BOOK TRAILERS: An A-V Advertisement for a Verbal Medium

The author of a manuscript  I’ve been editing recently asked me what I knew about Book Trailers and whether I recommended she produce one for her novel.   As a toiler in the world of previews, heralds and coming attractions, I  approved her interest as theoretically sound, while acknowledging that I had almost no exposure to the practice.   Coincidentally, a trailer-making client expressed an interest in exploring book trailers as a sideline of his business.   Clearly, I needed to bone up on the subject and the post that follows represents my first survey of and reaction to the field.

An ungainly neologism coined by Circle of Seven publisher Sheila Clover, “Book Trailer” combines two distinct mediums, histories and sensibilities into a phrase that is nonetheless immediately intelligible.  In fact, it’s more than just intelligible.  If the proliferation of blogs and sites devoted to book trailers is any indication, the notion has immediate, intuitive appeal to authors who are trying to advertise, explain, position–in a word, “market”–their books.

Wikipedia defines  book trailer thus:

“A book trailer is a video advertisement for a book which employs techniques similar to those of movie trailers. They are circulated on television and online in most common digital video formats.”

I should note that book trailers, like their movie trailer models, demonstrate a wide range of skill, ambition, formulae, style, budget and audience appeal.   Despite wide differences in production value and approach, (as a review of the top  search listings showed but too plainly),  there are essential ingredients or formal qualities that an effective book trailer should possess.  (Most of these will be obvious.)

Title page or sequence;  Author name; Publisher; Excerpts of the text, whether read or scrolling on screen or both; Images, whether still photos, stock footage, or specially shot materials produced for the trailer; Sound scape, including music cues and foley; Copy describing, positioning or characterizing the work being advertised; Editing of visual and aural elements into a brief a/v format.

It is quite common for the author to appear in his or her own person, reading from the work,  describing what prompted its production, and/or pitching its relevance, interest and genre, among other qualities.

As with a movie trailer, a book trailer relies on core appeals to attract the attention of a likely or motivated audience.  I say a “likely” and “motivated” audience because, with the exception of a few bestselling authors, most authors/publishers lack the resources for a TV/Cable/Radio buy. Typically, consumers of book trailers will encounter them on the internet or perhaps screened in a bookstore or at a book fair. In other words, they will have sought them out and represent that most desirable of audiences, the self-selecting one.

The appeals that a book trailer makes are similar to those for filmed entertainments (film, TV, gaming, etc.) and include Story, Genre (including age-appropriate writing), Stars (re-defined here as familiar/beloved characters and well-known authors) but generally exclude “spectacle,” since that quality is outside the capacity of the written word.  Provocative, spectacular, scandalous or epic content, however, can and usually is promoted, heralded and marketed.

To these fundamental appeals, book trailers may add provenance (author, editor, publishing house), critical reception (reviews, blurbs,  advance publicity), awards, and phenomenological qualities like “best-seller” or “banned in Boston,” or “on the Prohibited List of the Catholic Church,” to drum up sales.

This is from the Book Trailers for All site, hosted by Circle of Seven Productions.  It categorizes by age-specific writing and genre and offers advice and workshops for creating your own book trailers.  The trailer above sells sex and intrigue to adult readers and features stock-footage and perhaps some special shoot materials to convey the solitary pleasures to be had within the covers of the book.

The trailer at the top of the page, Colson Whitehead‘s The Comedian, is a very sophisticated and beautifully produced/edited book trailer, as befits its acclaimed, best-selling author and pioneering (post) publishing house.  This is what you can do with resources:  a book trailer that is almost indistinguishable from a movie trailer.

T.C. Boyle‘s The Women, hosted by, features special shoot materials, chapter titles, a gorgeous music cue, but no voice over or excerpts of the text.  It relies on the recognizability of author Boyle, who is routinely reviewed in the NYTimes.

Lastly, a shout out to, which tops the rankings despite the mostly low-budget, self-published titles for which book trailers have been produced.  Based on a review of some of the trailers, I’d guess that Microsoft Movie Maker software was the default mode of production.  Here you will see scrolling text, stills, video of the author talking about and/or reading from his or her book, without too much fastidiousness about production value.  A link to a “how to make a book trailer” may be of interest to those of my readers with their own authorial ambitions.

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About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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2 Responses to BOOK TRAILERS: An A-V Advertisement for a Verbal Medium

  1. Pingback: PRODUCING A BOOK TRAILER (part I): No Footage Means Few Limits | REVIEWS OF PREVIEWS

  2. Pingback: BOOK TRAILERS: Selling Words with Images Part I of ? | REVIEWS OF PREVIEWS

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