In today’s edition of “What’s the deal with book trailers?” I’m taking a look at a fan made trailer for Robert J. Sawyer’s sci-fi/political thriller Triggers.
Let’s have a watch.
My first impression: I’m not going to buy this book.
My second impression: This is a potentially problematic direction for book trailers.
The Triggers trailer touches on something that, for want of a better term, I’m going to call marketing agency. It’s the ability of a publisher and author to ensure control over the way in which a given work is being presented to the world. As the Triggers trailer is a fan production, there is no marketing agency on the part of Penguin Books or Robert J. Sawyer, himself.
As a newish form of marketing, book trailers exist within a power void. To my knowledge, there’s no monolithic production company that specializes in the production of book trailers, nor is there enough money in a publisher’s advertising budget to dominate the discourse as the film industry does. If that was the case, all of us critics would be out of a job. From that lack of consolidated creativity emerges a new wave of independent producers who are looking to carve out a niche for themselves. Knowing that they won’t get work without a portfolio, these producers start churning out trailers on their own. In doing so, they appropriate some degree of the publisher’s marketing agency.
When that works, that is to say the trailer is an honest representation of the book, it’s a great day for everybody. We can tout the democratic power of web 2.0 as something that breaks down the conventional barriers between producer and consumer. When it doesn’t work, well that’s when things get sticky.
Case in point, I look at the Triggers trailer and I can’t imagine parting coin from hand for that novel. Why? Well it looks chockablock full of Bush Doctrine “War on Terror” nonsense. Given the fact that the Obama administration has done everything it can to distance US Foreign Policy from a seemingly catechistic war on abstraction, the trailer’s conceit appears about eight years out of fashion. This isn’t to say that a novel can’t involve contemporary geopolitical issues. Rather, it’s the images of a white male president getting shot as an antecedent to Arabesque buildings and people getting bombed that screams Republican jingoism. Which is weird because I would expect that from Orson Scott Card, not Robert J. Sawyer.
So maybe I’m not getting an accurate take away of what Triggers is actually about. Perhaps the novel focuses more on the science that the trailer made seem like convenient hand waving. Could it be that there’s a discussion on collective unconsciousness at the core of this text? What a shame that the trailer has already formed a notably less complex, and less interesting, image in my head. Now the sanctioned marketing for Triggers (for the record, I hadn’t heard of this book before I saw the fan made trailer) is going to have to work three times as hard to convince me that the novel is Sawyer a la the Neanderthal Parallax and not a schmaltzy attempt to tap into a broader American audience.
What recourse is there for publishers and authors if they find their work being misrepresented in trailer form? They could lawyer up, but there’s a whole laundry list of nasty rabble roused consequences that can emerge from that course of action. They could boost their own marketing of the book, but that costs money. At the expense of their marketing agency, they can ignore the offending trailer. Finally, if the trailer is close enough to the mark, they can always embrace it and hope for the best.
The lesson for publishers seems pretty plain. If you don’t make a trailer for your book, somebody is going to do it for you. Once that happens, there’s no guarantee on either the production values or accuracy of the trailer. Once that die is cast, reasserting your marketing agency is probably going to be more expensive, either in hard cash or good will, than if you had spent the time and energy on making a decent trailer in the first place.
Update: Shortly after posting this piece, noted book critic August C. Bourré tweeted me the following.
“The trailer is definitely misleading. The terrorism stuff is basically a catalyst and is ignored for almost the whole book.”