I finally succumbed to the latest trend and sold a kidney for $32,994 to produce a book trailer---the most expensive book trailer of all time.
With no false modesty, I know it was worth it. I'm thrilled with the result, which is a masterpiece of subtlety and persuasion. I'm sure it will catapult me onto the bestseller lists and beyond.
Okay, now that most of my regulars have seen the trailer, I wanted to blog a bit about what I think about book trailers.
In a nutshell: not much.
I'll elaborate. A movie trailer (in most cases) uses visuals from the movie it is promoting in order to inform audiences that it is coming soon. This works because the visuals are a preview of the film, taken from the film.
People like coming attractions for many reasons. First, because of location. A preview comes before a movie, and usually the preview is similar in tone to the movie you just paid to see. Trailers are part of the movie-going experience.
A good film trailer makes you aware that a film exists, tells you when it will be available to see, and is often recognizable somehow. By recognizable I mean that the audience is often familiar with the actor, director, or franchise. Or perhaps the audience is only familiar with the genre, and because they paid to see a movie of the same genre, many will have an interest in the preview.
A book trailer, on the other hand, has none of these advantages.
First, it uses a visual hook for a media made up of no visuals. A trailer is a mini-movie. A book is not a movie, it is words on a page.
Second, a book trailer's location is artificial and requires active rather than passive effort. The best trailer for a book would be a printed excerpt in the book itself. But instead, book trailers aren't packaged with books---they're placed on author websites and YouTube. Chances are you have to be looking for the trailer in order to find it, so that cuts down on the number of exposures, especially to the uninitiated. Your goal is to reach people who haven't heard of you. I don't know anyone who goes looking for book trailers, other than authors.
Third, book trailers can cost lots of money, yet I have never bought a book based on a trailer. I use what works on me, and these simply don't.
Fourth, even really good book trailers pale next to movie trailers. Yes, Flash can be cool. But it still looks like a cheap inbred cousin to the Hollywood produced previews.
Fifth, a trailer is essentially an ad. That's what I'm satirizing in the Fuzzy Navel trailer. Thirty seconds of video that screams "Buy me" isn't going to sway the average viewer any more than a print ad or TV commercial, and the effectiveness of those ads is very low.
That said, there are some things good about book trailers.
1. Anything that you put on the internet is a trap that can keep catching surfers for years.
2. Trailers are still a new type of promotion, so there is a certain amount of buzz about them.
3. Publishers seem to like trailers, and anything that can get your publisher behind your book is a Good Thing.
Ultimately, I do not recommend that new authors invest their promo dollars in book trailers, or in any other type of ad. Instead, use your budget to attend conferences and visit as many bookstores as possible, signing stock and meeting booksellers and fans.
But if your publisher wants to buy one, or you're making a lot of money, you might as well give trailers a shot. They're one more weapon in a writer's self-promotion arsenal. Not a great weapon, but if you're doing everything else this is one more thing to try.