Over the last four years, we’ve seen more and more publishers creating book trailers. For those not familiar with the concept, it’s basically the same thing as a movie trailer. Think of it as a TV commercial for a book.
Book trailers can be funny or serious. They can feature the author reading the book, or have no spoken words at all. If you’re a self-published author or your publisher doesn’t do trailers, the idea of creating a trailer is pretty daunting.
Book trailers from the big publishing houses are slick productions, often using professional videographers, editors, and actors. The budget on some of these is probably bigger than your advance. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make your own.
Not all authors like the idea of making a video book trailer (Jonathan Franzen is a good example), but we have to recognize that YouTube isn’t all cute cat videos. It’s a powerful marketing tool, and book trailers are a great way to pitch your book.
A few days ago, I decided to give it a try. I Googled around looking for tutorials on trailers. Most focused on fairly primitive slideshow-like tools. That wasn’t quite what I was after. I spend a whole day last year trying to build something in Prezi, but it always looked like a Prezi presentation instead of a book trailer. Same thing with PowerPoint. No matter what I did, it always felt like a slideshow.
I use a Mac, and a few years ago I spent some time working on iMovie. I was fairly unimpressed. But I watched a tutorial on the latest version, and it has improved a lot. It looked like it could get the job done. Here’s the result:
That trailer took me about four hours to build. I had already scanned all of the pages from the book for a PowerPoint presentation I did some years back, so that was a time-saver. I certainly wouldn’t call this the equivalent of one of the big fancy children’s book trailers from Penguin, but it says what I want it to say.
I’m not going to try to write an iMovie tutorial here — the video tutorial from PC Classes Online that I linked to above handles that just fine — but I’ll give you some tips:
- Don’t use commercial music. You value the copyright on your book, right? Then respect the copyright of the musician. You can search for free music (Freeplay Music has thousands of songs you can use on YouTube videos), use the built-in music in iMovie (I confess: that’s what I did), or create music yourself. You can also do it without music.
- If you use spoken words, repeat them in subtitles or closed captions. If someone is watching your book trailer in an office or other quiet environment, they’ll have the sound off. They should catch the whole message. Besides, deaf people read books, too!
- This should be obvious for writers, but proofread, proofread, proofread. And then have someone else proofread, too. It looks really bad for a book trailer to have spelling or grammatical errors.
- If you use a lot of Ken Burns effect to pan across your pictures or pages, try to keep the motion relatively slow and steady. In retrospect, I panned too fast on some of the shots in my trailer.
- Include your website. This is a trailer for your book. Include your website!
- If your book is only available in ebook format, state that explicitly. Don’t make people waste a bunch of time searching for the printed version.
- If your book is available in bookstores, say that. Don’t just say “available online” or “available on Amazon.”
- Once you have the trailer ready to go, put it everywhere. Create a YouTube channel. Tweet out a link. Put it on Facebook. Put it on your blog. Put it on the book’s website if it has one. The trailer doesn’t do any good unless people watch it.
- Keep it short and sweet. A minute is a good length. Two minutes is the absolute max for most of us. I’ve seen effective book trailers only 30 seconds long!
- If you use your voice, use a professional microphone. We can take some great video with cell phones these days, but you don’t want your audio to sound like that Jonathan Franzen video I linked to above.
- Watch a bunch of trailers for books similar to yours to get a feeling for what people expect in your genre. I watched a lot of children’s book trailers before deciding what I wanted to do.
- Don’t try to pack in too much information. Unless you’re doing a trailer for Goodnight Moon, you can’t do a full plot synopsis in 30 seconds. Keep it simple!
- Use the title of the book, and show the book cover.
- Don’t forget to include your name, too.
- Have fun! If you obsess over making the book trailer perfect, you’ll never end up making one. Enjoy the process, and when it looks good enough, put it out and move on.
Though I’ve posted many book signing tips here, there are a few things that seem so blatantly, searingly obvious that I haven’t bothered to write about them.
