The Art of the Title [Page]?

Publishers should stop flailing around with book trailers and look to other Hollywood tropes for inspiration. 

TL;DR: Book trailers are a waste of money, but shortform promotional video from book publishers still has potential; it can and should be used to set the tone for a work instead of trying to entice potential readers to purchase.


On and off for years, book publishers have produced ‘trailers’ (in the movie-style) to market certain books.

I am a fan of this experimentation and I am on the record as being enthusiastic for those trailers that have worked on me — notably the animation done for Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker and the mini-documentary created to promote Trillions.

In these cases, ‘success’ has meant whether the clip has made me want to buy the book. That is subjective, but I am not a picky customer and I have watched my share of these clips. Some are amusing, some are entertaining, but most fail to entice me to buy.

So yesterday if you would have asked me whether to invest in a book commercial I would have said “Save your money.”

Then, over the weekend, I attended Gamercamp. At the conference Will Perkins and Lola Landekic killed it in a presentation about the title sequences in front of video games. I was fascinated to learn that in the film business, credit sequences are actually mandated by the industry guilds. They have to be there. It’s been that way for a 100 years. In the game business they are a recent addition and they are wholly voluntary. Gaming companies invest in them by choice. Will and Lola explored why.

Tone. Mood. Style.

It’s all about helping the story. A well done title presentation tees up the emotional space the viewer/gamer/reader is about to step into.


Now think of the last ten book recommendations you have made or heard. The why-to-buy is rarely a plot point. A reader is more likely to tell a friend how a book made them feel. Or what a comparative read is. The plot synopsis comes last — if at all. The author endorsements from the book jacket are never mentioned.[1]

So why have book trailers been modelled (so far) after back-of-jacket copy? As an industry we suck at back-jacket copy. But we are good at front-cover treatments. We are good at tone. We are good at telegraphing mood. That got me thinking that we have co-opted the wrong thing from the movie business — we should have aped the title sequence, not the teaser trailer.

“All your Saul Bass are belong to us.”

Compare an old-school teaser trailer with an old-school title sequence to see what I mean.

Title sequences (at their best) are works of art themselves. They anticipate and compliment the main work. They stand the test of time.

Now imagine a comparable thing at the beginning of an ebook. That’s possible now. Today. The right vision, the right artist, the right book, and of course the right publisher could make that happen next week.


I think creating a well conceived and executed lead-in to help the reader enter the story is the natural place for publishers to invest their money.

The interactive and animated covers are on the right track, but they don’t mean anything to anyone. A work of art that is adjacent to a book — something that actually makes readers feel something, that actually has a purpose by itself — is the next evolutionary step here.

So that’s the challenge I am throwing down. If you work in the enhanced ebook space and are tired of creating swfs that add no value or if you are a book marketer with a healthy budget, why not invest in some front matter of consequence? Start with the atmosphere on the cover and extend it to the beginning of the text with some well considered media.

Why not? We have chased every other Hollywood marketing invention. Time for credit for credit’s sake.

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[1] I am thinking here of word-of-mouth recommendations, not professional criticism or GoodReads-style plot recaps.

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