I started emailing back and forth with Jackie Kessler, who contacted me about her new book trailer for her new book, The Road to Hell, which you can see at her website.
The first book commercial I can remember from the past few years of tv watching (and I don’t watch a lot of tv and even then I skip commercials) was for a Patterson book where he held the book next to his head and said, ‘Buy my book, Cat & Mouse.’ It was totally creepy and didn’t give me any intention of buying his book. I know that a good number of mega-releases have tv commercials, but trailers are an online phenomenon as far as I can tell. And with trailers, in every instance, if I wanted to go see one, I’ve had to go look for it.
I have to admit: I do not entirely understand the book trailer phenomenon. I get that it’s an audio-visual promo for the book, and I get that they are The Hot New Thing, after mixing black and navy for this fall’s hottest new look (another thing I don’t get, by the way) but I don’t quite understand the WHY of book trailers, and more specifically, the HOW. How do authors get them done? Why? What’s the goal? What’s up with that? And WHO decided black looked good with blue!? I look like a bruise if I mix navy and black.
While Jackie couldn’t answer my fashion questions, she did give me a whole mess ‘o insight into the process and purpose of a book trailer. Plus she steered me to two other book-trailer mavens, Colleen Gleason and Toni McGee Causey, who were kind enough to also answer my questions. And dang, did I have some questions.
So: Book Trailer: Who did yours? How did you get it done – professionally? Or did you do it on your own? Do you like how it came out?
Jackie Kessler: I wrote the script and found/licensed the images and the music, and I hired a freelance editor to pull it together and do the titles. We had a number of rounds until we got to the final.
Only thing I wish we’d done differently is not do it in Shockwave. That’s not You Tube friendly. The YT version is very compressed and the titles aren’t really legible, which is why I’m directing people to my website instead. Live and learn, eh?
This was my first-ever book trailer, but I studied Colleen Gleason’s trailer for THE REST FALLS AWAY, because out of the zillions of trailers I’d previously seen, that was the only one that made me want to buy the book, even if I knew nothing else about it. And a friend of mine, Toni McGee Causey, did a fabulous book trailer that she shot live action â€” marvelous stuff â€” and she gave me a lot of advise for overall movement for the trailer. So it was a team effort!
Colleen Gleason: I had it done by Circle of Seven Productions, and they actually subcontracted another entity to do the design. I remember when I first spoke with my contact at COS, she was so excited about the premise of my books and the way I described the series that she already had a designer in mind whom she felt would do the best job. And without a doubt, Brenda did an amazing job.
I didn’t have the time or ability to do it on my own, but I was very involved in the process from beginning to end. I wrote the copy for the trailer, and I was very specific about my vision—the look and feel and flow of the trailer as a whole—but not so clear on the details. That was why I was hiring them!
The first draft they gave me was nearly what you see today, except for the image of a woman with blood leaking from the corner of her mouth near the beginning, followed by a piercing scream. I said, uh, no. So we took out the woman and the scream and tweaked some of the word-smithing and voila! The best book trailer I’ve ever seen.
What was the best advice you got for creating a trailer? And what you think are do’s and don’ts of book trailers?
Jackie Kessler: I had terrific conversations with Toni McGee Causey (author of Bobbie Faye’s Very (very, very, very) Bad Day: A Novel â€” which is utterly hysterical, and I highly recommend it), who did a trailer workshop at this year’s Backspace Conference. I think the best advice she gave, either at the workshop or to me on the phone, was that in a book trailer, you shouldn’t get caught up in telling your book’s entire story. Instead, you want to capture the feeling of your book. And that feeling should (hopefully) get people excited about your book.
I think it’s sort of like pitching your novel to an agent. You need that query letter to be short and sweet and just right to pique the busy agent’s interest and want to read your manuscript. Same thing with a book trailer: you want to pique the busy viewer’s interest enough to want to read your book.
Colleen Gleason: I never got any advice on making a trailer, but I had seen enough of them that I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want cheese (hence the deletion of the screaming blood-thirsty woman).
I didn’t want slooooow-moooovingggg text or images (that drives me batty, and I will click past a trailer if it is too slow or boring). I hate waiting. Think about it—when you see a movie trailer, things move FAST. To me, slow, involved trailers kill the intent of engaging and intriguing the viewer.
And while my budget couldn’t afford live action actors, I didn’t want that anyway. I wanted something short and sweet that would intrigue and inform the viewer so that there would be some brand recognition when they saw or heard about the book. That was my goal.
