Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Book trailers are video advertisements for books, usually structured in the same way as a movie trailer. They can involve voiceovers, music, animation or live action footage, and information on when the book is available or where you can buy it. Book trailers are a lot of fun. Books usually don’t usually get the same variety in their advertising as other types of media, so it’s great for fans to have a new way to get excited about a coming release. They’re also rare enough that there’s no set style. A novelty to both readers and authors, trailers are exciting avenues for creativity that frequently delight fans. With all this excitement, however, it can be tempting to put the cart before the horse and forget to ask the one, vital question: do book trailers sell books?
Aims of a book trailer
To work as advertisements for a product book trailers need to do four things:
- Be seen…
- … by a receptive audience.
- Convert interest in the trailer into desire to buy your novel.
- Bring in more through sales than they cost to make.
In this article I’ll be exploring how and why book trailers usually fail to meet these conditions, as well as providing an example of how the rare exception can tick every box.
Content spreads ‘virally’, passed from person to person. Your trailer only gets seen if people share it, and that’s pretty unlikely. A core reading community might share book trailers, but that’s an audience who are already actively involved in searching out new releases. Without sharing book trailers will get minimal traffic, with a maximum of a few thousand views being the rule. That maximum might seem reasonable, but less than a third of views are actually going to turn into sales. Even bestsellers often get less than a hundred views, because book trailers aren’t something readers expect or look for.
The solution to poor visibility is to increase shareability. Why would someone share your trailer? With movie trailers the impulse to share is usually a form of self-expression, fans showing their friends the kind of thing they enjoy, but with books this is less common. Instead book trailers need to offer viewers something that makes sharing beneficial. Far more people will share ‘this is interesting’ than will share ‘this sounds interesting’, so your trailer needs to contain enjoyable standalone content that then links to your book. This might be an interview from the author, sharing some genuinely interesting facts or insights. In the trailer below Maria Semple advertises her book Where’d You Go, Bernadette in the form of a short sketch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWxzF2NQWQ8 The trailer is an entertaining piece of content first and an advert second. Viewers will share the content because they know other people will enjoy watching it.
As I mentioned earlier book trailers excite existing fans, and that’s great, but unless you’re already rolling in money it’s not enough. Trailers need to interest people who aren’t familiar with your work, and traditionally they’re more likely to turn them away. Why are books such a fantastic medium? Because they allow the writer to tell stories without limits. Inside the reader’s head the special effects budget is limitless. In a trailer it most certainly isn’t. Writing a trailer is completely different to writing a novel, and more often than not the former doesn’t live up to the latter. It’s easy to make a book look cheesy or simplistic with a bad trailer. The trailer for E.E Charlton-Trujillo’s Fat Angie isn’t badly written and its use of music is spot on, yet there’s a cheesiness to some of the performances that influences the viewer’s perception of the book. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Higs0D3H3Ks The acting should have no bearing on how the characters will come across in the book, and yet the idea that characters won’t be believable is irrevocably sown. The acting isn’t even terrible, but it’s not of a professional standard and it’s being used to advertise a professionally written book. Trailers aren’t an asset if you’re putting your worst foot forward. As the main audience for trailers consists of people looking for new releases it can often be the case that instead of attracting more readers trailers actually lessen your existing readership.
The wit and fun of Where’d You Go, Bernadette’s trailer reflects on the book, conveying spirit rather than content. The key to the trailer is that the premise allows for less than professional production values. An audience watching a dramatized work of fiction expects a lot of things, but footage of an author talking to her friends doesn’t even need particularly steady camera work. Since the trailer focuses on humor rather than the book itself it expands its audience from ‘people looking for a book to buy’ to ‘people with a sense of humor’.
Converting viewers to buyers is the key purpose of a trailer, but there’s a core problem with using a video trailer to sell a book. Video book trailers use music, pictures, moving images and voice to pursue an audience interested in reading. The issue should be self-evident, in that every approach is catered to except the one that’s actually on offer. Even if viewers are interested in your story that’s only half the product. What you’re selling is the ability to read that story. Imagine watching a movie trailer, deciding you’d like to see the film, and then being told the actual product is a radio series. Your interest in the story might not waver, but the desire the trailer achieved has nothing to do with the product. Many of the comments under the Fat Angie trailer are telling:
I would love to see a movie of this. I would make a movie of this.
…Hope it gets made into a full-length film.
But I hope if they do make a movie it’s better than this…
I want the book AND the movie!!
While many of the comments are positive, most of them approach the book via the idea of a filmed telling of the story. Even those who enjoyed the trailer are preoccupied by the idea of a movie version, and why wouldn’t they be? What they just watched primed their interest for a performed, audio-visual telling.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette’s trailer is successful because it’s a video of someone talking about the book rather than an attempt to turn the book into a video. The successful conclusion of the Fat Angie trailer is a viewer thinking ‘I’d like to watch more of that’, whereas the successful conclusion of the Where’d You Go, Bernadette trailer is a viewer thinking ‘I’d like to read that’. For effective conversion from interest to sale you also need to tell readers exactly when and where they can buy your novel.
For a high quality book trailer that doesn’t come off as amateurish you’re looking at a charge ranging from the mid-hundreds to several thousands of dollars. Quite simply it’s incredibly unlikely that the return will be worth it. Number of views and dollars invested could well be the same number, and is $1 a view really a sensible investment? One thing authors aren’t short of is options for advertising their work. The money you spend on a book trailer could go into multiple ads on popular review sites, or into a blog tour that will really get the word out.
Yet again the Where’d You Go, Bernadette trailer knows what it’s doing. Production costs are minimal because it’s just filmed conversation, but as mentioned earlier the premise means this feels authentic rather than low quality. Keep trailers simple and you’ll keep down costs. It’s a happy coincidence that a simple premise is also the way to attract more viewers.
Book trailers and you
The bottom line is that it’s incredibly difficult to produce a successful book trailer. Creating an advert that people want to share with one another is almost impossible, doubly so when you’re working in a different medium to the one you’re selling. Combined with the cost of producing a book trailer no author could be blamed for deciding to spend their money on other forms of advertising. For those who are dead set on a trailer there is, nevertheless, hope. The things you can do to make your trailer successful also cut down on costs. Dramatic productions are out, as are trailers that ape the flashy style of their movie counterparts. What viewers want to see is a short, interesting and/or funny production that talks about the book rather than trying to be it. As long as you make sure to entertain your viewer, keep it simple and always aim for the end thought ‘I want to read that’ you’ll be able to create a successful trailer that people want to share. If budget is no issue for you then I’d recommend talking to simplifilm. Their book trailers have actually led me to buy books. Looking for other ways to advertise your book? Read BookBub vs BookGorilla vs The Fussy Librarian – Which is the best ebook marketing service?. Or check out Get your book cover right… or lose sales for more advice on advertising the written word through a visual medium.