Book Trailers – Alive or Dead?

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

It’s a long weekend here and so I have taken time out of my ‘be healthy’ regime to be a bit piggy with brie, red wine, chocolate and, yes, kangaroo. The latter is very tasty even if it feels like you’re eating the nation’s favourite Skippy (believe it or not, kangaroo are actually ‘culled’ in many parts of Australia as vermin). The long weekend also means I’ve been slacker than usual in getting my post together…which means, in true procrastinator form, I have been surfing the web…

To my surprise I have been seeing something I haven’t really noticed in a while…book trailers…yes, these have been sneaking back into my online world just when (to be frank) I thought they had died a natural death. 

Never having done one myself, I can’t say I’ve ever really understood the value of a book trailer. The ones I have seen have been, by and large, stilted, strange, artificial affairs which have failed to raise much excitement in me – either as a reader or as a writer. I was also never really sure whether they actually sold books in the way that a trailer ‘sells’ a movie. So I was surprised when I saw a recent one and started wondering – is the book trailer back? Or maybe it never died?

Assuming an author can afford it, I imagine a clever, funny, professional looking book trailer provides an additional and potentially valuable marketing and publicity tool, even if, in its own right, it doesn’t really sell many books. The key elements here are professional and clever – because, to be honest, some of the trailers I have seen have been embarrassingly amateur (especially when they try too hard to be like a movie trailer complete with ponderous, overblown narration). One I recall that made me laugh (and even contemplate buying the book) was a humorous spoof trailer for Sense and Sensibility with Sea Monsters but other than that most book trailers have drifted from memory like flotsam and jetsam…
But what do you think?

  • Is the book trailer having a resurgence?
  • Have you used a trailer and found it to be a successful marketing tool?
  • Would you consider producing a book trailer for your current WIP? (and why or why not?)
  • Has seeing a book trailer ever induced you to buy the book?

21 thoughts on “Book Trailers – Alive or Dead?

  1. Hi Clare,

    I did a Book Trailer for Careful…, my first novel, and it’s posted on my website

    I don’t know how to measure if it’s helped my book sales. It was a good learning tool, but I haven’t invested the time or money to make another one.

    Does anyone know how to qualify these things?

    A Book Trailer seems like a good idea for marketing, but the jury is still out.

  2. Clare, that’s a really interesting question. I’ve noticed the same thing; there seem to be more book trailers than ever. I don’t recall ever having been influenced by one of them to buy a book, but given the traffic that YouTube, Daily Motion, and other sites get I don’t think an author can ignore the medium if it’s within their ability to do it. It’s apparently not too difficult to do well (although anything I would do would undoubtedly look like “Plan 9 From Outer Space”).

  3. Paula, Interesting – I agree its hard to know how to quantify the impact on sales -maybe other authors have been able to assess this for their particular book trailer (?) Joe – Glad I’m not alone in noticing this. I’m not sure I’d feel confident I could pull off a great book trailer…though I think if I had a professional team behind me, maybe, just maybe, I’d consider it…but the risk is that it would be really lame and do more harm than good!

  4. I can see the value of a book video for some things. For example, a video could be used to introduce the book before the author speaks. Also, a video could be used if the books are being sold from a display table at a convention. But I don’t think doing a video and putting it out on the web works well enough to make it worth one’s time.

  5. I think most book videos fail because they’re too long, ponderous, and often amateurish (due to the author’s budgetary constraints). Ideally they should be no longer than Internet ads–less than 30 seconds, just enough to give a sense of the book. But book videos could have an important marketing role in the future. When shopping for ebooks, I’d like to be able to click on a (brief) video in addition to the cover’s thumbnail. That might make a difference as I’m deciding whether to download a sample or buy a book.

  6. Most book trailers are too long. Under 60 seconds should be the rule.

    Even so, I don’t see the ROI. They do not impact sales significantly. In fact, a ponderous trailer might actually depress sales.

    There is not a good analogue here to movie trailers. People in theaters are captive audiences, so the trailers are “forced” on them. People looking for books on the internet are usually not interested in slowing down for a trailer.

    You have, they say, 7 seconds to capture attention and get someone to the next step. This seems more aptly done with great teaser copy that can be quickly scanned, and then supporting ad copy.

    But if I have to watch a whole trailer before I figure out what the book is, I’m likely not to stick around.

    A snazzy trailer can perhaps help your brand a bit, but it’s a very expensive way to do it.

  7. I can only remember watching a book trailer one time. And no, I absolutely have no recall of what it was even for (nor did I buy the book in question).

    Who knows if as a writer I may one day change my mind, but both as a writer and as a consumer, my current interest in book trailers is zero.

    I think JSB nailed it when identifying the time it takes to watch a book trailer. For this same reason I barely ever listen to podcasts or watch a vlog. It’s much faster to scan printed words on the page.

  8. I’ve never believed in book trailers. Movie trailers work, I think, in part because the audience (a captive one, as my buddy JSB points out) is there to see a movie. A movie advertising another movie makes sense.