Oh, wait, there was one bit of advice I took with me when I was getting my trailer done—and it came from a discussion here on SB! I decided not to have the trailer be the “entry” into my Web site. Too many people complained about that approach, and about clicking through to the main site (or leaving all together), so I listened.
Here’s why: if it’s a good trailer, one that’s done well, it can be a nice gateway to a site. However, if I go back to the site, I don’t want to have to watch it again (or click through it). So even if it’s a good trailer, it’s a barrier to repeat visitors, IMO.
Toni McGee Causey: Best advice? Think of vivid images which tell a lot of the story for you. And you don’t have to be completely linear in the trailer as you would in the book.
Do’s and don’ts: Do find the most professional team you can. (There are indie film groups in many major cities who would like a small bit of income and work to use for their own portfolio; don’t ignore universities with strong film majors—they often have grad students or former graduates working in the industry—maybe in TV news—but still with strong talent.) Trailers are getting sophisticated quickly, and it’s much worse to put out a home-made mediocre trailer than to have none at all. Do come up with a logline (one line description of your book) and a thematic tone and what imagery from your book best conveys a key moment or hook in your story: these are your building blocks. You’ll need these whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring someone else. Don’t linger too long on things the audience already gets—the audience is used to visual communication now and you can use images as a shorthand. Don’t be afraid to edit really tight (I would still make cuts, so I don’t think that can ever be overstated.) Do have objective third parties look at it and give you feedback. If they are all saying similar negative things, then listen and adjust. Do not let this objective feedback be your friends and family who know you’ve spent time and money and therefore want to encourage you: the rest of the world doesn’t care.
What pitfalls did you want to avoid while crafting your trailer?
Jackie Kessler: The biggest pitfall, I think, is wasting the viewer’s time â€” either by making the trailer too long, or by making the content of the trailer unappealing or (gah) boring. The way I did my best to avoid this was to let the music drive the trailer: syncing images and text to the beat of the music, letting the sound dictate the speed of the frames, relying on the music to help build the tension…and keeping it limited to 60 seconds.
As for licensing the music and the images, there are a lot of resources out there. I used istockphoto for the images and Fresh Music for the sound. (No, there’s no easy way of poring through the images and the audio samples. You just have to do it, and hope your eyeballs don’t melt in the process.) Key thing is you want your images and your music to be royalty-free. The licensing fee for both the images and the music were very reasonable.
I know absolutely nothing about how to turn images, sound and script into a trailer, so I hired a freelance editor whom I knew through Backspace to pull it all together. She was a pleasure to work with. And she didn’t mind that I was horrifically anal about linking an image to a particular beat of music. And she did some marvelous things with movement, like the heart-shaped bubble winking.
The one thing I wish I would have known beforehand is that a Shockwave video doesn’t play well with You Tube. Argh. Who knew?
Something else that I think is very helpful â€” this goes back to the craft part â€” is getting input from others. Even though I wrote the script, a number of people, including my Loving Husband and Toni, helped me fine-tune it. My critique partner helped me select the music. And my Kensington promotions contact gave me terrific feedback after viewing the semi-final trailer. It doesn’t have to be a solo effort, even when you opt to do it by yourself.
Colleen Gleason: Slooooownesss. Cheesiness. Boringness. (Is that a word?)
Toni McGee Causey: Pitfalls? The biggest pitfall at the time was that there weren’t very many other live-action detailed (movie-trailer-like) book videos out there to use as a guide. There was a tremendous about of flash trailers, many of them very good, but many of them were for dramas, and Bobbie Faye is balls-to-the-wall action/adventure and comedy, something I didn’t think translated as well at the time with flash. (Or, put it this way: I didn’t have any flash type of ideas which I thought could convey the comedy.) The lack of live-action meant I looked more to movie trailers for inspiration, and so my trailer was more complex… and therefore more difficult to shoot, edit, etc. I think the medium forced me to have a better product, so the pitfall turned into an opportunity, but it was definitely difficult to do.
What do other authors do to create trailers? And what trailers really, really worked for you?
Jackie Kessler: I think most authors opt for using a one-stop-shop place like Circle of Seven Productions: . If you take a look, you’ll see that many authors are using COS. (And you can see their trailers! Break out the popcorn!)
One book trailer that I absolutely adore is Colleen Gleason’s for The Rest Falls Away.
Colleen Gleason: I thought Alison Brennan’s brief trailer into her Web site was good, and that’s what gave me the idea to do mine. But, honestly, I can’t think of any trailers that have stuck in my mind. Quite frankly, I haven’t seen many trailers that I’ve liked.
