Lights, Camera, Action!

I belong to several wonderful writing groups, a few of them very focused on marketing. For some reason last week, the subject rolled around to book videos. 

Yes, aren’t they the coolest? But as I perused the many book videos floating on the web and connected to author’s sites, even though my “writer” self was dazzled, I found my “marketing” self cringe. Like many potentially successful marketing tools, I fear most book videos are mis-conceptualized, misdirected and mismanaged. 

I look at book videos (or Book Trailers) a lot because like everyone else; I want to make them for my books. Some of my favorite book videos are at 

The majority of them (in several genres) are 30 seconds and some are less. The purpose of these videos is to keep the viewers attention and entice them to buy the book. It’s about getting sales. 

Now, I completely understand the excitement and attraction to having a promotional video for our book. After all, we’re storytellers and love to tell our story any way we can. Book videos can serve as wonderful marketing vehicles if handled correctly … but I think we should explore a few things about communicating in this particular format. 

So before we fire up our handy-dandy moviemaker computer programs, I seriously think we need to keep in mind what a trailer really is.  

1) A book promotional video is a direct imitation of a movie trailer. AND a movie trailer is a direct application to reaching television viewers. When we watch television, unless it is a paid programming promo, the commercial is no longer than 30 seconds. It’s a pattern we’re conditioned to and that may be why most viewers of book trailers (including me) tend to get bored after 30 seconds. We’re programmed for 30 second clips. 

2) This 30 second format is the reason many children (and adults), no matter the subject or product, will suddenly still and pay attention to a good commercial. (I LOVE the new Mac/PC spots!) A 30 second space of time requires quick impact and clean images to reach the viewer. Some commercials are far better produced than most television shows we watch! 

3) As writers we’re always told to cut back, get more concise, tell the story efficiently. What’s the hardest thing we’re told to do? Write our elevator pitch! 25 words that encapsulate our story, clean, neat, polished. I strongly suggest it’s the same with promotional book videos. 

4) When a book video moves too slowly and tells me nothing for a long time, I tend to imagine that the book is the same. Slow, boring and dragging. This isn’t the impression we want to get across at all. 

My suggestions are: 

A) Treat your promotional book video the way you wrote your book. If it’s fast paced, make the trailer fast paced. If it’s emotional, say that clearly and right away. If the book has twists and turns, let the viewer know that visually and within 30 to 40 seconds

B) Keep it brief and powerful, within 30 to 40 seconds. I do understand that many subscribe to the idea that book videos are targeted to the music video audience, requiring 2 to 3 minutes of entertainment. If your book is paced to be an exciting book video that long, and you know how to create a 2 to 3 minute music video, by all means do it. Remember, it’s all about holding a viewers attention. My attention span for videos is usually 30 seconds and I move on to something else. If your video is going to be 2 to 3 minutes long … make sure the viewer is totally hooked in the first 30 seconds. 

C) Be careful with the slow dissolve full screen verbiage. Think in terms of a movie trailer. They’ve got 30 seconds to excite the viewer about a 2 hour film and gain success at the box office. Like the open of your book, your trailer shouldn’t start as a snoozer. 

D) I have no issues with showing faces or using actors, as long as it gives the feeling of being professionally acted and videoed. 

E) Be careful with voiceover narration. Hire a professional or make sure it sounds professional. Write a narrator script as sharp and tight as your book. 

F) Be very, very careful of the music and images you use in your video. Just because something is on the worldwide web does not mean it’s ours to use. Familiarize yourself with licensing and the appropriate sites where images and music can be used or purchased as well as the limitations for that usage. 

G) The author’s website and the publisher’s website should be clearly shown at the end of a book video. Don’t forget a pocture of the book cover and a line stating where the book can be purchased. You’d be surprised how many book videos forget these critical elements! 

Yup. Done well, these book promotional videos are the greatest! 

And now for the bad news. 

So far, there’s no real proof or way to gauge whether having a book video actually helps sales. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t, it simply means no one has figured out how to track sales in relation to book video viewership.  

I see book videos as just another vehicle for marketing. No matter how wonderful it is or how much time and/or money is spent on it, just popping them on YouTube isn’t all that effective. 

I don’t think every author and every book requires a book video, but having one may be very effective providing you create it well and promote it aggressively. It’s a new toy and until we all discover how to make it a viable moneymaker, it may never become super important to an author’s success. In fact, it has the threat of being a distraction from other, more efficient ways to gain sales. 

But hoh, man, they are so cool and I want one for Cold in California! I can just see it! Flaming torches, hot sex scenes, desperate vampire moments! So someone, anyone, chime in with book video success stories!


