If cost were no object I would definitely make a book trailer.  It would be just like a big-studio film trailer—atmospheric music, gorgeous settings, first-rate live actors, dramatic editing effects.

But cost is not irrelevant.  Not in my world (if it is irrelevant in yours and you want to bankroll my big budget book trailer just let me know).  So when I got my book contract and started to plan my personal promotional budget I had to look critically at every possible piece of the marketing puzzle.  As part of that process I asked myself what I could reasonably expect to achieve with a book trailer for The Sister Queens, and given that did I want to invest in one?

Never one to make a decision in a vacuum (or to miss an opportunity for goofing off on YouTube when I should be reading an obscure reference work), I looked at dozens of book trailers.  Along the way I realized that writers of historical fiction face special challenges because our trailers must create and populate a rich visual world removed in time and place from the present and transport the viewer there.  Of course we had to do this in our novels as well, BUT we were working with words and that left the visual images up to the fertile brains of our readers.  In a visual medium (a video trailer) we must craft the images ourselves (or pay someone to craft them), and they must be convincing.

Having finished my “tour de trailers” I have pretty much decided that not to do a trailer for The Sister Queens.  But I’ve been known to make the wrong decision (more than once even).  So I am asking you, AS READERS (fellow writers, put your “readers hat” on please) to disabuse me of the following conclusions I drew along my journey.

Lots of book trailers view like educational power point presentations.  They have music, they have art.  Sometimes they manage to have both from the same (and the correct) period.  They might even have well-done voice-overs (don’t get me started on the trailers that just have rolling text like extensive film credits).  But I have to admit a vast majority of book trailers without live action felt educational to me.  This was true even of the trailers that wove a bit of author interview in (this technique reminded me of the “talking heads” used in documentary films).

I am big on education (especially history education), but I thought the purpose of a book trailer was to make me want to BUY THE BOOK.  These fact-heavy trailers full of still images just didn’t sweep me up and leave me all shivery the way good film trailers (and by good I mean trailers that make me come back and plunk down money to see the full product) can.  I guess when a visual medium—video—is employed I want action.  So what about trailers featuring live actors?

Live-action trailers can be more gripping but NOT if they look homemade.  Blame the production values I am used to seeing in costume-drama on PBS, but if I can tell that a live-action trailer for a book set at the Tudor court was made in someone’s dining room or backyard, you’ve lost me.  If the costumes look homemade or, god forbid, halloweeny (if that is not a word I hereby create it), I can’t even watch to the end.  My reaction to such trailers is similar to when I attend a recital at which one performer botches badly and I don’t know where to look because I am just SO embarrassed for him.  I know this is unfair because creating a realistic look for a historical trailer is difficult whereas if you write a contemporary novel you can come up with a convincing setting and wardrobe pretty easily.  But I guess we historical novelists ought to have thought of that before picking a genre because the bottom line is I am not willing to forgive hokey.

And then there are the acting and editing aspects of a live-action trailer.  Have a look at the trailers for The Borgias or The Tudors or Game of Thrones.  Setting aside any historical accuracy issues you may have, have you ever seen a book trailer that looked like them?  I haven’t.  They are pure, pulse-pounding drama.  If these were book trailers I would crawl over broken glass to buy the books.  But I suspect they cost big, BIG money (see paragraph 2 – I do not have big money).

Finally, even if I poured vast sums of money into a trailer (and was subsequently divorced by my spouse and beaten to death by my children whose tuition payments I failed to make as a result of my spendthrift ways) I am not sure how many people would see it.  Yes, I know they are out there on YouTube but that is a huge pond and trailers are little fish.  How can I be certain that potential readers would ever see my trailer?  Many of the trailers I looked at had low “views” numbers.  Of course I could put the trailer on my website as well, but presumably if I have managed to lure some unsuspecting potential reader to my site the blurb for my novel will provide her with the best way of gauging both the content of my book and her interest in it.  There simply needs to be a better and more direct forum for readers to browse trailers before I would consider pouring cash into one.

I will close by admitting I saw some good trailers—trailers that did their authors and the books they represented proud.  Even so, I have no way of knowing whether or not those book trailers were effective in interesting readers and generating sales.  So I am back where I started, no book trailer for me.  Unless one of you wants to point out my errors of reasoning.  Any takers?  The comment section is wide open.  Do you use book trailers to select books?  Has a trailer ever sold you a novel you didn’t already intend to buy anyway?

