Why a video will help sell your book

A shopper who watches a video about a product is more likely to buy it.

That’s why publishers and video producers are rushing to collaborate on low-cost video book trailers.  Publicists and marketing professionals believe these videos are the best new way to create the kind of buzz that attracts readers and sales.

In the past few months, publishers like Simon & Schuster, Harlequin, Scholastic, Wiley and others, have commissioned and produced hundreds of these short videos.  They’re posting them on their own company websites, on Amazon, YouTube, author sites and blogs, and an expanding universe of multimedia and social networking sites.

Some of these book videos look like movie trailers, with high production values, location shots and paid actors. Some are just about the author, with talking heads and an interview at home about the book and how it was written.

Here’s one I love

This is a book trailer for New Confections of a Closet Master Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado (Broadway Books/Random House Sept. 09). It’s about the author and her quest for meaning and purpose in her life, which she discovers by becoming a master baker and opening her own shop in Vermont where she creates pastry and cakes to die for. They’re so well photographed you’ll want to rush out and buy them, and the book.

A sudden trend

This new approach is part of the sea change in the industry’s turbulent and volatile efforts to sell books.  Most of us generally agree that the old ways of marketing books has become prohibitively expensive and obsolete, especially in the current economy and declining retail sales in all sectors.

That full-page ad in the New York Times Book Review or the 30-second national TV spot on a show like Today or Front Line can cost tens of thousands of dollars with few tangible results. At the same time the DIY free-access culture of the internet has shown how powerful a three-minute YouTube video can be, careening around cyberspace in a few minutes if viewers pass it on to interested friends in their social network.

Book publishers are struggling to figure out how to survive and flourish in this brave new world of digital marketing. Many are now willing try something new.

At John Wiley & Sons, for example, we’ve already commissioned many such videos.  The Dummies division at Wiley in particular, is using video trailers to market its books.  Simon & Schuster’s CEO Carolyn Reidy, told me at Book Expo this year that she’s a big supporter of this recent initiative and has ordered dozens of videos for her various imprints. Jeff Gomez at Penguin is another strong advocate of this marketing tool.

We’ve also found that these book trailers are perfect as audition tapes for national broadcast and print media, and to generate author publicity and support the author’s direct-to-reader marketing efforts to drive sales and engage customers.

Growing book trailer industry

Video production companies targeting authors are emerging to produce book trailers. For example, Andrew Kaplan, Business Development Manager of the internet video company TurnHere, says they’ve produced about 500 book videos and is releasing three or four new ones every week.

Another producer, Scott Robinson of RFI films in NYC has been creating book videos directly with the author, most notably our own favorite discovery, Lenore Skenazy.

A quick search online turned up other players, including Living Jacket, Circle of Seven Productions, and Expanded Books. I don’t have any personal experience with these companies, so please do your own due diligence if you consider using their services.

If you’re a writer under contract, be clear about who’s paying for producing the video. If you don’t yet have a book publisher, consider doing something within your budget, either on your own or with professional help. The cost for such an effort can range from a few hundred to $5,000.

How can you make the best use of this new resource?

Watch as many book videos as you can and become familiar with the rapidly changing state of the art.  To get started, check out BookScreening, a hub for book trailers submitted by publishers and authors featuring great examples of this new medium.  Another big player in this arena is the book trailer channel at  Barnes & Noble Studio.  Search YouTube for book trailers, and you’ll find more than 50,000. And there’s Vimeo, with a roster of more than 200 book videos.  Also take a look at The Book Trailer Blog, with interesting background and commentary about making and re-purposing book videos.

Book trailers tend to fall into two major categories: Some are like Hollywood movie previews, with professional actors playing out elements of the stories in actual locations, with good music, slick editing, and high production values.

Others are entirely author focused, with a writer explaining why and how they wrote the book, often speaking from home.  The author might be sitting behind a keyboard, walking through a location associated with the book, or conducting an interview with an on or off-camera journalist or friend.

Readers want a relationship with the author

“Our experience and field surveys show that what potential readers want most is contact with the author,” Kaplan of TurnHere says.

“Book tours don’t often bring authors to neighborhood events anymore, but people still crave that personal touch, that sense of a real person they can get to know, that relationship between author and reader.”

What would work best for your book? Would you prefer to dramatize the story in an enticing manner, or talk about your work and how you did it?

Consider roughing out a preview trailer on your own. Do you have any video equipment at home? Do you know someone who would be willing to experiment and have some fun working on this with you?

“I’ve seen good book trailers that started as an amateur Flip camera version made by the author and then later redone with professional production values,” says Robinson of RFI films.