About Deborah Riley-Magnus

Deborah Riley-Magnus is an author and an Author Success Coach. She has a twenty-seven year professional background in marketing, advertising, and public relations as a writer for print, television, and radio. She writes fiction and non-fiction. Since 2010, she had two novels released. In 2013 her nonfiction, Finding Author Success (Second Edition), and Cross Marketing Magic for Authors were released. Her newest book, Write Brain/Left Brain, focuses on bridging the gap between the creative writer and the marketing author. Deborah produces several pieces monthly for various websites and online publications. She writes an author industry blog and teaches online and live workshops as The Author Success Coach. She belongs to several writing and professional organizations. Deborah has lived on both the east and west coast of the United States and has traveled the country widely. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and recently returned after living in Los Angeles, California for several years. View all posts by Deborah Riley-Magnus

13 responses to “Lights, Camera, Action!

  • sulci

    You knew I’d rise to the bait on this one…

    I’d never even thought about vids until I came across the notion on a writing community. A promo vid, really well done, but was just a load of still images to suggest a historical work of fiction. It didn’t even have any text from the book in it. Wallpaper. Another was a kid’s book, voiced over against the still of the book’s pictures. Fine and dandy, but still static and if your kid watches the vid, does he/she still need to read the book?

    But there was something to build on. YouTube changes the way people consume their entertainment as downloads changed the way people consumed their music. So given the tastes of YouTubers, I actually let it determine which of my books I would self-publish with my one shot at it. I made the decision, purely on which of my books I gauged would best speak to the YouTubers. Pretty radical huh? Well no, I’d written the book anyway and feel that it would be the easiest to put vids on YouTube that had a chance of connecting.

    While my book is being proofed and printed, I experimented with some home-made vids shot on I-movie. Free, quick and easy. 500-600 views dwarves the amount of reads received on the online writing communities. Also not all the audience were other writers. Plus point. I knew that the sight of a middle aged bloke reading from a MS in hand would quickly bore any YouTuber of diminished attention span. You have to be visual. In the case of these experiments, I went for the tweak of disguising my face behind an array of head gear such as balaclavas, bandages & hoods. And called it “Guerilla Literature”. I wanted the image of this anonymous guy reading out these literary texts to maybe stick in people’s minds (or craws, I’m not choosy). If I’ve established any channel following, then I can hopefully get them back to my vids specifically tailored to my novel.

    For these ones in pre-production, I AM employing an actor to voice over. And what visual treat will I give them? Again, I pay homage to the YouTube predilections. I have storyboarded 6 visual narratives of finger manipulated props and toys and the like that I hope will appeal to their tastes, but fit in with the text in the voiceover. For example, I have commissioned an artist to make me 6 miniature clay torsos, which will ‘act out’ drunken fighting, fumbling & you knwo what, before being mounted on small meathooks which fits in with the text which is about how mobile phones change the way people ‘compose’ snapshot photos. It’s both kitsch and nasty all in one. Memorable? I hope so.

    My only query with Debs’ thoughts are as to the length. I veer towards 6-8 minutes, because first and foremost these are READINGS. Sure they are promotional, but they are tasters of what you get if you read the book. In the same way as while a music vid might tell its own little story through the visuals, you still also get the whole song as the soundtrack. Each should reinforce the other. I’m thinking the same between my text and the visuals on offer. But then my text doesn’t rely on you knowing the plot, but on the lyricism and the rhythm of ths spoken voice itself.

    I’ll let you know the outcome when the vids are shot and uploaded and the book is out. Right now it’s proving a tad frustrating trying to orchestrate it all and I haven’t even got a video-maker sorted yet. Not only author, marketeer, but now film producer! Is there no end to the hats we have to wear?

  • Sheila Clover English

    As the person who coined the phrase “book trailer” and trademarked the term years ago, thus making me “experienced” in the industry, I would like to chime in on this great post.
    I agree with Deb that the shorter ones work better, though I will say that our #1 most watched video was 2 minutes long and the majority of viewers watched all 2 minutes of it. It was a music video/book trailer, so it is an exception to the rule.

    We use to create videos that we up to 3 minutes long. But, over the years we started utilizing analytics so we could monitor what works and what doesn’t. We found that the majority of people were willing to watch a video if it was 90 seconds or less. That is based on accumulated data, not guess work.

    I also agree that you should treat your video like your book. Whatever you want people to think about your book, is what you want them to think about when they watch your video.

    There are many different types of book videos. Each serves a different purpose. And we do have stats that show an average increase of 12% in sales and even more in web traffic when video is used. SEO is greatly increased organically when you use video and that’s worth a lot as well.

    There’s an old saying- “Half of all marketing works. You just don’t know which half.” That is true for any promo. How many sales do you get from blogging? How many from being on Facebook? How many from a print ad? It’s all hard to track. My recommendation for any promo is to set a goal for it and monitor it to make sure it worked.

    We have over 400 videos in our vault. We’ve won over 20 top film industry awards for book video. But at the end of the day, if your video doesn’t have a return on the investment, who cares how good it looks? It is all about performance. It is all about utility.

