’re about journeys; they’re the companion on the commute and the nightstand; they’re the conversation you share with a friend when you’ve both finished the final chapter. In short, Books are about YOU. What YOU get out of them. And the sooner book trailers understand the need for interactivity, and find a way to communicate it using the tools at hand, the sooner we won’t have to wince while watching them.


Do you agree? Does watching book trailers grab your interest and get you excited for the book? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Image courtesy of Adam Rose.

Robert Smedley is a TV Reviewer and Writer. When not staring at moving images or being creative with ink, he can be found at any bar that serves a good martini.


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