Most Book Trailers Are Awful (But Here’s How Yours Can Be Different)

Note: This is a post I recently re-wrote and updated to reflect the current state of the publishing industry and my thoughts on book trailers. Plus, I have a new trailer that you should check out.

Why Most Book Trailers Are Awful & How Yours Can Be Different

Today, the trailer for my new book, Real Artists Don’t Starve, just came out. I’d love your thoughts on it. But before we do that, here’s a question to consider: Do book trailers even matter?

The short answer is no. Not really. Few people buy a book because they watched a 60-second video on YouTube. Does that mean you still shouldn’t do a book trailer? Only if you’re going to do one poorly, which is the way that nearly everyone does them.

My first book trailer was awful. The second one was great. The third was even better. And by the fourth, I feel like we finally figured this thing out.

What made the difference? The way we approached the process.

Why most book trailers are bad

For my first book trailer (which was for my second book), I met with a video crew and stared awkwardly into a camera for five minutes, talking about myself. I didn’t have any experience as a speaker and didn’t understand what a good trailer was supposed to do.

Not surprisingly, it flopped.

With the second one, we didn’t do any of that. My publisher provided a top-notch video editor, we wrote a script, and we kept it short. It went well, gaining over 20,000 views on YouTube in a few short months. The next time we did it, it went even better.

And on and on it went.

Here’s what we did differently between that first and second trailers and why it made all the difference:

  1. We made it about the reader, not the author. In fact, I wasn’t even in it, which was good. Every person wants to believe they’re the hero of their own story, so we spoke to that desire.
  2. We talked about the idea behind the book, not the book itself. Most people don’t want to buy books. They buy solutions to their problems, so we addressed a universal struggle.
  3. We didn’t tell people to read the book, we invited them to join a movement. Everyone wants to feel like they’re a part of something important, something bigger than themselves, so we piqued their interest with an invitation. If they buy into the movement, they’ll buy the book.

Most book trailers aren’t very good. Actually, that’s being generous. Most book trailers are lame. They’re boring and insulting to the reader, because they fail to deliver a message that goes beyond the book or the trailer itself. Just like a good book cover, a trailer should respect its audience.

I love books and hate seeing them represented so poorly. Which is why I was excited to see the trailer for my latest book not suck. I think it satisfies all three of the criteria above and is beautifully designed. But I’ll let you be the judge of that. Watch the video below, or click here if you can’t see it in this window.

Real Artists Don't Starve

The myth of the starving artist has dominated our culture, seeping into the minds of creatives and stifling their pursuits. My newest book debunks this myth and replaces it with timeless strategies for thriving. Pre-order a copy and get your bonuses at: http://DontStarve.com

Posted by Jeff Goins, Writer on Friday, March 31, 2017

Let me know what you think of it in the comments of this post, and if you like it, please share.

Now, for the rest of this post, I’m going to be a little more practical and tell you how to make a successful book trailer. But first things first: to do this right, you have to go above and beyond expectations. You have to dare to be more than mediocre.

If you do this, book trailers can be an incredibly effective marketing tool to get your message out there. So here are three ways to do them right.

Strategy #1: Crowd-source the book trailer

Tim Ferriss did this for The 4-Hour Body, turning his trailer into a crowd-sourcing campaign, and it went really well, with thousands of people participating. The benefits of this are it’s fun and you get free promotion that doesn’t look like promotion (which is the best kind).

I actually did this for my first book. Though there was no official trailer, I asked my audience to shoot videos of themselves promoting my book and gave $100 gift card to the best one. This resulted in hundreds of videos being posted about my book, and some of them were really good. Here’s the winner of that contest (which was so much better than the video I did).

The benefits of this are it’s fun to do and you get a ton of free promotion that doesn’t look like promotion (which is the best kind). You also get a lot of great ideas that you can apply to your own trailer if you choose to make one.

Strategy #2: Sell the idea, not the product

Remember: people don’t watch book trailers. So make it something they might actually want to see — like a story in itself. That’s what I did with the trailer for The In-Between (my third book). It was more about selling the idea than it was about selling the book. When you get an idea to spread, as Seth Godin says, you win.

Here’s that video (which is still one of my favorite book trailers ever — and as you can see, it got a lot of views online):

You might even think of it as a mini-documentary, not a trailer. I like how Bryan Harris did this for his online course, publishing a series of mini-documentaries about people who built online businesses. Those videos received tens of thousands of views each and outperformed nearly any other video promotion he had ever done. In fact, I cried watching one of them — twice.

