20 May 2012

Book Trailers and Boy Wonders

Having blogged about books and publishing for six years now (you can look it up), I’ve been witness to the rise and establishment of the book trailer. And I still don’t see much value in them.

In the amount of time it takes to download and watch a book trailer, I can take in a lot more information about that book through, you know, reading. And that experience is probably a much better preview of actually reading the book than watching a short shoestring-budget movie about it.

I know of no market research that says online trailers help to sell books, or even particular types of books to particular types of readers. Then again, it‘s the publishing industry, and there’s practically no market research at all.

I cynically suspect that the main value of book trailers is that they keep authors busy between copyedit approval and pub date. Without having trailers to make, we’d be on the phone every hour to the Marketing Department asking if they’ve thought about sending an advance copy to Orhan Pamuk. No wonder Marketing Departments recommend that authors make trailers!

Tim Kreider, author of We Learn Nothing, expressed similar thoughts in this New York Times oped today:
The first time I’d ever heard that there were video previews for books was when I was told I had to make one. A few months before my own book was to be released, my publisher advised me that official book trailers were now routinely posted on YouTube as a promotional device. I was skeptical, but remembering how instrumental video was in advancing the career of Men Without Hats, I acquiesced. . . .

The sudden, insane hula hoop-like popularity of social media and mass dinosaurian die-off of print has publishers panicked and willing to try anything, and so writers, typically reclusive types who are used to being able to do their jobs without putting on pants, now find themselves shoved on camera and hawking their books like mattresses on Presidents’ Day. . . .

The sympathetic audience for complaints about the terrible problems associated with having your book published turns out to be small. So I will just say that this is not a part of the process that most kids who sat at typewriters dreaming of growing up to be Authors ever fantasized about. Most writers are closet exhibitionists, shameless only on paper, and having to perform and promote themselves is a kind of mild custom-designed torture, like forcing the theoretical mathematics faculty to come up with something for skit night.
All that on a Sunday is my way of a running up to the trailer that Marc Tyler Nobleman and friends made for his upcoming picture-book bio Bill the Boy Wonder. Illustrated by Ty Templeton, the book tells more fully than ever before the life of Bill Finger, co-creator of Batman and Robin. What do we learn from the trailer? Well, it does look like it was fun to make.


Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

I agree that most book trailers probably do nothing for the book. However, most book trailers are simply pan-and-scan with voiceover.

But do something entertaining (or at least unconventional) and it DOES increase your exposure; after all, YOU wrote about mine! (So did Newsarama, School Library Journal, Mark Evanier, the Bat-Blog, and several other high-traffic blogs/sites.)

So in that sense, a book trailer is no different than a print ad, postcards, a blog tour, or most other forms of advertising: you can't quantify what it does for sales but you know when it's building buzz. Mine took more time than I originally planned but not so much time that I can't justify it.

Thanks for the coverage!

J. L. Bell said...

There's no doubt that the first book trailers, or book trailers that break the mold in some way, get pre-publication buzz. The book industry is so desperate for marketing ideas, and publicists are so pleased to have something to report, that anything authors try gets picked up by the industry press.

But I still wonder whether (a) that sort of buzz has an ultimate effect on sales, and (b) if there's any sort of buzz for the second time someone tries the same thing. For example, the "class of 2007" authors got a lot of prepub coverage, but I'm not sure it translated into sales, and more recent groups of first-time authors are ignored.

On the one hand, savvy bloggers and digital media are dissolving the boundary between prepub marketing in the industry and outreach to readers. So publishing buzz might indeed reach the ultimate customers more than before.

On the other hand, if an author needs to come up with a novel way to publicize her novel, something that gets reported just because no one's tried it before, that just puts more burden on writers with an shrinking range of possible ideas.

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

My little trailer has been getting 50 or more views a day on YouTube after being up for two weeks, plus more views I can't track on other sites it's posted; I imagine that will increase once reviews and other coverage begin to pop up online.

It took 14 hours to make - the same time I would typically put into about two book fair appearances (including organizing/driving), where you sign for a few hours and might be personally exposed to 50 people (not all of whom will buy books). That's a finite marketing experience.

Yet the trailer will continue to live online and come up in various searches ad infinitum. Plus I can easily and freely use it to market myself for speaking opportunities; some librarians are regular trailer junkies.

All in all, seems like a good use of 14 hours to me!

Brian K. Morris said...

I'd agree with Marc. I'd like to think I'm so "hip" that I'm immune to most advertising. Then I checked out the video for "Night of the Living Trekkies" which presents the book as if it was turned into a major zombie/horror film. It was obvious some time, money, and care went into this. I have to say I was quite eager to pick up the book after that.

I think the key is to be as innovative and entertaining with your trailer as you would be with your book.