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worth a thousand words?
how book trailers are dancing about architecture
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)

If you can have a radio interview about painting or a print review of music, there’s no reason you can’t make a video about a book, right?

Kind of.

Book trailers are what the name suggests -- trailers like movie trailers, short videos intended to pique the viewer’s interest -– except instead of promoting movies, they’re promoting books.

This might sound slightly unnatural. And reviewing widely available book trailers suggests that it is.

Books, for the most part, consist solely of words. It’s easy to make a trailer of a movie because all you’re doing is selecting existing scenes and reconstructing them into a very, very short version of the same kind of work. But book trailers require visuals, which have to be created solely for the purpose of the trailer.

This generally works just about as well as you’d guess it does. Even the official versions created by publishers tend to have a cheap, amateurish feel.

Searching for "book trailer" on YouTube returns pages of results, high among them the trailer for Nineteen Minutes, one in a long series of insanely popular Jodi Picoult bestsellers. As with many of her other books, this one took the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

Nineteen Minutes sold more than three million copies. The trailer has been viewed 7,500 times. (For comparison's sake, the eight-minute video where the baby water buffalo is attacked by lions has just about 29 million views.)

The most successful book trailer on YouTube, far and away, has just shy of one million views. And it's not really for a normal book.

The YouTube trailer for PostSecret: A Lifetime of Secrets has become an interactive bulletin board of a place. The book itself is part of an ongoing project where people send anonymous secrets to a central address. On YouTube people have taken to posting their own secrets. This being YouTube, the secrets tend to be things like “People tell me I’m too young to know what love is. I think I do.”

Dude. Deep.

Another extremely popular book trailer (popular by book trailer standards) on YouTube promotes the book Twilight, "by Stephanie Meyer". The first tip-off that this isn't an official publisher-issued trailer is that the author's name is spelled wrong. (It's Stephenie.) That said, this thing's got more than 250,000 views.

Comments range from the positive to the negative, but one type of comment demonstrates one of the many flaws of the book trailer idea in general:

Bull shit I did not imagine this part in the book like that

ademas edward es rubio no morocho

James is not all gothic with no smiles
James is happy.
He was smiling when he almost killed her in the book.
His eyes aren't red.
And Bella looks like a zombie in the video.

The third most-viewed trailer on YouTube is for the erotic thriller I Heart You, and if the repeated use of the word “erotic” in the book trailer’s description isn’t closely related to the trailer’s popularity, I’ll eat my (non-erotic) hat.

So what does all this mean? Are book trailers the next great wave of low-cost book promotion, or are they a doomed attempt to forcefit one medium into another?

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, but as they currently stand, book trailers are fairly useless creatures. I’m a voracious book consumer and yet I haven’t seen a single trailer that makes me think, Yep, I’ll buy that.

The most successful ones seem to be the exceptions, such as PostSecret, or animated trailers such as this one, for Heather Brewer’s YA vampire book Ninth Grade Slays.

We'll see what happens. But at this point, book trailers don't seem to be the silver bullet that will turn Americans into readers again.

Unless maybe somebody writes a book from the perspective of the baby water buffalo. In which case, the trailer's prepped and ready to go.


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


how much work can a workshop shop?
the ups and downs of writers' groups
by jael mchenry
topic: writing
published: 9.3.04

how to write a novel in three days*
based on a true story
by jael mchenry
topic: writing
published: 6.5.02


adam kraemer
5.5.08 @ 10:04a

I kinda liked the one I recently saw for the newest addition to James Patterson's "Maximum Ride" series. Though I did picture a larger wingspan.

That said, it might not have made me want to buy the book (in hardcover, anyway), but it did make me want to see the series turned into movies. I'm not sure if that was the point.

sandra thompson
5.10.08 @ 7:27a

Thanks, Jael. I never even knew there were such things as book trailers. See how hip I am!

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