Friday 2 September 2011

Book Trailers Part I

(Image courtesy of Reinis Traidas)

Shortly before my debut novel came out, I was intrigued by a post in a writers' forum by a person asking whether book trailers were a good idea or not.

In all honesty, I hadn't heard the term. But it didn't take long to catch on.

A book trailer is just like a movie trailer. But for books.

What you may not know (thank you Wiki), is that:
The term "book trailer" is currently a trademarked term owned by Sheila Clover of Circle of Seven Productions. The first book trailer to be played publicly was at a book convention in Shreveport, LA. in 2003. The trailer was for a book entitled Dark Symphony by author Christine Feehan.
And here is that first ever trailer, at an extensive four minutes in length:

The word seems to have seeped happily into common usage. Everybody appears to be taking a bash at creating their own multi-media hook with which to reel in undecided readers.

It's natural to be suspicious of new ideas. Especially when those ideas seem to be at odds with their aim. For instance, BellaOnline's Women's Literary Editor, Jeanette Stingley, begins her article on book trailers by explaining that:

Book trailers are quickly gaining popularity among publishers and authors to help promote books and get people reading again.

Then immediately follows up with:

A book trailer is very similar to a movie trailer. Some have live actors playing out parts of the book to catch your interest.

You, like me, may be stroking your imaginary beard (or real one, if you're a bloke), and thinking - 'So, the way to get people back into reading (if, indeed, they ever left) is to make a movie?'

Although no longer available online, as far back as December 2010 someone posted to Book Trailers More Like Movie Trailers All The Time.

If we're to continue in this mildly cynical vein, then, after reading Rye Barcott's article: Why Book Trailers Are Now Essential to the Publishing Industry, you may indeed get a solid sense of what makes them so attractive to business:

Eventually, I found a few companies that produced short promotional videos. Unfortunately, these companies charged $5,000 – $10,000, and none of them appeared to have any particular expertise in how to differentiate a book trailer from an ordinary advertisement.

Circle of Seven Productions who, you may remember, coined the very phrase, also offer a range of creative trailer packages ranging from $350 for flashing the cover art, through to $2,000 for sitting you down in front of a camera and talking to you about your book.

Certainly not a problem if you're a top-lister with a large marketing department behind you. Some of the big names have produced some quite artistic material:

The problem seems to creep in when people try to do Hollywood on a budget:

Or when the genre of the trailer doesn't seem to match the genre of the book. Such as the introduction of something faintly manga to adult horror:

Actually, I really like that last one. But I think the point here is that the book probably stands alone as a great work of crime fiction, and the trailer probably stands alone as a trailer. Whether the trailer truly captures the theme of the book... possibly not. But then, does it need to? In Rye Barcott's article she states:

Most of the authors I know detest the very idea of [book trailers]. We pour our souls into creating a book, a piece of work that can take people deep into places, problems, and things that matter. The experience of reading a book unfolds over hours, and sometimes days. It takes time and commitment to draw knowledge and meaning from narrative...

You know what? I've heard similar complaints about back blurb. One prolific review blogger said something to the effect of: 'I'm sick and tired of book blurb never reflecting the actual story.'

But then blurb, trailers and - at its core - marketing, have never been about sincere representation of the product. You're aiming for sales. In this case, anyone who isn't persuaded to buy the book simply because of the genre or the author. The 'stragglers'. So why not try something a little different?

Well, it is a big gamble. According to different research (from Wiki, the Association for Psychological Science and Cornell University) you could loosely say that you have one-tenth of a second to make a good impression, eight seconds to keep a person's focused attention, and not a lot of hope of hitting an audience's 'sweet spot'. So, as much as a book trailer may be reaching out to new audiences, that's no guarantee that they're going to like what they see. With our movie tastes getting ever more sophisticated by the day, we may well find ourselves turned off by something as minor as a melodramatic voice over or crude static zoom. How long before we start handing out Razzies for worst book trailer?

And who even says that book trailers translate into sales? I think this is the big question. Whether you're spending hours of your own time creating a book trailer, or whether you're paying someone else substantial amounts of money to make one for you - where's the hard evidence for their market value?

As with any form of marketing, the amount of money and effort someone invests is usually contingent on how effective it is. If book trailers first burst onto the scene in 2003, that gives us eight years of evidence we should be able to point to. But, sadly, one of the few articles I've seen on the matter is this one in the Wall Street Journal from 2008: Watch This Book

Which states:

There is scant evidence, however, that the average book trailer actually has much impact on book sales.

Another article titled Are Book Trailers Effective? uses that statement to conclude that it is just too difficult to track the influence of advertising on direct book sales. So, perhaps it works, but who knows?

I suppose, like any form of publicity, if you can afford it it's better to have one than not. It may only garner one or two extra sales but it may also increase traffic to your website, and it will get your name out there to people who haven't heard of you before. A modern-age calling card for social media sites and e-mail distribution.

Book trailers, in short, are a minefield. In the hands of a great and mighty marketing department, you may stand a decent shot. But what of us poor waifs who have to battle through on a meagre budget?

Well, sod it. I gave it a go. Everyone else was at it - I didn't want to feel left out. My next post (Book Trailers Part II) is all about how I put mine together, with some useful tips for the shoestring author.

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