GUEST POST BY MIDGE RAYMOND
Book promotion makes writing look like the easy part. Let’s talk about book trailers. I debated whether or not to make a trailer for Forgetting English when the book came out in 2009. Even as a writer and reader, I must confess that I’ve always found the concept of a book trailer a little strange; while movie trailers for films are an obvious marketing strategy, I think it’s a challenge for most writers (particularly fiction writers) to do justice to their books in a media that isn’t an obvious match with the product, i.e., words and story and the imaginative collaboration they create with the reader. How to translate this into video was a mystery to me. Actually, it still is.
The main problem for fiction writers, I think, is how to portray our stories visually. We write because we love words, after all, and not all of us are also actors or have a great visual sense or have the budget to hire professionals. I’ve also found that attempts to dramatize a novel for the tiny screen can backfire in a huge way if not done just right. That said, I’m not sure what that “right way” is. Many writers get around this challenge by focusing on something else other than the story itself, such as the author or book’s backstory — a great solution in that it gives readers a little something more than what they already know from the jacket copy or author bio.
Challenges aside, there are definitely a lot of great book trailers out there. One of my all-time favorites is Dennis Cass’s award-winning trailer, Book Launch 2.0 — which is not only hilarious, but it does everything a book trailer needs to do: engage, entertain, and pique interest in the author and the book. The trailer doesn’t actually mention his book, Head Case, which I might have done — but it’s still a great one.
Another favorite is bestselling author Jenna Blum’s trailer for her new novel, The Stormchasers. Instead of trying to visually capture the story itself, the trailer takes the form of an interview with the author — a great way to promote a book, as readers are usually curious about the origins of the book, the writing/research process, and other things that don’t appear on the jacket copy. Jenna answers these questions, tells us about herself and the book — and also adds the atmospheric details that give us a sense of what the story is all about, both literally and metaphorically.
I also like Judy Reeves’s book trailer for A Writer’s Book of Days — the trailer does a wonderful job of showing us what’s at the heart of the book: writing and inspiration, creativity and compassion. Even though the book is nonfiction, it tells a story — one that perfectly fits the book’s themes.
As Alan Rinzler points out in a blog post on book trailers, research indicates that you’ve got a viewer’s attention for about three minutes — but I’d go even shorter than that. I rarely watch anything for more than a minute or two — “Book Launch 2.0″ was an exception because it was so funny, and you’ll note that both Jenna’s and Judy’s trailers are almost exactly two minutes long.
Yet even after watching a few good book trailers and more than a few bad ones, I came up with no great ideas for my own book. Promoting a short story collection from a university press has plenty of marketing challenges, and creating a book trailer seemed to be among the bigger ones. So Forgetting English went trailer-less for nearly two years, and in the meantime my husband, John Yunker, published a novel, The Tourist Trail, and he too began to wonder if he should do a trailer. Because he self-published his book and needed all the promotion he could get, we began thinking of ideas, all of them terrible. While we both agreed, naturally, with the reviewer who called John’s book “epic, sprawling, and strikingly cinematic,” we still couldn’t find a way to create a trailer that wasn’t melodramatic and lame.
Then he had a great idea — one that had nothing to do with the subject, content, characters, or themes of his book. But it didn’t need to. And best of all, his idea incorporated my book, too. So we put together a script, picked up John’s iPhone, and did the whole thing over Thanksgiving weekend. It cost us nothing but time.
And this is one of the important things to consider — how much time and/or money are you willing to invest in a book trailer? For us, the answer was a holiday weekend and zero money — so we had the perfect budget. But authors do have to be aware of the costs involved and to know that it might not be a great investment, especially since no one really knows how well book trailers sell books. Also, once you have a book trailer, the next challenge is to find ways to get people to view your book trailer. We were fortunate that many in the literary community showed it some love, including Poets & Writers, Shelf Awareness, GalleyCat, The Seattle Times, and many generous bloggers, Facebook friends, and tweeters (we thank you all). And we’ve noticed a slight uptick in book sales (we’re thankful for that, too), but nothing overwhelming, which makes us glad we didn’t spend a fortune. Still, it was worth doing in that it got our names and our books out there, and from the feedback we’ve gotten, it’s given people a few moments of fun.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes a good book trailer — send them along!