    There’s a reason for how each of our videos look. There’s a reason for how long it is. Each video is different with different needs and goals. The video reflects the needs of the goals just as much as it reflects the book or the author.

    Though I’m not a fan of long videos, the 6-8 minute video that Sulci talks about is more likely to get picked up for broadcast because it will appear less as a commercial and more as content. Her video may seem too long to someone else, but it may be perfect for her according to her goals.

    YouTube is a necessary evil. Everyone defaults to YouTube when searching for a video. But, it is not the best placement for book video. There are other sites that are so much better. If you upload to YouTube and only get 200-500 views you’re actually doing pretty well for that particular site.

    There are sites that show book videos according to genre.’s BN Studio is one, is another. There are more and those are specific to readers. Reader’s Entertainment TV is owned by COS Productions, but non-COS videos are accepted and placement is free. There are other similar sites, but RECTV is also part of PW’s BookLife program, so there’s always a push to that site for readers.

    In the last 30 days we’ve had over 20 videos picked up for broadcast. They are playing on television at no cost to the author or publisher. More and more we are seeing a trend in this direction. There’s more utility for book videos now.

    I appreciate the opportunity to chat about book trailers! Great blog Deb!

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      So you are the one who trademarked the name “Book Trailer”! Honored to have you here! I was so careful in my copy not to use the words “Book Trailer” loosly, LOL.

      Thank you so much for this! Great imput and great information! That is fantastic news about so many Book Trailers being picked up for broadcast AT NO CHARGE TO THE AUTHOR OR PUBLISHER! All the more reason to do it right, do it powerfully and do it within an easy legnth so that it can be picked up.

      Thanks again, Sheila!


      • Sheila Clover English

        LOL Yep, that was me. Back then if you Googled “Book trailer” you got nothing. So the courts let me trademark the term.
        I’m a very easy going person. I don’t really mind if people use the term as long as they are not selling a product called a book trailer. I’m happy to see the term has turned into a household name!

        I know people have talked about the cost of having one made, but let me say that our $300 videos have been picked up for TV and and Powells take those just as easily as they take the $800 ones. Less expensive doesn’t have to mean less quality or less utility. You don’t have to invest thousands of dollars into a video. Not that I would turn anyone away if they wanted to spend that. lol 😉

  • Deborah Riley-Magnus

    So true! It’s all up in the air as far as whether these creative promo vids actually boost book sales … it so complicated to actually ceate them or expensive to have them made … and yes, no matter what, we, the authors, MUST wear so many hats.

    Video length is always a question, but honestly, IS it a question if the viewer is so enthralled (as with your “readings”) that they can’t turn it off and want to run out and buy the book?

    I think the key is treating the vid the way we treat our books … lean, mean and effective.

  • Monica

    Recommend ensuring that the music and images fall under copyright. Many independent artists will gladly give permission to use their music in your trailer, and there are several copyright-free image websites, too.

    But the mantra that shorter “is” better is SPOT ON. Seriously. Go for the elevator pitch.

  • Deborah Riley-Magnus

    Thanks Monica! This is a woman who knows and has done a great book vid!

  • Jen Bowring

    Hi. I read your post about book videos and had to chime in. 🙂 Here at Free Spirit Publishing, we’ve just produced our first book video (for a kid’s book about bullying) and are about to begin work on our second, for our middle school series. We’re getting the video out to our reps and our library lists, hopeful that they will in turn use the video to talk up the book. We’re also promoting the video to our consumers, to help explain what the book is about and how it can help kids combat bullying. Shorter is better! With many of the videos I’ve watched, they are too long and I lose interest. Also, when they get too lengthy, I feel like the video is just telling me the entire story. I want the video to entice me, not give away the store, so to speak. Just my two cents! Thanks!

  • Erica --

    It seems as though quality over quantity is the key with book trailers. I second the suggestion that professional voice over talent should be employed to record any voiceover narration – not just your friend with a nice voice!

    It is possible to hire professional talent quickly via online services such as (disclosure – I am an employee of Many talent have home studios and are thus able to offer their services at a more reasonable rate than if you were to have to purchase time in a recording studio. In addition, an online service with many voice talent offers a wide variety of choices for anyone making a book trailer.

    We have assisted clients in hiring voices for their book trailers, as you can read about here:

  • Deborah Riley-Magnus

    Thanks so much, Erica! Every tip and guiding post helps with these projects. Now we’ve learned that book videos can be highly visible … AND that elements of it are available to make the piece wonderful!

    Appreciate your input!

  • Pabbigree

    Intresting, this was actually a very great read! thanks

    Watch Movies Online Now

  • Book Trailers Today … Getting the Most for your Money « Deborah Riley-Magnus, Writeaholic

    […] “book trailer” knew exactly what I was looking for. I’m proud to expand on a past blog post, Lights, Camera, Action with this wonderful guest blog by Ms. Clover English […]

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