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Guest Post by Karen Harrington

December 12, 2008

Karen Harrington is the author of Janeology and There’s A Dog in the Doorway.  She also manages to keep up a great blog, Scobberlotch – be sure to check it out.   She was kind enough to write this guest post during the busy holiday season.


Book Trailers: Helpful or hurtful to the book-buying decision?

Be advised. I am about to have an argument with myself on the subject of book trailers. You see, I am personally trying to figure out how I feel about their effectiveness and I hope to come to a conclusion by the end of this blog. So bear with me, please, as I go through this process.

On one hand….book trailers may leave an impression not intended by the author. And maybe they don’t help in the selling of a book at all.

Here’s a comment left on trailer page for Plague War by Jeff Carlson:

“Looks pretty cheesy. I’m very likely not going to read this book based solely upon this stupid looking “trailer””


And on the Reading Under The Covers Blog, I read this:

“….when her agent, Kristin Nelson, posted the trailer for PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS by Sherry Thomas on her blog, PubRants, one commenter wrote that “the trailer made her definitely not want to read the book.”

Nice, huh?

But what do I think about my own trailer? This is a tough one. The first time I saw the trailer created for Janeology, I was thrilled. It is suspenseful and haunting as it puts the crime of the story right in your face. Then, it shifts to a multitude of vintage pictures – some the artist culled from my own family photo albums – meant to show the trip into the past taken by the reader. But the truth is, today, 10 months after the book has been released, I do NOT want you to see this trailer.  Though it is a very skilled and beautifully executed piece of art, it plays up the most frightening aspect of the story – the death of a child at the hands of his mother – right from the jump. Now, this a good hook for sure. But it is this frightening turn that makes most readers I’ve encountered say, “No, I think I’ll pass on that novel, thank you very much.” So has it helped my sales? Probably not.

On the other hand….book trailers leave an exciting impression not unlike that of a terrific movie trailer, thus, creating a desire for a reader to buy the book.

Getting a riveting reaction is something marketers have proven will work, right? There is a lot of thought that goes into the perfect book cover, the type and the hype. And when the market is deluged with more than 200,000 new books each year – creative minds are going to have to do something to stand out, get your attention on their product.  Authors need every tool they have.

Take Douglas Clegg’s novel trailer for The Attraction.

It comes on strong and ominous, the first image one of dripping blood, the wet sound of it accompanying the background. Images of a skeleton, college students and a deserted road flash by so quick you miss them if you blink. Then, shady darkness and what sounds like knives being sharpened only to descend into crickets chirping. Okay, I am riveted, frightened and intrigued. I want to see the movie. But wait, is that the idea? Was this for a book or a film?

Well, then there is the great story hook – for both the book and the trailer – in Lisa Daly’s Fifteen Minutes of Shame. In this trailer, the artist has opted to use a singular image of a woman filmed at the moment of her humiliation. It cuts away and then just gives us a great deal of text to showcase the story in this under two minute glimpse of the book. It works. But am I hooked by the idea only? I still want to read a page of this to evaluate the author’s writing.

Okay, so I want the story hook, but I want some text, too. I think I found that combo in  the trailer for Neil Gaiman’s new The Graveyard Book –  – also kept quite short and this time, narrated by the author himself in such a way that it leaves me with the impression that this is precisely how he, the writer, would describe his book were he standing right next to you. But he is an established writer. I’d probably buy his book anyway based on my love of Coraline.

So let me look at a debut author trailer/novel – The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merril Block.  Block narrates this trailer, but he’s not describing the book. He’s actually READING from the book.  It is genuine and you get a true idea of what is actually inside the book – and from the author’s point of view to boot! (And though I saw this trailer AFTER reading the book, I think I would buy the book based on this presentation.)

So what it comes down to is this – some book trailers are well executed interpretations of the story and others are not. In other words, book trailers are like most sales tools – some succeed and some don’t.

Will we choose books the same way we choose movies – from a two-minute glimpse and a big hook? Perhaps that will lead us to find out more about the book itself, find the author’s webpage and read an excerpt. Because for my money, that’s how I’ll continue to make book purchasing decisions.

There. That’s done. I feel better. (And remember, whatever you do, do NOT view my book trailer.)

What say you?

Karen Harrington is the author of JANEOLOGY, the story of one man’s attempt to understand his wife’s sudden descent into madness and murder.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2008 9:54 am

    I can’t say that I have any interest in choosing a book based on a trailer. If they are trying to attract the YouTube crowd, well, they are wasting their money on this book buyer.
    Perhaps, as with the one for ‘The Story of Forgetting’, an excerpt, read by the author, might entice me. But so would reading the first page in a bookstore.
    As to the more ‘mini film’ like ones…well, I agree that they make me want to see the movie…but there is no movie. A bit too mixed medias IMHO.

