The Rise of the Book Trailer? And Why I Never Watch Them

I have watched with interest as a growing number of books have accompanying book trailers or some other form of visual promotion.  It’s all over the place.  More and more, because of conditions in which artists are having to resort to innovative ways to get others to experience their craft, multi-faceted strategies are needed and being used in order to engage and best reach wider audiences.  I have decided that I am not the audience for the book trailer.

It’s funny, because I will go to see a movie before I have read the book.  In fact these days, I prefer it. Past experience has lead me to believe that I am 95% likely to enjoy a book more than its movie counterpart in a side by side comparison.  So, I stopped comparing.  I have accepted that books and movies are different art forms.  I miss explorations and the characterizations that a book can delve into, but  I know that most of the things that I loved about the book would be unwieldy in a movie – you have to focus, pick and choose more when making a movie, when adapting a book.  If  I see the movie first I am better able to see it for what it is, a separate entity from the book, that can disappoint or delight me on its own merits. I enjoy reading the book later on and getting deeper into the story and often times getting a completely different and much richer story and experience.

A book trailer is much more personal to me, and therefore so much more capable of spoiling a book for me.  The author is more often than not deeply involved in translating the vision of their work, what they feel is compelling and to what they think readers will respond.  Some book trailers go so far as to cast their books, and some are like mini movies — laying everything out for you, so much so that you don’t even have to read the book anymore unless you want to check how you think it will end against the actual ending. Considering the way that I approach books, that is the last thing that I want.

Reading a book for me has always been an interactive creation between author and reader.  Reading is magical to me because of the way that I translate another’s words into an experience that is unique to me…especially for me. Initially, it is much less about criticism of the book, comparing my opinions to what others have thought, or seeing these characters as others have seen and envisioned them.  The beauty of books is that we are all given the script but the translation of that script is our own.

While reading a book, you engage with it, you cast it, you feel it, you choose the interpretation and the delivery of the scenes and the words.  In a movie you are shown what a charcter looks like, the ways in which they carry out their behaviors are pre-determined.  The entire audience will look to a movie and accept the same things, including whatever actor/actress is portraying the character.  Give this description to a hundred different people…

Paul Nova checks his reflection in the leaded floor-to-ceiling windows across the well-laid Thanksgiving table of their hosts’ formal dining room and takes stock of his life.  Thirty-one years old, moderately attractive, full head of hair, reasonably fit — not as regular to the gym as he would like to be, but the physical demands of Paul’s line of work keep him in decent shape.  He is the owner of an inherited, steadily growing electrical contracting business, transitioning somewhat smoothly  from the middle to the upper middle class.  – from Chosen, by Chandra Hoffman

I know what Paul looks like to me, but I doubt if my Paul is quite like your Paul.  We each get to have our own version of Paul, and how he looks and behave, that we carry with us throughout the book, and later on to our discussions of the book, and how we talk to others about the book, or recommend or don’t recommend the book.

I am a reader that wants the barest hint of what a story is about because the fun for me is seeing how it will unfold on the screen in my head, and what my first thoughts are about whatever world I am inhabiting, and the characters I am meeting.  I want to know what others thought, and share impressions and understandings, and be further enlightened about the books I read, but only after I have a chance to experience them without someone else telling me the way they  think I should perceive them.

I do watch certain trailers after I have read the book (my title was just catchier without mentioning that part!), just to see how much they give away and how much they shape perception. They usually do both a little too much for my taste.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane

What about you?  Do you like book trailers?  Do they help you decide what to read? Do they complement and enhance, or hinder the way you read books?  Do you seek them out?  Before or after you read the book?

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  1. I watch them sometimes, but I don’t think one ever sold me on buying a book. I think they can work if they go viral, as a tool for getting the book out there, but then they have to be really good – something like what Maggie Stiefvater did for LINGER.

    1. I just watched the one for Linger and it is really good. It works so much because it is a sequel, so most of the story is understood already. It definitely builds anticipation without spoiling anything.

  2. I’ve not watched a book trailer yet. Like you, I enjoy my own pictures of how each character looks or the setting of the story. I don’t want to conform to someone else’s ideas.

  3. I have never watched them. And I like my books unspoilt as well! I totally agree with you on the movies vs. books thing as well!
    Great post!

  4. I’ve watched some, only because bloggers put them on their reviews, but I don’t really seek them out. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that looks like it has been professionally cast though! I have big issues seeing a movie before reading the book. I don’t necessarily want to see their casting choices in my head when I’m reading!

    1. The trailer for The Karma Club is like watching a movie. I wonder if the market plays a roe in how they are done. KC is a YA novel. It could be something that audience wants.

  5. I’m like you when it comes to books and movies, but in general I do enjoy book trailers. There have been several that have gotten me interested in a book I would otherwise not have picked up. That said, I’m currently reading a book and enjoying it but had I watched the trailer first I would never have picked up the book (plus it gave a lot away).

