So, Just What The Hell Makes A Good Book Trailer?

Book trailers are notoriously ineffective.

Not necessarily crappy (though I’ve seen my share of those, too) — but usually ineffective in the sense that, it’s not selling me on the book. Hell, most of the time I’m not even sitting down to watch it because I happened to hear you put two words –“book” and “trailer” — together, and I know what means.

You say “book trailer,” klaxons go off. Sirens. A randy goat-man comes up and kicks me in the junk drawer.

A couple-few weeks back on The Twitters, I asked what it was that made an effective book trailer. Not a quality one — because many are quality and yet offer no effect (again, that effect being, “makes me want to run out to the store and throw all my money at your book”). As it is that we so often define things by their negative, a handful of elements kept popping up:

First, that book trailers sometimes looked amateurish. Even if the book trailer had quality in one area (say, the filming), it had poor quality in another (acting). Or, it’s just a right awful shit-fest from start to finish — and a truly bad trailer will go a very long way toward not merely failing to sell the book but making sure I’ll never ever read that book, not even with someone else’s stolen eyes.

Second, if it was a live-action trailer, it was selling the movie of the book better than it was a book. It’s using a visual medium to sell a rather inert and bulky block of text.

Third, and related to the first, actors used to portray characters have now “become” those characters in the minds of the viewer. So, where before the book is a wide open orgy of imagination, suddenly the book trailer starts nailing elements to the walls and the floors and it limits your, erm, “creative orgy partners” to a few actors instead of the infinite carousel of faces and body-types whirling around inside your skull.

Fourth, other trailers were too simple. A few image stills, sliding text, creepy music — BOOM. BUY THIS BOOK. THE CREEPY MUSIC TELLS YOU TO. YOU’VE JUST BEEN INCEPTIONED, MOTHERFUCKER. Except, not really. As such, it does the opposite of the live-action trailers — it fails to engage any of the wonder of the book and ends up being so boring it’s like clumsy missionary sex with an old fishmonger.

Other smaller complaints popped up.

Some trailers are too long. Some too short. Some don’t match stylistically. Are they an advertisement? A short film? Are they just a tremendous sick-bucket of wasted time?

I asked around behind the scenes: “Should I do a book trailer for Blackbirds and Mockingbird?”

The answer was a robust shaking of the head. “Don’t waste the time. Don’t waste the money.”

And at first I was like, “Yeah.” I mean, we have minimal data whether book trailers work, right? And it’s not like authors make super-huge bank anyway, so — my initial thought was, “Eff that in the bee-hole.”

But it nagged at me.

I thought, “Okay, those things that are a problem for book trailers, you don’t have to do those things.” As we tell our toddler, B-Dub, “That’s yucky. Blech. Ptoo. Don’t eat that.”

No movie. No actor. No creepy music and straight text. And definitely don’t make it suck.

I figured there were a couple ways to go.

Book trailers that are funny have been good. Even amateurish book trailers are fine in this case — hell, the more amateurish they are, sometimes the funnier they become. And an idea popped inside my head and I thought, “Hey, I’m a funny guy.” (This is where you correct me and start pelting me with cat turds and I run off the stage crying into my bonnet.) Then I thought, “Oh, hey, people like to hear me curse, and the Miriam Black books are full of all manner of pickled vulgarity.” So, I pulled out all the naughty sayings I could find and strung ’em together like a series of very dirty, very angry Christmas ornaments, and the script sounded absurd, insane, and… kinda funny. My initial thought was to get a bunch of other authors and fans reading the script and I’d supercut that sumbitch together, but, y’know, no time.

Instead, I read it myself. You probably saw that trailer — it’s right here.

But I had a second trailer in mind. This trailer would be pure voiceover with… something in the background. Text, or images, or… I don’t even know. And the trailer wouldn’t sell the books so much as sell the character — she’s the angry, chain-smoking cornerstone of the series, and so it seems wisest to push her. And I’m a storyteller, so I thought, the smartest way to play it would be to tell a new story. A very small “flash fiction” story, written like a script, a first-person script, and use that to sell the character. So, I wrote a couple short pieces but my favorite was the one that was a bonafide story and was in fact not from Miriam’s POV — it was from a man who met Miriam and what that means for the man.

At this point I’d already had an offer on the table from my Alpha Clone, Dan O’Shea, to read something of mine and record it — anything at all. So I told him what I was thinking of for this trailer and I tossed him the audio file and in like, ten minutes, I had the first recording. He did a second for me and it was like — it was like gold. My wife listened to it and I watched her just fall into that voice (he’s got a sexy, grizzled, broken-glass-and-cigarettes voice, that guy). It blew me away. (It was then I wondered: could someone do an audio book trailer? Why couldn’t you? *files for later*)

I was also talking to a director at that point, Alan Stewart, about how to make this happen and the cost and all that, and initially we’d talked about getting an actor to play Miriam to do a thing where she read all the profanity or maybe did a speech about your death, playing off the core tenet of the series (touch you = find out your demise), but again, that means putting a specific Miriam into people’s heads. I didn’t want to do that. (Not without big bank from selling the film or TV rights, anyway.) So, I passed him the voiceover and Alan had this idea for kinetic text, and —

Well. I’ve posted the trailer down at the bottom of this post. Some of you may have seen it already because I was geeking about it hard yesterday, but before you view it, some questions for you.

What makes an effective book trailer? Or an ineffective one?

What are some book trailers you’ve liked?

Have you ever been convinced to buy a book via the trailer?

What are some particularly bad ones you’ve seen (if you care to share)?

And, feel free to let me know if this new trailer, below, does the trick. Be honest. Polite, but honest.

Second trailer for BLACKBIRDS and MOCKINGBIRD.