by Tess Gerritsen
I’ve heard that book trailers are worthless as marketing tools. I’ve heard they confuse viewers, who don’t understand that the trailer is for a book, not a movie. That trailers tend to look amateurish because authors don’t know what they’re doing, and actually hurt the author’s efforts. Nobody watches them, nobody knows where to view them, and nobody cares. Plus, they’re expensive.
I’d heard all these arguments against book trailers, but I commissioned one anyway — and boy, was it a lot of fun.
Last winter, I contacted Maine Media Workshops, the local film school here in midcoast Maine, because I thought it might be an interesting project for the students, and an interesting marketing experiment for me. I’d pay for all the production expenses and the students would get a chance to work on a short film based on my upcoming book, THE KEEPSAKE. The film school faculty loved the idea, but the project fell through the cracks and was forgotten.
Then about three months ago, two young men connected with the school contacted me. Jonathan and Ryan wanted to make the film. I knew Jonathan, because he’d gone to the local high school with my son. I loved the idea of working with such youthful talent. They were excited about the project, brimming with energy and ideas. It seemed like a win-win situation for everyone.
The book wasn’t in galley form for them to read yet, so I had to describe the plot and the atmosphere I wanted. "Think of THE MUMMY," I said. I wanted something scary and shadowy, something like all the horror films I’d grown up with and loved so much. I handed them my Egyptology books and a book about shrunken heads. Ryan looked at the photos and freaked out. He was so disturbed by the images that he couldn’t even stand to look at them, but he was game to forge ahead.
The first thing they needed from me was a shooting script. Since the trailer could run no longer than two minutes, I kept the script to a page and a half, with narrator’s copy and suggested images. They got to work hiring actors. Since I was footing the bill, I had to approve every purchase. The guys sent me to a website that sells horror movie props. That’s when it was my turn to freak out, as I perused offerings of realistic-looking rubber corpses in various stages of decay and dismemberment. I spent about $600 on shrunken heads, a mummy, and a rotting corpse.
Meantime, the guys were busy building a mummy’s sarcophagus out of drywall, and they reserved an autopsy suite for the shoot.
During the two days of filming, unfortunately, I had to be out of town. I’m sorry I missed the fun, because I heard that they used an unoccupied house that happens to be for sale. Overnight, they left the shrunken heads hanging in the basement, not knowing that the house was scheduled to be shown the next day to prospective buyers.
The realtor reported that there was a lot of screaming. But the buyers put in an offer on the house anyway. (Maybe everyone trying to sell a house should hang shrunken heads in the basement.)
A few weeks later, the trailer was finished. Jonathan and Ryan made two versions, one for my U.S. release, and another for my UK release.
Will it sell enough books to justify the cost? I don’t know. As I said, it’s an experiment, and it’s just one more way to get your name out there to the world. It’s been on YouTube and on my website for about a week now, and so far we’ve gotten 2800 hits.
Some critics of book trailers point out that anyone who views your trailer probably already knows about your book, and viewing the trailer isn’t going to change their mind about buying it. Those who don’t know your name won’t ever go looking for the trailer.
I think these are valid points. However, I’ve discovered one great reason to make trailers — a reason I hadn’t even considered until now. It’s a great device for selling foreign rights to your books. My publisher plans to show the trailer at the Frankfurt Book Fair. And my foreign rights agent is sharing the trailer with foreign language publishers, because she feels it’s a valuable sales tool. And I’ll tell you why.
Foreign publishers don’t have enough English-speaking personnel to read every single book published in English. Instead, what happens is that the first few chapters of an American novel might be translated into, say, Russian — and if those chapters interest the Russian publisher, they may ask to see more of the translated text, or they may make an offer. But this is clearly a labor-intensive process.
A book trailer can speed up that decision making process. Within a minute or two, it can translate the essence of the plot for even a non-English-speaking viewer, the way horror films used to engage my Chinese immigrant mom. They can put your book front and center as something they’ll take a closer look at.
Will the trailer actually make domestic consumers buy books? I have no idea. As I said, it’s an experiment. And I loved working with young, local filmmakers who are just starting out in their film careers.
Plus, I’ve now got a collection of rubber corpses in my garage.
If you want to see the finished book trailer, hop on over to YouTube to take a look: