On making a book trailer

I wanted a book trailer for Hagridden. I don’t know what good they do, really, and I might not have really worried about it at all, but just about the time my publisher and I were going over the initial proof of my novel, I saw the trailer for Leesa Cross-Smith’s Every Kiss a War. And holy shit, that’s a good trailer!

So of course the wheels started spinning and I decided a book trailer for Hagridden could be pretty cool.

It’s a risky move, frankly. A lot of people don’t use them, and with good reason: they don’t seem to do much in terms of selling books. I knew that from my research, and my publisher said pretty much the same thing. It’s not that trailers aren’t cool; it’s just that, in terms of return-on-investment, they’re not really worth the money.

But I kept watching that EKAW clip, and it’s just so damned good! So I was itching to take a crack at this thing, and I decided to start shopping around for media firms who make trailers, figuring I’d pay for it out of my own pocket.

But gang, trailers are expensive.

I looked at maybe two dozen places, and for a one-minute trailer, the prices I saw ranged from $300 for a static image and some generic music (n0t even a voice-over) to almost $3,000 for a slick, professional video tantamount to a short film. (I don’t know what Cross-Smith’s trailer cost, but it must have been on the upper end, because it’s better than most of the samples I saw on the pros’ websites.)

I spent a few weeks balancing price against quality, trying to find the best value, but eventually I realized that anything I could afford was going to look like I could afford it — meaning, not that great. And the kind of trailer I really wanted would almost certainly never pay for itself — it was (barely) doable, but not at all cost-effective.

But before I gave up on the trailer, I decided to scribble down my ideas just to see what they looked like on paper, in thumbnail sketches, and the more I tinkered, the more I wanted to see some version of this on a screen. And that’s when I remembered: I have iMovie on my Mac.

So I figured, what the hell. Since the book trailer was going to be an outside shot anyway and I was really only doing it because I wanted to see one, I decided I might as well just make one myself. Just to see those thumbnail sketches made real.

So I made one.

(I also posted the trailer to Vimeo.)

I think it’s pretty obvious this is my own work, and not the work of a pro, but honestly, I could have spent a few hundred bucks and wound up with something about this good. Granted, it doesn’t hold a candle — or even a match — to the Every Kiss a War trailer, or to some of the really fine professional trailers I saw on the upper ends of the price range. But mine was free. (Well, free minus the hours and hours and hours I spent working on it the past couple of weeks. But basically free.) Which means that if it convinces just one person to buy the book, it’s a heck of a return on my investment! And if it doesn’t do anything at all, it was still cool to make.

So, short version: Book trailers really don’t seem to be worth it, at least for most authors, but damn it, I love them anyway, and sometimes they are worth it, and mine was worth making just for the experience of making it.

(And I hope it makes you curious enough to buy my book in August.)

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

12 thoughts on “On making a book trailer

  1. I must be in some other realm because I never heard of a book trailer before and I read a lot of books. Wondering about readings as well, but when we tried it out at work (high school), the number of students who actually came astonished me. What I really need is more technical computer know how so I can post awards I receive on my blog.

    1. I might be wrong about this, but I have the impression that book trailers are most common with YA and with hard genre, especially detective/crime novels and Danielle Steele-type books. I do know from my research into all this that book trailers don’t really have a wide audience, so it’s no surprise you haven’t come across them before — it’s not just you! 🙂

      Readings are much more effective as a marketing tool, and they’re more fun, too. For me, at least. I love getting to actually see and hear an audience respond to the work. It’s the best kind of feedback you can get. In much the same way (so the studies and stories tell us), readers love getting to see the author, to hear the author’s voice — I know I always love that when I’m the one in the audience — which is why readings can be such effective bookselling tools. But as much as I want to sell books (I want my publisher to make some money!), I’m actually less interested in that than I am in getting to know readers, in sharing the work in person. That’s a wonderful experience for everyone. 🙂

      1. Like you, money is not my primary goal, but it certainly would be nice to sell a bunch regardless. I write (in fact I teach) to make a difference in the lives of others and for my poetry book, my main goal is to help others find a greater sense of wonder and joy.

      2. Yes! That’s the real goal. Writers deserve to get paid for their work, because it’s work as much as it is ars gratia artis, but I do believe that motive makes a difference, that if you’re writing for the money you’re not writing well. Money should come to good work, but good work comes from the art. 🙂

  2. Good for you! I have a couple of criticisms. Firstly, if you could have found a tripod to steady the camera, it would have been a brilliant shot; also a fixed shot or a very, very slow pan (left-to-right or right-to-left wouldn’t matter) would have been a little better. Secondly, the spoken text was made to be read without interruption, so breaking it up diminishes it a little; having the visual comments either at the end, or bracketing the spoken passage would have been better. But like I said – bravo you for even doing this!

    1. I know it does pan a little, but I get the impression that it goes side to side a couple of times. Hope you don’t think I’m being hypercritical.

    2. Thanks for the feedback, M! Actually, I would have liked more of a pan, too. But, fun fact, that footage? I actually shot that down in the bayou where this novel is set. That was during my research trip in March 2013, and I wasn’t thinking at the time about trailer footage — I just wanted the scenery. So, alas, but I do like that it’s the real deal, location-wise.

      I go back and forth on the fracturing of the text. I originally had it all together, but something felt off — too rushed, maybe — and my wife suggested adding the small text cards. I liked the effect, so I ran with it. (I’ve learned not to question my wife. She’s almost always right.) 😉

      1. I assumed you did shoot it there, and those reeds conjured up ‘Onibaba’ for me! But I’ll have to deliver a minority verdict on the fragmentation of the text. Trust the text – it is, after all, what you’re selling!

      2. I admit, trusting the text doesn’t always follow from loving the text with me. I second-guess myself all the time! But in this case, I think it was less about trusting the text than about trusting the medium of film, which felt like it required the pace that resulted from spreading out the spoken bits.

        Not disagreeing! Just discussing process. In fact, I’m toying with a post about how (rather than why)( I made this thing, just in case anyone wanted to see the process as they’re thinking about making their own trailers. Don’t know that it’s necessary — there are plenty of good articles and posts out there that do a better job of explaining the process than I would — but it’s been a subject of some discussion here, so I’m thinking about it. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Amy! I might follow up with some insight into the practical process of making this, but I’m still thinking about it. There are plenty of good posts out there already. 🙂

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