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.)

5 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. marc says:

    The book was my novel Kalifornia.

  4. 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.

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