We’ve all been in a theater, watching trailers for upcoming films and then leaning over to our accomplice…er, companion to whisper, “We’ve gotta see that one.” There is no doubt that coming attraction reels work for movies, but in the last few years authors and publishers have tried to use the same medium to promote their books. Question is, does it work?
An old mentor of mine made his first financial mark in the world through Taco Bell franchises. I remember him frequently asking us if the most current Taco Bell commercials “made us hungry.” My friends and I were around ten at the time, and he wanted to know if the TV ads were working on us. His method was relatively crude as marketing research goes, but it was important to him that a couple of kids who viewed his ad came away wanting a taco. If not, he knew something was off.
Which is to say, a book trailer needs to make people hungry. It generally can’t just be an exercise in throwing up a book cover and some fly-in text and calling it good. Your trailer has to make them want—no NEED—to drive to Barnes & Noble or jump on Amazon right now. Just like a movie preview makes you wish “Coming This Summer” meant “Coming Tomorrow,” and fast food ads make you want to crash your nutrition plans, book trailers must compel potential readers to choose your story over millions of others.
The answer to the question of this post is yes, book trailers work to sell books, at least in one regard. The data is getting clearer on this subject as book trailer research grows. What I’m interpreting from the research is that trailers aren’t great (yet?) at pulling readers in that weren’t already a little interested in your title. What they can do, however, is help make the sell for someone who is on the fence. Some data indicates conversion rates of up to 80% on book or author websites that offer a trailer. This means that someone who was looking into your title could be persuaded to push the Buy button up to eighty percent of the time if they watch a short video about your product.
I’ve produced and directed book trailers and music videos enough now that I’m comfortable passing on a few lessons that may help you save time, money, and heartache if you decide to invest in a trailer. First, there can be a difference between low-budget and cheap. A cheap-looking trailer won’t sell anything, and you’ll be much better off pursuing other marketing ideas.
Longer isn’t better. Shoot for around sixty to ninety seconds. Think about good movie trailers you’ve seen. Most fall within that one-minute range, and there is no reason your book trailer should be longer. Get their attention, tell your story, and make them hungry. Done.
Write your trailer without dialogue. One of the more difficult and expensive parts of any film, commercial, or trailer has to do with problems related to sound. Car sounds, coughs, cell phones ringing at the wrong time, etc. can wreck a production schedule when multiple takes of an otherwise simple shot are blown. The industry term for shooting without sound is MOS, and I highly recommend your production crew shoot in this manner. You can add music and voice-over later, but avoid the hassle of sound challenges on the day of shooting.
Green screen is alluring in that it allows you to put whatever background you want behind your actor. That’s fine, but just know you’re going to pay on the back end with an editor making that kind of movie magic happen. It will look great in the end, but with editor salaries ranging from $50 to $500 and hour, you should consider using simpler backgrounds.
That said, even marginal footage can be saved with a good editor. “Fix it in post” is an industry joke, but the truth is I’ve seen some pretty amazing fixes in the hands of a great editor. Your teenager probably knows some editing techniques, but a quality, experienced editor is worth every penny they demand. Something to consider.
Production crews abound, and there is likely a company or two in your neck of the woods that can pull it off. Get some bids, look at their previous work, and talk to potential directors about his/her vision for your project. With a little research you can find the sweet spot of crew, vision, and budget. Just a heads up, you’re looking at a project budget of anywhere from two-grand to thirty-thousand or more. There are some image and text-only production companies online out there with will create a trailer for less than $500, and this may work for your needs. Just do a lot of research on them before you take that plunge.
Finally, write your trailer to reflect the tone of your book. I’ve included a trailer I produced and directed for Karen Cimms and her The Love and Madness trilogy. This is a dramatic work of women’s fiction about a naive woman who falls in love with a rising rock & roll performer. Their passionate, sometimes-hilarious, and always dramatic love story is as rhythmic as his music, and in an “aha” moment we came to realize her trailer should reflect this. Thus, this trailer is essentially a music video. In this book series the “make them hungry” moment ultimately came best when we matched the intensity and tempo of the words on the page with the images on the screen.
Your book trailer should do the same. Trailers for idyllic love stories should be contemplative and lovely. Trailers for adventure stories should include music to match and vivid, heroic scenes. Funny books need a funny trailer, or a funny author talking about their funny book if they have the chops to pull it off.
And it should all be done in under ninety seconds. Simple. So go make them hungry, and keep those fingers moving on home row.