Book Trailers — Benefits you may not have thought of

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:

24 thoughts on “Book Trailers — Benefits you may not have thought of

  1. joe bernstein

    Tess-you just happened to hve a book on shrunken heads lying around….hmmm?I’ve actually been hearing “sound trailers”for thrillers on my locl talk radio station recently.

  2. Lesa Holstine

    Tess, I just wanted to tell you I bought Alex Kava’s debut book for the library, and encouraged ten other branches to buy it, based on the trailer. She was one of the first to do them.

    And, I love Chris Grabenstein’s trailer for Hell Hole. I’ve told people to watch it at a brown bag luncheon for librarians.

    Now, I have to go watch yours, even though I’m already waiting for your book. I love that idea of using it to sell foreign rights. Good luck!

  3. Jude Hardin

    Very funny about the shrunken heads in the house for sale!

    I love book trailers. I think yours looks great, Tess.

  4. tess

    Mark,the voice-over was done by a local actor (originally from the UK) who lives here in town. Although this town only has 5,000 people, we’re blessed with a very strong arts community of writers, actors, and filmmakers who live here year-round. So talent’s easy to find.

    In fact, I suggested to my young filmmakers that midcoast Maine could be turned into a book trailer productiobn center for the country.

  5. ArkansasCyndi

    Nice job. For the next week, I’ll be dreaming about that guy washing blood off his hands!

    Good job. Quite eerie. And I too am concerned that you have book about shrunken heads “lying around the house”. 🙂

  6. Jake Nantz

    Ms. Gerritsen,I can’t watch it here at school (access to youtube is blocked), but it sounds like it’s a big hit so far. I think book trailers are great even if it’s just a way to get people more excited than they already are. But that may just be me.

  7. Becky Lejeune

    I also think they did a fantastic job. I think book trailers are new enough that it’s a bit early to say whether or not they’re effective. I’ve seen some really good ones and I’ve seen some ok ones. Given that there aren’t many tv commercials for books floating around, I think they have the potential to get a good bit of people interested in reading things they haven’t heard of.

    Involving local students also seems like a really great way to go about it. My boyfriend was a film student not so long ago and this was the exact kind of project that he would have been psyched about.

  8. Becky Hutchison

    Tess, the trailer is fantastic! You really lucked out with an amazing group of student filmmakers. I hope you’ll let us know how valuable the trailer is in your foreign book sales.

    To be honest, I’m just hearing about book trailers. The first one I saw was within the last few months through the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog. I rarely watch TV and so I hadn’t seen any book trailers there.

    Yesterday was the first time I’d heard an audio book trailer. It was for FIRST DAUGHTER by Eric Van Lustbader and quickly told the premise of the story with laudatory quotes from Anne Perry, Lee Child and Lisa Scottoline. (Tess, were you one of the quoters too?) From that short spot, I heard about a new book by an author who received praise from top mystery authors, and I was very intrigued. Will I buy the book? Maybe. But I probably wouldn’t have known about or taken much interest in the book if I hadn’t heard the trailer. If it’d been a different genre, though, I probably would have turned the station…

  9. Naomi

    I also found interesting your comment about foreign rights. Yes, it makes total sense.

    And I like how you approached students at a local school. It’s something they can add to their promotional reel and I’m sure they will be talking up your book to their friends and classmates.

  10. Allison Brennan

    I love book trailers. I’ve done them for almost all of my books, starting in Fall 2005, four months before my debut novel was released. I’m doing one for my upcoming book as well, and I can hardly wait to see it . . . I don’t know if they help or not, but it’s the only fun part of promotion for me so I’m not giving it up 🙂

    And I saw your trailer (I’m on your email list!) and loved it. The music really fit and the images told the story well. I can’t wait for the book.

  11. Rob Gregory Browne

    Great trailer, Tess. As I said in my post on book trailers a couple weeks ago, I think it’s smart not to show faces. The filmmakers did a great job of showing us action and a feeling of creepiness, but did it without ruining the reader experience by giving us THEIR version of what Jane and Maura look like.

  12. JanW

    Superb production values. The mood works, the music works, the narrator works. I was wondering how much was given away, like the shrunken heads. It could be tempting to expose too much, whereas a blurb is restricted by number of words.

    There is also a bit of confusion on Youtube. There are two entries: the one you list in the link, and one titled Keeping the Dead. You might find some title confusion in the release. I would suggest having only one version loaded and use the title of the book and not refer to it in the Youtube listing with the words ‘book trailer’. Viewers might think ‘the keepsake book’ is the title, a totally different meaning. [I know, I know, but people do make meanings in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways.]

    good luck with it!Jan

  13. Sheila English

    Hi Tess!

    I love the book trailer! Very fun! Are you only putting it on YouTube and your own website? If so, I suggest that you’ll find the trailer more effective if you have it better distributed.I’m happy to help you with your experiment. Contact me at sclover(at) and let me show you what your video can do for your SEO.The foreign rights thing is brilliant!!


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