3/08/2008

An end to book trailers

Can I make just one small request? An end to book trailers. God knows I understand the need to promote books, to make the potential reader aware of your work for that incremental fraction of a moment during which it might, just might, lodge in their brain long enough to lead - hope of hopes! - to an actual purchase. But book trailers - the choice du jour for the marketing-hungry author - are not necessarily the way, if the frequently insipid and even depressing evidence available online is anything to go by.

Here's the basic format for developing your own book trailer - as evidenced by the majority I've seen - and believe me, I've seen quite a few:

1) Find a friend with a crappy band, or even better another writer who uses a home studio as an excuse to while away the hours that might otherwise be spent writing. Cajole them into letting you use their stuff as a soundtrack.

2) Scan the cover of your book into your hard drive, and maybe chop it up a little if you've got some skill with Photoshop.

3) Use whatever free software came with your PC or Mac to make the pictures move about in a slidey, fadey sort of way.

4) And lastly, the most important part: have a bunch of vaguely descriptive text taken from the back cover fade in and out between the pictures of your book, your dog, or whatever the hell it is you've inflicted on the YouTube-watching public

5) Upload it to Youtube, where the world will forever get to see something vaguely reminiscent of a cheap-as-chips movie trailer, possibly for something called Chainsaw Martians III: The Massacre, circa 1983. Minus the professional sheen and production values.

And voila, yet another generic book trailer makes the rounds.

Don't get me wrong, I'm completely open to the manifold marketing opportunities offered by the internet. But when it comes to marketing books off your own bat, you really have to try a lot harder than the next guy. I've seen one or two great ones; the US crime writer and working cop, for instance, who tries out a bunch of assault weapons on copies of his new book (the irony is, I've forgotten his name, hence no link, but forgive me - it was a while ago). I'm sure there are other terrific examples out there. I remember one guy's self-published fantasy novel made headlines when he nearly convinced a couple of journalists the photo of a dragon-in-a-jar on the cover was, in fact, real.

If you're thinking of doing a book trailer, please, remember, you're a writer. It's what you're good at. Not making movies. Even a talking-head interview with the author, assuming they've got at least the minimal set of social skills, would quite possibly be better and more interesting. It could, for instance, help identify whatever you feel makes your book just that little tiny bit different from the next. Name your inspirations. Aim for some classy production values. You can find legally free music to use online that sounds a lot better than an ageing Maxell tape of that Cure tribute band you were bassplayer for back in the old days.

So here's some suggestions: watch the better TV adverts, the kind that don't look like they cost the annual budget of Venezuela to make, and see if it inspires some ideas on how to market your new novel. Even better, find a starving film-maker with a camera, and maybe even a couple of starving actors. God knows, there's no lack of them. Give them a budget, buy them a sandwich, introduce them to your sister, tell them it'll be great on their CV, whatever it takes. Then stand back and watch as they make gold where you could produce only mud. The chances are they'll come up with something far better than anything you could produce yourself.

6 comments:

Mark Chitty said...

I have to agree with the style of 'book trailers' that have been about. A comment I read somewhere, for the life of me I can't remember where, basically said that a book trailer just gives you what a normal flyer does, but in 10x the time with no extra bits or art at all.

If someone is going to do a book trailer, hire an animator and do something like a Hollywood trailer, taking sections of the book and doing a nicely animated one that actually gives you a reason to buy the book.

There was a competition a while ago for Greg Bear's Eon by the CG Society and the results are stunning. Exactly the sort of thing I want to see in a book trailer:

http://features.cgsociety.org/story_custom.php?story_id=3987

gary gibson said...

I remember the Greg Bear thing, Mark, particularly since it's one of my very favourite books, though I do tend to have some trouble getting the site to play very well. But I'm glad you reminded me of it - I'm going to be looking again over the next couple of days. Otherwise, it's my experience there are a very great number of film makers out there more than willing to speak to or get involved with writers to do projects with - many of them originate their own stories, but a great number are more than happy to get involved with people whose job is solely coming up with stories and ideas. More writers should take note of that. I've seen some stunning work done for jawdroppingly low budgets - I'm talking a hundred quid, some borrowed equipment, and a couple of truckloads of enthusiasm and skill.

Mark Chitty said...

If only more people could do that sort of thing, book advertising would be much more effective, in my opinion. The books I read would lend themselves very well to this sort of trailer, I just keep hoping that a publisher is brave enough to spend some money on promoting an author/book like this. The internet could be a very powerful tool if used correctly and word could spread very quickly if a decent enough trailer was out there.

Gary, how about getting on to Pan/Tor for your next book? If Stealing Light is anything to go by they could get a stonker done for number 2!

Ian Turner said...

I very rarely read SF as the stories do not live up to the illustrations on the jacket. However, I picked up your book Stealing Light purely by chance and it is excellent, one of the best I have ever read up there with Isaac and Arthur C. No need to worry about animations and sound tracks your work promotes itself.

COS Productions said...

Book trailers have proven to be a great outreach to young adults.
There are even schools and libraries having young people make them, encouraging them to read and interact with the story on some level.
If that brings in new readers I'm all for it!
There are some interesting trailers out there.
Here's one that takes out elements of the book cover and includes it in the trailer-
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmM-WPoLNC8

Here's one that's got a thriller edge to it-
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6V-LnUGuew

And though this one runs a bit long (the author had several shorter versions of it as well) the CGI is very fun!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9F956cZGbkg

COS Productions just got a contract with Transit TV, which shows book trailers in buses in 5 major US cities. 10 million people will see the trailers play each week.

Done right, these are amazing tools!

And if you're from the UK, a US made trailer would not cost that much. ;-)

Sheila

gary gibson said...

Ian - thank you very much. Sheila - that's interesting, I may put that in a blog post.