Book Trailers Don’t Increase Book Sales (but done right, they may boost Book Discoverability)


I came across an interesting article on The Four Hour Workweek site today that sparked my desire to write this week’s blog. Tim Ferriss does a great job explaining how he got 1 Million views for his video on The 4 Hour Chef. It got me thinking about my own experience creating book trailers for 3 novels published between 2010-2011, and whether I will continue recommending them as a book discovery tactic.

When I first got into book marketing back in January 2010, I was fascinated by the idea of the book trailer. Even though my formal marketing training told me that video would never be more than a brand awareness tactic, I began to think otherwise. The problem, I believed, was the FORMAT of book trailers that I’d seen, not the book trailer tactic itself. So I set out to create a book trailer unlike any I’d seen before.

The book I was promoting was Sellout by James W. Lewis, a novel that deals with the subject of interracial dating from the perspectives of a black man, black woman, and white woman. My concept was to adapt a scene from the book into a short three-minute film that would start a conversation about the subject of the book, go viral, and lead to thousands of book sales in the process. I had never produced a film before but didn’t let that stop me from jumping in with both feet. I chose a chapter from the book, adapted it into a script, hired a film production crew, hired actors, and set a shoot date. The budget: $2,000!

At this point, you are probably calling me nuts for spending that kind of money (I later spent $5,000 on the trailer for One Blood), but I really believed that to differentiate Sellout from other books in the genre, we needed to do something provocative and different to stand out, and some times you have to pay the cost to be the boss, lol. One of the keys I identified early on was finding a video production partner that knew social media video sharing sites and would help with the uploading of the trailer across the web. In addition, we identified all the other places we could load the trailer from author profile sites, to facebook, to Goodreads, to Amazon. All in all, the Sellout trailer ended up on 50 or so different sites across the web.

Unfortunately, the discussion we looked to generate with the trailer took a long time to manifest. And the viral sharing I expected never really manifested. Even though the trailer won a major book trailer competition and was raking up views in the several thousands on Youtube, there was absolutely no correlation I could draw to sales. But then I began googling the main keywords for Sellout (interracial romance, interracial love, racism, interracial books)  and the video kept turning up very high in the search engine rankings. So the video had effectively boosted discoverability for the book!

So, while I can’t say the book trailers break-even on the investment it costs to produce them, I still believe in the book trailer as an important tool in the book discoverability toolbox, and if done right, can really help boost your book’s visibility.  A good book trailer can create/improve brand awareness, interest, buzz, target audience engagement, anticipation, and excitement – all positives. A bad book trailer, however produces fatigue, irritation, stomach upset, projectile vomiting, headaches, boredom, and the book discoverability killer – apathy.

Importantly though, book trailers are a nice to have and not a need to have when it comes to book discoverability. Here’s a short list of the things you need to get right, BEFORE you think about producing a book trailer:

  • High quality book cover
  • Professionally content and copy edited book
  • Well thought out marketing strategy
  • Resources set aside to invest in promotion
  • Placement on online book retailer sites
  • Interesting blog
  • Optimized website
  • Active social media presence
  • Regular engagement with readers on online reader communities

There are three primary moments when book trailer and video in general can help boost your book’s visibility:

  1. Launch: You are trying to build awareness for your book in a creative way
  2. Lagging: Your book sales have hit a plateau and you are looking to expand your audience
  3. Lists: Your book has won an award or made it onto bestseller lists and you want to drive this momentum

What I’ve learned over time is that there are all kinds of book trailers. Some are animated storyboards, some are short films, some are announcements, some are all of the above. With desktop tools (iMovie, Movie Maker, Adobe) and sites (Animoto) making video production cheaper and easier than ever before, it’s definitely something to consider. Just don’t expect to make your money back if you spent as much as I have lol!

What has your experience been with Book trailers? Do you believe they are still a good book marketing tactic? Let us know in the comments…

Part owner of Independent Publishing Venture, The Pantheon Collective. Award-winning, bestselling author of One Blood (under pseudonym Qwantu Amaru). Book marketing expert and social media marketing consultant.

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Posted in Book Discovery, Book Marketing
12 comments on “Book Trailers Don’t Increase Book Sales (but done right, they may boost Book Discoverability)
  1. Would a trailer raise the odds of it being made into a movie? Making it more visual than a dust jacket blurb?

  2. I have done two book trailers (“Solitary Desire” and “Sun, Sea & Savoir-Faire”), an interesting endeavor and time consuming, without any direct return on investment. I still believe, though, that they can be a good marketing tool for certain genres of books.

  3. I have done two book trailers (“Solitary Desire” and “Sun, Sea & Savoir-Faire”), an interesting endeavor and time consuming, but without direct return on investment. I still believe, though, that trailers can be a good marketing tool for certain genres of books.

  4. AEL Data says:

    Hi there Omar. Agree with your article that book trailers might not directly correlate to sales but they definitely increase visibility. Authors have to be sure of the individual objectives of different book marketing techniques they want to use in their campaign.

  5. valeriebelievinginhorses says:

    I’ve done one book trailer and have found it useful for several reasons. For one, I speak to schools and groups of young folks, and the video and music provide a great introduction to the book. Also, I like having video on my website for variety and search engine optimization. I don’t have a large budget, so did it on my own, but for my purposes, it has worked out well. But my next book’s trailer will be 30 seconds shorter.

    • I hadn’t thought of the school angle. But I have used book trailers to draw readers in at live book fair events. It’s one more way to differentiate your table from others…

  6. I appreciate the information!

    One way such expense might be justified, is if the book and trailer are both intended to promote something else, like a service, which really pays for everything. Some people only write books to promote their professional standing or consulting/speaking services.

    I, on the other hand, love books which help readers directly.


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