Saturday, August 11, 2012

Lights, Camera, Action... (Or Not)

Obvious statement of the day: I'm slightly behind the curve when it comes to literary marketing tools. That's also the understatement of the day (I love multitasking). So, I'm sure book trailers aren't new devices in the ever-growing and -changing literary world, but it wasn't until recently that I started seeing these things everywhere.

In case you're more clueless than I am about these things (and bless you, if you are), a book trailer is similar to a movie trailer, only for a book. Wow. Is it any wonder I'm a writer, with such apt descriptions as that? To be more specific, the ones I've seen have combined written text with actor depictions of certain parts of the book, narrated by the author. If you ever took a literature class in college, it's sort of like a fancy book talk. In this case, the author's delivering the book talk, telling you about the book under pictures and video and text.

I hated book talks.

While I've been processing my thoughts on book trailers, I've been avoiding bringing up the topic with Smart Guy, sure he'll suggest I do one. Narfity narf narf. So imagine my surprise when he sent me an email late last night that read, "What is with 'book trailers?' Remember when you just bought a book because you heard it was good?" Then he sent me a link to one he'd run across. I was relieved that he sounded less-than-enthusiastic. That means we're on the same page, so to speak.
What is happening to us, the reading public? As readers, have we become so lazy that we can't even READ a book description to decide whether we want to read a book? As writers, do we have to turn everything into a cinematic experience to drum up interest? Who is the audience for these trailers? Readers who don't really like to read? Are we tricking people into reading books? "Look! Reading this book will be just like watching a movie!" No, it won't be. Reading this book will be just like reading a book. And if you don't like reading books, then... you won't like reading this one, either, no matter how you found out about it.

Okay, I'm being intentionally obtuse to prove a point, an annoying habit of mine that drives my friends and family crazy but that amuses me greatly and wins me many arguments. At least, it annoys people enough that they let me have the last word, which I usually interpret as "winning."

To prevent you from thinking I'm a complete idiot, though, I'll admit that I do understand what the purpose of a book trailer is. It broadens an author's marketing reach. Selling books is all about exposure. Most of the challenge is making people aware that your book even exists. You gotta blitz your potential readers. Bombard them with tweets, Facebook posts, posters, billboards, print, TV, and Internet ads, and now... book trailers. People are bound to see at least one of these forms of marketing. In theory.

The book trailer Smart Guy directed me to last night will remain nameless here, because I'm going to give my very blunt opinion of it. It was awful. It's not that it didn't look professional, because it did. I'm sure the author shelled out a ton of money to produce it. It looked like she did, anyway... for the most part. There were some questionable film shots used for certain parts of the trailer that didn't seem to correspond with her description of the plot, but the film quality was good. In other words, it didn't look like she recorded it on her cell phone. It was disturbing that I never saw an actor's face--there were a lot of hands doing things--but I guess that was in keeping with the literary tradition of allowing potential readers to use their imaginations. Very artsy.

The worst part of the trailer, though, was the author's description. It was rambling. She was sitting at what appeared to be her kitchen table, her laptop in front of her on the table. And while she may have had a rough script, I suspect there was a lot of ad-libbing going on. The director probably said, "Keep it casual, like you're talking to your next door neighbor about real people, not book characters." I wish she had ignored that advice. The two-and-a-half minute trailer could have been condensed to a minute, easily. As a matter of fact, I stopped watching about ninety seconds into it.

In spite of all that... I sort of want to read that book. I would have preferred taking thirty seconds to read a blurb about it on Amazon, instead of cringing my way through a minute-and-a-half of an author gushing about characters like they're her best friends and watching incongruent film shots featuring people with no faces, but I didn't run across a book description on Amazon, did I? This is the first I've heard of this book. And that's just it, isn't it? The trailer was the format that reached me first. And I didn't even have to watch the whole thing to decide I was curious enough to read it. So... it worked.

I'm fully aware I shouldn't admit this, because it means that a certain someone is going to use my own admission against me in an effort to convince me to do one, despite the fact that he seemed as perplexed and skeptical about them in his email to me. It's another tool in the toolbox and blah, blah, blah.

But when I visualize myself in a book trailer, I want to cry. As critical as I was of the author in the most recent trailer I watched, she came across a zillion times better than I would. I look like a writer. I look like I sit on my ass 95% of my life and stare at a computer screen, too absorbed in imaginary lives to care about things like skin care and haircuts and a balanced diet. And because I express myself in written form most of the time, I've pretty much lost my ability to speak coherently. I'm constantly mentally editing, which produces pauses and backtracks in my speech that make me sound like the village idiot.

Plus, as gooberish as she sometimes sounded when talking about her characters, she was cool and composed compared to the way I'd be. Since I fall in love with every male lead I've ever written, I'd sound like a giddy teenager while describing them. I'd be exposed as the pathetic dork I really am. I benefit greatly from people seeing as little of the real me as possible.

No, the book trailer would NOT be a good marketing medium for me. Hear that, Smart Guy? Not good.

Now, I need to go buy that book.


  1. What the ...? sigh. I'm with you, this seems REALLY lazy to me and a waste of money. But I guess if it works. *shrug*

    1. I've been told I've been watching crappy trailers. Waiting to find a good one...