“Lenore Skenazy and her husband Joe, for example, did a first-draft video for her book Free Range Kids with consumer equipment and software.  They wrote their own script. It had humor – which is important for many book trailers — and a lot of smart ideas for inserts and locations. So we re-shot the whole thing with better audio and editing. Humor, good sound and good editing can all make a huge difference.” See the final version on Amazon.

Is Amazon charging for placement?

Book trailer producers have told me also that one of the biggest challenges they face now in video marketing campaigns is placement. It used to be easier to get a video trailer posted on Amazon, for example. Now I hear they’re beginning to charge for posting a video on the first page of a book listing.

Kaplan at TurnHere says that Amazon is beginning to charge some of his clients a $1500 fee for posting on the first page of a book listing. A spokesperson for Amazon, who prefers to remain anonymous, told me that such a fee would depend on how much business the publisher does with them, and the status of an individual author.

I’m told that we’re not paying that kind of money at Wiley for posting on Amazon, but we may be getting credit for the volume of cooperative advertising dollars that a publisher makes available to major retailers.

If anyone out there has had direct experience with Amazon regarding placement of a book trailer, we’d love to hear from you.

The bottom line

Here’s the bottom line: Smart buyers do research online before making any retail purchase. Book readers are no different. If they’ve heard about a book, or read something by a writer they like, they’ll search for it. When they find an actual video, the research shows that people have an attention span of about 3 minutes.

Three minutes doesn’t sound like much.  But that little book video could make a big impact in your ultimate sales.

We want to hear about your experience

Who’s got a book trailer?

Tell us about your experience and send links in comments.

38 Responses to Why a video will help sell your book

  1. Ellen Meister

    Thanks for this comprehensive post with all the useful links. Very helpful!

    I note that the examples you give are for nonfiction books. My gut tells me videos are much less effective for fiction. Do you have an opinion on that?

  2. Ethan Lefkowitz

    I am a videographer and can do video trailers for books at a reasonable cost. I have one on my Youtube site at http://www.youutbe.com/ethanlefkowitz about Chinese Home Cooking by Anela Chang.

  3. Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

    I recently made a video for my first novel, MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT (St. Martin’s). I used the Garage Band Macintosh software and my husband composed the music. It was a lot of fun to make and it’s received a good amount of attention. I’ve created another trailer that will be released soon for my next novel, LOVE IN TRANSLATION, which comes out this November. We are also producing an audio drama podcast for that book, which we hope will act as an “audio trailer.” You can watch the MIDORI BY MOONLIGHT video at my Web site: http://www.WendyNelsonTokunaga.com or directly on YouTube here: http://tinyurl.com/mggxox

  4. Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

    Whoops! Meant to say iMovie — not Garage Band!

  5. Mimm Patterson

    LOVE IT! But isn’t it a bit long? Even I turned it off at about 2 minutes. What happened to the 90 second guideline?

  6. Suzan H.

    I can’t vouch for readers, but I know a author friend, Christie Craig, got a lot of attention from various publishers based on the video she and her nonfiction writing partner put together for her first single title.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EI0UG_hDxbk&feature=related

  7. Sheila English

    As the person credited for creating the “book trailer” market and as the owner of the trademark for the term “book trailer” I feel it is fair to say that I have a lot of experience with book trailers.

    In 2002, when we did our first book trailer there weren’t a lot of venues for them. So, we had to be creative and create relationships that would give us outlets. Then 2005 brought YouTube, MySpace and the social networking trend and book video became an important and effective tool. And more people started making them.

    We have over 200 clients including National Geographic, Simon & Schuster and most of the NYC publishing houses, but we also have individual authors who commission videos.

    My suggestion is have a specific goal in mind if you’re going to do a book video. Don’t do it just because everyone else is. We are very goal oriented and we help our clients determine what they want their trailer to do for them before we ever start the process.

    Also, you need to have a way to determine whether or not your book video performed and if it met that goal. We do follow up reporting after upload to show clients what the video did for them. We also have someone who watched how the video performs so that, if it isn’t performing to our standards, we take action on it until it does. So having a video is really only half the battle, so to speak.

    We do all genres. Both non-fiction and fiction do well with book video. But, the distribution is different according to the genre.

    Here’s one we did for a children’s book – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XB5zHpxpfNM&feature=channel_page

    It is very different than the author interview we did for a thriller-paranormal book – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzQZKxztHsU&feature=channel_page

    Also, as a side note, you can go to http://www.readersentertainment.tv and watch book videos according to genre.

    We’ve won over 50 industry awards for various book videos, but being “award winning” doesn’t matter if the video didn’t meet its goal. So that is where we concentrate our efforts. I totally agree that you should conduct due diligence when you hire anyone for anything. We post our testimonials and client list so that people can easily see what others say about us as opposed to what we say about ourselves.

