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.

82 comments

  • I’ve hated most of the book trailers I’ve seen. They’re just amateurish advertisements. This one is different in that it’s a stand-alone story so I’m getting something out of it other than a “BUY MY BOOK” plea that stinks of desperation. Also, Dan’s voice is so perfect for this piece it is scary. I prefer trailers to be under two minutes, but I didn’t mind the length of this one since it drew me in. If book trailers must exist at all, then this one absolutely rocks. Good work.

  • I’ve not seen many book trailers that impressed me. One that did was for THE RAVEN BOYS, so I second the suggestion to check out Maggie Stiefvator’s blog for that. She’s so amazing — she does the animation, the music, everything.

    I think yours is very good. The narrator’s voice is perfect. My only beef was that it was too long as a trailer/teaser for the story. However the suggestion to not market it as a trailer but as an “extra” changes how I view the length. It feels too long as a trailer. And not hooky enough — it has too firm of a resolution. But as a story in a story the length works.

    My only other suggestion might be to make the background what he would see as he lay there dying. Maybe not geese flying by as that’s confusing with the book’s imagery, but maybe a gray sky? Clouds? The shadows of bird?

  • Eh. Better than most, but eh.

    Personally, I think that a couple of clever and funny infographics that have a potential of going meme would actually do the job way better than a trailer for way less money.

  • I liked it. I’ve only seen a couple of book trailers before this one, but this is by far the favorite. The others went for a spirals-and-flowery-text feel with a song on in the background, and I found myself bored. I like the grit of this. And the voice reading along makes the text, I dunno, hit harder.
    I was planning on reading the rest of this anyway (I’ve read the teasers) but now I’m definitely going to get it. Yes, absolutely this sells. Maybe not to everyone, but I think the kind of people who will enjoy the book most are the kind of people who will enjoy the trailer as well.

  • I thought this book trailer was amazing. And I HATE book trailers. Though maybe that’s the issue . . . I agree that I can’t bear “character” photos (they’re always wrong, and screw up my reading), and the images are along the same line. I’d say this is the only book trailer I’ve actually enjoyed, and – yes – I went to add the book to my wishlist.

  • I liked that trailer a great deal; in fact, it was very professional. I usually steer clear of book trailers because the huge majority are – there’s no two ways about it – shit. But this – the animation was great, and very well done. It looked expensive, frankly. The voice was great. And the narration was just short enough it didn’t outlive its welcome. And the voice…just great. Absolutely pitch-perfect.

    I still, however, sincerely hope the vast majority of writers steer the hell clear of doing trailers. Being a good enough writer to get published doesn’t make you good enough to make a short movie. Mind you, one approach that I think works quite well is something like an interview. And if you can make it funny? Yeah, definitely. Humour always cracks an audience. Unless you’re doing Cthulhu Mythos, in which case it just gets weird.

    I can think of precisely one book trailer I’ve seen I’ve liked: Plague Year, by Jeff Carlson (http://youtu.be/A6bFGrEwuBE).

  • I enjoyed it. I loved the voice over and the graphics. It was a little long for my taste, but still excellent enough that I watch it in its entirety. I’ve made 11 book trailers and I’m trying to find what works, if it does at all.

  • Great trailer, Chuck, and a great article about the form. The name “book trailer” is the problem. Over the last few years the internet has become saturated with bad ones, and you are right in that these slideshows and still frame extravaganzas don’t compel anyone to read the books. My feeling is a good book trailer should be similar to a music video, and not so much in the form, but in it’s purpose. A music video isn’t selling a product. It is spreading the idea of the song, the album, and the band. People buy DVD compilations of music videos because they are taken seriously as an art form. Once that approach is taken to book trailers, it could flip the literary world on its side (I mean that in a very good way). Here are a few book trailers that perhaps are doing that:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DAZcByKUoU

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0hhQc0A_fw

  • I liked the way the words flowed on the screen and as one of the earlier comments posted it’s the type of flow that really targets the twenty something generation(hmm, now the Ford truck commercials with the same flow of text is running in my head)>
    As for the voice of the person, it was perfect and kept your attention, it was just a great tone.
    Too many of the book trailers currently out there seem to be done so poorly they affect the book negatively. I give yours a big thumbs up!

    RC

  • So, I’m way late weighing in on this, but I was doing research of my own into making a book trailer and just wanted to say, I loved yours. Great job taking a totally fresh and not shitty angle. Kudos!

  • Hey Chuck, longtime fan of the site, first-time poster. I really enjoy this book trailer and show it to anyone who will listen when they’re interested in a good example of the genre. I’m curious: what program did you use to render and animate the text? I’d love to find some software and dink around with this a little bit for my own work.

  • January 3, 2014 at 9:27 AM // Reply

    Iliked this WAY better than the first one. Might have liked a change up 2/3 through. And a little shorter, too. But good job.

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