BACKPACKED WEEK: The Evolution of a Book Trailer


Welcome to Backpacked Week! This is where, for one week, I post about the newfangled self-publishing stuff I’ve picked up from self-publishing my third book, Backpacked, which is out now, and thereby slip numerous reminders about my new book, Backpacked, being out now, into my blog posts without you feeling like I’m just incessantly bombarding you with the news that my new book, Backpacked, is out now. (And only $2.99 on the Kindle store. Bargain!) You can see the week’s schedule in yesterday’s post but for today, our topic is book trailers. Where I got the ideas for mine, how I made them, buying music for them, where to put them and whether or not you even need one in the first place. 

One of the reasons I know that self-publishing and promoting my own books is what I’m supposed to be doing with my days is that it’s the only thing I can think of that gives me the opportunity to use all of my skills, skills which are basically useless individually. For instance, mini-movie-making. Starting back in 2005 when I had my first season abroad in the Netherlands, I’d take pictures and video clips, work some Windows Movie Maker magic on them and then send to friends as a little memento. When I went Mac in 2009 – yes, “went Mac” is the, ahem, technical term – I practically salivated at the wonders that iMovie could add to my little memories DVDs, and it was iMovie I used to make my first book trailer, The Story of Mousetrapped.

(If you can’t see the video, click here to watch it on YouTube.)

This video was basically a slick version of what I’d been doing all along: putting personal photos and video clips to music. For this, I also added in a voiceover just by recording narration using my Macbook’s built-in microphone. But at around three minutes, it was a bit long – online attention spans are very short – and so I also made a short, 60-second, much more dramatic version, using a lot of the same footage. Aptly, it was called Mousetrapped in 60 Seconds.

(If you can’t see the video, click here to watch it on YouTube.)

Now I love these little videos, and the fact that I’ll be able to look back on them in the years to come makes making them worthwhile for me. But did they sell any books? No, I don’t think so. At least, not on their own.

The biggest challenge facing every self-published author is alerting people to the existence of their book. I think its relatively easy – relatively – to convince would-be readers to buy your book with things like your cover design, Amazon listing, website, etc. The problem is connecting with them, to making the path of your book and the path of your potential reader intersect. It doesn’t matter, for instance, if your website persuades anyone who as much as glances at it to run off and buy your book, if nobody is finding their way to your website in the first place.

So how do you get people coming to you and your book out of all the millions and billions of attention-sucking things on the internet? Sign-posts. Something that says, “Follow me – I think you might like this…” These are things like blog posts, tweets, Facebook updates, etc. Obviously the more sign-posts you have around the place the better, and I also think the more varied you can make them, the better as well. This way you maximize your potential audience.

That’s where something like a book trailer comes in, because it’s another different thing to add to the list. You can put them on you YouTube, Vimeo, your blog, your Facebook page, your Smashwords listing, your Goodreads author profile and even on Amazon Author Central. I don’t think anyone watches one of my book trailers and then immediately buys a book, but I think they might watch it and then go check out my website, or look up the Amazon listing, or Google the name of the book, and if they do, that’s enough.

And, hey – book trailers are fun. Let’s not forget that we need to have some of that as well, or else what are we doing all this work for?

And so, to Backpacked. I really like my Mousetrapped trailers, but I don’t think they’re as effective as they could be. Their main problem is that they have a singular purpose: to give people an idea of what my book is about. But a book trailer should not only do that. They should also give people a reason to watch the video even if they have no interest in the book or the book’s subject matter, because that’s what’ll get people to ultimately watch them. They should have some kind of secondary value. For instance, I don’t read romantic fiction but if someone sends me a link to a book trailer for a romance novel and says, “Watch this – it’s hilarious!” then I’m going to watch it. And then I’m going to know about the book.

Now while my photo albums are absolutely fascinating to me, they’re really only of mild interest, if that, to everybody else. I had to do something different for Backpacked, something that would get people watching the video. And I knew what that should be.

The idea started forming a few months back, when I downloaded Jing, a program that lets you record what’s happening on your computer screen. (€15.00 for a year’s subscription and totally and utterly worth it.) I bought it so I could do demonstration videos, this “Publish a Paperback with CreateSpace” being one of them:

(If you can’t see the video, click here.) 

While making that video, I had the thought: wouldn’t it be cool if someone recorded their entire self-publishing experience, start to finish, i.e. from writing the book to seeing their Amazon listing, and then shared it online as a video? This led me to, hey – that would be, like, the best book trailer ever which led me to, Haven’t I seen something like that before? Something about a cover design… And I had – in the book trailer for Blameless by Gail Carriger. In this super-slick and amazing book trailer, you can watch the book’s cover being designed from scratch to finished product in just two minutes. It’s fantastic.

(If you can’t see the video, click here.)

So now I had Jing, which let me record everything I did onscreen, although it would only record in five minute increments so I could hardly record the writing of the entire book – an idea which didn’t sound too appealing to me anyway. But I could, on a smaller scale, chronicle the work that goes into self-publishing a POD paperback. I recorded myself typing into MS Word for the titles, and recorded video of the paperback and the book as it appears on Kindle simply by holding them in front of the Mac’s in-built camera, and flicking through them.

All I needed now was some music. There was a piece, ‘Drive-In’ by Jon Brion from the soundtrack to The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind that was absolutely perfect. It was so perfect, in fact, that I considered paying for the rights to use it. Through ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) and their “ACE” database, I was able to find contact details for Jon Brion’s publishers, Universal Music. I e-mailed the contact, filled out a form explaining what music I wanted and what I wanted it for, and sent it off. A few hours later, an e-mail came back with a quote.

Of $10,000.

Yes – ten thousand dollars. And because music licensing is so ridiculously complicated – I’m currently on my third attempt of trying to apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number, and that seems simplistic by comparison – there might be even more fees to pay later on. And so while I was crushed not to be able to use what I thought was just the perfect music track, it wasn’t ten thousand dollars perfect. Or even one thousand dollars.

I Googled “royalty free music” and ended up on a website called Media Music Tracks. It took a while to trawl through all the songs on there to find something suitable, but when I did find one it only cost around €17 ($24) to download the piece and the license to use it. That was a lot better than ten grand, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

So after all that, I got this:

From Panama to POD in Less Than 2 Minutes: The Story of Backpacked!

(If you can’t see the video, click here to watch it on YouTube.) 

If you like it, kindly spread it around like a virus. (Well, maybe not like a virus. But you know what I mean!)

My new book, if you’ve forgotten in the minutes it took you to read that post, is called Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America, and it’s out now in paperback ($14.95) and e-book ($2.99). You can find out more about it here

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