Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Marketing - The Book Trailer

Currently reading - Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Titan's Curse (PB)

Trailers appeared on the book industry scene in the early 2000's.  Fashioned similar to Hollywood's movie trailers, a book trailer can advertise a specific book, a book series, or a specific author.  Creators use live action, animation or still pictures to make their trailers and often add some type of soundtrack to the video.

Book trailers increased in popularity in the mid-2000's with the popularity of YouTube.  Publishers began featuring them at conferences and on their websites.  Book trailers can cost less than $100 if you do your own with stock photography and royalty-free music, or they can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars with companies like Circle of Seven.  Most of the cost for these trailers is born by the authors.

But do book trailers actually work?

I literally can't find any documentation that shows a correlation between trailers and sales.  None.

In fact, over the last three weeks, I tried an experiement here at Wild, Wicked & Wacky.  I posted five book trailers, all of them professionally done.  One was even won an advertising award for Best Book Trailer.  One trailer was for a book I bought as a gift for my MIL and a co-worker at the Day Job.  Three were for books I bought for my personal use.  One I thought was downright hysterical.  I then invited my readers to comment whether they'd buy the book after viewing the trailer.

I got absolutely no response.  None whatsoever.

So I tried a different tack.  I held a contest asking my readers if they could guess which books featured in the trailers I'd bought.  The prize was a drawing for an e-gift card for $10.  It wasn't a hard contest because I tell you guys what I'm reading.  Only one person responded (for which you have my deepest thanks, Mariee!), which leads me to think book trailers don't mean much as far as marketing goes.

So for an indie-published author, is it worth doing a trailer?  Honestly, unless you can designed a trailer that puts the viral video of ex-DJ Ted Williams to shame, I don't believe you'll get a whole lot of attention.  If you're on a tight budget like I am, there are better ways to spend your money (like on a fantastic cover artist) or your time (like your next novel or short story).

Does anyone have else have an opinion on book trailers?  Know of anyone where the book trailer made a linkable difference in sales?  I'd love to hear from you.


  1. I think they're completely pointless and ignore them. (Clearly I'm not the only one, at least on the ignoring side.)

    A movie trailer works because it gives you a sample of the experience you're going to get watching the movie -- you get the visuals/animation/whatever, a bit of the story and the main characters, a sampling of special effects or anything else that might be gosh-wow and want you to see more, etc. It's the first taste for free, to entice you to want more. But what makes it work is that it is an actual sample or set of samples from the movie itself.

    A book trailer fails miserably at giving you a sample of the experience you'll get reading a book. Visuals, music, acted-out scene with dialogue if they hired actors, animation if they sprung for it -- why should any of that make me buy the book? None of it will be in the book, so...? If I like the trailer, I have no reason to think I'll like the book as well because the experience of reading the book will be completely different. And if I don't like the trailer, again, that's completely irrelevant because the experience of reading the book will be different and I might like it anyway. There's no connection whatever between the trailer and the book, except skeleton-level basics like character names and maybe a very brief plot summary.

    You know what is the bookish analog to a movie trailer? The summary blurb on the back of the book, and the excerpt on the front facing page. The summary is like the voiceover on many movie trailers, giving you a general idea of what the movie (book) is about, and the excerpt gives you an actual sample of the Same Exact Experience you'll get reading the book, just as the visuals/acting/effects/animation/etc. in the movie trailer gives you a sample of the movie. There's a reason the blurb/excerpt combination is so effective at selling books, and it's the same reason that movie trailers are effective at selling movies. They do not cross over effectively.

    If an author also does video-stuff and wants to do a book trailer of her/his own for fun, then fine, whatever. I don't think it's an effective marketing tool, though, nor in any way justified by the high cost of having a professional make one for you, and like you, I've never seen any actual data to the contrary.

    Mind you, I've seen people involved in the professional production of book trailers wax indignant over negative opinions of them, one of whom came stomping over to my blog a couple of years ago when I expressed my very negative opinion, but all they ever have to support their arguments is assertions. Authors love them! they cry. Readers think they're fun! They'll make your book stand out because people will remember the wonderful trailer we (charge you a ton of money to) do for you! But no one's ever come out and said, "Look, we did this study here and found that XX% of the people who bought Book Y decided to buy it after seeing the trailer, and told us they wouldn't have bought it if there hadn't been a trailer." Anything short of that doesn't impress me.


  2. Angie,

    Thanks for cementing what's always bothered me about book trailers--the experience translation.

    People don't realize that you use two different parts of the brain to translate a visual story versus a written story.

    I had a similar reaction when publishers started talking about enhanced e-books or Vooks. A reader builds the character in her/his mind based on a few descriptive passages from the reader. And my internal image of Lestat and Tom Cruise really do NOT mesh. Inserting visuals in the middle of a book would be even more jarring.

  3. LOL I'm waiting for the day you disagree with me, Tess!