In my post Why Promoting Your Book Online is (a bit) like Fight Club, I explained why the only kind of online book promotion that works is stuff that doesn’t just promote your book and, above everything else, makes the internet better.
“People aren’t using social media because they love being sold stuff. They’re using it, I think, for one or more of the following three reasons:
- Because they want to be entertained
- Because they’re looking for specific information
- Because they want to connect with other people (connect as in virtually meet, but also as in relate to).
From what I’ve seen over the past two years, both in trying to sell my own books and watching what other self-published and traditionally published authors have done to try to sell theirs, is that your promotional efforts have to have a value of their own, and that value has to satisfy one or more of the demands in the list above. Online promotion works best when the book actually comes second to the content’s main objective.
[You: Say what now?]
To put it another—hopefully clearer—way, your goal should be to improve the internet, above all else. Make it a better place than it was five minutes ago by writing a great blog post, posting a funny tweet, using a tweet to direct your followers to a great blog post you just found, uploading a video that helps people perform a task, uploading a video that makes people laugh while they’re procrastinating to keep from doing that task they’re supposed to do… You get the idea. Adding a mention of your book to this content might also sell a few copies of it for you, yes, but that’s secondary. That’s not the most important bit. We need to create stuff to put on the internet that would still be something useful and worthwhile even if we took the selling books bit out of it.”
Examples of this would be things like Marian Keyes’ Twitter stream, The Book Boutique (Penguin UK) Facebook page and helpful/advice blogs by self-published authors like The Creative Penn, Indie IQ and (on a good day) this one. They are all free of blatant advertising and do not exist primarily to sell books—Marian Keyes entertains, The Book Boutique shares news, pictures and giveaways with book-lovers and self-published author advice blogs help other authors to self-publish. If some apocalyptic event meant that from tomorrow, none of them would have any books to sell, they could continue to do what they’re doing. They could do exactly what they’re doing now, even if they didn’t have books to sell. It’s this crucial point that 9 out of 10 authors who aren’t using social media but think they should be because someone told them it’s a good way to sell books don’t get—and it’s why they fail. If you took the selling books aspect out of a tweet like “My amazing book, Annoying Much? is just 99c on Amazon. PLEASE RT PLEASE RT PLEASE RT!”, what would you be left with?
It’s also something mainstream publishing houses occasionally forget too, and nowhere is this more obvious than in book trailers.
I think the generally held wisdom is that book trailers don’t sell books—and I’d tend to agree, in that I very much doubt anyone has ever watched a book trailer and then said, Right! I’ll have that and ran off to the nearest bookshop or booted up their Kindle and bought the thing.
But just like blogging, tweeting, etc. I think book trailers can help tell people that your book exists, and send some of those people to a second location—your Amazon listing, your website, its Goodreads reviews—and if you’re lucky, some of those people will like what they find there and buy the book.
So if the purpose of a book trailer is let as many people as possible know that your book exists, then your book trailer has to have a high share value. Basically, it has to be something you’d tweet a link to, or post on your Facebook wall, or include in a blog post.
And what would make you do that? The holy trinity of social media: entertainment, information or connection. In other words, the video would have to be funny, useful or something a large number of people could relate to.
From what I’ve seen, publishing houses don’t always get this. (Self-publishers don’t always get it either, but they’re not spending the insane amounts of money on their trailers that publishing houses are. And the ones who do get it right are nearly always self-publishers, or traditionally published authors doing the book trailer themselves.)
The reason I’m writing this post is because last week I came across a gem of an example: a traditionally published book, a buzzy book that clearly has plenty of marketing and publicity dollars behind it, and two book trailers—one glossy, expensive animation clearly commissioned by the publishing house, and one DIY, hand-held camera operation that the author evidently did herself*.
And only one of them works as a book trailer.
The book is Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. The first trailer, the glossy animation one, is a semi-successful advertisement for the book. (Semi-successful? Well, I’ve read the book and loved it, but I’m not sure I would’ve picked it up if I’d seen it described like this first. It doesn’t do this hilarious tale any justice, in my opinion. And what’s with the Desperate Housewives voice-over, eh?) You’d watch this, yes, and you might even think to yourself, Hmm, I must read that… but there is no chance you’d pass it on to your internet friends. Why would you?
But then there’s this, featuring the author herself, in which she attempts to pitch her book to (real life!) booksellers and book critics:
I think you would pass this onto your friends. (I have!) Even if you wouldn’t because you’re a Mr. Grumpypants who says things like “I want the novel to attract my attention with its words…” and “I don’t own a TV; there’s nothing on it” and who doesn’t understand that sometimes, the purpose of a thing can just be FUN, there’s a far higher chance you’d watch it to the end than the one above. And if you’re an author, you’ll relate to Maria’s “problem” (“…I’m going to have to take to the internet and mess. You. UP.”).
So if you’re considering making a book trailer, my advice would be to:
- Avoid making a movie-style trailer that just tells us what happens in your book
- Focus on the share value; this isn’t a straight forward advertisement
- Keep it short.
I’ll leave you with this: sometimes publishing does get it right. (In this case, Amazon Publishing.) They’re more likely to have a “big name” author with Big Name Friends, and when that meets comedy you have book trailer gold. Penny Marshall is an American actress and director, and she’s just released a memoir, My Mother Was Nuts.
And instead of being in her own book trailer, she got someone else to stand in…
*It is entirely possible that the publishing house had a hand in that one too, but Maria Semple works in TV and has famous acting friends so I’m guessing this was all her. Don’t get hung up on details: the point is that her trailer is 100% DIY in content and appearance, and it’s something a self-publisher could easily emulate. It’s not the expensive, flashy animation that just tells us what the book is about. And THAT’S the one that works.