  2. December 12, 2008 10:40 am

    Personally, I’m not a fan of the book trailer. Many of them I’ve seen come across weak and leave me wondering if the book is weak as well. I’d much rather watch an interview clip of the author talking about the book. Anita Shreve does a great interview for TESTIMONY that really made me want to go get the book. Great post Karen!!

  3. December 12, 2008 11:02 am

    Some of them can be cheesy but if they are getting looks then that’s probably more good than bad.

  4. December 12, 2008 11:08 am

    I do not base my book buying/reading decisions on the trailer and would probably read it anyway if I didn’t like the trailer but someone I respected rec’d the book. I think viewing them are (is? – something doesn’t sound right…) fun but I don’t go out of my way to watch them.

    and THANK YOU for reminding me that I need to put Janeology on my wishlist!

  5. December 12, 2008 12:42 pm

    I LOVE book trailers! I always try to find just about everything I can find about the book I’m reviewing and book trailers are always a major plus.

  6. December 12, 2008 12:45 pm


    Thanks so much for hosting me here on your fab blog today. It’s interesting to read reactions about book trailers. I think I’m in agreement with everyone who loves a good book – reading the first few pages is the true book-buying decision.

    Have a great Friday!

    K. Harrington

  7. December 12, 2008 1:01 pm

    I love book trailers but only if they’re good. I must admit I ALWAYS do a search on YouTube after finishing a book and am disappointed when I can’t find anything. But then again I always search AFTER reading the book so I don’t think trailers have ever convinced me to read the book. Some are so bad that I don’t even want to post them on my blog.

  8. alirambles permalink
    December 12, 2008 1:26 pm

    Thanks for the interesting post! I like seeing the book trailers for books I’ve already read, but I’ve never been enticed to read a book based on the trailer. Though I must admit I’m now fighting the temptation to watch the trailer for Janeology! (Haven’t read it yet. I will, though.)

    I showed the trailer for The Graveyard Book to my 11 year old son and he says, “OK, I’ll read it. It makes it look interesting.”

  9. December 12, 2008 2:03 pm

    I usually skip the trailers, but I watched all of these and I can tell you . . . if I end up watching a trailer and it’s scary, I’ll avoid the book. I’m kind of worried that creepy baby feeding, blood-dripping trailer is going to give me nightmares. If it takes too long, I shut off the trailer (shorter is better). And, if it’s funny, I want the book right now. I’ve just added Fifteen Minutes of Shame to my wish list. It’s all your fault (says the gullible book gobbler). Great guest post!!!

  10. December 12, 2008 2:18 pm

    I like to read an excerpt of a book that interests me and if it works for me, then I buy it. The problem with book trailers (in my opinion) is that it is someone else’s perception of the plot. Not my own and if I wanted that I would watch a movie. Great post.

  11. December 12, 2008 4:08 pm

    I prefer to read the first few pages or a random excerpt of a book to a video trailer. Or, as Lisa mentioned, a short interview or reading by the author could persuade me to make a new book purchase.

  12. December 12, 2008 5:05 pm

    I really enjoyed this guest post – it was very informative about book trailers, which are something I honestly have to say I just don’t get. I’d rather read an interview with the author or an excerpt, but maybe I’m just old-fashioned about this.

  13. December 12, 2008 5:15 pm

    Well, you know, now I’m going to have to go look at the trailer. It’s my rebellious streak; I just can’t help it. Sorry, Ms. Harrington!

  14. December 12, 2008 5:21 pm

    Hmmm, I have to say that I am NOT a fan of book trailers. I want to read a book not watch a film. Besides which, I am deaf and so any speech in book trailers does not usually make sense to me!!

  15. December 12, 2008 6:08 pm

    Hi Karen,

    Lisa Daily here. Your post popped up on my Google alerts today, and I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your point of view. I think a lot of authors wonder whether or not trailers are really effective (plus it’s so tough to cough up such a big chunk of the promotion budget…)

    I agree that many of the book trailers out there are just terrible — from the bad canned porn music to the cheesy stock visuals (or often worse, two continuous minutes of panning back and forth over the cover art) to the overdone voice-overs and blah-blah copy. You rarely get a real sense of the author’s voice or personality, and many times the videos are so hokey they leave you cringing, which is hardly the feeling you want to leave a potential reader with as they contemplate whether or not to fork over their hard-earned cash to buy your book.

    Most book trailers do not make me want to read the book, one of the few exceptions was Dennis Cass’s video — where you actually get a sense of his personality:

    To be honest, I probably would not have done a book trailer if I had to pay someone to do it. Fifteen Minutes of Shame is the story of a TV relationships expert who gets dumped on live national television by her husband, the news delivered courtesy of Matt Lauer.

