In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author and book cover designer Richard Sutton asks book trailer producers and the authors who hire them to stay focused on the task at hand: promoting a book.
In one of my past lives – still actually overflowing into this one – I spent more than twenty-five years as an Adman of sorts. I worked as a graphic designer/art director and also copywriter for a variety of agencies and eventually my own design studio. My learning curve was a rugged one and while I learned from many of the very best professionals, I also learned from some hacks. As a result, my experience ranged really widely, but touched on just about every area of marketing from Mom n’Pop to Corporate. When I sold my design business and became a full time writer and Indian Trader (really, no kidding…), I had to keep up my design skills so I could work up websites and promotions as the technology of marketing shifted, for our new business.
All that said, I have now added cover design as a sideline, and as a result, I get a lot of inquiries to review covers, make suggestions for improvement and even re-design them, create advertising for launches, posters, collateral mailing pieces and now, it seems, book trailers. A few days ago, I received a request from a fiction author I know and respect, to do a review of the trailer for his upcoming launch. OK – I’m always glad to give my opinion, as you probably have already figured out.
The trailer was alright. It did a passable job of conveying the nature of the book, the period, the mood and a little tickle about the characters. But the end? Really, really problematic. The producer had chosen to end the trailer with an ultra-fast scroll down of the Title, the author’s name, and the sales availability/retail locations for the book. Much too fast to read, but following the scroll down, the viewer had to look at a still self-promotion frame for the video producer/artist for a full three seconds, and if I tell you that the images in this frame had nothing to do with the style or content of the video, it is a huge oversimplification. It was awful and I had to stare at it and the artist’s contact info/cred until the trailer was finished. Since it was U-Tube, I was left with the still frame of this artist’s promo, long after the trailer ended.
Let me be perfectly clear here. No professional marketing artist/designer/producer would ever so compromise a client’s message. Ever. Not only did this smack of hobbyist level production, it completely killed the trailer message. I told the author what I thought he should do to improve the trailer, and a day later, he sent in the revision, which corrected some redundancy in the copy, added a credit to an outside reference he’d missed, and slowed the scroll down at the end. IN addition, at my suggestion, following the scroll down, was a last image (or so I thought…) of the book cover. But then, scrolling up from the bottom was a copy blurb promoting the trailer producer/artist and when the trailer actually ended, I was still looking at the promotional page of thumbnails of this artist’s work. I was aghast, but replied to the author’s request by saying that the video was much improved, but effectively hobbled by the unprofessional addition of the producer’s promo. He indicated it had been a friend or something like that. I assume I won’t hear from him again on this matter.
Here’s the thing. If you launch a book with an unprofessional trailer, it is never going to go away, unless you only release it on television broadcast – then it has a relatively short life, and I’ve seen bad commercials forgotten and the product resurrected to sell well. Online, though, it will never die. It will live on and on and on long after its useful lifespan, to haunt you, your book and maybe your future work as well. Don’t make this mistake.
Here’s the thinking: a book trailer is a “commercial”, if you will, for your product. A published book is a product, like any other, that is sold to consumers. When you market your product to consumers, you must work hard to set is aside from all the marketing clutter they will read/view. In the case of a book trailer, at least you know some viewers will see it that are readers within the genre, so some of your work has been done for you already. Still, in the most tangible, personally connecting way you can, you need to do the elevator conversation. In three minutes, you must tell a total stranger what your book is about and motivate them to buy it. A trailer is much shorter, but it uses images which can be more useful than words as they enter a different part of the brain. The imaging cortex stores images along with associations. Words are just stored words, but the two: images and associations, are retained, intact. This is something you can actually control and direct. Amazing stuff!
If your pockets are not deep, you may have to rely upon the services of a friend or acquaintance to produce a trailer for you: mix and stream the music and voice over if you use one, etc., plus find stock footage, shoot new footage and stills and edit it all down to make your pitch with as much impact as possible. It’s not an easy job, and to do it right takes a great deal of skill. But the lasting impression a viewer will retain may well be that last frame. Don’t ever negotiate a trailer deal where the last frame is a promo for the trailer’s producer. EVER. If mutual promotion is the deal breaker, then offer live links on your blog, do a guest blog, tweet out the producers site, etc., etc., but don’t be such a wuss that you let them destroy the efficacy of your promotional trailer by plastering their name on it. As I’ve said, an unprofessional launch can hobble your book.
And those of you, who want to be trailer producers, read this again: Your client’s trailer is not a place to promote yourself. Do it on your own time, anywhere but in their trailer. It makes you look like a dilettante, or worse… It might be tempting to see your name up there, but don’t do it. You will be hurting your client as well as yourself. Consider this a fair warning.