Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Wagging Our Tales Behind Them

Sharon Wildwind

This morning I want to talk about bravery.

Not bravery that makes headlines, or earn medals, or is commemorated on a plaque, but a simply brave, everyday act.

A lot of us who write mysteries were born before the personal computer, iPod, picture cell phone, or Blackberries. Heck, some of us were born before the fax machine or cable television. A few of us might even have been born before television itself.

In a shrinking publishing market with changing and uncertain promotional venues, writers who are by no means technologically-savvy or even technologically-comfortable, step up to take chances. We develop and maintain web sites. We blog. We send book trailers out into the world, wagging our tales behind them.

This past week my husband and I did a brief survey of book trailers on YouTube. We wanted to see what two viewers—one who knew more about mysteries than computers and the other vice versa—would find coming to mystery book trailers cold. Let me stress that what follows is strictly personal opinion.

My husband and I each spend several hours, almost every day, on computers, and a fair bit of that time is spent connected to the Internet. My husband had spent a lot of time on YouTube in the past four months; I’d spent none. In fact, I wasn’t sure how to get to YouTube until he showed me. Yet, neither one of us had ever seen a computerized mystery book trailer. So the first thing that we learned was that unless we went looking for them, we weren’t going to trip over a trailer on our way to other things.

That, in itself, says something about who sees trailers. The viewer has to know they are out there and go looking for them.

We watched roughly 100 book trailers chosen at random. Approximately 45% had 100 hits or less in the past year. A few of them had hits in the thousands and the one that had the most hits by far, about 25,000, had the words “toilet humor” in the search words. It was also filmed in a public toilet.

So I did a comparison between search words and number of hits. Trailers got more hits when their search words were likely to be popular terms, which had absolutely nothing to do with mysteries. Will a wine-lover, looking for a information on a really good bordeaux, care about a mystery trailer in which the main character brings a bottle of really good bordeaux to a party? The number of times viewed suggested, yes, maybe. But cross-checking the book advertised with the sales on amazon.com didn’t show anything spectacular. Lots of hits on the trailer, no way of knowing if the viewer watched the trailer all the way through once they got to the site, and not a lot of book sales.

Some of the trailers were mini-dramas, scripted and professionally or semi-professionally videotaped. These tended to fare better in the bean counting than the ones that were slides backed by music. Production values for all of them, no matter what format, ranged from barely acceptable to really, really awful. Many of them were far too long, with the best ones for holding our interest all the way through being 50 to 60 seconds in length.

Many of them lacked information such as publisher, publication year, where to buy the book, or ISBN number, all of which would have been extremely helpful to know if I had wanted to go looking for the book.

There seems to be a perception out there that if I’m really entranced by the trailer, I will Google the author, go to his or her site or go to amazon or a similar site, and get that additional information. The answer to that is, no I won’t. If it’s not in the trailer, I’m not going looking for it.

After a week of watching trailers, I have sad news for all of us. None of the authors’ names stuck with me. None of the trailers convinced me to buy a single book or even check one out from the library.

This is where the bravery comes in. We’re the ones in the vanguard. Ain’t no one out there going to tell us how to be successful with book trailers, because no one knows—yet. But like that well-worn example of the bumblebee who doesn’t know he can’t fly so he goes ahead and does it, we’ll keep making book trailers. And I hope, no I expect, that we’ll get better and better at them. And the fortunate thing is that computer-technology is such a fast medium, we’re going to see better results soon, or sooner, or even soonest.

For what they are worth, here are some things I learned last week about mystery book trailers:
~Keep them short. 50 to 60 seconds is a good length with which to begin experimenting.
~Work with a stop watch. Time out the flow. You certainly don’t want every image on the screen the exact same length of time, but images that contain words, like your book cover, should be on the screen slightly longer than non-word images.
~Be still when words are involved. It’s hard enough to read words on a screen without having them moving across the screen or vibrating in and out at the same time.
~As Joe Friday once said, “The fact, ma’am. The facts.” Title, author, publisher, publication year, where to buy the book, ISBN number, and contact information for the author.
~Don’t attempt to raise the viewer to an unbridled pitch of unrequited excitement in 60 seconds. Don’t leave the viewer with more questions than answers. Use the journalistic who, what, when, where, and why. Think in terms of that one-line elevator pitch that we frequently discuss on the mystery lists.
~Experiment with ways to change images all you want, but in the finish product use one or two per trailer. Yes, I know your computer may be able to do twenty-seven different kinds of screen wipes, but I really don’t want to see all of them in the next minute.
~Use moving pictures whenever you can. Show the viewer something that will augment the book, like the small town in which you set the book.
~Think of trailers as disposable items. Make two, they’re small. Make them often. Aim for a dozen or two dozen that you can mix-and-match, depending on your venue.
~Forget YouTube. Forget catching a viewer on the fly with search words. If you build it that way, they will not come. Tie your videos into your web site or your blog or some place that people are already coming to look for you.
~Give the viewer a choice: a button on your web site that says “View my latest book trailer here,” rather than making them sit through a download every time they come to your site. Believe it or not, we have crossed over the 50/50 mark. More than 50% of computer owners in North America are now on broadband and less than 50% are still using dial-up modems. However, many, many users are using older equipment or have bare-minimum computer skills. Aim for the least-technological viewer or make different trailers to reach different populations.
~The question of copyright could take an entire book. Bottom line is if you use any visual or sound not in the public domain you’ve cheated another artist out of money.

Writing quote for the week:

You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.
~Annie Dillard, writer and journal keeper


Lonnie Cruse said...

Great information, Sharon! I've watched a couple of videos there, but had no idea what all was involved.

English said...

YouTube is not the best place for Book Trailers. As a Book Trailer marketing specialist who works with major booksellers, reader groups, libararies and specialty sites, as well as someone who has created, evaluated and shared a survey of common readers on what works or doesn't with Book Trailers, I would like to say that many of your observations are right on target.
I don't like to sit through a video intro to a website at all. I want to choose to see the trailer. Most people who look for entertainment online are like that. They also are more likely owners of TiVo and DVRs.

Book Trailers absolutely sell books. Working with so many booksellers who take videos as content, not co-op, I can say that if they didn't work, booksellers wouldn't waste their time with them. And now more publishers are watching regions where trailers are on TV as well as online and they are seeing an increase as well.

I've been working with trailers since 2002. There is definately a science behind making them effective. Putting them on YouTube and hoping for the best isn't on my list of "Most Effective Ways to Use a Book Trailer".

There are many reasons to use a trailer that have little to do with direct sales. Long term marketing with branding and hightened awareness is another use.

The trailers that are more theatrical are better received by readers and booksellers. Even through production budgets may be low at present, so were production budgets of music videos (and some of those were terrible in the beginning!) but look what music videos did for the music industry. There are reasons other than selling your own book to hope that book trailers are successful with the public. Not just with readers...but with potential readers or occassional readers.

Distribution is more important than the trailer itself, though the trailer needs to be good. The right kind of distribution, the right target audience, are all essential to promotion using a trailer.

This was such an interesting blog! I'm so glad I came across it! Kudos to you for so much hard work and time involved in your personal study on trailers!