Twitter Chat #3: Do Book Trailers Sell Books?


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?

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?”

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

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

I’m looking forward to that, btw.

Will you act it out with puppets? Please?

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

Couldn’t agree more. The cute costumes!!

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.

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.

Hitching Your Wagon to a Star: the Value of Collaboration

It’s been a busy time at Diabolical Toy, and so I’m reposting some of our more popular articles from our humble beginnings… This is a re-post of an article I originally wrote in January of 2010, while working with my Diabolical Toy’s first ever clients, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, the authors of BEAUTIFUL CREATURES, BEAUTIFUL DARKNESS, and the upcoming BEAUTIFUL CHAOS.

Beautiful Creatures: The Beginning

My last week has been extraordinary.

I stumbled upon a great opportunity to work with two authors designing an online promotion tied in to their book tour through the southern states. I’ve been designing a game that mystifies and intrigues, taking the players across the internet. I’ve had the chance to interact other authors of books that I admire. And it has come as a wonderful surprise.

How did this happen? Through Twitter. At this point, it’s almost a cliche.

I’ve been chatting on Twitter with Kami Garcia since before the release of Beautiful Creaturesthe book she wrote with Margaret Stohl (If you haven’t read the book yet, get in line. It’s been on the NYT best sellers list for over 6 weeks now, and bookstores are running out of copies). Kami, Margaret and I decided to meet for lunch when I came to town for a work gig. And we got to talking… about their book, about a bookI wrote and the marketing strategy I was designing to promote it.

When Kami said “Can we use your ideas?” I said, “Sure, as long as you use me with them,” or words to that effect. It was the most spontaneous case of preparation meeting opportunity that I’ve ever experienced… really good luck, some would say.

And so with two days notice we began designing and implementing The BEAUTIFUL CREATURES Southern Tour Scavenger Hunt, a cross-internet game in which players solve virtual riddles. In designing clues, we’ve teamed up with the incredible Vania StoyanovaCarrie Ryan, the author of THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH and nowJackson Pearce, who wrote AS YOU WISH.

In a late night conversation with Kami, at the end of another grueling day of the book tour, we got to talking about these sorts of advantageous connections… the people we meet who can help us, and the people we can help. In the best possible sense, we are using one another… as opposed to abusing one another to further our own agendas.

And this is the value of collaboration through social media. Authors like Kami and Margaret and Carrie and Jackson working together to support each other. Book promoters like Vania and me who love the books and connect with the authors. And the opportunity all of us have to connect with readers to create special experiences.

It’s a simple truth. Whether you’re just starting our of firmly established, it pays to cultivate relationships with talented people you like, with the goal of creating value for everyone.

It makes sense to hitch your wagon to a lucky star.

Take the E-book, Turn It on Its End, and Shake Vigorously

I originally wrote this article for my friends at Digital Book World.  You can see it there, as well as a bunch of other useful information about what happens at the intersection of publishing and the digital revolution by clicking here.

Market an ebook with its enhancements

I market new books through social media channels, and I’m going to tell you why I think ebooks should be produced very differently from the current model.

Right now, an author writes a book and secures an agent, after which an editor negotiates the rights and purchases that book, after which revisions and edits are made, after which fonts are chosen and a cover design created, after which an ebook is fashioned (most likely text only) and a release date determined….

Then after all of these things are finished, someone like me might or might not be brought in the help market the book online.

As we market a book on the internet, my company will almost certainly create video segments designed to create interest in the book: videos are more likely to show up early in search pages and more likely to be clicked on when they do.

But, these video segments are created after all the previous production steps have been accomplished and the book is on its way to market.

And that’s the problem.

Any additional media created, which might include websites, animation, video, games and contests, will be built on top of already secured rights.

This limits what can be done to market the book, especially if the film rights have been secured. Also, when creating video content to advertise a book, we are very conscious that the visual aspects, the actors, costumes, sets, etc., are not directly representative of the book they promote. They are not a part of the book and may not even relate to the cover design.

Creating content like this, after the novel is fully realized, is like making a movie and then hiring a new set of actors, dressing them in similar costumes and placing them in a different setting to create the trailer, and then telling the audience that the trailer looks something like the movie being promoted, rather than parsing the trailer from elements of the film itself.

Of course, the reason we love movie trailers is that they give us a taste of what we will actually experience in the movie itself. Trailers are great ways to generate interest.

And that’s why I think we’ve got the whole ebook thing backwards.

I’ve always maintained that marketing strategy is most important in the product development stage. That means the marketing should be built into the product itself. For books, we need to reverse the order by which books are currently created, negotiated and sold.