Here’s the trailer for that series:

Strategy #3: Pretend it’s for a movie, not a book

I’m really proud of the the past three trailers I’ve done for my books, especially the most recent one. But the first couple attempts weren’t great. That’s because I treated them like book commercials instead of movie trailers. But as I already mentioned, a good promotion is about selling the idea, not the product.

Most book trailers are terrible because they’re trying to promote something that’s hard to sell on video. Instead of doing that, why not make it interesting? Grab the audience’s attention and invite them into something bigger than themselves. Ryan Holiday did just that for The Obstacle Is The Way, which you can watch below. It’s not about the book. It’s about the idea.

But what if I don’t have any money?

This is a process that you should be prepared to invest in, if you want to do it right. Just like with editing a self-published book, you don’t have to do this, but you really should if you want this thing to stand out from the rest.

That said, you don’t have to have a ton of money for a book trailer. You don’t have to have fancy equipment or a world-class production team. The trailer for my book The Art of Work was a simple, inexpensive piece of marketing material that did really well for the book.

It doesn’t take a big budget, but it does take a big idea. Successful marketing is about spreading a worthy idea in an interesting and surprising way that makes your audience the hero. Video is a powerful way to do that, so long as you do it right.

Successful marketing is about spreading a worthy idea in an interesting and surprising way.

Jeff Goins

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So that’s my two cents on book trailers. Be sure to click here to watch my most recent book trailer and tell me what you think in the comments. If you like what you see, please share.

Resources

For more on book trailers, check out the following:

Real Artists Don't Starve

The myth of the starving artist has dominated our culture, seeping into the minds of creatives and stifling their pursuits. My newest book debunks this myth and replaces it with timeless strategies for thriving. Pre-order a copy and get your bonuses at: http://DontStarve.com

Posted by Jeff Goins, Writer on Friday, March 31, 2017

What do you think makes for a good book or movie trailer? Do you have a trailer for your book or product? Share in the comments.

94 thoughts on “Most Book Trailers Are Awful (But Here’s How Yours Can Be Different)

  1. Good trailer, good post – agree totally Jeff.

    One thing I would add is, that a book trailer is still a book trailer. It’s still ultimately trying to sell a book.

    How about, instead of a book trailer, produce a video or videos talking about the themes of the book, why they wrote it, who it’s for, inviting people into a movement, a story. Not to promote a book, but a cause, so the book is simply the natural evolution of a series of creative pieces (guest posts, videos, video calls, podcasts) supporting a message, a movement.

    Don’t even call it a book trailer. Then it’s really powerful. And ironically, it will promote your book even better.

    I’m sure this is kind of what you meant – and your trailer looks like something like that too. Just wanted to make that distinction.

    I also don’t think it’s bad to appear in the trailer yourself – as long as you’re not talking about yourself, but you’re inviting others into a story, talking about how the book will help them, opening them up to different questions. Just you talking about you is bad – you talking about the movement, inviting others into a story, spreading a message, making it about them not you, is not so bad.

    And myself, with a very small budget, it’s all I can do to be honest.

    But some good principles here – thanks for this post.

  2. I come from the children’s literature perspective (and use my one and only trailer when doing school visits), but for me, a good trailer doesn’t run past 30 seconds. Short and sweet and to the point. My interest tends to fall off after that. Perhaps I’m still a kid at heart? 😉

  3. Jeff, I really like this trailer. It communicates the ideas of the book in a unique, creative way. Great job!

    However, where does that leave those of us who are self-publishing and don’t have a professional film crew to create a great book trailer? Video work can be very expensive (if you want it done well), and I would love to hear your thoughts on low-budget book trailer options. As you mentioned, most book trailers are awful, but how can we produce something effective and high-quality without spending a fortune? Is it a case where we shouldn’t try to do a book trailer unless we have the resources to have it done professionally? This is the same issue as book covers (i.e. professional is always better), but only on a bigger scale.

  4. I believe a good trailer is short, contains open ended questions, and does not give away to much of the story, but invites the reader to learn more.

