I admit it: when my publicist asked if book trailers actually help me sell books, I wasn’t exactly sure. The trailer I just shot for my new short story collection, Ghost Summer: Stories, simply appeared as an inspiration: I get to make a movie!
This is my third trailer and my most ambitious: my first, for my African Immortals novel My Soul to Take, was all in one take, so it didn’t require editing. My trailer for my YA zombie novel Devil’s Wake was from an iMovie trailer template I learned how to use during an hour-long Apple workshop.
But for THIS one, I shot all of my footage and edited it from scratch using the iMovie app on my iPhone 6. All of the images and audio were directly input to the phone. Some audio was free in the app’s library.
The result, I think, is pretty darn scary for 71 seconds and true to the spirit of the stories in my collection, which are a mix of horror and science fiction I have published since 2000. (You can read “Patient Zero,” the story that inspired my son’s image in the trailer, in Lightspeed magazine here. It was included in two best-of-the-year sci fi anthologies when it was originally published.)
The trailer isn’t perfect, of course. But after several viewings, I finally stopped comparing the final trailer to the one I’d envisioned, since my talent (my son) was a bit distracted and wasn’t down with retakes. Now I accept it for what it is, not what I imagined. (And he did a GREAT job with the voiceovers and posing.)
Why do I love making book trailers? That’s easy. After twenty years of publishing, the only film adaptation I’ve seen from my work so far is a short film we adapted from a zombie short story in this collection, “Danger Word,” I co-authored with my husband, Steven Barnes. (The film, directed by Luchina Fisher, stars veteran actor Frankie Faison and teenage gem Saoirse Scott.) We crowdfunded to raised money, primarily through Facebook and Indiegogo.
I am a screenwriter as well as a novelist (with a lot of curiosity about directing), so trailers are a great creative outlet. But with a couple of caveats, I think book trailers are a great exercise for all writers who want to both publicize their books and tickle their own imaginations. We’re living in a world where video is of greater and greater importance. To me, no experience can replace reading a good book, so video doesn’t feel threatening–for me, a film adaptation would just be a great chance to sell more books.
First caveat: Don’t spend a lot of money. (Or any, if you can help it.) Today’s smartphones make it easy to shoot high-quality video, and there are plenty of YouTube tutorials on how to use iMovie and the iMovie app. Even if you just use a template like I did with my second trailer, it’s a visual expression of your vision.
Second caveat: Don’t expect a trailer to make books jump off the shelves. I don’t have anything close to statistics on how trailers translate to sales, which was my publicist’s point. Create a trailer in the spirit of fun.
But here are five reasons I think trailers are a great idea:
Trailers are a basic introduction to filmmaking. As I tell my writing and screenwriting students all the time, chances are high that if your work is ever adapted for film or television, you’ll have had a lot to do with making that happen. The more proactive writers are about learning how to deal with the world of film and television, the better the chances of adaptation — including learning how to write your own screenplay. A book is not a screenplay or storyboard, so even if an executive is interested in your book, they often need a visual walkthrough. A creative trailer with a “take” on your story not only grows your skills, but can serve as a mini blueprint. (But make sure candid critics think it’s good enough to share. Pay special attention to sound and lighting.)
Trailers can be a love letter to your fans. Your readers would love to see a film adaptation of your work as much as you would, so a fun book trailer is another way of dreaming together and enjoying even a short adaptation.
Trailers are great practice for your friends who want to make movies. The filming of “Danger Word” was a great bonding experience for me, Steve. Luchina, and our editor, Terence Taylor. When I required my screenwriting students at Spelman College to produce a short clip from their screenplays, they drew on friends and family to pull it off. I definitely caught “the bug” on our shoot for Danger Word.
There ARE people who watch book trailers. As you’ll see in this article in the New Yorker and in this article in The Rumpus, “Fantastic Book Trailers and the Reasons They’re Good,” book trailers are actually a thing. They’re used in education as well as for publicity. The Creative Penn also has this article, “Book Trailers and Using Video for Marketing.” As with any other subject, a quick Google search will teach you much of what you need to market your trailer.
All publicity is good publicity. Even previous readers don’t rush right out to buy everything you publish. In sales, popular wisdom says it takes seven-plus contact points before customers are ready to buy. The trailer may not be the final push, but it can be shared, so it can serve as a contact point for more than one person. Any edge in creating buzz helps separate you from the pack.
Give it a try!
Tananarive Due has won an American Book Award and NAACP Image Award. She teaches Afrofuturism at UCLA and in the creative writing MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles. Her new collection, Ghost Summer: Stories, is on sale now.