We should produce an enhanced ebook first.

Ideally, these multimedia pieces inform the actual writing of the book. The book would be written into existing media capabilities, the way a screenplay is written to capitalize on the visual and sound capabilities of film or TV. With enhanced ebooks, it would help if some forethought was given to potential interactive capabilities, but for the sake of this article, I’ll limit myself to the video/animation elements.

That means that dynamic multimedia ebook content would be created before the physical book. In the months before the physical book is released, this dynamic content could be parsed and re-edited for distribution over the web, as well as through TV and even film. This newly edited content would be representative of the actual experience a user will have with the enhanced ebook. That makes better marketing, which means better findability.

In a best case scenario, the content is created at the same time as the book is written. While in most cases that may not be possible, I believe that the agent should package both the content creator and the author when bringing the book to market, supplying a demo of the intended ebook.

Of course, this would require a new rights model: literary agents would negotiate digital rights to include paying the content creators, much as illustrators are paid out of the advance and later through royalties.

I believe that the ebook will eventually lead the market, rather than the hardcover book: it’s easier and cheaper to sell and distribute. Edited ebook content can be used for marketing through social media. If this content is unique and interesting in and of itself, it is innately viral. By “viral,” I mean that the content is voluntarily passed on by a user to her network (not that the content will be viewed millions of times overnight; that would be more like a pandemic than a simple virus).

Ebooks have gained a significant share of the overall market in a very short time. While some of those sales may cannibalize the traditional print market, numbers suggest that the availability of ebooks Is creating whole new markets.

Ebook sales could actually undergird and support sales of print books. This would allow for more effective and authentic marketing, where the marketing is actually an extension of the product itself (the ebook, in this case). It also gives users the option to purchase the book at their preferred price point; the inexpensive ebook, the more expensive paperback, or the high-end elite hard cover.

Most customers are going to buy in their preferred format anyway. Why not create more interest upfront with ebook content?

Of course, I’m talking about specific types of books—the books that are suitable for enhanced viewing on a tablet like the iPad. Children’s picture books are a natural choice for this kind of model. While nonfiction offerings like cookbooks and home improvement books are also obvious choices, here at Diabolical Toy, we work mostly with fiction, especially paranormal, speculative and historical narratives.

I’m betting that turning the model on its end would not only allow for more effective integration of traditional and ebook marketing efforts, which is a cost saver in itself, but sell more books in both formats.

Twitter Chat #2: Do Writers Want Readers or Money?

So I’m going to while this is my second article based on a twitter conversation, I’m dubbing it the first of my “Either/Or” topics.

In this case, I stumbled on a great conversation on Twitter involving @realjohngreen , @WolfsonLiterary and @SarahDarerLitt regarding a writer’s true goal: is it to reach readers, or to make money?

Here’s the convo, and I’ll comment at the end:

WolfsonLiterary Not sure this is true. RT @realjohngreen: Right. But given that writers care more about readers than about money, should all books be free?

realjohngreen @WolfsonLiterary You mean most writers care more about money than about maximizing the number of readers? Not my experience, at least.

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen I think writers care about both, which I think is perfectly normal. I also think in general, more readers lead to more money

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen I think it’s fabulous to be in a position to do experimenting with free content, self-published material, etc.

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen But this isn’t the case for most writers. Established writers are in a different position. Can afford to care abt diff things

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen I’m not criticizing you or anyone else here. I just don’t think it’s wrong to want to make money at what you do

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen And I feel like when people say writers should care more about maximizing readers vs money, there’s an implied criticism

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen And the other responses I’m getting here seem to agree, that writers want both. That’s the goal-making a living at writing

realjohngreen @WolfsonLiterary I don’t think it’s wrong to want money. I just think writers want readers, and publishing is a race to those readers.

SarahDarerLitt @WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen Unless u have a significant other supporting you, you need $ to have luxury to write & get readers.

realjohngreen @SarahDarerLitt @WolfsonLiterary And unless publishing expands its overall customer base (unlikely) those sales will hurt the rest of us.

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen They want to be able to quit their jobs and write for a living. You need readers, yes, but that suggests making money at it

realjohngreen @WolfsonLiterary @sarahdarerlit I agree, but we’re already seeing free/cheap books becoming hugely popular in large part bc they’re free…

SarahDarerLitt @realjohngreen @WolfsonLiterary Believe me I have HUGE arguments w/17 yr old son abt copyright issues. He doesn’t get that it helps feed him

WolfsonLiterary @realjohngreen Yes…but I’m not sure the answer is providing quality material for free. Then again, I’m not sure I have the answer

WolfsonLiterary In case I wasn’t clear, I think there’s a huge benefit to building readership. I think used books, cheap books, sharing books all helps that

I have to say, while I appreciate John Green’s point of view, and I do believe that the desire to gain users is a prime motivator to become a writer in the first place, Michelle Wolfson makes a very good point: those who wish to write for a living also (usually) want money.  Not that they’d stop writing if they didn’t get it, but I think they want both.

