Book trailers – wank or worthwhile?

The title of this post says it all, really. I’ve been keen to have a book trailer for RealmShift for ages but just not got around to it. Recently I decided to make it a priority and started looking into it more seriously. And that made me wonder – would it really help to sell copies? I can’t afford to have a trailer made for me (more on that in a minute) so investigated making my own. Once I started looking into buying stock images and video to stitch together a trailer I realised that it’s not cheap. I’d thought about filming my own clips, but then it would be likely to turn out like teenagers playing movie games and make me and/or the book look like a right numpty. And even if I bought quality footage, could I make a quality trailer? Would I do my books more harm than good? So what to do?

I started looking at as many book trailers as possible. Some of them are clever, some have impressive production values and some are truly awful. Which is not unlike books – some are clever, some are impressive, some are awful. And while I enjoyed watching some of the trailers, I didn’t go and buy any books.

I made a mention on Twitter that I was looking into doing a book trailer for RealmShift and that generated a bit of debate. It seemed like a lot of people were not impressed by the very concept of book trailers. Someone even said, “Have you ever bought a book because of a trailer?” Well, no, I haven’t. So I asked Twitter:

Hey Twitter – help me out here: Have any of you bought a book based on a book trailer you watched online?

I got a wide range of replies, including things like:

@SeandBlogonaut – are book trailer’s worth the effort?

@CandleForex – no i havent. i like to read the first page or the overview of the book before making a decision

@GRIMACHU – Yes… but I can’t remember what it was… which isn’t that helpful

@MyLittleRedPen – Nope. Always buy books based on recommendations by people or bec I see it in a book shop.

@cochineal – No. Book trailers are uniformly awful.

@fangbooks – yes, but that was more INSPIRED to buy by the trailer… loved the 1st

Not a resounding endorsement of the power of book trailers really.

Something that occurred to me is maybe the professionally produced trailers are more likely to score a hit. If something looks homemade, then then product is going to be considered equally shabby. If I made a book trailer for RealmShift and it was as awful as a lot of Twitter considers other trailers to be, would that actually affect book sales in the wrong direction? I expect most of the trailers people have seen are “homemade” and that’s where this attitude to them comes from. My books are bloody good* so why spoil them with a half-arsed book trailer? Perhaps paying for a pro job is worthwhile (I said pro job).

Well, that’s not an option. A professionally produced book trailer runs into thousands of dollars. While I’d love to say that I make enough from my writing to justify that kind of promotional expense, it would be bullshit. And in my exploration of book trailers, even some that were clearly professionally put together were still bloody awful.

On the other hand, all the book trailers I’ve watched made by Paul Murphy are bloody brilliant. Have a look at these and tell me they don’t work. Or do they? I watched loads of these and loved them all, but I didn’t buy any books. But, there were a couple that stuck in my mind and I’ll remember those books if I ever see them again, on a shelf or an Amazon perusal. A quality trailer for the kind of book that appeals to me made me sit up and take notice. The truth is, a trailer is only ever going to be one part of the overall promotion and marketing of a book. No one aspect of promo is more important than others.

I contacted Book Tease, Paul Murphy’s company, and asked about the cost of producing a book trailer. I was told that a 30 second trailer with a script, motion graphics and music costs between $2000 to $2500. Now, if I was a big publisher and expected to sell several thousand units of a book, that would be a quite acceptable marketing expense. But I’m not. My books are published by a small press in the US and their marketing budget doesn’t stretch to that kind of expense any more than my own does.

There’s a really good interview with Paul Murphy here, talking about book trailers.

But watching Murphy’s trailers made me realise something. If I can’t have a trailer for RealmShift that’s at least as good as his work, then I don’t want one at all. The general consensus seems to be that most book trailers are awful, and mine would be too if I made it myself. As I can’t afford the services of Paul Murphy or someone like him, I’ll have to wait until I sell a novel to one of the big publishing houses that does have that kind of budget and they can pay for a book trailer for me, as part of a bigger marketing campaign. And when that does happen, I’ll be suggesting they call Mr Murphy. I’d love to see his vision of my book in a trailer.

So I should stop bloody blogging and get back to work on the new book.

* Of course I think my books are bloody good. If you don’t believe me, go and buy a copy and decide for yourself. 🙂

.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • LinkedIn
  • MySpace
  • Reddit
  • Slashdot
  • Technorati
  • RSS
  • Twitter

20 thoughts on “Book trailers – wank or worthwhile?

  1. I would go as far as to say that Murphy’s book trailer for Bloodcoutess is actually better than the book itself. The one he did for Birmingham’s book has made me want to check it out further. Like you say though it has to be top quality and even then I think you have to be lucky and draw people into making a sale almost straight away.