  5. The trailer design is brilliant, Jeff — and so refreshing! Clean sparkle in a world of over-hype.

  6. I thought this was unique, eye-catching, and appealing to someone who is desiring a calling that is publicly recognized for greatness; and that’s fine for that audience.
    On the other hand, how will you reach the everyday guy or gal who has been struggling with self-esteem, given up on hope for success in finding the place for them to use their gifts, the things they love to do – but just don’t seem to come to anything? I know of someone who suffers deep depression over feeling like a failure in their everyday life and has given up on the hope of ever getting there. Thankfully, some of us – like me – will not give up.
    You ask the question “what were you born to do?” – The person who needs this book most, might better respond to – Do you know what you were born to do? Do you struggle with finding your calling in life?– the change in the question demands a response of a simple yes or no, and leads into the next logical question: Would you like to know? – again a simple yes or no. If they are not reachable, it ends there – if there is the slightest bit of hope they will continue to watch. – They are not ready to hear about the passion it takes – they’ve lost that and they need you to gently inspire them to hope there is a way to succeed – not to remind them how difficult it is, how few make it, and how scary it is. They already know that all too well.
    The people who need this most will respond to hearing messages like: there is a way to know, let me show you how others have done it, you can do it too. If you can accomplish that using the same graphical technique, changing the wording a little bit, and shortening the length of the video – my feeling is you will reach a greater audience. We live in a time people need to be reminded there is hope to be had.
    I agree with James Prescott – “Don’t even call it a book trailer” Many of the people who need this don’t want feel like they have to “read another book” to get the answers they are looking for. Maybe if you didn’t end it with a “sales pitch” (however low-key it is) for the book, but instead ended it with a compassionate call to action you would expand your audience. I don’t know – is there a way to use both styles of message and figure out how to market them to different audiences?

    1. Great feedback, Kathy. Thank you. I think this is one piece of collateral, and as you mentioned, I probably need others to address readers; needs from different perspectives. Thanks for that!

  7. This trailer is great—from a marketing standpoint, the university where I work by day is designing a video for a program intended to help students determine their vocational calling — BOOM! Yours gave me lots of ideas!

    But on the flip-side of the coin, as an author I’m usually bored by trailers and don’t finish them, OR if they’re good, they were obviously filmed by a professional crew with paid actors and grand settings, etc. THIS is something that ANY independently-published author could replicate within their own niche to make a compelling trailer.

    In general, I won’t watch to the end of a trailer over 30 seconds. One minute max. After watching your clip I checked the length and had NO. IDEA. that it had lasted a full one minute forty seconds; I figured it was around 45 seconds. THAT’S how engaging it was; I didn’t even realize how much time had passed while I watched.

    BRILLIANT JOB, JEFF!

  8. Fab-u-lous.

    And now, from the man who preaches (and more importantly, practices!) the holy art of sharing…

    Can we beg some insights into the HOW and WHO and how much ($, time) of book trailer production? 😉

    Oh…and the book has been ordered!

  9. Jeff, you never cease to amaze me.Just when I thought I was catching on and catching up you pull out in front again… You are in the zone, I think you could fly if you wanted. I am enjoying your articles, blogs, podcast and now your infomercials. I would write more but I can’t see through your dust… go Jeff!!!

  10. Absolutely brilliant – thanks for sharing the behind-the-scenes thought process of this book trailer launch #HUGS

    Kit

  11. I like movie trailers that encapsulate the experience of the show, a little like an appitizer. Of course, Pixar with their mini movies not directly connected to the plot are fun, too.
    Not watched enough book trailers to know what I like.
    Thanks much for the big picture thinking for when I get to my own. I’m praying for the purchasing committee of my favorite publisher to take my book on, but it’s nice to know Plan B would be really cool too!

  12. I absolutely enjoyed your book, yet I have to admit the amazing trailer caught me off guard. Reminded me of my favorite movie UP! To the point yet made me smile. Will you let us in on who put together the trailer? Thanks for being uniquely YOU!

    Grant

  13. Awesome! I love the simplicity in the design and the message. I’ve only recently started reading your blog and just ordered the art of work, but I really appreciate your thoughts and willingness to share your gifts with the world.
    I wish you the best!
    Tyler

  14. Hey, it’s been said that we know something about book trailers.

    This one is in the top 3%.

    They suck because:

    1.) They are PROMOS and they don’t share content.
    2.) They are too long (75 seconds is about right +/- 10 seconds.)
    3.) They don’t show respect for the audience.

    If a trailer sucks it’s worse than not having one because:

    1. You’ve wasted time.
    2. You’ve wasted money.
    3. It’s an anti-marketing message that all

    They are good when:

    1.) they stand alone as content (i.e. even if the buyer doesn’t buy the book).
    2.) They are disruptive and contrarian. (i.e. people like sharing truth)
    3.) The production values are sufficient to be marketing.
    4. There is the right amount of information in there i.e. not too much to make people feel like the ‘got the book’ without reading it. That’s the danger of too much info.

