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Can a Hot Book Trailer Spell Success?

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As I planned for the release of my debut novel, Diary of a Sex Addict in 2012, I knew nothing about the burgeoning new field of professional book trailers. I just wanted to create something visual to snag some social media attention.

I had once optioned a film script and had a talented filmmaker friend who agreed to help so we decided to give it a go. I wrote a script and we brought on a fitness model and an adult film actor (there's a gritty sex scene) to star in the flick.

In the first year after posting the short of Diary of a Sex Addict, I was thrilled to see the film got 10,000 hits on Vimeo and resulted in some nice media coverage for the novel.

Later that year at a reading event, I ran into Joshua Kornreich, an author who told me about his novel and how he used a professional trailer to promote The Boy Who Killed Caterpillars. He spoke highly of Red14 Films a Los Angeles based company that creates "short art house films" that serve as a "cinematic back-cover synopsis."
I took a look at a few of Red 14's trailers and was quite impressed. The short for Lillian Hart's mystery novel Whiskey Rebellion was especially awesome. I literally ran out to get the book! Red 14's short for Deborah Henry's debut novel The Whipping Club starring Eric Roberts is also great (and is being developed into a feature.)

Recently, as I began to pitch my new novel Three Brothers to agents, I began to wonder if a writer might use a trailer to get the attention of an agent or publisher, in addition to selling books.

I chatted up three people in the field: Tom Miller, an executive editor at McGraw-Hill; Brian Gresko, whose anthology on fatherhood When I First Held You is being published by Berkley Books an imprint of Penguin); and Adam Cushman, president/CEO of Red 14 Films.

Do you think a book trailer can help sell a book, or better yet, help a new writer snag the attention of an agent or publisher?

Adam Cushman:

I'd say the trailers give the agent a breath of fresh air. With the piles and piles of submissions they face, the cinematic book trailer effectively takes what's in your synopsis and delivers it in a way that's visually satisfying. Plus right now a good trailer is still a novelty. In years to come they won't be.

An effective video doesn't effectively say "buy me," it says "check this out." It spreads the idea of the book, the author, and all the author's past and future work in a cinematic, visually pleasing way, while also communicating what kind of book this is, what it's about, and that this is a writer worth paying attention to. That's what social media is all about.

Tom Miller:

An author could conceivably use a video to get an agent and, if he or she already has a publisher, an author-made video definitely can help the publisher market his or her book. Both Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com like to have unique videos of 1 1/2 to 2 minutes promoting the author and highlighting interesting and salable points about the book. The videos should be unique for each account. It should be noted that videos are not cheap -- publishers will pay for videos only for top-level authors, production quality should be good, and the video should be on point and not too long. A flaky, off-message video will do more harm than good!

Brian Gresko:

Watching a video and reading a book are very different activities, it's not like one naturally leads to the other, the way a movie trailer syncs up with the movie itself. As for stirring up interest in a book that hasn't sold? If the video went viral, an editor or agent would take a look at it, for sure. The publishing world is very tuned in to what's happening online. But if the book behind it isn't good, then forget it.

The videos I'm most familiar with aren't trailers in the traditional sense - Zach Galifianakis interviewing John Wray about his novel Lowboy, or Shalom Auslander calling Sarah Vowel and Ira Glass and asking to hide in their attics a la Anne Frank, which he did as part of an online series called "The Attic Calls" promoting his novel Hope: A Tragedy.

So bottom line, can investing in some good footage help a writer along? I know it worked in my case.