    I was going to buy Cory Daniells’ KRK trilogy (until I won the books in a comp)and the thing that actually got my to the point of buying was the artwork. The book trailer did nothing for me.

  2. I made a trailer for an anthology a couple of years ago. Nothing special and I doubt it generated any sales. I mainly did it so that potential readers could get an idea what the stories were about, but a well designed web page can do that job better (in my opinion).

    I’ve seen a lot of book trailers, but only one of them prompted me to buy the book. However, in hindsight, I think the author’s blog really prompted me and the trailer just cemented the idea.

    Trailers are for movies, not books. Maybe they will take off in the future, maybe not. Who knows and who cares? From what you’ve said in your post…no one!

  3. Thanks for the comments – both of you seem to reinforce that trailers, if anything, are just a small part of a greater marketing process.

  4. Oh, wish I’d seen your tweet asking.
    140 characters wouldn’t have been enough anyway.
    I love book trailers. Best idea ever!
    I love the try before you buy quality of them.

  5. I dig them. Although, I think they need to hold their own as an artistic medium. (Meaning they shouldn’t just be an advert for the book, but something unique and worth viewing on their own merit.)

  6. I enjoy book trailers, they make a nice and easy place to point people to and say ‘watch this’, but more so when you’re dealing with Teen/YA books (most adults don’t watch ads at the best of times, let alone voluntarily).
    Unsurprisingly the two books that I have brought because of trailers have been YA; Carrie Ryans 2nd book has a very haunting trailer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVrPYBHycx4), which, if you’ve read the first book, creates a sense of anticipation; the other is the tween book Monster High,whos trailer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGawAhRjtoA), circulated around the interwebs as part of the hype around the book and is disgustingly catchy and inspired me to buy the book (yes, I read the blurb, but only after seeing the trailer)
    Otherwise I think most trailers are great for author validation (I automatically love the SHORT trailers my favourite authors produce, just because it’s something related to the books I enjoy), and if you’re in the trade, or spend most of your time surrounded by bookie people, I think you (we) tend to forget most normal people couldn’t really care less… unless it’s on TV or is good/funny enough to ‘go viral’ (see monster high) a book trailer isn’t going to sell your book to non-bookie people (in my awfully humble opinion).. but I do enjoy them, and I do enjoy what authors think best defines their book, so don’t be put off doing one on the cheap..but it’s a procrastination tool, not a marketing too.

  7. Ali, you make some great points. The Monster High trailer is actually a video clip, with massive production value and production cost to match, clearly. Yet nowhere does it even mention a book! To me, that would be nothing more than an irritating, if slightly entertaining, piece of whacky music. But if you know it’s in relation to a book and used as part of a greater marketing campaign then it adds hype and credibility to the book in question. Once again, it seems that the things that work are the pro looking trailers in conjunction with a greater marketing vehicle.

    This is interesting stuff, folks – keep the comments coming.

  8. It depends on the book. I wasn’t really sold on the blurb of ‘Zombies vs Unicorns’ as I thought it was trying for a bandwagon readership, but then I saw the website and trailer
    (http://pages.simonandschuster.com/zombiesvsunicorns) and thought it was at least worthwhile flicking through to see if any of the stories were any good.

    Having said that, it is only at that point (when flicking through book) that the browser decides whether or not to buy the book. It is therefore probably more important to have extracts of the book available than a trailer.

    Trailers, however, have the advantage of being able to access people who may not otherwise use the internet to find things to read via sites like YouTube. I guess you have to figure out whether the cost is worth that readership and that will depend on the type of book you’re selling.

  9. My big question… are the people who are attracted by a trailer the type of people who are going to read a book?

  10. I read somewhere that in advertising they aim for a customer to see a product three times. The first time they may not remember the product, the second they may get the feeling they’ve seen it before, the third they know they’ve seen it before and hopefully start to think that if this thing is everywhere then maybe lots of people like it (and therefore is worth trying).

    Trailers are like tv ads. The cleverer they are, the more likely people will remember the product, or remember when they see it advertised later. And they don’t have to be well made – just memorable in a good way. Memorable in a bad way is not good, and why talented people who make careers out of making ads are usually (but not always) best at making them.

    And why I agree with you, Alan, that for authors it’s going to cost more than they can afford. There are other much cheaper ways to get customers to see your product multiple times.

  11. Adeline – it’s true that trailers get some cross-media attention, but the question then, as others have raised, (Ali below your comment, for example) is this: Do people that like YouTube videos also like books? The best marketing is target marketing and maybe trailers are not hitting a target accurately enough? You’ve also reinforced the trailer as part of a bigger campaign point.

