5 Tips for Making a Good Book Trailer

Having worked in marketing for nearly a decade, it’s been interesting to watch people and companies jump on the “latest and greatest” way to improve their marketing ROI without taking the time to understand what they were getting into. Take blogging, for example. I started a personal blog in 2000. I blogged because I liked the idea of sharing my thoughts and ideas with friends and family members. When I told people what I was doing, most of them just raised their eyebrows and wondered why I was doing something like that. Quite by accident, I started getting a following and learned the ins and outs of what it took to attract and keep a following.

A few years later blogging become the thing to do. Not only was everyone encouraged to have a blog but businesses were told they needed to have a blog in order to attract new customers, and fill their sales pipeline.

So everyone started blogging without understanding or knowing what they needed to do to make their blog successful. They just started doing it. As a result people spend a lot of their time blogging only to give it up once they realized no one was reading it. On the business side of things, CEOs and VPs of marketing become frustrated because they weren’t seeing the magical results that all the business magazines and websites told them blogging would give them.

The problem was that both people and businesses started blogging without a rhyme or reason. Rarely did they have a target audience in mind, a focuses message, or a way to measure the success of their blogs. Instead they did it because everyone else was doing it.

So what does this have to do with book trailers?

In the book publishing world, book trailers are all the rage. Every publisher and author are creating them in hopes of propelling their book to the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

For those who haven’t seen one book trailers are like movie trailers in that the try to generate excitement for an upcoming book. Everyone is doing them but, like blogging became the rage years ago, no one has the slightest clue whether or not these trailers are successful at selling books. Still, that fact hasn’t stopped people from shelling hundreds or thousands of dollars to make one.

(Full disclosure: Yes, I want a book trailer for my upcoming novel. I wouldn’t even mind one for Room for Two. But I also don’t want to waste my money or my publisher’s money on one unless it we can have some way to measure how effective it is.)

After having watched hundreds of book trailers over the last couple months, I’ve noticed some good, bad, and downright ugly ones and have compiled a list of 5 tips for publishers and authors should follow when they decide to make a book trailer.

1. Don’t Make A Mini Movie

It’s one thing when Hollywood takes a book and adapts it to the big screen. It’s something else when a publishing or marketing company tried to sell a book by making a mini movie from a scene. Because reading a book is an intensely personal experience, readers have their own ideas about what the characters look like. When you try to reenact a scene from a book, it’s doesn’t work. I almost cried when I saw the following book trailer for Michael Connelly’s novel The Brass Verdict.

That wasn’t the what I pictured the characters at all. Not only that, but the whole thing seemed poorly produced – something you wouldn’t expect considering they were promoting one of best active writers and storytellers.

If you want to see the book on the big screen, then option the rights to Hollywood. Don’t try to make mini movies from the book you’re trying to promote. It’s generally doesn’t work.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying don’t use video. I’m just saying don’t reenact scenes from books. To their credit, I think the trailer from The Brass Verdict where the narrator reads the opening chapter of the book works since it’s not action or character driven. It helps set the tone for the book and doesn’t concentrate on what the narrator actually looks like.

2. Make them short and to the point.

Most commercials run 30 seconds or less. A good radio ad can get its point across in about the same time. Most of the best book trailers I’ve seen run 60 seconds or less. Check out the one below for Wake by Lisa McMann. At 61 seconds I think it does a decent job of generating interest book.

Here’s one for Behold the Dawn by K. M. Weiland. It runs a little over two minutes. The production values are good but the middle half drags. Could have cut 45 seconds out of it and made it even better.

3. Always have a call to action

The purpose of a book trailer is to generate excitement for a book and get people to either buy it or want to learn more about it. About 70% of the book trailers I’ve seen don’t have a call to action. At the very least they should tell the viewer where they can go to by the book and a URL to the author’s or publisher’s website where you can read the first three or four chapters of the book. Even better if they can provide a direct link to a website to take the next step.

Here’s the trailer for Skinned by Robin Wasserman. Pretty decent trailer in that it’s under a minute, does a good job of generating interest in the book and even gets third party validation on why it’s a good book. However, note the lack of call to action at the end.

Sadly most book trailers are this way. In fact I struggled to find one with a good call to action. That doesn’t mean it’s not out there. Leave a comment below if you find one and I’ll post it!

4. Use Analytics to Get Data

Okay, this one’s for marketing geeks. Data rules the marketing world. As an author or publisher, wouldn’t it be nice to know how many people watched the whole trailer or many of them stopped watching halfway through? Would it help you to know many of them links to buy the book or downloaded the first couple of chapters? This information is not only vital from an ROI standpoint but can help you make future trailers better.

And don’t tell me it’s not impossible to get analytics information from Flash or video. It’s not. The company I work for has the technology to do it if it’s hosted on a website you control. Successful marketing is always about learning what works and what doesn’t. Book trailers are new enough that no one had an exact handle on the best way to make one. Good analytics can help improve the process.

5. Sell the story, not the author

Unless your Stephen King or JK Rowling or another author with a dedicated following your name and/or face isn’t enough to make books fly off the shelves. Therefore you need to sell the story and make it tantalizing enough that people want to at least pick up the book. That means no pointless interviewing or face shots of the author in the book trailer. It has to be about the story!

Take Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes. Not only is it too long, she interjects herself about 35 seconds in and interrupts what is, up to that point, a decent beginning to a book trailer. (See also narrates it which, in my opinion, in generally a mistake.)

The creative team behind Stephen’s King’s Duma Key book trailer concentrated more on the story than King’s name. The result? A great book trailer that’s only 32 seconds long!

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not against post interviews with authors and putting them on the web. For the fans, those are great ways to keep them active and interested in the author and his or her work. As promo pieces, however, they fall flat.

So there you go – 5 tips to making good book trailers. If any of you have book trailers your particularly fond of, drop me an email or link to them in the comment section below.