6 Responses to “To Trail or Not to Trail,That Is the Question (a book trailer, yes or no?)”

  1. I’ve seen some good trailers and enjoyed watching them. But I haven’t bought a book based on one…

  2. Sophie,

    I’m going to agree with you wholeheartedly. Within the past year, a panel of experienced juvenile lit professionals concluded that book trailers were currently not effective in terms of selling books to one of the most highly visual and computerized generations out there. (Sorry, I can’t document exactly which panel, where, but the gist of it comes from a previous issue of SCBWI’s Bulletin and is brough to you via my memory.)

    In essence, unless a book trailer is highly professional and highly visual in terms of reaching our audience, there are likely far better ways to spend our marketing dollars. And if teens are not plunking down big bucks to buy books off of book trailers, I question whether You Tube is where readers of historical fiction are creating their TBR list.

    Not to say that this trend won’t change in the future, but the current climate makes it hard to justify the cost–at least for me, at least. And I write for kids.


    • “And if teens are not plunking down big bucks to buy books off of book trailers, I question whether You Tube is where readers of historical fiction are creating their TBR list”

      Excellent point! The demographics for your genre would skew further towards the “on-line generation” than the demographics for mine. So if YA purchasers aren’t being influened by trailers historical fiction purchasers are highly unlikely to be. Thanks for letting me know about the panel and it’s conclusions.

  3. Oh I’m trying to stop laughing so that I can type a sensible reply. Your “crawling over broken glass” annihilated me for some reason. I just keep picturing this fantastically educated author drooling over sleeveless Tudor jackets and hating herself along the way! I would gladly embed said shards in my knees as well.

    Okay. Breathing. I love book trailers. I just love to look at the trailers after I’ve already read a book. It’s like a mini-movie and you know how curious us readers are about how the characters appear to other people. BUT I agree with you and with Ms. Woods. I just don’t think they sell books.

    Also, I’m with you on avoiding hokeyness and halloweeny issues. Bad book trailers are really bad. Actual people never work for me. I love Maggie Stiefvater’s stop motion cut out trailers. When the trailer uses such media as paper and paint, I see it differently. There are no cheesy actors or low budget sets. It is a picture, a painting, a piece of abstract art, if you will.

    Did you watch the Starz (I think) version of The Pillars of the Earth? Of course you did. Remember the opening they used for each episode? I loved that. Moving paintings. Exciting music. Very cool. But I bet it cost a big, fat bundle, too.

    Ms. Perinot, I do believe you’ve made a wise choice. HF readers certainly don’t check book trailers when making selections for their TBR piles.

  4. My publisher had two book trailers made for my last book, Of Honest Fame. (You can look them up on YouTube and draw your own conclusions…) And I liked elements of both of them. I particularly liked the horses running in the surf of the one–I thought that gave a good feel for the pace of the work.

    All that aside though, I think the problem with book trailers is that it’s perfectly unclear who they’re being aimed at. Are they for readers? Do readers know that the book trailers are aimed at them? And how do you connect a book trailer with a reader, anyway? Unless there’s a designated site for say historical fiction where internet savvy readers know to go, you’re just putting the thing out into the ether. Or, if they’re not for readers, if they’re for booksellers, how do you connect the trailer with that audience? Because at least here in the UK, the bookshop managers I know don’t look at trailers, they still rely on the distributor’s catalogue and personal recommendations and after that on the look and feel of the book. Amazon doesn’t rely on any of the above.

    So until such time as there is a way to connect one’s trailer with the target audience, and that audience knows where to find the trailers and has proven that they look there, I’d say a trailer isn’t worth the dosh.

    • I COMPLETELY agree that currently trailers lack a specific purpose/audience and a specialized forum to make sure they achieve whatever purpose their creator thinks they have. I wonder if — in the increasingly digital world — they might not eventually fill the place of co-op? Round these parts there are less and less display tables for new fiction and more and more store space devoted to e-readers. But I keep wondering how will people browse for e-reader content? LIttle flat cardboard book covers with a picture on the front and blurb on the back displayed/filed near the readers themselves? Posters? Maybe a trailer library would be a way to do this from home?

      Until all that is sorted, I certainly would not complain if my publisher provided me with a book trailer, but I am not spending money on one. And I think you may be the exception rather than the rule (at least on this side of the pond), with the burden and expense of making a trailer should they chose to have one generally falling on authors these days.

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