    Trudi – the “three sights to sale” rule is one I’ve heard before. I think you raise a really good point, being authors can concentrate on other things that they can do better to make those strikes and get their work noticed. Although a quality book trailer on TV would potentially be awesome for sales. I’d love to know some stats on this stuff. Then again, I’m a bit of a stat nerd…

  12. I don’t think I’d buy a book purely based on a trailer, but it’s potentially a good lure to get people to take a closer look.

    “Do people that like YouTube also like books?” is pretty irrelevant as everyone likes YouTube, don’t they? If someone you know send you a link to a YouTube video, is there really anyone that would ignore it on the basis that they don’t like YouTube? Me, and just about everyone else will click on the link straight away and have a look. Send me a link to a sample of a book and I’ll leave that until I know I have the time to give it my fullest attention.

    I understand that there’s marketing potential, but fundamentally I don’t like the idea. Part of the joy of reading a book is that however well crafted it is, your mental image of the characters and locations is in your own imagination. Personally I don’t want someone predefining those ‘visuals’ with a video.

  13. I’ve made trailers for my first two books and will do one for the third, mainly cause I enjoy making them 🙂 It’s a new way to focus on the story, consolidate what I want it to be about, and also a new way to tell the story.

    I agree with Trudi – the three times rule is an important one. And sometimes, people do damn clever things with not a lot of money. There’s this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c4DzoNkomQ0&feature=player_embedded which I saw on a romance blog long ago and have remembered ever since – funny and wouldn’t have cost much at all. And this one announcing that Kraken are the new vampires http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwM6uoQAh50

    I’ve remembered the trailers, even though I didn’t remember the books and didn’t buy the books and that’s one little cog in my brain that may eventually have me finding those books and those authors 🙂

  14. This caught my interest as I follow Cassandra Clare, author of the ‘Mortal Intruments’ YA series, on Twitter. Just recently she used the filming of a book trailer for her next book as an opportunity to generate a lot of fan buzz. By releasing teaser images of the cast, fans of the books got to ‘see’ their favourite characters brought to life. It is perhaps cheating given that the books are already popular, and perhaps this is restricted to within the existing fandom, but seeing as the trailer isn’t even released yet, I’d say it’s a good example of how they can whip up interest in a pretty unique way.

  15. Graham – “Do people that like YouTube also like books?” That is a bit of a facetious comment, I realise. But the point I mean is, do people that browse YouTube also look out for new books to buy. But you’re quite right that anyone will click a YouTube link these days if directed to one. I think your other point about superseding the visuals of a book is something else that’s niggling at me about book trailers. I love movies, but books are movies.

    Nicole – That Kraken are the new vampires clip was pretty clever and nicely done, but WAY too long. Nearly 5 minutes. I only watched it all so I could comment back here. No Gen-Y muppet will sit through that! But I did like the idea and the delivery.

    The other one about the romance books I couldn’t bear! Very cute, using her kids toys and all that, but it made my skin crawl. And again, long for a trailer – nearly four minutes. You have a lot of patience compared to most folks online these days.

    By the way, feel free to link to your own trailers. Get a plug in while you can.

  16. Mitch – Did it spoil your own mental image to see someone else’s vision of the characters? And yes, once again we have the existing fandom being appealed to, like the Monster High thing earlier.

  17. Thanks for your kind words Alan, I really appreciate the feedback! And well-done on such a great blog.

    If you’re interested, I actually discuss some of the issues you raise about book trailers in this article here:
    http://tiny.cc/xyg0v

    Too often they’re pushed as the “magic beans” of marketing (“all you need is a book trailer!”), when as some people have pointed out, book trailers should be one part of an overall marketing strategy, not the be all/end all. My aim with every trailer I make is to make the book stand out when someone walks into a book store and sees a wall of books.

    Here’s a list of books I have recently bought after watching their trailers:
    1. The Passage by Justin Cronin
    2. Room by Emma Donoghue
    3. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

  18. Hi Paul – thanks for checking in! The article is a good one and it further confirms a lot of what’s being said here, along with your comment. Seems to me the key points we’re establishing are:

    1. Have a good idea;
    2. Make a quality trailer (which doesn’t necessarily mean a high budget, but it would appear to be difficult to make a good one on the cheap. That takes us back to point 1, where a good idea could be made cheaply);
    3. Make it short and to the point, to grab the attention;
    4. Use it as part of a bigger marketing campaign.

    Anything else? Keep your thoughts coming, folks.

Leave a Comment