    The other thing:

    A trailer must be designed to either activate an existing audience (like this one) or create a new one (like the one we did for Ryan Holiday).

    Good trailer, good work etc.

  15. That is one of the best book trailers I’ve ever seen!!! I loved Kary Oberbrunner’s one for Dayjob to Dreamjob too. Told a great story through visuals. And now I’m inspired to do one for my books…ah, you have just caused me to get the chatter going in my brain Jeff…in a good way 🙂

  16. Like FI-NA-LLY we have an book trailer worth playing over and over. I love the dynamics with the little black balls. Reminds me of Apple’s iPhone 5 or 5s commercial, I think you’ve done an amazing job working that theme into a trailer for a book. I so love how you get the message across. You just make us enjoy what we’re watching while we download your ideas and that gives people a great impression about the book. Most of all, Jeff I love how you package your artwork in the best possible way you can think of. yes, you did this to get your message across better and to show that book trailers should be neat, but I see a lot of your own passion and love for what you do and I respect that so much. Too few people ever get to open up and see the light people like you see, recognize the pattern in the stars and the dance that’s itching in their footsteps.

  17. This third trailer is impressive. No. It’s IMPRESSIVE! in more than one way. I love it.

  18. Hi Jeff, this is awesome! I must say I wasn’t so sure about the book, but once I watched the trailer, you got my attention! Now I can’t wait to read it. My only challenge is that I am based in the UK and the pre-order offer of $6.99 wouldn’t apply to me. So I guess, I would have to wait until it releases…

  19. Jeff, thank you for such excellent insights into the way book trailers need to be designed in order to do their job properly. I love that you’ve shared your insights, then shared your dynamic trailer to not only show us what you mean, but to also introduce and inspire us with your new book. I’m a complete fan (but not in the Misery way – you will keep your legs!). Many thanks. Deborah

  20. Love the trailer, Jeff! I’ll be taking on board your suggestions as I’m about to do trailers for two books.

  21. Very good article and video. Actually the video makes the book more appealing than the title or maybe I should say it explains the title and gives hope.

  22. Nice article. I do see many writers claiming nobody ever bought a book because of a trailer, which isn’t the case in my experience. I have personally been told that my trailer sold a book, and I myself have bought books after seeing a trailer. I’ve also seen it recommended to include a (well done) video trailer on the landing page for a book as a way to boost conversion. Still, I think that the vast majority (my own included) just don’t grab the right kind of attention to convert readers into sales. More likely, a poorly done trailer will have the opposite effect…”if the trailer is lame, the book must be also.”

  23. I write fiction, and I’ve grown to like making book trailers. I don’t know if they’ve resulted in sales, but I’ve seen a fair amount of sharing on some. The help give me a presence on YouTube. I like to keep them short – about a minute. And they only cost me a little of my time.

    1. I write fiction, too, as well as publish the fiction of some others. Carolyn, are there any particular strategies you follow to come up with the concenpt for you fiction book trailers?

      1. I collect mostly free stock photo and video images that match scenes or concepts from the book. Pair it with a simple summary with a hook. I try to find unique (original) music that fits the tone of the story. Then I create in iMovie. I’m sure they’re not the best out there, but I’m pleased with them. This is my latest: https://youtu.be/3hapfaRNItA

  24. BTW, I think your trailer is excellence, Jeff! It definitely piqued my interest. Going to add it to my Goodreads shelf.

  25. I tend to ignore other people’s opinion of books / movies that I have decided to enjoy. Do not want someone else’s negative opinion to distract my experience. Go in with a great attitude and you have a better chance of enjoyment!

  26. Thank you for this post–it was inspirational to me in multiple ways. First, I had never thought of doing a trailer for my book, and now it will be added to my business plan. Second, the trailers included in the post really resonated with me. I took it as a sign to pay attention that the first line in the notebook I’m using to write down key points from this post and your webinar this evening is: “Let the obstacle become the way.” As someone who has had to make margaritas from lemons a few times in life, I heartily endorse this philosophy. Finally, I’m excited to read your newest book, Jeff. While I’ve been squeaking by as a writer for the last few years, I’m ready to stop struggling for my art and make a living that lets me not only live more comfortably but offers more time to compose the stories that can change lives.