I suppose I should have.
We had an author in my bookstore last week for a signing and talk. When she and her husband arrived, we chatted for a few minutes about where we would set her up, and then I went in the back to grab some supplies for the talk. Doug, the tea bar manager, had coincidentally gone back in the kitchen for a moment.
A bit later, when the author went out to her car for a moment, some customers that were seated in the tea bar pulled Doug aside.
“Do you know what that author said when you were both out of the room?”
“No,” Doug responded.
“She made some comment about being in the middle of nowhere and asked her husband why they even bothered to come to this place.”
I suppose it never occurred to her that in a small town indie bookstore, the customers sitting at the table might be friends of the owners.
Needless to say, this exchange made us feel rather uncomfortable when she came back in the store. Because I like her book and was looking forward to the talk, I didn’t say anything to her.
As it turned out, this was one of those rare events where nobody shows up. Where most authors would be setting up a table and engaging everyone who came in the store, she hung back and stood by the projector. When customers came in, I told them about the book and encouraged them to take a look. I had to specifically ask her to come over and engage.
After 15 minutes with nobody sitting down waiting for her talk, she told me she wanted to pack up and leave. I talked her into staying another 20 minutes or so, and then she signed a pre-sold book and left, even though the event was scheduled to go on for another hour.
As an author, I’ve done book signings where we didn’t sell anything, but I never packed up and left early. I never stopped trying to engage a customer. And I definitely never talked bad about the store or the town.
As a bookseller, I’ve had big-name authors in my store who didn’t get enough people to justify standing up and giving a talk. What did they do? Sit down and engage with people one-on-one. Offer to sign stock. Talk to the employees about their books. Anything but talk us down and leave early.
So, let me offer another book signing tip for authors: if you don’t get the turnout you expected, don’t bad-mouth the store and leave. Word spreads about this kind of thing.
Last month, I wrote a blog post entitled “14 book signing tips for authors.” Last night, I kicked myself for not following all of my own advice.
Actually, things started out just right. I talked to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center well in advance and worked out the details. I would give a talk in their theater from 7:00 to 8:00 pm, and then sign books in their gift shop afterward. I publicized the talk and signing on Facebook, Twitter, and this blog (tip #1), leaving the local publicity to the Grizzly and Wolf Center — and I made sure the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce knew about it. I sent them some artwork for posters (tip #2) and packed my big sign. Since they told me that they regularly carried my book and it sold well, I assumed they’d have plenty of stock, but I tossed a few extras in the car, just in case.
See the problems? Hint: they’re both in that last sentence, and there are two key words in each problem. The first one is “I assumed” and the second one is “a few.” When I showed up a couple of hours early to check in (tip #4) and chat with the staff (tip #10), one of the first things the manager said to me was, “we sold out of your books, so I hope you have plenty of them out in the car!” Oops. I had five. Count ’em, five.
Luckily, West Yellowstone is a small, friendly town. The gift shop manager at the Grizzly and Wolf Center knows the owner of the bookstore in town, and called her. Oops again. They were out of stock, too. Fortunately for us, a very pleasant assistant manager at another store in town (thank you, Smith & Chandler) had a big stack of books they were willing to share.
So all went well. I gave my talk to a good-sized group, and there were plenty of books for the signing. I also learned my lesson. I should have paid more attention to my own tip #13 (see below), and I should have called the store before I left home to ask whether they would need books. Calling ahead might not have been adequate, though. My event was on a Sunday, and they had a good stock going into the weekend. She might have told me they had it covered. But it still would have been good to ask.
TIP #13: Carry some spare books. If you’re lucky, the signing will be a smash hit. With the economy down, though, booksellers are being cautious about over-ordering. That means that if your signing is fantastic, they just might run out of books. If you have a box or two in your trunk, you can grab them (be prepared to sell them to the store at the standard distribution discount!) and keep on going. If you don’t, the signing is done.
As always, everything comes down to communication. As writers, that’s our first job anyway, right?