My new novella features drug-dealing pirate impersonators, so I wanted to create a funny book trailer about a pirate casting call. I imagined some of them being historically accurate, a few doing their best Johnny Depp (or Keith Richards) impression, and one or two drunks in ill-fitting Halloween costumes. Every one of them would be horribly offended by my depiction of pirate impersonators in Crossed Bones.
I put a call out on Facebook asking if anybody had recommendations for pirate impersonators in the Los Angeles area—the tribe didn't disappoint. Next I contacted a commercial director I know to see if he’d be interested in working on the project—he was. Everything was falling into place, but I was hesitant to pull the trigger because I had done this once before.
There was a trailer for my first Greg Salem novel, Bad Citizen Corporation, back in 2015. I was pretty happy with the end product considering it was made on a shoestring budget, but had a hard time getting anybody to watch it outside of my own social media base. The whole experience left me wondering if book trailers are worth it for authors at my stage of the game.
I needed feedback. So I pitched the Crossed Bones trailer idea to my publisher, Eric Campbell, and his team at Down & Out Books. Everybody on the call liked the concept, but we came to the conclusion that a book trailer would only be worth the time, effort and cost (professional pirate impersonators don't come cheap!) if there was additional marketing money to distribute and promote it—money that could be used for other forms of book marketing. We decided to move on.
End of story, right? Wrong!
I still wondered if we'd made the right decision by scrapping the trailer concept. I mean, plenty of authors are making book trailers every day. Several bloggers have written detailed and informative posts on the topic. There's a cottage industry of companies that can help you script, shoot, edit and distribute high quality video for a fee. And there are free and paid apps that make professional-looking DIY videos a reality.
Given all of the resources at our disposal, why don't more authors in the crime and mystery scene make trailers? I decided to ask a couple of publicists their opinion.
"When I’m consulting with authors, book trailers are actually lower on my list of 'musts,’" said Wiley Saichek, who spearheaded online publicity campaigns for The Book Report Network's AuthorsOnTheWeb division for a decade before leaving to establish Saichek Publicity in 2013.
Those ‘musts’? Professional editing, professional cover design, an author website with a newsletter/mailing list, a social media presence, an online advertising budget, and a publicity budget. If an author (and their publisher, if they have one) has resources left after going through that list, according to Saichek, “having a well-designed/produced trailer can enhance a campaign, but only if the author plans to use the trailer as part of their publicity and marketing strategy.”
As you probably guessed, it often isn’t enough to simply create a book trailer and throw it up on your Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages—unless you’re happy with it mostly being seen by your current fans and friends. That means submitting it to websites that host trailers, convincing bloggers and influencers to share your trailers, and maybe even hiring a pro to help you with an SEO strategy. And just like with the book you’re trying to promote in the first place, the trailer better be really good.
“Make them interesting, make them intriguing, make them professional, and then be sure you use them wherever you can,” said David Ivester, a veteran marketing and publicity consultant working under the umbrella of Author Guide. “They can be embedded into press releases, websites, even some email services have the capability. And don’t forget to add videos and trailers to your author page on Goodreads and Amazon Author Central.”
But when it comes to authors using video to promote books, Ivester doesn’t stop with trailers.
“I also encourage writers to create a YouTube video to talk directly to potential readers. Authors need to think of creating a brand for themselves. An interesting three minute video where the writer talks about what inspires them to write, hobbies, and who you enjoy reading will help you connect with a potential reader as a person who happens to be a writer,” Ivester said.
That’s great advice and I can’t thank Wiley Saichek and David Ivester enough for taking the time to answer my questions. Alas, it comes a little late for my ill-fated Crossed Bones book trailer. But there will be other books and other opportunities to second-guess myself about getting the word out about them. I'd love to know what you think about book trailers in the comments section below.
In the meantime, I’m going to be busy for the next couple of months. You can find a full list of my upcoming events, check out my blog, and listen to the latest episode of the Writer Types podcast at my website.