What Makes a Good Book Trailer?

Book trailers are a fairly recent arrival on the marketing scene, and the art of creating book trailers is still young.

I've seen quite a few book trailers recently, everything from author-designed images and music all the way to publisher-commissioned trailers with professional actors, lighting, and voiceover.

I would like to propose a very simple principle and see what you think.

A book trailer is only successful if it makes you want to read the book.

I've been fascinated to see some higher-budget trailers that look like mini movies and yet, according to my measure of success, they don't work.

Why? Because what makes us want to read books is the promise of an intense emotional journey, whether it's an adrenaline pumping story of intrigue, a gut-wrenching story of heroism, or a laugh-out loud romantic comedy.

If the book trailer can't convey the STORY, just like a great elevator pitch--if the copy doesn't pull a reader into a narrative with a fresh, inventive hook, it won't sell books, no matter how well-designed or artistically-appealing it may be. The same kind of critiques that apply to book proposals work for book trailers. We might say:
"Well, that looks pretty, but I've read it before."
"I guess it sounds OK, but I can't really tell much about the story from the trailer"
"I don't get a feel for why I should care about your characters from this book trailer"
or "It seems like you have a good premise, but I don't see how the plot is going to fulfill that premise--it loses its tension and becomes just a scenario."

I have a feeling that a lot of companies are going to spend money on some book trailers that simply don't produce results, because the creators and commissioners are going to mistake high production values like original video and voiceover for effectiveness.

I would like to show you one of the best book trailers I've seen, Jessica McCann's trailer for her novel All Different Kinds of Free. I hope you will see how her video does exactly what I describe here--it gives us a compelling reason to care about these characters and this story.

All Different Kinds of Free book trailer

My suggestion: selling books is NOT the same as selling films. Readers aren't fooled--they know that the high production values of a book trailer will have nothing to do with the book itself, as a book functions by text, not on film. Sure, actors and voiceover can help make the trailer appealing, and ideally we can have both high production values and compelling narrative. But practically, most authors will not have the thousands it takes to produce a book trailer that looks like a movie. And I believe the expensive part of the book trailer is the less critical one, and the one more likely to be a waste if the book trailer doesn't have a great hook and a way to trigger reader identification with characters.