Twitter Chat #3: Do Book Trailers Sell Books?

27 Apr

A short time ago, Susan Orlean (one of my favorite authors, and really, if you read her, she’ll be one of yours too) asked the question, “Does anyone think book trailers sell books?”  As is usually the case, an interesting twitter chat ensued.

@susanorlean concluded:
The rough tally on the book trailer question: Most people don’t think they sell books except in rare instances….
Also: many, many people have never seen a book trailer. There’s no good, easy place to go to view them en masse.

Of course, the interesting part was the stuff people said in between. I thought the conversation revealed why most book trailers DON’T work, as well as some fundamental understandings about why they don’t, and perhaps most importantly, how they COULD work to effectively build an audience for a book. But first, I’ve recorded the conversation below, taking the liberty of editing it for relevance and continuity.

@susanorlean Susan Orlean
Just curious: Does anyone think book trailers sell books?

@R_Nash
Nope but if some1 uses video 2 express their relationship to ur book & it’s compelling, it could help. Ditto if they use words.@mllecheree
Bk trailers have potential 2 sell more books if they’d b shown n bookstores, theaters.

@susanorlean
Totally agree. Where would anyone SEE one otherwise? Browsing Youtube? Seems unlikely.

@kathrynth
I’m sure they do help—a little bit. But I think most trailers, by most authors, don’t yet reach enough people.

@susanorlean
Totally agree with that. I think someone should start the book equivalent of MTV (back when MTV was all music videos).

@annleary
I really don’t think anybody who’s not in publishing even knows book trailers exist, so no.

@susanorlean
Do you have any idea of how many people thought I meant big trucks filled with books? I’m cracking up over here.

@ericsmithrocks
I like to think they do. When we (@quirkbooks) release a book trailer, Amazon rankings tend to skyrocket.

@susanorlean
Really? That’s very interesting. And surprising!The best part of the conversation continues below, so if my marketing talk bores you, just skip to the end… But if you’re still with me, I wanted to comment on the conversation, and talk about Book Trailers in general.  I’m qualified to do this, having taken part in making a number of successful trailers, but perhaps even more importantly, having been the number of viewers to some degree.

That said, I don’t believe Book Trailers work.  Usually.

And that’s an important point.  Because I believe that book trailers CAN work. They actually do in some cases.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.First, I’d like to address some misconceptions.Here they are, in order of appearance:

1. Book trailers don’t have the potential to reach enough people unless they are shown in book stores, on TV or in the movie theatre.
2. That in order to find them, they would need to be aggregated and located in one place for convenient viewing.
3. Only people involved with publishing even know what a book trailer is.
4. That book trailers are big trucks filled with books traveling from community to community selling books along the way…

Starting with our last point, a book trailer is a kind of commercial made to market a book.  They are usually shown on the internet, and are meant to represent a book the way a film trailer represents a movie.

Now, working in reverse order, I’ll address the other concerns.  We’re on number three now… and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that many people who are not involved in publishing have seen book trailers, even if they don’t know to call them that.  My company participated in a trailer that played to a large audience, and you can see it here.

Number two implies that the best place for book trailers to live would be a trailer library of sorts, or a literary equivalent to MTV (when they played music videos all the time).  Again, not a bad idea, but beside the main point.  The point of a book trailer is not to be found.  It’s supposed to find you.

And yes, while showing these videos in public space, book stores, on TV and in the movies are great ways to create more interest in the book (and will), this is not how book trailers are intended to work.

Book trailers are successful when they are so cool they stand alone as little gems of entertainment and engagement. In other words, they should to be viral, meaning that they spread from user to user.  It doesn’t matter where they live or originate… they are passed along online via link in Twitter, Facebook, Blog, Tumblr, etc.  The link is replicated and passed on… voluntarily  (this is my definition of viral: something that gets tens of millions of hits overnight is an epidemic, i.e. Rebecca Black).

In some cases book trailers are doing this.  Quirk Books does a great job playing off of this, and making quirky, off beat, humorous trailers that are worth watching, even if you never read the books.

In most, book trailers fail to become viral at all.  Why don’t they?  There are a few reasons.  Mostly, they are poorly made, misleading, and are not strategically implemented.   Most book trailers currently function like snazzy business cards, lending a small amount of media presence to a book.  At best, they might help cement a sale when posted as “additional media” on Amazon.

The sad truth is, if you have to go looking for a book trailer, it has already failed to be viral, which is (in my opinion) the whole point.

But back to the conversation with Susan Orlean and her Twitter friends…

Another user responds to the question “Does anyone think that book trailers really sell books?”

@CherylStrayed
I’m curious about that too. Is it worth it? When does it end, this stuff we must do besides write the damn books?

@susanorlean
It is endless, I’m afraid. I plan to visit each prospective buyer and personally read the book to them, for instance.

@USelaine
I’m looking forward to that, btw.

@quinncy
Will you act it out with puppets? Please?

@susanorlean
Oh yes. Puppets and marionettes. Very cunning.@quinncy
I liked Ulysses so much better once I saw the Punch and Judy version.

@susanorlean
Couldn’t agree more. The cute costumes!!

@CherylStrayed
My next book is called WILD, so I thought I’d give people the whole “wild look” thing… I was also going to cut their hair. I bought one of those buzz cut clipper thingies.

@amitavakumar
As a prospective buyer I’d like with the new book an egg that will later hatch into a book of my own. #ifimay

So there you have it.  In lieu of a successful media campaign, authors may travel from reader to reader, narrating their stories with the use of marionettes with funny haircuts.  Or deliver the book inside an egg that will hatch at the readers command.

Not bad ideas… though perhaps a bit labor intensive.

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