I'm fascinated by book trailers. On the one hand, they seem like an awesome way to bring a book to life and catch the attention of impatient scrollers on Facebook or YouTube. They can definitely drive potential buyers to your books and I've used them myself as part of launch campaigns for fiction and non-fiction.
In today's article, Adam Cushman talks about what has changed with book trailers and why they might be worth considering.
About five years ago a friend asked me to direct his book trailer. My first response was, “Sure yeah, but what is that exactly?”
He sent me links to some videos and two things struck me right away.
- Although I had no idea, book trailers had been a thing for some time and there were already thousands of them online.
- 99% of them were cringe city. I told him as much and he was like okay, but can you make one that’s good.
As an author myself, a well-crafted trailer or short film seemed like a smart, fresh approach to book marketing especially with all the noise out there. Video had long since become the most valuable marketing tool known to man.
So why had the publishing industry settled for such bleh?
So much passion and labor goes into creating a book. Why would you jeopardize that with a bad book trailer that was made in half an hour on iMovie?
The answer is that there was and still is a feeling in certain publishing circles that it has never been proven that book trailers lead to direct sales. So quality has often taken a back seat which results in the pervading circular logic: we made a slide-photo book trailer, we put it on Youtube and no one watched it, therefore book trailers don’t work.
Yet they keep making book trailers because they know video is effective. Possibly they’re gambling on virality, I don’t know.
Directing my first book trailer was rewarding because it was helping an author find his audience in a cool new way and because the book trailer form was wide open creatively. There were no rules whatsoever. Pretty soon I made my second book trailer, for Stefan Kiesbye’s Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone, and for the next one we even got Eric Roberts to star in it.
In that time until now I’ve produced a lot more of them, and so have a ton of other people. We’re starting to see some groundbreaking work from both big publishers and Indies. The quality is rising as people see that they can have high quality video with real actors and directors, and that it can be done amazingly at pretty much the same cost you’d pay to not do it amazingly.
Here’s an example of a book trailer that was created 10 years ago, long before quality was a consideration.
Here’s one that came out in 2017 and won awards at SXSW.
Please note that both of these are considered book trailers. You could argue one has something the other doesn’t, but at the end of the day, a book trailer is any video – at all – that promotes a book, an author, or a series of books. That’s true if it costs a hundred thousand dollars and it’s true if it costs a dollar fifty.
When book trailers first started to appear around 2002, the approach was to create a slideshow that used still frames, scrolling text, and a reckless fascination with the Ken Burns effect.
The problem is that trailers like this are often still being made and it’s what gives book trailers a bad name.
It’s possible this is all fear-based. A self-published author for example who’s looking into fresh ways to market thinks twice before spending $3000 to $5000 on a cinematic book trailer. They research and find there’s some skepticism about whether trailers drive sales, that the data isn’t in yet.
Still, everyone knows video is the strongest marketing tool they can use so they compromise and end up spending five hundred dollars on a book trailer from one of these slide show companies. They release the trailer. No one watches it. They think wow, book trailers don’t work at all.
This is not to say you can’t make a good book trailer for $500. There are tons of young filmmakers out there with their own gear who will go above and beyond for the opportunity.
Also let’s face it: “book trailer” is the wrong term. Not just because it conjures up associations with bad ones, but because they’re not designed to merely “trail” a book like a movie trailer trails a movie and then disappears. Book trailers are a long-term investment, there throughout the shelf-life of a book.
Not everyone can afford a book trailer that’s shot like a real movie though. So if you’re an author with a conservative marketing budget and you still really want to use video, your best bet is to pick up your iPhone and film yourself BookTube-style talking about your book and telling the world who you are.
Also everyone knows someone with a camera so making it look nice and sound great is easy with a little bit of effort and maybe the cost of lunch for one or two hungry film students.
You can also find a ton of free high quality footage online, which we’ve linked to below.
Just go easy on the Ken Burns effect.
Have you ever made a book trailer? What has your experience been with video marketing? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Adam Cushman is an author, director, and producer. His novel CUT was published by Black Mountain Press in 2014. He's also published over forty short stories in literary journals. In addition, Adam has directed two feature films, Restraint (2017) and The Maestro (2018). He's currently in pre-production on an adaptation of Scott Dominic Carpenter's novel Theory of Remainders. He is the owner of Film 14, the leading producer of book trailers.