    Television commercials work to the degree that they do because the audience is forced to endure the spot in order to get to the next part of the show they want to see.

    The problem with book trailers is that you have to go looking for them. This could be a generational thing, but I just don’t do that. YouTube is not the direction I’m going to look if I want to select my next choice in reading.

    The one example I can think of of a book trailer that works is not really a book trailer at all: James Scott Bell’s On Writing YouTube videos. They are helpful, short and entertaining. Plus they’re well-produced and they don’t take themselves too seriously. Jim Bell writes outstanding books on writing, but they are not what the episodes are about. The episodes are about helping people. You have to go to Jim’s website to establish the link (a trip well worth taking, if you haven’t been there already).

    John Gilstrap

  9. I would love to do some kind of video to flog my novel Tainted Souls, in the hopes that it would go viral. Because if no one’s heard of your book, how do they know to buy it?

    But the only idea I can come up with is my kids rapping something like, “Buy my dad’s book or he’ll kill a puppy,” and somehow I’m not convinced that would work so well.

  10. And a movie trailer is actual footage showing the stars. Sometimes the trailer is the best part of the movie.

    Book trailers with tragic music and fades and overblown snippets, “Beth was faced with the decision that would rend lives . . . ” illustrated with fuzzy screen shots usually carrying someone’s watermark, well I laugh . . .

    Oh, that wasn’t your intention? Sorry . . .

  11. I had a book trailer created for my second thriller, BONEYARD, but haven’t done one since. It seems that these days the most popular ones are author interviews that then can be mounted on Amazon. Lisa Lutz also did a very funny one for her latest release, where she’s interviewed by her “future audience,” ie: children.
    But to date, my hands down favorite is this one by my friend Daniel Handler. I’ve seen it a half dozen times and it still makes me laugh.

  12. As a reader, book trailers always struck me as superfluous and lame. A book is the written medium with all the images in your head. A trailer is TV with images from somebody’s else’s head, and they’re not going to match mine. TV and books are not equal.

    I don’t know. I’ve watched trailers of books I’d already read, and they seemed to have little to nothing to do with the actual book. Want to grab me? Provide one of those nifty teaser paragraphs books used to have on the first page.

  13. Hey, Clare! I’m still having trouble getting past, ‘kangaroo’. LOL!

    I like book trailers. Made a VERY inexpensive one for Mythological Sam. Don’t know if it hurt or helped, because I didn’t put a tracker on it. Next one, which I do believe I’ll do, I’ll track as well.

    What do you think? Will you do one?

  14. Having just made my one and only book trailer, for 65 Below a book that came out in 2010, I can honestly say its a lot of work for what will probably be little return. In a week, it has garnered a whole 41 views. Not even worth the ammo used in production, let alone the helicopter rental.

    My only reason for doing it was to mess with and learn my new Adobe CS5.5 Production Suite software. So in that case, mission accomplished I learned a lot. Will it bring additional sales for 65 Below? Well, so far no. But who knows?

    It was fun in the making.

    Do you know how hard it is to get the North Korean President to agree to have his army do an out of season parade…sheesh! Commies.

  15. I’m not sure I would do one, kathleen, unless I can think of something very clever or funny (hmmm…unlikely!) Basil, sounds like you had fun but still as everyone said the ROI is a little dicey! I think JSB’s instructional videos are a great idea but as for movie like trailers for books, I think they are a marginal call. Wonder if anyone’s publisher has pushed for one to be done (or coughed up the money for it). I suspect not but you never know!

  16. I had trouble getting past Skippy for dinner too.

    I’ve had a couple professionally done, & others I did myself. My highest traffic ones on youtube were mine, although that doesnt mean they were good. They’re not worth the time or money for adult books, but the jury is still out on YA.

    James Rollins had a book trailer done that was shown in movie theatres in Canada. I never heard how that went.

  17. I think they’re lame.

    A)Because hollywood movie trailer makers are GOOD at what they do. Our little knock-off versions will never be as good, even if we do shell out some cash. In our culture, we’re conditioned with the pro trailers. Only the best is good enough.

    B) Books are a text medium. Movies are a visual one. It makes sense to sell visual media through visual marketing, and text media through text marketing. Crossing over just doesn’t work.

    Think about how many people are disappointed with book to movie adaptations, even if they’re well done.

    Basically, if there was a way to translate back-cover copy into an action packed, non-lame visual experience, I’d be all over book trailers. But no one’s figured out how to do it yet.

  18. Book trailers can boost your book sales and increase your fan base exponentially. The problem is that over the years there has been a casual acceptance of book trailers in the form of slide shows, still frames, cheesy graphics and bad music. But the fact is, they should be approached the same way you approach a music video or commercial. Style and creativity should be used to sell books. Take a look at our company, Red 14 Films. We make cinematic book trailers with style and production value, and we are more affordable than any production house out there. We’re making trailers for some of the biggest publishing houses out there. Check us out.

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