Now THAT’S a Book Trailer!

Each week, I receive links to book trailers through Facebook, in my email, and via Twitter.  Usually they don’t impress me very much.  To be fair, I am one picky bitch.

Here’s the problem: most of the book trailers I’ve seen are hastily-assembled montages of the book cover, some text from the book, and – if we’re lucky – a voiceover reading a few choice lines, some sound effects or trippy music, and/or a photograph of the author. They do convey some basic information: a book exists, things happen in it, it was written by someone…fine. They don’t, however, entice me to buy the book any more than the first-draft excerpts you sometimes see on authors’ blogs (you know the ones: they’re riddled with misspellings, grammatical errors, and gaps in logic that confuse less than they enrage). Some book trailers, though, are crafted so well that the books in question make it to the top of my wish list 30 seconds in.

The trailer for A Monster Calls had me hunting for a pen about 10 seconds in. Spoiler alert: don’t watch this video unless you have $10, because by the time it’s finished you’ll want to read this book.

I know, right? Freaking amazing. The paperback edition just came out; both this and the hardback edition feature the wonderful illustrations (by the equally wonderful Jim Kay*) shown in the film.

Unlike other book trailers I’ve seen, this one made me crazy to read the book almost immediately. After viewing it on the site where I found it (John Mesjak’s excellent My 3 Books), I hopped over to Candlewick Press’ YouTube channel to check out their other book trailers.

These guys have it going on. I mean, I left their page wanting to read books that are for tiny kids, books that aren’t in any genre I care about at all, and books that I’m pretty sure I won’t even like – but holy hell, were their trailers great…

…hm, this probably explains about 75% of my Netflix queue.

So why do the Candlewick Press trailers work when so many others don’t? Their large marketing budget? Well, yes and no. They do have the funds to hire the same artists who create the covers for their trailers, and the end result is a polished, cohesive look. And other major publishers’ book trailers have higher production values than those of self-published or small press authors; that’s to be expected. This isn’t the entire reason their trailers work, though: it all comes down to focus and timing.

Small presses are dreadfully overworked; so are self-published authors. The frustration over the sheer amount of work involved in producing the best book you can leads to an understandable desire to throw a marketing package together as quickly as possible so that work on the next book can begin. After all, shouldn’t the book be able to stand on its own?

Well, yes and no. If the book could absolutely stand on its own, if people could somehow psychically glean the Crazy Awesomeness you’ve put on the page just by seeing the link on your Facebook page, you wouldn’t need the marketing at all. If the book is well-written, then word of mouth eventually will be a major factor in building your readership. Before that happens, though, you need to get a critical mass of people to actually read the thing. Craft your marketing package as carefully as you crafted the book, and people will want to buy your book.

Back to book trailers: it’s time for everyone to start taking these seriously. Most home computers come with some sort of digital editing software, but most home computer users have no idea how to work these programs. Besides, you’re a writer – you should be working on your next book! Hire as much production talent as you can afford. You probably know someone who has done serious video work; if you can’t afford a full production company, hire that person. Don’t offer that person a percentage of your royalties. Work out a flat rate, sign a mutually agreeable contract, and get to storyboarding.

Yes, storyboarding.

You’ll need timing and focus: successful book trailers are rarely more than two minutes long, so you can’t pack the entire back cover blurb into a trailer without rushing things. Come up with a one- or two-sentence treatment of your book and use that. Decide whether you’ll be expressing the treatment in text, with a voiceover, or with graphics. Unless you have a really talented animator and sound guy in your budget or you’re using top-notch kinetic typography, stick with one of the three. Yes, yes, you’ll want memorable imagery in your trailer – but I’m not talking about backgrounds here, I’m talking about the treatment.

Lay out 8-10 index cards. These will be the important points in your trailer. Sketch or write what you want to happen in your trailer on the cards; remember to get your whole treatment in there. You might not think that this needs to be mentioned, but it does…I’ve seen at least two book trailers where the producers (the authors themselves, in both cases) either ran out of time and rushed the last 15 seconds or felt compelled to edit out critical information. Keep stage directions to a few words and sketches to one or two images.

Work out the timing of the trailer on paper until you’re sure the finished product (including 10 seconds or so at the end for your name and the title of the book, plus another 10 each for info on where viewers can find you and buy the book, and the production person’s info) will be under two minutes. Most importantly, try to convey a true sense of your book in your handling of the treatment and the action in each scene. Take all of this to your production person and kick back to wait for the first draft of your book trailer.

You may not have a trade publisher’s budget, but your trailer can still let the reader know that you’re an author who cares about detail, pacing, and artistry…and that’s what will sell your book.

*Note: I think the paperback’s release is driving tons of traffic to Jim Kay’s site – as of Sept. 5th, his page is taking forever to load. Click the link, grab a coffee, come back…it’ll be up by the time you get there, and Kay’s art is. so. worth it.

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