  6. I’m rather neutral on book trailers. Some — for example, the one for Lane Smith’s “It’s A Book” — are really fun (and pretty much reads you the story, with animations that look an awful lot like the book’s illustrations). Others are kind of lame or cheesy (which I hate because it makes the book seem the same), and others still I find annoying. I’d definitely rather watch a book trailer than see the movie adaptation of a book I’m planning to read, because I feel like the book trailer messes much less with how I experience the book: they’re shorter, and they often offer only glimpses of characters, settings, etc. If I’m not planning to read the book, I’ll go for the movie over the trailer. But usually I just read the book and avoid all the other stuff!

  7. I am not a fan of book trailers.

    So many of them are cheesy interpretations of the author’s vision. The music is not right half the time or the voice narrating is weird. Nine times out of ten, I am turned off by them. The thing is, I don’t think they’d be hard to make so why are they usually so…lacking?

    The only ones that I can tolerate are the ones with subtle music, that just highlight passages from the book. Enough to give you a taste of the story.

    I was at a movie the other day and there was a commerical/trailer for a book…a thriller. The audience really reacted to it since it’s not the norm to see book commercials at the movies.

    1. I guess I am really confused about who they are for. I have seen the one for James Patterson and Dan Brown books on tv, and the never spoil anything because they are capitalizing on the author’s name. But I wonder about this cross promotion of two different mediums, especially since non-blogging readers know little about book trailers.

  8. I am not the right audience for a book trailer either. I do NOT want to know how someone else (even the author!) thinks the customer looks or sounds because I might have thought something completely different. And I love knowing next to nothing about the book, I hate when you find things out early through trailers.

  9. I don’t see the point in trailers. I’ve only ever seen one out in the real world. It was at the movies. Otherwise, they’re mostly targeted towards bloggers and booksellers who I don’t think would be swayed by such a thing.

    I don’t watch them. I don’t want someone else’s interpretation to be imprinted on my brain when I read the book. I don’t want to have the cheese ball music or flowing script running through my mind when I’m reading the book.

    I think if fans want to make fan vids and the author’s use that, fine, but to take up their time and money making them as a promotional tool, I think it’s a waste.

  10. Your thoughts on book trailers really hit home to me. I find that more and more reviews are giving away too much of the story too. It seems as if people feel the “need” to be literary or whatever. I want to experience the book too and I believe that reviewers and now the book trailers are forgetting that!!!!!

  11. I am of the same opinion for book trailers as well as watching a movie before reading the book. I want to create the pictures in my head first. So.. I don’t watch book trailers and I read the book before I see the movie.

  12. I rarely have a visual when I read, so book trailers don’t spoil that for me, but I’m also not all that interested in them. I do sometimes like looking at them after I’ve read a book, and see if I think it captures the essence of it or not.

  13. I’ve just recently become more aware of the book trailer trend and have started watching more of them. I still can’t decide if I like them or hate them.

  14. Book trailers as marketed to those already in “book world” baffle me…I avoid them; that is not how I decide whether I am going to read a book or not. I can’t speak about the type or quality of typical trailers because I don’t have experience with them.

    I have to say, though, that in the context of theaters and television, I wouldn’t mind watching a book commercial rather than a fast food commercial

  15. I agree with you completely, except I never really watch the book trailers. I watched a few in the past and wasn’t really made interested by them. Books and films are two different things, and I honestly can’t get a feel for a book based on a video. There are a few good ones but they still wouldn’t really make me inclined to read the book. I mostly just ignore them these days.

  16. I’m sorry…I need to chime in here with something very simple. Book trailers are the stupidest thing I have ever encountered. I’m done now.

  17. I’m not a fan of book trailers. To be honest, I’m not much of a fan of movie trailers either, as I think they often give away far too much of the plot. My issues with book trailers are quite similar to yours: I find it odd to use a dramatically different medium to advertise a book. I’m not a reader who chooses books based on plot; writing style and quality are so much more important to me than what it’s about. I’m also a very visual reader, and I don’t like to go in with an image of the characters that may or may not match their descriptions.

    Still, I have watched a couple of entertaining book trailers: The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott (after I read the book) and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (where spoilers were of no concern.)

  18. I’m not a book trailer fan either. I’ve watched a couple, the sort that have gone viral, like that Gary Steyngart one a couple of weeks ago. It was just goofy and said little about the book, and I liked it. But the others I’ve seen just seem poorly produced and boring.Movie trailers have the advantage of being made by people in the movie industry who are therefore more skilled at that different medium.

    But I also really wanted to pipe in and say that I’m glad to see there’s someone else out there who doesn’t mind seeing the movie first. I may avoid the movie if I were already planning to read the book, but a lot of books come to my attention because of the movie, and in those cases I usually end up seeing the movie first. If the movie is good, or if others tell me the book’s a lot better, I may then turn to the book.

