Book trailers (Part 2): What’s the point?

Perhaps the trailer for my new book Grace Note that I posted in part 1 of this book trailer discussion is the only one you’ve ever seen.  But take my word for it: there are thousands for book trailers around.  Just visit booktrailers or book trailers for readers or book screening  to see what I mean.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  But the question still remains:  Is there a point (or bottom line enhancement) to this new addition to the book marketers’ strategies?

I did a bit of empirical research on this question.  Sound impressive?  I posted a couple of questions on a couple of book sites to ask these avid readers if book trailers ever influence their book-buying.  The general theme of the comments was a resounding “no.”  A couple of responders, though, did suggest that book trailers might influence their selection of non-fiction more strongly than fiction.  Perhaps that’s because it’s perceived that a book trailer might provide some information that would help you to see what’s inside the book like we used to do when we all browsed bookstores.  However, with those nifty “see inside the book” options on web-based bookstores, we already get that experience.

As hard as I’ve tried, I have been unable to unearth any credible stats on the success (or lack thereof) of book trailers in promoting new books.  There are vague references to engaging younger readers such as teens by using this visual medium via YouTube, and further references to placing book trailers into movie previews in theaters, although I would wager a guess that this would likely confuse the audience.  Is it a movie?  Is it a book?

A 2008 article in the industry publication Bookseller discussed how book publishers were at that point finally becoming aware of the potential of social media in selling books.  At that time, author Hannah Davies suggested that, “Publishers are starting to prove their online credentials, despite initially lagging behind other creative industries in the development of user-friendly and content-rich websites.”[1]  That lag in the book selling industry doesn’t surprise me much given my 20+ years of experience as an author within the traditional publishing industry.  She quotes the results of a study by the PR firm Fleishman-Hilliard who studied the buying habits of 5000 people and concluded that “…the internet has eight times the impact of traditional print media on the average consumer’s buying decisions.”  That’s interesting and probably sufficient
rationale for using web-based marketing, but it still doesn’t support book trailers per se.

It seems that the publisher Wiley was one of the first to use videos to promote books by posting an early  series of videos on YouTube to support its business and personal development titles.  This might be the reason that one of the responders to my informal survey indicated that she might buy a non-fiction book while another one said that she didn’t even know there were book trailers for fiction.

The frustrating thing about the issue of book trailers is that although they’re fun (and fairly easy to produce) there is no evidence that they actually contribute materially to the success of a book in the market place.  When asked if they are cost-effective, it seems that publishers point to the relatively low cost of a book trailer as part of an essential online publicity campaign, regardless of its effectiveness.[2]

All of this has gotten me thinking:  I think I’ll develop a book trailer for my book Ethics in Public Relations: A Guide to Best Practice the second edition of which was published by Kogan-Page in the UK in 2009.  Should be a real blockbuster, don’t you
think?

Book promotion…and the fun of an author tour

author tourWhen I think back over the years through all of the books that I’ve published – of different genres – it occurs to me that I’ve learned a lot about book promotion.  There are lots of things that authors themselves can and should (and need to) do to promote their books, but I’m here to tell you that since that first book of mine was published over 20 years ago, everything has changed.  With the advent of social media and online conversations, all bets are off and the tried and true methods for book promotion will never be the same.

That said, at the time when my first book was published, I had a romantic notion of the author tour.  And when my publisher told me that there would, indeed, be a tour, I was delighted – my 15 minutes of fame if Andy Warhol was right.  So, off I went to points west (since I live on the east coast everything is west) to be wined and dined and toured.  Okay, there was actually no wining and dining, but there were publicists who picked me up hotels and took me to media interviews.

I talked to print journalists who took photos and wrote bits and pieces; I did live television interviews; I did remote television interviews (where you talk into a camera lens as if you were really talking to the interviewer all the while with an earpiece that threatens to fall out); I did radio shows.  And, I might mention, I did all of this while increasingly pregnant.

Finding the appropriate and TV-friendly maternity wardrobe was something of a challenge I have to say.  Remember, if you’ve been reading my blog you realize that this backstory is about my first book which was published over 20 years ago – so we’re talking about the late 1980’s.  When it comes to fashion, need I say more?

I flew to Vancouver first and was immediately whisked to two television interviews.

life without end
My First Book

You may recall that the book was about organ transplantation and was actually a bit controversial since I didn’t just worship at the feet of the transplant surgeons whose God-like presence saved lives.  The book asked questions about the ethics of some of the decisions that were made and how they were made.  It made for great television to pit this lone health writer with real experience in the business against the powerful medical establishment.  (I’ll tell you a bit more about how even unwelcome controversy can promote a book in a later blog post.)

Then I was off to Toronto for more television, radio and print interviews.  Notice how the smaller media markets were skipped: all of this to save money on the author tour for which my publisher (and the Canadian government grants) paid.

But the question we need to ask today is this: was it useful to do this (fun  notwithstanding)?  I’m not sure.  There’s little doubt that publicity for this kind of non-fiction book can be generated this way, but this does not necessarily translate into sales, and the publicity machine has changed dramatically since that time.  All the rules and vehicles have been transformed.

In a piece written last year by Carolyn Kellogg for the LA Times book blog, she says this: “As the business of publishing changes, book tours increasingly look like bad risks.” She goes on to say that people these days are less inclined to be drawn to books via the “hype machine” rather they rely on recommendations from others, and we all know where these increasingly come from: our “friends” on social networking sites and searches we do for ourselves online.  This way, our book choices come from
custom-made recommendations for us.  And you know that in these days of social media – it really is all about “me.”  For better or for worse. The latest buzz on the author tour scene is what is referred to as the “blog tour.”  I’m currently researching
this for my new book due out in about six weeks.

An author can set up a blog tour through some blogger link-up sites or through what are now known as blog tour companies (who knew?).  A blog tour is simply a strategy whereby an author “visits” appropriate blogs (book blogs, blogs on the conten
of your book etc.) and either “guest blogs” or provides answers to questions posed by the blogger who owns the site and then this becomes a Q & A blog post for that blogger.

As one book publicity blog I like suggests: “A blog tour is simply one type of online publicity.”

I’ll let you know how the blog tour works out since it’s unlikely that there will be a real tour for this one!

FYI: Read about one author’s blog tour in the New York Times.

Fame…or something like it

Everyone I know thinks that once you have your name on the front of a book, you have it made.  Fame?  Fortune?  I think not.  And yet there is something about seeing your name on the front of that first book.  It’s a great feeling of accomplishment but…it’s not fame; and it’s certainly not fortune.

Rich and famous and writing books are only linked when they’re in that order.”  This really resonated with me when I read it in the Guardian book blog a while ago.  I’ve often said that books don’t sell themselves unless your name is Oprah (or a reasonable facsimile).  And yet we keep doing it.  Why?

There’s a great deal more to life than being rich, and if Andy Warhol was right, we all really do get that 15 minutes of fame — but that’s all most of us get.  Just ask all those so-called reality TV stars!  We still hope that the next book will strike a cord and really take off.  After all, writing a book is like opening your mind to an audience and inviting them in.  Sometimes they come in and sometimes they don’t.  Despite it all, I still have stories left to tell and I’m going to tell them.