    I am, conveniently, a TV relationships expert, with a regular gig on a morning TV show. (Fifteen Minutes is fiction, I swear, my husband did not dump me, let alone on national TV.) My background is in advertising, and I had access to a full talk show studio, plus a talented director, floor director, crew, camera guys and producers. The host in the trailer is Dave Nemeth (our show’s real host) and the girl who plays Darby is an actress named Elizabeth Watts, who liked the book, looked a lot like the person I had in my head, and was kind enough to do the gig at a rock-bottom price.

    I wrote the script. I mixed up the batch of special effects vomit in my kitchen (tapioca pudding, peas & carrots, and maple syrup, in case you ever need to know.) I cut the trailer myself on my mac. And with the exception of the actress, everybody who worked on the project was paid in pizza.

    One of the things you mentioned was particularly interesting to me — you said >>>In this trailer, the artist has opted to use a singular image of a woman filmed at the moment of her humiliation. It cuts away and then just gives us a great deal of text to showcase the story in this under two minute glimpse of the book. It works. But am I hooked by the idea only? I still want to read a page of this to evaluate the author’s writing.<<<

    I’m delighted you’re hooked, no matter what the bait was. 🙂 Please do read a page, or heck five whole chapters, available here:

    For me, if the trailer intrigues you enough to make you want to read more, it’s done its job, just like a good blog post or a compelling interview. I saw Dennis Cass’s video and wanted to read his book, just like I read this post today, and wanted to read more of your work.

    And as a final note, I thought your book trailer was compelling, intriguing.

    ( Also, I’m pretty sure you’ve stumbled onto something here — the quickest way to get us all logging on to youtube is to tell us NOT to watch it — I couldn’t help myself….why doesn’t she want us to see it? Is it terrible? Is it the best book trailer EVER? Why the secrecy? I MUST KNOW…)

    Great post, I’m looking forward to reading more of your work.



    PS –Bookfool, aka Nancy — thank you so much for adding Fifteen Minutes of Shame to your wish list. I hope you love it! 🙂

  16. December 12, 2008 8:15 pm

    I’m the person who sits through the movie previews covering his ears and humming to avoid seeing/hearing key elements of the plot. I consider movie trailers only slightly less offensive. I would much rather see a short clip by the author describing his or her inspiration for the book — that’s more likely to inspire me to buy.

  17. December 12, 2008 11:26 pm

    I’ve never made a decision on a book based on the book’s trailer. I think it’s still too new.

  18. December 12, 2008 11:35 pm

    Great guest post. I never really thought about book trailers. I have seen a couple but usually I don’t pay attention to them. I think it’s most likely a good thing because I do think a bad trailer would effect my decision on whether I would read a book. I think I will continue to ignore them.

  19. December 13, 2008 10:24 am

    I love to see a trailer that is just the author talking about the book, or reading an excerpt. Mini-movies don’t do it for me.

    Great post, Karen; thanks for sharing your space, Kathy 🙂

  20. December 13, 2008 4:48 pm

    I’ve never decided on way or another based on a book’s trailer. It seems I usually watch the trailer AFTER I read the book, especially now that I’m reviewing, since I usually look for additional info online to include in my review.

    Karen, thanks for this guest blog. It is a really interesting look at book trailers!

  21. December 14, 2008 1:17 am

    Wow, this is a great blog post, Karen. I found out about it when I visited That was an intriguing post you left there too. 🙂

    I do enjoy watching some book trailers, but like others, I often find they’re cheesy or just not well done. The best book trailers to me are the ones that are simple–simple and easy to read text that doesn’t bounce around (fade in and out looks better), music that fits the mood and content of the book, and just enough information to make me want to know more. The best trailers seem to be on average about 2 minutes long, no longer than 3.

    Your post here has given me some ideas. 🙂 Thank you.

    I have to say, I nearly cried when I saw the photo of Bermuda on the top of the blog. It made me miss it so much. I lived in Bermuda for 3 years when I was a teen, and I’ve only been back twice since then–once for my honeymoon and once for my 20th high school (BHS) reunion. I brought my daughter on my reunion trip as my hubby couldn’t get time off work. “Bermuda is another world…” I walked through a moongate the last time I was there, so I must return. 🙂

    ~Cheryl Kaye Tardif
    bestselling author of Whale Song, The River and Divine Intervention

  22. December 15, 2008 7:24 am

    Awesome guest post! I’ve seen a few book trailers – some fun, some awful – but they don’t have any effect on whether I will read the book featured. I’ve always been the type to go by the books plot synopsis and this is not likely to change. So for me book trailers are added glitz much like a super shiny cover.

  23. December 18, 2008 7:16 pm

    great guest post. I generally don’t like the book trailers…many of the ones I’ve seen are pretty cheesy.

  24. December 22, 2008 11:25 am

    Great post! Personally, I don’t view book trailers. Maybe I’m just behind the times.

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