In your experience, what the average costs are for a trailer from a professional production firm? And how does that compare to what you invested?
Jackie Kessler: COS has various packages; the two that I got pricing on were less than $1,000.
I paid $27 for the music license fee, and in total about $130 for all the images. Plus $200 to my freelance editor. So I spent about $360, plus a hell of a lot of time and effort, on my trailer. I’m so ridiculously pleased with it â€” not because I saved money (but that’s a terrific perk) but because I got my hands dirty and was really involved in the process. I’m proud of it.
As for how I’m using the trailer, I’m pretty much telling everyone I know, heh. Actually, it was a conversation starter in a big way over at Absolute Write, when I posted to the Fantasy forum and asked whether fantasy readers there would venture into the romance section of a bookstore to get a book that could be urban fantasy, even if it’s marketed as paranormal romance…and then, after linking to the video, I asked if it made them interested in picking up a book labeled paranormal romance. That conversation is still going on.
The big thing is that between the trailer, the novel excerpt, and the reviews (which, um, are pending, and God willing they will be good), I think I’m giving potential readers as much of a tease about THE ROAD TO HELL and HELL’S BELLES as possible…which, hopefully, will turn into them being interested in my books and buying them.
Toni McGee Causey: I’ve seen prices from $750 (for a basic flash trailer) on up to $10,000 (for a 30 second live-action video). Something as complex as I had (a large number of locations, actors and speaking parts) would have been more expensive if I had had to pay for everything; luckily, I have two friends who were a director and a cinematographer and who were interested in making the video for me for free. I’d have never made it if it hadn’t been for their participation. Still, I probably spent closer to $3K because of the volume of locations (some fees) and feeding the actors, getting the props, etc. We shot the interior truck scene, for example, on a flatbed trailer with a rigging that my husband made so the director and cinematographer could stand outside the moving vehicle and get Bobbie Faye as she argued with someone. Those scenes are moving scenes, which required a truck, trailer, the red truck we filmed in, a follow-up sheriff’s car, police to stop traffic, etc. just for a tiny portion of the video.
Colleen Gleason: To have a professional do it (and if you’re going to do it, have a pro handle it), it’s going to be at least $1000—for a good one.
And finally: why a book trailer? More specifically, what is it about trailers that made you think, “I am going to make one and I am going to make a GOOD one” ?
Jackie Kessler: Toni and I are both members of Backspace, a terrific online writers forum that has more than 600 members from a dozen countries. Everything I know about the publishing business, I learned from Backspace members â€” some of whom are bestselling authors. Every year, Backspace has an annual conference in New York City. Toni gave a workshop on book trailers. I attended it because I wanted to meet her face to face after knowing her virtually for years. And man, am I glad I attended!
She showed both the short and long trailers to BOBBIE FAYE and explained how she was able to do it (experience and connections) and some of the obstacles she had to overcome. The main thing that struck me was WHY she’d done the trailer: it wasn’t to make an external promotional piece. It was, instead, to build internal buzz within her publisher. And boy, did she ever!
After the workshop, I accosted her, and we talked for about a half hour â€” about trailers, about the romance community, about publishing in general. She gave me feedback on my initial script and gave her thumbs up on the images and music I’d selected. And she saw an initial version of the trailer and gave me fabulous advice about how to work the images to the sound of the music.
I can’t praise her enough. Taking Toni’s workshop got me all riled up. It was positively inspiring. I loved what she did, and it got me thinking that a good book trailer really can get people interested, even excited, in a book. And then I basically thought, Why the hell not? If I’m doing everything I possibly can to promote my novels, why not pull out all stops and make a good trailer? And once I started, it was a lot of fun to write and storyboard a script. I’d never done that before. It was a nice break from the novels.
And I’ve already found the music for the next trailer.
Toni McGee Causey: I was very fortunate that St. Martin’s was already enthusiastic about the book and put a lot of emphasis on it throughout each step. They are tremendously wonderful people to work with. As for why that strategy? Well, partly because they really were such a great group to work with and I know their job is difficult: breaking out an author who’s writing action/adventure comedy, when there’s not really a “genre” for that. Also, when I sold, it was on three chapters and a synopsis (it was a three-book deal), so no one had the whole book… and I then had to finish the first book and go through the editing/marketing process; it was closer to two years from the point of sale to the actual release date. Combine all of this with sales reps who have a tremendously difficult job in that they have a very short minute or two to pitch a book they may not have personally had a chance to read, and I felt the need for a tool to use which would set the book and the world of Bobbie Fay up while being unique and memorable, and video made sense to me, especially since I came from a film background.