  19. I avoid them like the plague. Nine times out of ten, they are so badly produced that they end up turning me off about a book that I might have loved and they never portray things as I would see them in my head.

  20. I’m right there with you on the movie-book thing. Almost always I will see the movie first and then read the book. Too many times have I walked out of a movie disappointed because they missed some of the “most important” scenes.

    As for book trailers. I don’t watch too many and the ones I do watch I don’t tend to focus on. The only one recently that’s really stuck with me was the one for Holly Cupala’s Tell Me A Secret, but only because it was such a piece of art (the trailer). And I watched it after I had finished the book, which is usually the case. I feel like they appeal to younger audiences more, but not always. It’s definitely a personal thing, kind of like watching movie trailers (which I actually love) – my mother-in-law brings a book or covers her eyes before the beginning of a movie to avoid them. So yeah…my (more) than two cents worth! Sorry! 🙂

  21. Great topic! You know, I didn’t even know book trailers existed until I started blogging and I agree with you totally on this – I don’t watch them either for the exact same reason – I fear they will spoil too much of the book for me. I’ve watched a couple afterwards and they haven’t done much for me so I don’t think I will seek them out either. Movies about books – love ’em and I’ll watch them whether I’ve read the book or not!

  22. This was a Weekly Geeks topic a couple of months ago, and most of the respondents there weren’t book trailer fans either! It makes me wonder who they’re being made for…

    I’m like you about being able to see the book and the movie version as two separate works, and understanding that some things don’t work on film the way they do on the page (and vice versa). It took me a while to get there, though :-). And I also don’t mind seeing the movie before I read the book; I feel that the book fleshes things out (and yes, I’ll usually end up preferring it!).

  23. “The beauty books is that we are all given the script but the translation of that script is our own.”

    Perfectly put, Nicole. I’ve seen some book trailers that use more abstract imagery along with music to convey the feel of a book rather than act out concrete scenes, and those I don’t mind. One example that comes to mind is Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness. But I think those are the exception and not the rule.

  24. Like you I’m not much of a book trailer for exactly the reason you list here. I don’t want to have any preconceived notions about it, I want to build everything for myself. Again, like you, I might be inspired to watch a trailer after I read the book to see how the artist/author interprets the vision. I’ll say I watched Maggie Stiefvater’s stop motion Linger trailer and it was seriously amazing. There are some fantastically creative pieces out there.

  25. I’ve never watched book trailers, largely because my old computer was so crappy and slow with streaming videos that it wasn’t worth it. I’ll be curious to see if my tastes change now that I have a new computer. I have seen one or two that incorporated author interviews, and that’s interesting to me, because I like seeing what authors have to say about their books. But overall they don’t decide me in either direction.

  26. I’ve watched a few and even found some funny and/or entertaining but they’ve never made me want to buy a book or turn me off of one.

    I agree with you about movies and books — they are two separate mediums and I’ve stopped comparing the two. Somethings work better in words, others on screen.

  27. I’ve only seen one book trailer (Finny) and it did make me want to read it. However, I decided it’ll be my last for sometime because I really still want the element of surprise more than anything, and that one that I saw gave a lot away.

    1. Hi Claire – thanks for the kind words on the FINNY trailer. I am just starting Hello King Productions, so it means a lot to hear positive feedback.

  28. I’m not interested in book trailers for all the reasons you listed. The point of a book is using my imagination to make the words on the page come alive. I don’t need a commercial for it.

  29. I’m starting to avoid them because I have noticed some are very spoilery. Like Finny which was basically a beautiful anitmstion of the entire book. Loved the trailer but wouldn’t recommend it if you plan on reading.

    1. Hi Michelle,

      I am glad you liked the trailer I did Justin Kramon’s book, FINNY. and I apologize if we crossed the line from “teasing” to “spoiling”.

  30. I have mixed feelings. Some are so clever, I just love the mini-movie format. Others give too much away. Others are boring. Some (and I like these) give you more insight into the author than into the book. I kind of treat them the way I treat reviews. If I know it will be a long while before I read the book, I watch. If I plan to read the book very soon, I don’t watch until I’ve finished the book.

  31. I admit to being oblivious to book trailers until my mother, author Caroline Clemmons, was bemoaning the fact that publishers now expect their authors to have them, just as they are expected to have facebook pages, twitter accounts, blogs, and radio interviews, and other things to the extent that it is hard for authors to actually write anymore. With advances at an all time low and more social media than ever, being a starving author is not just a fashion statement.

    That said, the mini movies remove all need to read the book and are poor marketing. The book trailers for Out of the Blue and The Texan’s Irish Bride are cliff hangers, whetting the appetite without ruining the meal. Watch them and see if they do so adequately.

  32. I rarely watch movies – so it is not surprising that I was unaware of book trailers until they started appearing on blogs. I do watch them in this setting – if after reading the blog review I am enticed to learn more about the book. I do not, however, go in search of book trailers on my own. I must prefer to READ reviews than watch them 🙂