Really, it’s not an either/or proposition, and readership often leads to money.  Lack of readers will curtail the opportunity to make money. The better question might be which does a writer need… and while the answer is again BOTH.  But while you can gain readers without making money, if you have no readers, you wont be able to (continue to) make money: not if you want to extend your career past that first lucky deal.

Of course, Sarah Darer makes another great point. You could continue to write full timeif you have someone who will support you.  Not so much if you don’t.

So should a writer be content to allow their work to be read when there is no money involved?  I say it’s not necessarily a case of giving it away for free OR holding out for a check.  I think smart writers will do both… the internet presents an amazing opportunity to use writing you give away to promote writing that you don’t.

Of course, the challenge will still be to find readers, even if they’re reading for free.  But heck, if you know giving it away will help you build an audience for your work, do it.  And use it to promote yourself on the way to making money.

There were some other great things that were said about the internet, performance art, and the writer as rock star, but you’ll have to wait to read about those in another post.

Books, Facebook and Privacy

Facebook is like that popular kid at school who was likeable, could be charming, but inevitably acted like a big bonehead when the chips were down.

Why do I think this? Because they are blowing their biggest commodity (besides their user base, that is): Privacy.

Let me start by saying that I think Facebook is an amazing phenomenon. I use it, I enjoy it, and I tell other people to use it if they aren’t already. This is because of what can be accomplished with Facebook’s technology. It has little to do with the brand facebook is creating, which as Debbie Stier mentioned on her blog, is beginning to feel really sinister and sneaky.

I feel the same way, as I often feel when a company becomes very large, and then very cocky, doing things that would never fly if they were not so large (and cocky). I felt the same way when Microsoft when they programmed their operating system to disable competing programs upon installation.

The reason Debbie and many others feel this way is related to the way Facebook treats their users privacy. My understanding, upon signing up for Facebook, was that is was a closed network, accessible by invitation only. I had to invite, and have that invitation accepted (or vice versa) in order to “see” someone else’s comments, interests, etc. I felt safe in expressing myself in ways that I might not on a completely public website (nothing lurid, just personal photos, opinions, things that distract from my professional persona that is designed for more public consumption).

But since signing on, Facebook has changed their privacy settings and policies a number of times, and changed my privacy settings in the bargain. I have had to go through several complex and confusing hoops in order and change them back. The marketing wisdom in this? That by pushing people towards allowing all their information to become public, they will become a more profitable product for Facebook to sell to marketers and advertisers.

But wait… I’m a marketer. And I believe that Facebook is a great platform to reach you and tell you about books that I think you might want to read. I would love to get a look at all your personal preferences and interests, designing unique promotional campaigns designed around your interests, delivered exclusively to you. What’s wrong with that? Nothing. As long as you’ve asked for it.

That would be called “opting in”, and Danah Boyd had some great things to say about this in a recent article. It’s a key principle in “permission marketing” a term coined by Seth Godin.

However, Facebook seems to want to change their privacy contract and start pushing marketing at you that you didn’t ask for. If you want to get rid of it, you must “opt out”, going through procedures that are increasingly complex, anti-intuitive and confusing.

Opting in should be standard… you shouldn’t have to wonder every week whether previously private information is now public, or whether you’ve pressed the right buttons, only to find out later that you haven’t. You should be offered a choice to opt in upfront, and if you ignore it, your privacy setting should remain as your original contract proscribes.

I think the way that going about this whole Private vs. Public thing is going to continue to erode trust in Facebook. And yes, I know that they have 50 million users. I also know that 3 big television networks once controlled almost all of the video available in America, that Microsoft was never going to fall from dominance, and that Friendster was here to stay. Things change, and users can be fickle. Given the choice to become part of a social network that offered the same services and trustworthy, user friendly policies? I know what I’d choose.

But all of that is beside my main point. I believe that as our lives become increasingly public, as the exposure to and through online media becomes more and more prevalent, Privacy will be the next big, valuable asset in online interactions: something desired, sought after, and achieved with great difficulty. Facebook built a network on that principle, and now they want to throw it away.

At this rate, when Privacy becomes the next big thing, Facebook will no longer have it

Whose Job is It to Sell a Book

Many authors arrive in the publishing world with a preconception that their job will be done when they sign off on the final version of the manuscript and the book is finally printed. Most find that they are quite wrong in this assumption.

