Demystifying the Book Trailer: An Interview with Sheila Clover English

While assisting Nancy Holder as she developed her new book trailer for The Screaming Season, due in March 2011, I realized how little I knew about this strange new-media marketing tool. Book trailers have been cropping up here and there, announcing the coming of this book or that novel for the last several years. The more I learned about this new type of media promotion, the more I was blown away by the sheer potential of a 30-second video clip, specifically designed to market a new book.

During the early process of designing The Screaming Season’s book trailer, I must have asked Sheila Clover English, CEO of Circle of Seven Productions, a thousand questions. Her patience never wavered as she described the process or explained why things were done in a particular manner. I’m fairly savvy about technology and marketing, and I thought that if I had this many questions about book trailers, there must be others who would also benefit from straightforward, honest answers from a professional within the production industry.

Sheila graciously consented to be interviewed and peppered with even more questions aimed at demystifying the production process and marketing of a book trailer from an author’s point of view.

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What is a book trailer? Where did book trailers come from?
A book trailer is like a movie trailer, but for books. It is a visual synopsis that leaves people wanting more. Book trailers evolved from necessity and opportunity. In 2002, if you Googled the term you wouldn’t have found it. The term was trademarked in 2003 and renewed in 2010.

Like many aspiring authors, I was looking for a way to stand out from the crowd. I was watching television when a really great movie trailer came on and I realized that it inspired me to see the movie, why not a “book trailer” to inspire someone to want a book?

I spoke with my uncle who did videography work and he loved the idea and suggested we do it as a business, so we did.

What are the key benefits of having a book trailer for your book? Other than just talking about a single book, how else can a book trailer be used?
There are a variety of ways you can use book video and in a variety of venues. The internet is a vast and extraordinary landscape. There’s nothing that anyone can write about that doesn’t have an audience. Book video can get you and your book in front of that audience in a way that most audiences are used to consuming entertainment advertising–visually.

But book video can do more than just promote your book. It can be a powerful way to establish a brand, gain publicity and help sell foreign rights or even movie options.
The ways a book video can be utilized continue to grow as technology grows.

What advice would you give to an author who is trying to decide if he should have a book trailer made?
My advice to anyone who is contemplating spending money and/or time on any promotion is to have clear goals for what you’re doing and what you want to get out of it. Your goals may be easily achieved with book video or they may not. Don’t just do something because it seems everyone is doing it.

Book video is a tool. Think of it like a hammer. It is an important tool you use a lot. But, you can’t build a house with just a hammer. Similarly, you can’t build a strong book marketing campaign with just a book video. Treat a book video, or any other promotion, like the tool it is meant to be.

Where can authors find reputable production companies? Can people create their own book trailers using a program like iMovie?
People can certainly create their own book videos using the program on their computer. Whether you have a Mac or a PC, there’s editing software that comes with your computer, and it is very easy to go to a DIY site and learn how to use that editing equipment.

Authors are creative and resourceful. I’ve seen some amazing videos done by authors. We even give special pricing to authors who make their own book videos as a way to support and encourage authors.

One thing to keep in mind is that it takes time to do it. You need to ask yourself how valuable your time is. Perhaps your time is your greatest resource and you have a lot of it, or perhaps you just love creating video, then by all means give it a try!

Remember that having a video is half the work. Once you create it, what will you do with it that will make it a hard-working tool for you? Just putting it up on YouTube and GoodReads is not enough. Have a plan!

Finding a reputable book video production company is important too. My advice on that is–check references! Don’t just take their word for it that they are great, ask the authors or publishers who have used them. Find out what they do for you that you can’t do yourself. Do they have a greater reach in distribution? Can they make better videos because they have advanced equipment and experienced editors? Do they have a strategy once you tell them your goals? Are they even interested in what you hope to achieve with the video? Before you give your money to someone you should know a little about them, their reputation, their reach, their professionalism, quality, etc.

