Book Trailers: Do They Work?

Do book trailers sell books? Is that the question, or should you ask which book trailer could help sell my book? Trailers aren’t monolithic products that work or don’t. Like books, like movies, like songs—some work, some won’t; the difference it’s a medium to sell another medium.

According to the New York Times,

“In 2002, Random House approached Jefferson Rabb about creating a promotional Web site for a promising new historical thriller. Rabb, known for his elaborate Web sites for clients likeMTV, Sephora and Elie Tahari, had built only one site for a book before. The finished product, with its eerie original music, crisp graphics, and intricate quizzes and ciphers, looked more like an up-market video game than an ad for a novel. The book in question was “The Da Vinci Code,” and whether or not the Web site had anything to do with its success is beside the point: Rabb’s name soon became synonymous with both originality and sales.”

Some book trailers are entirely entertaining: this self-effacing satire on reviews from Brad Meltzer for The Book of Lies is a worthwhile watch simply for being fun:

But would it make you buy his book? One person I spoke to (a thriller fan) told me he immediately bought the book–which makes you wonder if it’s true: all advertising works–even negative mentions of things make you aware of it, I guess.

This one from Midge Raymond (for Forgetting English) and John Yunker (for The Tourist Trail,) might be the funniest I’ve seen:


Did it increase Raymond and Yunker’s  sales? It certainly increased their author presence (and both books are now waiting on my nightstand.). Plus, how could you not love them after seeing the trailer? So perhaps, not unlike what people say about book store appearances, it’s not just about the books sold that moment. Perhaps trailers are another way in which book titles and authors’s names become embedded in our heads.

I made a trailer for The Murderer’s Daughtersbut I don’t have a clue if it helped sales. On the other hand, I did it with my sister for the cost of buying images and with the help of her talented musician friend. Rumor has it that some are paying thousands of dollars to produce these mini-films.

As I weigh the pros and cons of making a video for my next novel (releasing in February 2013) I took a spin around You Tube and beyond, seeing which trailers Iif any) actually made me want to read the book, and why.

For the most part ‘talking head’ trailers have me hitting pause in seconds (of course there are also some where I linger for a few extra seconds, like Jonathan Franzen’s talking head for Freedom, fascinated and frozen as he begins with by scolding: “this might be a good place for me to register my profound discomfort at having to make videos like this.”)

So I should offer this advice: Be stronger than Franzen! Don’t allow your publisher to hold a gun to your head, forcing to make a book trailer. Shame on you, Picador!


The below video for GLASS CASTLE made me want to re-read the book. How I’d react seeing it if I hadn’t read the book, I’m not sure. It breaks my rules: it has the author talking and it’s longer than a minute—but what it has is an authentic passion:


Shalom Auslander’s trailer for Hope: A Tragedy took me from the zone of “hmm, I think I want to read this someday,” to noting it for my next trip to the bookstore. And it upended my belief that a serious novel can’t have a funny trailer (it didn’t hurt, of course, that it stars Ira Glass with the author and together they hit my particular NY Jewish vein of dark things that make me laugh.)


The Passage by Justin Cronin’s trailer builds u intrigue on a small scale writ large and drew me into buying it:


Tweak by Nic Sheff did it for me with simple pictures and great copy—and in under a minute:


I don’t have a problem with headaches, but after seeing this trailer (which had the best music of the bunch,) I still wanted to buy Chocolate and Vicodin by Jennette Fulda (about conquering her headaches.):


Jillian Lauren’s trailer for Pretty hits it hard and straightforward, in a great low-cost seeming way:


This trailer is for The Taker by Alma Katsu, a book totally outside my usual genre, but it drew me fast enough that I will now put it on my bedside:


Truth: I already read (and loved) 32 Candles by Ernessa Carter; but I did look at her trailer previous to reading it, and while it wasn’t the deciding factor, it might have pushed me over the edge to buy it.


When I first saw this effortless-seeming and terrific trailer for Little Black Lies by Tish Cohen it served two purposes: one, it made me buy the book (despite it being  YA) and, after finding out from Tish that her high school son had made the trailer, it gave me hope that my sister and I had the possibility of trailer success:


While hopping around, I found this trailer for From Animal House to Our House by Ron Tanner and I fell in love with it and with wanting the book. It’s low budget, has a bit of the talking head, but it charmed the heck out of me.

Do book trailers sell books? Some might. Some won’t. I’ll do one again. I won’t invest a ton of money–but I’ll be VERY nice to my beautiful, creative, smart (oh, Jill–you are SO much smarter than me!) sister and once again have fun putting one together. (Pretty please with sugar on top, sis?)










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