    Book trailers have been around for many years. We create dozens each month and are now working on something new, beyond a book trailer that will come out at the end of the year. It is an exciting time with so many new technologies and opportunities!

  8. Susan M.
  9. Susan M.
  10. Bill Cokas

    Wendy’s video is cute (if a bit long). But what about all the copyrighted images? Might that present a problem? I tried to upload a home video onto YouTube that used a copyrighted song and was forbidden. And I’m assuming that the “attention” referred to in the comments translates into “sales?”

  11. Alan Rinzler

    Hi Ellen,

    Yes, I do believe that video trailers can be just as effective for novels. You can see a good example of this in Patricia Cornwell’s excellent trailer for her latest book “Scarpetta” which we posted on March 1, 2009 as part of a piece we did called ‘Falling in Love with Your Characters’. Here’s a link:

    http://www.alanrinzler.com/blog/2009/03/01/falling-in-love-with-your-characters/

    So if you’re considering doing one for your novel I recommend it without reservation. There’s no difference to be made here between fiction and nonfiction.

    Alan

  12. Sarah Bolme

    A great website for book trailers for Christian books is http://www.christianbookvideos.com. Getting a Christian book video posted on the site is free.

  13. Elizabeth Chadwick

    Authors can make their own videos using a programme such as Windows Movie Maker which comes as standard on most PC’s and all it costs is a little time. It can be very therapeutic too! I made one about a fortnight ago for my latest.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lcPZ1gYImk

  14. Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

    In answer to a couple of questions. I have seen videos much longer than mine, but everyone will have a different opinion on length, attention span, personal taste, etc. The one for that won the recent Covey Award for Best Author Video was over 3 minutes long.

    As for copyrighted images, we used only images and videos that are in the public domain, from personal collections, and those that are released for commercial-use under the creative commons license. There are many royalty-free images and video clips available on the Web.

  15. Aaron

    Great, informative post, Alan. We had fun recently producing a book trailer for N.D. Wilson’s NOTES FROM THE TILT-A-WHIRL. We filmed in Morocco, London and San Diego. The result can be seen here: http://vimeo.com/5600197

    I’d love to see more examples of well done book trailers if any come to mind. Thanks again.

  16. Frank

    Great, informative post, Alan.

    “Here’s the bottom line: Smart buyers do research online before making any retail purchase. Book readers are no different.”

    Is that really the bottom line? What about dumb buyers?

  17. Louise Breinholt

    At Wiley we have done quite a few videos that have been very successful in helping to sell our books e.g. ‘Grandad’s Birthday Present’ for Computers for Seniors for Dummies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVo4GhngJlA

    But we’re still learning, so I’m pleased to see the release last week under the Sybex imprint, Youtube and Video Marketing, An Hour A Day: ://tiny.cc/JjLj4

  18. Tosin Coker

    I created my own book trailer and it has had a wonderful response. While it is far from being professional, it gets the job done and speaks volumes.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6u72Nag0Tyk

    Personally I prefer shorter trailers under 90 seconds, but I know that may not be the same for others. After the success of my trailer I did something similar, this time with myself reading an excerpt from my book that was just over 2 and a half minutes long:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xc6zHTWQOVY

    Result? People loved it because it is intimate, they felt more of a personal connection as I instantly became more substatial to them. Both the trailer and the excerpt reaches both untapped audiences and existing fans alike by giving them something to relate to.

  19. Dianne de Las Casas

    I have created a site for children’s book authors and illustrators to upload their book trailers. There is no fee and the upload is easy. http://www.kidlitbooktrailers.com

  20. Hannah

    I work for Puffin in the UK, and we’ve had particular success with a trailer we’ve made for one of our upcoming titles: The Enemy by Charlie Higson.

    Charlie has a modicum of fame in the UK so the video quite naturally begins with him delivering a piece to camera, but then . . . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TIjp3wydfY

    We’ve had a remarkable reaction from everyone who’s seen it, for obvious reasons! The trailer was cut from a short that we made in one day with a comany called DocuMovie who are fantastic, and the make-up artist from Shaun of the Dead, who was very chirpy considering the state she was putting Charlie into. :)

  21. Jeannine Norris

    I made my own book trailer through still shots of the illustrations and inserted my writing. Used Microsoft Movie Maker and posted on YouTube. I’m a newbie, and even I could do it. Kept it under 1 1/2 minutes – felt that was long enough. My book is a children’s Christmas book http://wwww.jeanninenorris-childrensauthor.blogspot.com.