The job of selling has traditionally belonged to booksellers. After all, that’s their job description: Book. Sellers.

And as writers, we like to think that publishers are going to take on the more mysterious job of “marketing” the book. Which is another word for “selling”, though it doesn’t usually involve a transaction. The function of marketing is to find the potential buyer of a book and then to illuminate the reason they should actually make the purchase. So in this way, marketing is selling… giving people a reason to buy.

There has been a great deal of talk about how (most) writers now bear most of the responsibility of marketing their books. I don’t think that this is a new thing, however much we’d like to harken back to a golden age when all writers did was write.

The fact is, writers have always been responsible for selling their books. First, they must “sell” the book to an agent (or perhaps directly to the publisher, if a small house, or back in the “olden days” when publishers accepted unagented submissions). This was the first sell, and it has always been the writer’s responsibility to sell the book to the industry (even famous writers have to sell their books: their fame is what they use to sell them!).

But it doesn’t stop there. Once she has agreed to represent the book, the agent literally has to sell the book to a publisher, which generally means an editor needs to be persuaded to champion the book, and sell it to his publishing house.

Now that the book has found a publisher, the book must be refined, cover art designed, a release date chosen… other aspects that go into selling the book to… you guessed it: book sellers. And now that the bookseller has it? Whose responsibility is it to sell the book to that eager reader who will love this book, once they know it exists? The bookseller? The publishing house? The editor? The agent? The writer?

Yeah, you guessed it. All of them. And while self publishing is changing the landscape of this industry, who wouldn’t want a team of passionately devoted, intelligent, informed believers in her book to stand behind it and sell it? And for the self publisher… take a note: You’ll need to build a team of sellers to compete.

I think what many writers fail to realize is that when they strive to have their books published, they have entered the publishing industry. For better or for worse, regardless of its history or future. Writers need to learn how this industry works, and how to make it work to their advantage. I think smart writers have always done this, brining in additional marketing muscle when the publisher is unable to do so.

So the writer starts by selling the book, and once the book hits the stores, the writer and his team are once again out there, using whatever media is available, social or traditional, to sell this book with the end result that the book is purchased and enjoyed by the reader… who at the end of the day, is the most important seller of all.

Social media has made the role of the reader/recommender of books more immediate and more potent. My advice is to start building a team, make sure they collaborate effectively with one (sales oriented) goal in mind: to make the reader into the book’s chief seller.

That’s where I come in… innovating the use of social media to engage readers and make them champions of the books they love. Let me know if you’d like me on your team!


    Unlock the Curse: Why Readers, Writers and Book Bloggers Should Be Playing

    Note to readers:  This article was originally published early in 2010 as one of only three articles posted on my original blog.  I’m reposting here so that you won’t have to jump to my old, and defunct blog.

    So some of you have been following the online contest/game, Beautiful Creatures: Unlock the Curse, featuring challenges designed around Beautiful Creatures and six other amazing YA novels: Wicked Lovely by Melissa MarrTithe by Holly BlackCity of Bonesby Cassandra ClareShiver by Maggie StiefvaterThe Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, and Rampant by Diana Peterfreund.

    Now I was planning (and still am) to write more in depth about this promotion when it’s complete. But in the meantime, I just had to say something to those of you who are, for one reason or another, not playing Unlock the Curse.

    You should play.

    Even if you don’t care about winning the prize, (the amazing, magical locket that revealed the source of the curse to Lena and Ethan in Beautiful Creatures), you should play. Really. I mean it.

    Wow. I’m glad I got that off my chest.

    Now I’m going to tell you why everyone who likes even one of these books should be playing this game:

    Are you ready? Alright… here goes.

    Because it’s fun.

    It’s fun on some pretty serious levels: It brings you into contact with other readers in interesting ways; It gets you to think; It gets you involved the worlds of other books you might not otherwise read, but you will now; And did I mention it’s fun?

    How do I know that it’s all of these things to the players of the game? Because that’s what the game is designed to do. And because the players say so. They tell me and each other. That’s actually part of the game.

    I really believe that this sort of engagement is one of the ways that we can effectively involve readers, putting great authors together to support one another’s books, creating channels of fiction grouped by writers’ and readers’ natural preferences. It’s a little blog-o-system, and it allows books to catch on in a contagious sort of way. It does things an advertisement could never do, and creates results a randomized contest drawing just isn’t designed to do.

    I’ll write more about this when the competition ends, but in the meantime, if you want to get more connected to readers and look at new ways of engaging their interest online, play this game. NOW.