What is the general price range to produce a book trailer? How do you know if the company you have hired will produce a high quality video?
I’ve seen book videos go for $50. They look like someone spent $50 on them. I doubt that’s surprising to anyone. Generally speaking, I see them go for as little as $350 and as much as $10,000. A lot of production companies won’t tell you what the cost is unless you contact them. I do understand that way of thinking. They want to know what your expectations are before they give you a quote. But, you should be able to get them to give you a ballpark figure for basic video and ask them if that includes the distribution. At COS Productions we let you know in advance what the price range is for a given product. You also get to see samples of those products and that’s how you know what kind of video you’re going to get.

Always look at the other videos the company produced. You might want to list the ones you really like and ask them how much those cost. If they are not willing to tell you, I would wonder why. This is a production business, there is no “secret sauce”. They should be forthcoming with answers concerning costs.

What kind or timeline is required for planning, producing, and promoting a book trailer?
I suggest to people that they start with the end. When will the book be released? When would you like booksellers to see it so they can determine if they’d like to feature the video, or stock more books? When would you like it on your site? On YouTube? Start there.

A very basic video will take only a few days to make, but if you want custom work, special effects, voice over or animation you will need 3-6 weeks according to complexity.

Other than money, what resources will authors need when making a book trailer?
They will need time and perseverance. Editing software either on their computer or online (try Animoto! It’s very user-friendly!). Either their own photos that they own or they will need to license photos. Just because it says “royalty free” does not make it free to use. Be sure to read the fine print. I have seen publishers named in law suits over copyright infringement issues surrounding author-made book video. Be careful!
Music, same licensing issues there, but sometimes you can get an unsigned band to let you use their music for credit!

Your book cover! Don’t forget to include that! And your URL!

Once an author has his book trailer, what does he do with it? How does he get it in front of people?
You can upload it to social media sites like YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, DailyMotion, etc. To bookmarking sites like StumbleUpon, Digg, etc. Readers sites of course and to any booksellers you may know. Give it to your publisher! They may have venues as well. Put it on your Amazon Connect account if you have one.

You can always hire a professional company to distribute it, but make sure they offer something of value when they distribute. If they’re just putting it on YouTube and the other usual suspects for online video, you’re really only hiring them to save you time.
Don’t forget to have it playing when you do book signings or other events. If you keep it to 30 seconds you can always use it as an advertisement if you want to pay for that.

Put it on your own website! Link to it in your newsletter or signature line. Be creative!

What book trailers do you think were particularly well done? Do you have any favorites? What is it about these trailers that make them so effective?
I love different book videos for different reasons. Mostly, I like the ones that make me feel something.

I love Dogtown by Stefan Bechtel and Mickey Rourke done by VidLit because I love animals, I love how they used so many elements and it’s so interesting!

I love Leviathon by Scott Westerfeld (can’t recall who made it) but it is amazing animation!!

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith cracks me up!!!

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer gives you that “gasp factor”

Neverland by Douglas Clegg is so creepy! I love it!

I could go on and on! There are a lot that I love!

These are visually effective. However, there are some that are very simple, but were effective in creating a reader community and going viral.

Evermore by Alyson Noël has over 200,000 views on YT and the book hit the NY bestseller list!

Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick was a huge success because the goal was to let people know about a new series and get them to talk about it. And talk they did!

Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier is quirky with quirky animation and was blogged about more than any book video we’ve ever created!

Do you have any final advice for authors who are deciding on whether or not to make a book trailer?
Yes, don’t do anything without purpose and goals. Write down your goals first. Then determine if a book video is something that can help you attain your goals. Don’t ever feel obligated to do something because it seems popular. Be thoughtful in your decisions, especially if they cost you money or take up your time.

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Sheila Clover English is the CEO of  Circle of Seven Productions. She is a marketing visionary and entrepreneur who works specifically within the publishing industry arena. In 2002 she started the book trailer market and in 2003 trademarked the term “book trailer”. She has worked with top authors such as Christine FeehanDouglas CleggGail Martin,Heather GrahamLA BanksLisa Jackson and publishers such as TOR/ForgeSt. Martin’s PressPenguin USA,Simon & SchusterKensington Publishing and Harper Collinswww.cosproductions.com
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