I think we have to be aware of the fact that there is so little time to capture an audience’s attention for something, and the visual medium has the possibility of capturing it in a memorable way, quickly. One of the points I tend to keep going back to is that this world has become such a visual experience: there are iPhones now which will show video, there are movies, DVDs, streaming video on the web, video games and so on. There are whole generations who are used to video coming at them constantly, and so the slower text messages don’t get through the competition for attention as easily.
Then (to me) there’s a second phenomenon, and that’s bookstore stress. I think a lot of readers would read more than one book a year if they knew what to pick up. When a customer walks into a bookstore, if they don’t know exactly what to look for, they are confronted with a sea of titles. If they don’t already have favorites, if they’d only read a John Grisham for example, it’s a bit overwhelming to navigate the aisles and all of the titles on the spines and genres and then sub-genres to try to narrow down to a new book they might like, for the same amount of money (or less) than the movie they saw advertised on TV. Great review sites such as yours help cut through the volume (thank goodness), or else I honestly think we’d have seen a faster decline in reading. But finding a book—particularly a cross-genre book such as mine? Not an easy thing. I hope that a book trailer hints at what’s in there memorably enough so that a reader will recognize the character’s name the next time they’re in the store and see the book cover—enough to pick it up and see what crazy escapade she’s up to now.
Colleen Gleason: Okay, here’s where the discussion can get really interesting. I’ve been talking with people about this for months, and I have my own opinions about the efficacy of trailers and is it worth it to have one done.
To be honest, I don’t know if it was money well-spent for me.
Yes, lots of people saw the trailer (but not nearly enough), and many people have said it was one of the best they’ve seen. But most of the people who saw the trailer saw it because they came to my Web site anyway. They knew about me/my books anyway.
That’s not enough. In order for a trailer to be worthwhile, you need tens of thousands, preferably hundreds of thousands, of people to see it—people who aren’t already aware of you, your site, or your books.
In order for a trailer to be truly worthwhile, it has to become viral. Isn’t that the goal of everyone who makes one? To be the next YouTube pick? To have it highlighted on Yahoo! or to be showing up in your email three times a week? It sure is my goal!
That’s the issue of the moment: how do you get that to happen? How do you get to that Tipping Point? No one knows what’s going to tip, so you can’t really plan for it. That’s the challenge and the conundrum.
So I’l say this right now—if anyone thinks they know the trick or has an idea for a trailer that could become viral, I’d love to hear from you. Seriously.
However…and here’s a personal plug here, if you don’t mind—I do have a specific idea for a trailer and I’m looking for a writer to pull my ideas into a very short script. I’m looking for someone who has a snarky, absurd sense of humor (can’t imagine there’s anyone around here like that) who would be interested in working with me on it. For pay. If there’s anyone here who wants to give it a stab (no pun intended; see, I’m not a humor writer), please email me at author at colleengleason dot com.
So there you have it. Everything you could possibly want to know about book trailers, that is, if you’re me and you’re asking the questions. And really, asking all these questions has certainly changed my perception of trailers.
At first, my initial reaction was, “Ok, why do that?” I’m not a visual person; I don’t “see” books play out in my mind, but I “hear” them – the narrator, the dialogue, etc. So the brief video promo of a book never made sense to me. After reading the answers, I have a lot more to think about.
For example, on one hand, the book trailer is something author has to tackle on her own, expense-wise and time-wise. But on the other hand, the author isn’t in control of her cover, or sometimes even her title for her next release. The trailer is a promotional tool for the book that the author can develop that does reflect the plot AND the author’s intentions. While many, many hands have a stir in the stew pot that makes up the final published product, the trailer is often developed at the author’s direction (which could be a good or a bad thing) and may be the only marketing element that completely and accurately reflects the book itself. Moreover, the allure of “here’s my book in 30 seconds visually and audibly should you wish to experience it literarily,” covers some senses that don’t usually get attention among the book-buying public. It could be the best bet for folks who like a visual when book shopping.
But moreover, the idea that the book trailer also exists to generate buzz within the publishing house – that really made me think. It’s like having to stand out twice- once to get signed and then to get marketing buzz in the current crop of new books being published.
So what do you think of book trailers? Who’s got a good one that you like – or do they not really influence your buying in the first place?