The Anatomy of Effective Book Trailers

The Anatomy of Effective Book Trailers

Over the last few years book trailers have popped in and out of news feeds. Despite the buzz word ‘book trailers‘ first being used almost ten years ago, this marketing tool is still a new means of book promotion.

A book trailer is essentially a mini commercial much like a movie trailer, that captures the tone and message of the book, moving viewers to become book buyers. That’s the ‘purpose’ of book trailers. What can be considered an effective and successful book trailer, are very few and far between.

The Anatomy of a book trailer is that it remains short and sweet, no more than about a minute and twenty seconds long. Good trailers are not retelling the entire story. It should grab the viewers attention and move them to laugh, cry or excite and intrigue with glimpses of what the book is about. A well made book trailer should end with an image of the book, title, author, website address and availability. These make up the ‘call to action’ aspect of the trailer encouraging viewers to take action.

It’s important to note that a book trailer is part of a larger marketing vision and like other book marketing tools and strategies, it needs context and promotion throughout a given campaign.

Before publishing I worked in television and video games, creating animations and trailers, promoting products, shows and games. Creating compelling and effective trailers was all about making an emotional impact like feeling compassion or creating a sense of an adrenaline rush. This connects with the viewer emotionally.

From a marketing point of view, we purchase based on emotions, yet justify the purchase with logic. This is a driving force behind effective movie and video game trailers, to evoke an emotional response that ultimately moves the viewer into action. This is either sharing with a friend, purchasing a ticket or in the case of book trailers, buying the book.

The single biggest reason book trailers don’t work is because they don’t compel the reader into action and don’t clearly present what the book is about. Below are my picks of the best, most effective book trailers around today.

Some of the best examples of book trailers to date

The 4 Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman


The most known and successful book trailer to date is Tim Ferris’ book trailer for the ‘The 4 Hour Body’. It runs for 59 seconds. Short, punchy, conveying just the right energy which it’s target audience relates too.

It’s premiere on the Huffington post sent The 4-Hour Body from number 150 to number 30 on Amazon, where it continued to climb to number one. Tim Ferris is the only one I’ve come across that’s looked at measuring the success of the trailer’s impact on awareness and book sales.

Tim invested close to $12,000 in total for the production and leveraged cross promotion with videographers and the small crew, to curve costs. This is clearly emulating the editing style and tone of a Hollywood action flick. It’s targeted perfectly at it’s male audience between about 22 and 55 years old.

Don’t be swayed by the investment tag. It’s amazing what you can get done with some bartering, favours from colleagues and a couple hundred dollars in your pocket. You should instead be looking at the editing, pacing and how it captures your attention, while conveying the idea of the content in the book. That’s what a good book trailer should do.

Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel for Brilliance


This is an effective trailer, yet a very different tone to The 4 Hour Body trailer. Author Jonathan Fields’ book ‘Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel for Brilliance’, is clearly going for a very emotive and personal trailer. This will have you either love it or hate it, depending on your own sensibilities.

You get a clear sense of who he is and why he has written the book. Some good quotes from well-known people help lend credibility and social proof. Overall, it does the job of a good book trailer by giving you a taste of the book with ideas and a message. It’s clean, shot well by his hand picked video director and Jonathan has mentioned it only took about 30 minutes of filming, with the following couple of weeks for editing and scoring.

Stephen King’s Duma Key


This trailer might be the first book trailer that actually captured my attention. Up until I saw ‘Stephen King’s Duma Key’ trailer, I was quite jaded with the bad quality of trailers with painfully slow scrolling titles, panning and poor choice of free stock images.

This trailer is clearly not the same quality benchmark as the The 4 Hour Body, but the editing, pacing and choice of soundtrack, is really put together well to evoke a creepy, mysterious and intriguing experience. Again, short and punchy. This is a good example you don’t need many thousands of dollars to create something that’s effective.

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters


This book is a parody mix-mash based on the original and beloved Jane Austen novel. The Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters trailer does a solid job of conveying the tongue and cheek tone of the book. Bigger budget than Duma Key, equal that of a decent short film of between $6,000-$8,000. It was produced by publisher Quirk Books who contracted a freelance video director, grips, editing and an FX animation artist.

The future of book trailers

As the adoption of tablets and mobile devices for reading and consuming entertainment in all forms continues to skyrocket, it’s likely that book trailers will become a popular tool in creating an experience within book apps and interactive reading experiences.

With the success of The 4 Hour Body trailer and Tim’s measuring of it’s direct impact, more people will begin to embrace book trailers as a valid tool for book marketing. When processes and strategies continue to develop that consistently prove sales, you’ll find the adoption of book trailers take off to the next level.

Do you think book trailers are effective? Have you considered a book trailer for your book? Leave a comment below.

Lights, Camera…Action!
Anthony

8 Responses to The Anatomy of Effective Book Trailers

  1. Have they actually made a movie Sense and Sensibility and the Sea Monsters? The trailer had me interested, but not sure if it was to read the book as much as wanting to watch a full movie? This leads me to think that a book trailer can be too theatrical. Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance delivered a personal aspect. I related to Jonathan Field as the author whereas I didn’t take notice of the author of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters.

    • They haven’t yet, as far as I know. I know there has been attempts to turn one of the Sense & Sensibility spin-off’s into a film with no success. Interesting point about it being too theatrical. The Duma Key trailer doesn’t focus on the author either apart from the name at the end, much like S&S, but perhaps the length was a factor. At 2:50 it’s long for a book trailer.

  2. Enjoyed your article and it was really educational having the opportunity to see the different book trailers. I have to say that I was blown away by the one for Stephen King’s new book – in fact I am going to jump on over to Amazon and put it on my Wish List … I’d say that’s as good a testimonial to the trailer’s effectiveness as it gets. Thanks!

  3. I think Dawn makes an excellent point – I was far more interested in the Turning Fear trailer – though I thought it was too long, and risked losing viewers along the way. I’m not a Stephen King fan, but I think his trailer was spot-on for his kind of book because people already know his name and reputation and what to expect from his work. The Four hour body was brilliantly made – but made me think of dvds rather than books.
    When I publish later this year, I think I’ll go for a partly-personal approach with my trailer – a little bit of chat from me interspersed with appropriate and intriguing footage. That’s the plan anyway!

    • The Duma Key trailer is short, sweet and punchy. That’s it’s biggest strength, just like the 4-hour body. I think that’s an efficient way of producing your own book trailer Gilly. I think the key for you is making sure your message is consistent and have nice transitions. Thanks for the comment!

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