Modest Proposal #37: A Novel Kind of Trailer

I think book trailers are dumb.  Partly it’s due to the fact that most are badly done (although they seem to be improving), partly it’s that the experience of watching a trailer is nothing like reading a book.  A movie’s trailer at least gives you scenes from the movie it advertises.  A book trailer gives you nothing of the experience, which is that of reading a written word.  When I think about what attracts me to a book, it is usually a jumbled impression of fleeting sentences gained by flipping through the pages, catching sight of stray, disconnected sentences, and wanting to know more.  Since the books themselves already contain these sentences, what is needed is a way of simulating that experience of skipping through pages as you’re standing in a bookstore or a library.  As more of us buy from online dealers, and spend less time in bookstores, the act of riffling pages has become endangered.  So trailers seem like a decent form for catching the attention of internet readers–except for the fact that, for me, they just don’t work.

What I’d like to see is something closer to a written trailer–a heavily edited, chopped-up, artfully scattered and rearranged, breathless set of passages from the book itself.  Stray sentences, evocative names, intriguing set-pieces–spoiler free, or at least extremely misleading.  Something that gives you the flavor, the scent of a book; sentences that convince you that you’ve got to dive in and find them in context.

Someone, some publisher, should have a contest.  Encourage readers of some of your recent books to put together clever text-only teasers.  Use the winning entries to promote those books.

(I tried this in the preface for my novel KALIFORNIA, which seemed justified then because the book was about TV.  But really this approach, if it worked, wouldn’t need any meta-justification.)

8 Responses to “Modest Proposal #37: A Novel Kind of Trailer”

  1. Dileep says:

    This is why someone came up with “Book Reading” sessions.
    Neal Stephenson has an interesting take on it:

    Also, much like trailers, textual teasers might create false expectations amongst readers. I for one avoid movie trailers for the same reason. Long have I tried to imagine what Jacob’s Shadow would read like if someone would write it (

  2. marc says:

    I’m interested in the experiment. Reading books aloud is also very different from encountering them as written text–it’s not meant to replace that, but to fill a different vacuum. A good performance can make some absolutely crappy writing fun to listen to, and an awful reading can wreck good writing.

  3. DemonGithara says:

    You wrote a book about TV? What was the context? If it was con, then I’m all for it. lol. TV is lame…………

  4. marc says:

    The book was my novel Kalifornia.

  5. DemonGithara says:

    Never heard of it, Mark. I was thinking it was a movie. Movies and video games are nice, but TV is like 24 hour breen cast to me…..

  6. marc says:

    I remember those, Scott–very cool. But they’re still movie based. I think there’s a happy medium somewhere. A friend said to me yesterday, “I would never go looking for a book on YouTube.” People are definitely going the trailer route in hopes of getting things in front of YouTube viewers. But I don’t think it works very well…it’s not native to that environment for one thing.

  7. DemonGithara says:

    Scribes are important, but the medium of print, itself, is dying and it may be going along with ancient Arabian invention of writing as well. My hand writing is atrocious, indubitably so. lol :P

    It distracts the person from creativity, though, and imagination after too much reading. Reading is great, and I enjoy it, but I can only read so much before I want to live the adventure.

    I am a slow linear reader if I’m in the constraints of a fiction novel. This makes me get really focused on the text and then I don’t see text anymore, but the metaphysical constructs. This can be great, and is for everyone, but it has many limitations.

    I often get involved in a sensational instant in the narrative, but start to reflect on some aspect of it, and then I actually forget where I was in the story itself. So movies are more enjoyable to me. More versatile, I suppose, and the associations with the ideals they represent are have more vividly expressed.

    You write good stuff, the little I have actually read….. Freeman and has got to be the coolest hero a nerd, like myself, I could hope for in a wet dream. The other characters, while also fleshed out and mutated by other people’s economic whip crackings or slave drivings, are also quite lovable and worthy of affection. They all resonate well in me from here to eternity…..

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