The timeless popularity of mystery novels may be due to just how easy they are to pitch, both to publishers and readers alike. The format of the murder mystery is blessed with a special mixture of predictability and surprise: predictability in terms of the tried and tested structure, and surprise from the revelation of who the killer ends up being. It’s generally believed that readers prefer being surprised by what they read – even to the extent of wanting a solid promise beforehand that what they’re reading will surprise them. And that’s what murder mysteries are built around.
If the model of the mystery novel was originally to present a puzzle to the readers that they could be able to solve alongside the fictional detective, then lately there has been a shift away from that, with the protagonists of crime novels often only being able to solve their cases through some accidental, dead-giveaway clue that’s practically dropped into the lap at the last minute of their 24 hours. Meanwhile, the reader hasn’t been shown anything remotely conclusive, and has been given no resources to ‘work out’ for themselves who he killer was. What remains of the appeal of he murder mystery format is the promise of the surprise at the end, rather than a logical thread for the reader to encrypt.
The lesson isn’t easily transferable to other genres of fiction. Proud authors, published or self-published, in other genres may have a work of fiction with delightful surprise twists in abundance, but then they are stuck with the baggy marketing. And how are they going to market their stories based on elements that the reader can’t get to know about beforehand? What is comes down to is that the selling point can’t be the surprises that are in store. The murder mystery has a monopoly on that.
One way in which books have been advertised on the Internet is through book trailers. The idea is to use a format that’s proven to be successful for marketing movies, and adapting it to the promotion of literature. But the differences between movies an books have made trailers slightly awkward for the latter. It’s especially off when the book trailers don’t include a single sentence from the books themselves. Even with ever-increasing output of self-published works, there appears to have been a decline in the use of book trailers for promotion, in general. It turns out that creating ‘trailers’ that were basically blurbs on top of moving images wasn’t a winning recipe.
But there may be other, more sophisticated, ways of adapting this marketing tool of films. I did some experimenting with it myself, using a manuscript for a novel that presently is neither published nor self-published, and I composed a ‘teaser-trailer’ – a concept borrowed from the movie industry where early trailers for films give just glimpses from movies rather than a full-blown exposition. Applied to books, a teaser-trailer would only be composed out of re-arranged sentences from the story, in order to create an exposition that gives some idea of what the book is about without spoiling it for the readers.
The results can be viewed below. I would argue that in principle, regardless of what anyone thinks of this trailer in particular. this would be the most promising way of promoting books with the use of trailers. It would be possible to tease the surprises of your work without giving them away.