How to Make a Better Book Teaser

In November 1913, Nils Granlund, a manager at a theater in Marcus Loew’s chain, produced a promotional video for an upcoming musical, which he intended to show after other movies had already finished, which was why such short promotional videos were called trailers. The Marcus Loew chain ultimately became Loew’s Theaters (now AMC), and savvy theater managers began to run trailers before movies, rather than after.

Now, of course, the trailers/previews/coming attractions are one of the highlights of going to the theater.

And they’re not just for movies anymore.

It was easy to appropriate the idea for television. Trailers were just commercials for movies, anyway, so previews for new and upcoming episodes and shows were just that. And then came MTV, which was basically trailers for albums in the form of music videos.

In recent years, authors and publishers have taken up the idea. James Patterson, who was successful in advertising before he became the brand-name author he has become, was pretty much the first author to use the idea successfully in 1993 to support the launch of Along Came a Spider. His publisher wasn’t exactly for it, but Patterson wrote, produced, and paid for the commercial himself, and if it wasn’t the first-ever commercial for a novel, it was certainly a milestone in the current big-name publishing landscape and brand-name authors. Now, the internet, YouTube, and digital cameras have made it simple for authors to make and distribute promotional videos for their books even more easily.

Now that the idea is more popular and more authors are using it, however, more people are wondering about how effective teasers are (I like to call them teasers. They’re not trailing after anything, after all). Should authors really be worrying about them, or are they a waste of time?

To answer those questions, we have to back up a ways.

If we’re wondering how effective they are, we have to define what we mean by “effective.” I think a lot of people are defining “effective”–in terms of book videos–as “do they sell books?”

And that’s wrong.

Because at they’re root, the videos are commercials. Advertisements. And advertising is not about selling products, for the most part. It’s partially about doing so, certainly, but actually what advertising and marketing are about is simple: branding, and mindshare, and both affecting and effecting thoughts.

For example: Does KFC expect you to rush right out to buy a bucket of fried chicken after you see their commercials?

No. That’s dumb.

What’s really at work is simple: KFC is spending money on commercials and advertising to influence a choice you make. And that choice you make is when you’re driving home after work wondering about where you want to stop for dinner and you have to decide between Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Panera, and KFC.

Advertising, commercials, and marketing are about influencing consumer action at the moment of decision.

Tide isn’t trying to make you buy laundry detergent. It’s hoping that when you’re at the grocery store in the detergent aisle standing in front of 200 brightly colored bottles of laundry cleanser with various scents, additives, and features, you’re going to reach up and choose Tide. You’ve seen commercials for All and Tide and Arm & Hammer, and each company is hoping to tip you into choosing them over the others by not only convincing you there is a difference between them but also that their difference is better than you.

So if advertising is more about influence at point-of-decision, that makes the question of efficacy of book teasers more problematic–as does the internet.

Consider that book buying is changing. Media consumption is changing. Now there’s a greater element of sharing of information and propagation of links and hits. People do more active decision-making; people are more likely to hit Google when making a significant purchasing decision, and so there’s an added idea that you need people to be actively searching, rather than passively shopping.

This is one spot where bookstores have an advantage over the internet, though not by much. People who go to a bookstore–like people in the laundry detergent aisle–are there for a reason, and influencing decision there is of greater priority than inspiring action.

Inspiring action (and its movement) is far more difficult.

But maybe it’s worth considering something else, and that’s that if advertising is more about branding, then creating a teaser for a book is less about selling it and more about creating more opportunity for discussion around it. If you look at the book as the primary product–and I think it is–a teaser isn’t about selling that product any more than a Coke commercial is about selling Coke; it’s more about propagating ideas around that primary product.

Well. That’s my premise, anyway. I could be wrong.

But that’s what I go by. I like to make book teasers; I once worked in commercial production, and the process is similar, in ways, and only facilitated by YouTube. I also figure the more I can get my name out there, the better.


So how does one make a book teaser? There’s a lot of advice out there, some good, much not. There are a lot of videos out there, too, and again: some good, many more not.

The first thing I do is write a potential script. Short, concise, to-the-point, just a few lines. It ends up looking like four or so haiku. After that, I consider my novel and the tone/feel I’m going for. I brainstorm some imagery I think might be appropriate for use.

Now, this is personal, but I don’t like to include images of people when associated with my books, for the most part. There’s plenty of stock material available, and plenty of models and people, but I don’t know . . . I feel like I want to let readers imagine characters for themselves. With explicit regard to The Prodigal Hour, I’m sure, if I put in a couple hours, I could find images of models and “cast” them, in my teasers, as Chance and Cassie and maybe even Dennis.

I’ve seen plenty of authors and publishers use stock images of models as characters, but I tend not to. Probably for two reasons: my characters never feel stock, to me, and also because, when I write, I tend to be able to visualize characters in my head, very specifically, and sometimes, when I can’t, I think of an actor who’d be good in a particular role. In both cases, I know very specifically whom I see as each character, and too specifically to just paste a stock image in their stead. This correlates, too, to the idea that I hope readers will have the same opportunity; that is, they can visualize characters themselves.

Given that note, forget stock imagery to start with. It’s too generic, sticks out like a sore thumb.

Instead, go for Creative Commons.

People who’ve read my books know that for the most part, I publish using a Creative Commons license; you can share the work, for free, so long as you don’t profit from it (and attribute the material to me). I think that’s pretty fair, considering the amount of time I put into it.

Other people are even more generous.

So the first thing I do is go to Flickr, and I use their advanced search function. I take the list I brainstormed of potential imagery, and I plug that into the search, but then I take two more important steps; I check off “only HD,” and “only work licensed under creative commons, available for re-use, remixing, sharing, and commercial use.”

That last part is important. Provided, I’m not using anything commercially in the sense that I’m profiting directly from the teaser (I’m just posting them on YouTube myself, after all). Still, it’s promotional. So I figure it’s a grey zone and I’d rather be safe.

I create a folder on my desktop of potential videos. I do the same thing with images, again, with the same licenses.

Another great spot? The Internet Archive, where pretty much everything is in the public domain.

After I have a decent collection in that folder, and remembering I already have that script, right about here is when I go to editing and actually making something.

I used Windows Movie Maker to make my first attempts at videos before I got a better laptop and found some better software. Right now, I use a program called Cyberlink Power Director, which you can purchase for less than $100 bucks and is pretty intuitive in terms of interface and design, not to mention accessibility; I have an Acer notebook with 2 gigs of RAM and, though I want more, it’s enough to get by. I know Adobe’s programs are more extensive, but for my needs, Cyberlink has been perfect.

I used it to create my latest teaser, for The Prodigal Hour:

The second teaser I did for Meets Girl clocked in at a little more than two minutes. I thought maybe that was too long. Hell, it felt close to a short film, in a way. Not so much a teaser.

This one . . . well. I like it a lot.

I hope you do, too.

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