  22. Laura Manivong

    I believe in the short rule. Mine is 30 seconds, just like 99% of the commercials we see on TV. If you just think hook instead of summary, you can pique interest very quickly. Thanks for the post!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_u5g__oAAo

  23. tericoyne

    I took a different approach with my trailer — I incorporated video into my booksite and then extracted it out as a stand alone trailer (with some minor additions) — this tied the whole look and feel together and was cost effective as we conceived it all at once. For fiction, I think less is better. So I decided I wanted to create a mood and get the viewer engaged. I’ve had great feedback on it so far. Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=024N29IWisQ Book webstie: http://www.thelastbridgenovel.com

  24. Andy J smith

    here’s the trailer I cooked up for my “Bug Parables” picture book series, that I illustrated:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-y1jfnQjxQ

    It’s made using (digital) cut-outs and stills of the illustrations along with animated type in Flash.

  25. Yu-Han Chao

    Adding some poetry to the mix:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTm_qZYfVsA

  26. Missy Lyons

    This was a very informative article. Thank you!

    Book videos do work. I have done two so far for my backlist of books, even being self published and produced they have gained some publicity for me. Many places do post them for free, because they add interest to a site where you primarily have to read about a book.

    You can check out the simplest one, Cowboys Don’t Dance on You Tube.

    Here is a link to the trailer:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cW41GzOhL-wA

  27. LM Preston

    I am happy to have landed on this blog. My book trailer for my book EXPLORER X – Alpha just came out.

    Check it out.

    link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIZQ0YcNbhI

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  29. Robin Burcell

    I have been intrigued by the book video market and decided to take the plunge this year for my latest thriller THE BONE CHAMBER. I went with a new company at Novel Shout Media. The owner does freelance film editing in Hollywood. Based on the one trailer he did, I took a chance and this was the end result: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rr7yvLutSH4

    Considering this was his second trailer, I think he did a great job. I wouldn’t hesitate to use Novel Shout Media again. His company is here: http://www.novelshoutmedia.com/

  30. John Ray Gutierrez

    Hello All,
    I’ve been working with Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park since the summer of last year. Since that time the book trailers that I’ve done have gone viral. This means that there is value in a visual representation of authors work. I am swamped with work now and love every second of it. Some of our book trailers are even being featured as must see.

    http://eater.com/tags/david-chang

    http://www.usatoday.com/topics/topic/Peter+Meehan

    The most important factor of a book trailer is to intice interest. How you do it is to remember that this media is a form of entertainment. If you can honestly say you enjoyed it then the book trailer has done its job. If a trailer is just an advertisment then you have a problem.

    So my advice to authors who are considering a book trailer is to do one. Book trailers are the movie trailers of the web and can help you create a presence on the internet. Sometimes it takes a visual stimulate to draw interest.

    I’ve created a website where I post the videos I’ve done for Kepler’s books, but also give advice to authors.

    http://bigburritomedia.blogspot.com/

  31. Corrine Coleman

    http://www.facebook.com/v/1418149127817 This is my book trailer.

    It is so important to be greatly involved in marketing yourself whether you’re a self published author or a traditionally published author. Nobody has more passion for your book then you do. So blog! Create a book trailer – even if you don’t have a lot of money to spend. A video camera and Windows Movie Maker goes a long way. Start a free website on Microsoft Office Live. They offer FREE websites for small businesses. An author should always have a website. Be creative – know your target audience (otherwise all your marketing might be wasted) Blog. Twitter. Start a Facebook page. Get your name and your book out there. Then, get it out there again. And again.

  32. Nancy D. Solomon

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! This is exactly what I need to hear /read. My first book was published a year ago: In precisely the same moment that my industry took a nose dive and my father passed away. I did not do what needed to be done to promote this fantastic book and my publisher did exactly zero. In the past few weeks I’ve been getting the sense that I should do a book trailer; that I should ignore the fact that my book was published 14 months ago, and start from scratch. This blog and the video confirmed it! The Gods have spoken….

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  35. Rufus

    I made a trailer for Hachette Book Group to promote Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith: http://youtu.be/MlYnVbtYZqk

    As others here have pointed out, it is hard to tell how much impact these things have on sales.

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  37. Naveen

    I have a book trailer of my self published, short, horror story. It’s here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ru7H6QNU_7A
    It was fun to make a trailer of my book.

  38. Aaron Dries

    This is one of the most comprehensive articles I’ve read on this subject. As an author myself, I found the advice invaluable. I just put together a book trailer for my upcoming novel, A PLACE FOR SINNERS. I shot it in Australia and Thailand, where the novel is set. I had an absolute ball making this.

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

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