05/04/2012 09:43 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Are Book Trailers Necessary?

Slowly but surely, a new mode of advertisement for publishers and authors is starting to take hold in the industry -- the use of book trailers to publicize new and upcoming titles.

For some trailers, creating a buzz for the book involves fancy videography or animation; for others, simply text over photographs with background music gets the job done. Most do not reveal exactly what the book is about, but simply catch your eye. The goal for all, no matter the style, is to attract new readers who might not have looked into the title without such a visual representation of the content within.

When I published my latest book, my publisher was adamant about the need for a trailer to pull in readers. I was offered a 90-second book trailer for under $1,000 that would include text pulled from the book, paired with images and music to attract potential buyers. The examples I was shown appeared to be nothing more than glorified Power Point presentations. I was turned off by the idea at first because the workmanship on many of these trailers was quite low; I felt that having one for my own book would be more of a turn-off than a means to garner a readership.

At the same time, I liked the idea of having another piece of promotional material to show for my work. I approached friends who are videographers and musicians producing work I admired in the hopes that they might want to help me with this trailer at a lower cost and, ideally, a much higher production value than most book trailers out there.

I could not be happier with the outcome from my director/editor friend, Hunter LeMoine, and my musician friend, Lou John B. Instead of static images, Hunter took actual footage. Instead of a stock song, Lou created a theme specifically for my book. The result is better than anything I could have hoped for:

Now, that being said, a part of me views book trailers as bordering on fallacy, being that the medium counters what the book will ultimately offer. Trailers for movies make sense -- a visual medium for a visual product. If you aim to read a book, why do you need anything more than the synopsis of the book before you know whether you want to read it?

Author Rex Pickett (Sideways, Vertical) sees our evolving culture as reason enough for book trailers. Pickett said:

Here's the deal: books, especially literary fiction, need all the help they can get to find an audience, especially in this barbarously crowded market with such a profusion of self-imprints, e-books, etc. Ironically, one of my arguments is that literary fiction is going the way of lacework and spear-making and manual typewriters; when I see the book trailers I wonder if, for some, they obviate reading the book and, in some way, are saying: Hey, make the movie already! I really think the future of the word is going to be A/V -- especially film and especially more short form films like YouTube Channel shows, etc. But, as far as literary fiction goes, if it has any hope it has to embrace e-readers -- which the publishing industry is finally doing, if reluctantly -- and the future of a world that's told in visual form, not written.

If that's the case, what should we be attempting to get across in these trailers?

One of the comments I received when I posted my book trailer on Facebook was, "The trailer felt more like a teaser. I didn't come away knowing why I might want to read this book." But isn't a "teaser" what a trailer is meant to be? The synopsis of the book is posted beneath the trailer on YouTube and is readily available on my publisher's site and Amazon, among other venues. I have been of the mind that the trailer is meant to tease you into wanting to read more - about the book and, ultimately, the book itself.

Personally, I have never bought a book based off of a book trailer. In fact, before I was told I needed one for my own work, I never so much as watched a single book trailer. I get the feeling this is true for many people, since other comments I've gotten about my own trailer include, "It's going to be a movie? Wow! Congrats!" -- to which I had to dispel the myth that trailers are only for movies.

It is possible that the book trailer as marketing piece is still too new to the publishing industry as a whole to be able to accurately determine whether they bump up that bottom line or acquire more bibliophiles just yet.

Despite books ultimately needing to be read, is it worthwhile to have a completely graphic means with which to attract an audience, considering how visual society has become? Do you watch book trailers before you decide to crack the spine of a new title?