In this blog post, we look at books written by authors who are contemporary masters at their craft, who happen to have book trailers that miss the mark. It’s hard to see examples of book trailers that have so much potential fall flat. In her own words, Alyssa Evans explores the failings of each trailer and examines the problems in modern publishing that lead to mediocre, ineffective work.
1. Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King – Scribnr, Simon & Schuster
You sit down. You browse the internet. You stumble across the book trailer for King’s recently published Mr. Mercedes and think briefly “What? He published another book?” before, expectantly, pressing play. You are blown away. Because this trailer is awful.
I had to double check that this was, in fact, approved by Mr. King himself – I couldn’t believe that anyone would be willing to use this trailer as a marketing tool. My disbelief was strengthened by my love for King’s work. I read Cell and was scared of my phone for days; Carrie convinced me, at the impressionable age of 12, to always be nice to people who may or may not have telekinetic powers; Misery straight-up terrified me.
Stephen King is one of the most profitable authors around, in part because of the sheer number of books he churns out. This is an author who has a “library” section on his website and whose net worth is estimated at over $300 million dollars.
This is a man who has all the resources for publishing and marketing an author could ever desire: and this is the best book trailer he can come up with? A weird, animated umbrella spinning beneath equally bizarre rain?
Maybe the umbrella has some deep, symbolic significance to his work – I wasn’t inspired to read Mr. Mercedes so I can’t be sure – but it doesn’t have any apparent connection to the words spilling from the not-so-creepy voiceover. While I understand the intent of whatever actor got roped into this gig, there’s a fine line between sounding eerily psychotic and just sounding… cheerful.
The thought of this voice narrating Mr. Mercedes for me only made the book less appealing. I’m not saying it’s the worst trailer in the world (mind you, I’m not saying it isn’t) but the fact of the matter is this: any Stephen King novel deserves far better than this.
2. Tell-All, Chuck Palahniuk – Doubleday and Knopf
Chuck Palahniuk? Author of Fight Club? Man, this one’s going to be good. I can feel it in my bones. There’s no way Chuck Palahniuk would let – Oh. Ok. Never mind. That’s, uh…that’s a lot of palm trees. (Sidenote: The fact that the title of this book is Tell-All and the trailer tells us absolutely nothing strikes me as wonderfully ironic. Depressingly ironic?)
3. Room, Emma Donoghue- Hachette
I read this book for a class last year and enjoyed it, even if I did have a few reservations about the narrator. This is a near perfect novel to make a book trailer for – the premise is intriguing and original even without the added help of marketing. A good thing, considering this trailer does absolutely nothing to highlight the most enthralling aspects of this book. This really isn’t the worst trailer in the world – I just find it especially disappointing because I can think of so much promise for this trailer, and to see it reduced to crayons enhanced with stereotypical nursery-rhyme music is frustrating.
4. Imperial Bedrooms, Bret Easton Ellis- Knopf
Flashing pictures across the screen doesn’t constitute a good book trailer. Big red font doesn’t help your case much either. Bret Easton Ellis is the author of American Psycho, and also happens to be a feature film director – so why is this trailer so cheap?
5. Nineteen Minutes, Jodi Picoult- Simon & Schuster
First off, this trailer is way too long. Second, the music coupled with Picoult’s voice sounds eerily akin to an instructional video on the dangers of smoking. I think my biggest issue with this trailer is it restricts Nineteen Minutes to a blurb; confines the story to a summary. There is no invitation to be a part of this book’s world, rather a desperate plea to pick this book because they’ve made the minimal effort to summarize it for you. Not good enough, Simon & Schuster.
6. The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides- Picador Books
“Young, idealistic, in love with books and each other” – well that describes approximately 90% of all literary couples and therefore does not succeed in setting Eugenides’ work apart from…anything. I mean, really? “Young and in love”? That’s your tag line? I get you added “in love WITH books” in the hopes that it would make the protagonists seem slightly more original, but if reading is now considered a unique hobby your book sales are going to be in for a hell of a hard time. Again, this isn’t a terrible, awful, or unbearable trailer – it’s a trailer that commits the simple crime of letting down its book.
7. The Graveyard, Neil Gaiman- Harper Kids
Full disclosure: I love Neil Gaiman. He’s one of my favorite authors. It’s hard for me to decide if this trailer is more disappointing to me personally because I expect so much from him, or if it really is just a mediocre work. Visually, it’s clear that these are just illustrations from the book put in the framework of a three dimensional graveyard. Using illustrations is great, though these don’t exactly feel fleshed out completely. But that’s not why I don’t like the trailer – here they have the opportunity to use Gaiman’s wonderful voice and writings, and they choose to waste it on an empty summary that they probably took from the back of the book – the summary is on the back for a reason, the point of book trailer is not to make this summary known, it is to examine the most artistic elements of the book by creating a visually appealing, cinematic representation of the novel that acts not only as a marketing tool but, more importantly, adds a wholly imaginative and respectable dimension to the intent of the book – BOOK TRAILERS AREN’T TEMPORARY, DAMMIT. End rant.
8. Under the Never Sky, Veronica Rossi- Harper Collins
You know, this book trailer is almost nostalgic for me to watch. It stood out to me as, without a doubt, the worst book trailer I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I stated that in the blog post, but I’m enthusiastically declaring it now. It’s awful. It’s really, truly terrible.
God, it feels good to get that off my chest.
Why is this book trailer so horrendous? A couple of reasons: first, they include graphics that…well they aren’t too convincing. I understand that realistic graphics can be both expensive and hard to create, but if you don’t have the budget than take a different approach. Focus on the story – not with slamming your audience in the face with jerky colors and pasted images.
Another reason this book trailer falls short of (anywhere near) good is because of its overall presentation. I’m not sure if it’s the dialogue, or the acting, or maybe a combination of the two, but to hear the protagonist go from saying “You’re a diseased cannibal – I’ve heard the stories” to “He hasn’t told me anything” is a wonderful combination of the humorous and uncomfortable. The production quality of this trailer is low. So, so low.
This trailer fails more than the others is because it tries to imitate a movie trailer and, in doing so, fails to be much of anything. It isn’t designed to be a movie, but it doesn’t feel comfortable being a book – so what is it?
For book trailers to transcend into the higher art form they deserve to be, publishers and authors alike need to recognize the unique beauty in a visual representation of novels, poetry – words, essentially. I don’t know if you noticed, but all of these trailers were put together by the biggest publishing houses around, and frankly that’s probably part of the reason they suck so much. Publishers haven’t yet acknowledged the value of cinematic book trailers, and until they do authors and audiences will be subjected to half-hearted mediocrities such as the examples above.