      1. Thanks, just pre-ordered it in hardcover on Amazon. I thought about the other formats, but it seems like this is a title I’ll want to have around for a long time and keep in my writer’s library. 🙂

  27. Years ago, I used MovieMaker to make a trailer for my friend Stephen Youngkin’s book on the classic film actor Peter Lorre. My idea was to show potential readers what the book was all about and what they could find out about. I kept the text brief and used lots of photos of Peter Lorre, as well as images of lobby cards and posters for his movies. I also used the fancy transitions and dissolves MovieMaker provides. I got many nice compliments on it — but the best was “Now I know what the book is about!” Thanks for writing this article, Jeff! I’m going to keep it in mind as I build trailers for other author friends!

  28. Great book trailer, Jeff! And thanks for all the other book trailers, very inspirational. Appreciate the one about being a writer. I actually created book trailers for my fiction books to motivate me in my writing. I watch them once week to inspire me. I literally spent a couple hundred dollars to do this but the investment has paid for itself many times over, especially on those days when writer blues and fears hit. I do hope to use the book trailers later when I release the books or perhaps tweak them, thanks to the great ideas you shared in this article.

    I am also toying with the idea of snippet videos related to a given book. Scenes that my readers can relate to and apply in their own lives. This is to help my reader connect with my fictional world but where I give the her a message she can apply to their real world. Anyhow, it is still an idea and I’ve yet to see how it will materialize.

    Thank you for the inspiration to create book trailers that are interesting and impacting 🙂

  29. I’ve always wondered why they have music. I start imagining the score and have no idea what the message was, after about 20 seconds. 😀

  30. Great book trailer. I think it calls us to make a change in the world so no artist starves. That is your point right? You hit it.
    I believe the character has to connect with its reader. In the story, the reader is safe to connect with the character and safe to feel the emotions of the character. Once we establish a place where the reader and the character can connect, we must give a call to action. With the call to action, we must give the reader power. They need to know they have the power to choose the course of action they will take. Power, however, is no good without the freedom to use it. Don’t be afraid to give the reader the power to choose. A call to action, always gives a call to choose. Freedom, on the other hand, puts accountability in place. Accountability to who? The reader.
    Thanks again for this post.

    1. Thanks for the comment! The idea of Real Artists Don’t Starve is that every creative person has the capacity to thrive, if they so choose.

  31. Excellent advice. I’m writing an interactive novel now, where readers can speak with characters and alter the outcome of the story.

    It was difficult to try to encapsulate the experience in a paragraph so I used stock footage, music composed by a friend, and footage of actual readers solving real-world puzzles to pitch the experience. It was a massive success and I was able to use it in several Facebook and Instagram targeted ads. It cost very little (stock footage) and has continued to bring new readers to my book.

    I’m including a link to inspire other writers. Like Jeff has stressed, it doesn’t have to be over the top and high-production to be impactful. http://themonarchpapers.com

  32. Incredible trailer. Very well done. And I say that both as a writer and as a video producer. This caliber of production value doesn’t come cheap, however, as Jeff points out. But, using online templates and a little creativity, a highly effective trailer is within the reach of most “starving artists.”

    I recommend Animoto for intuitive, drag and drop interfaces. Use Google Images Advanced Search to find compelling images (filter for “Free to Use or Share, Even Commercially”.) And use Animoto’s stock library of production music or cruise YouTube’s impressive collection, grouped by moods and pace. You can also find very brief video clips for totally free or cheap at VidsPlay.com.

    Here’s an example: https://youtu.be/iEK7OaKdndo. Good luck!

  33. Really interesting topic. Last Fall I read one of your articles where you said you have to OWN IT. I never considered myself a writer, then I was standing in my daughter’s dining room and asked myself what I wanted to do. I was shocked when these words came out of my mouth. “I want to write.” So I had to convince myself first. I have a small notebook and wrote in it every day for about a month. “I am a writer . . . ” After about a month I actually believed what I was writing. In January I met with several pastors about an idea for Good Friday and Easter. They didn’t pick up on my idea, so I thought, oh well, I’ll just do it myself. So I’ve begun writing a series called Good Friday, The Day After. Only one is posted, but the idea has been flooding my mind for several months now. And I find that it’s quite easy now to tell the tale of those who had an encounter with Jesus. Thanks for telling me to Own It, because now I’m doing it. Best Regards!!! Your book trailers continue on with the IDEA, connecting the story’s idea with human emotion and drawing us in.

  34. Thanks so much for sharing — do you have a recommendation for someone who does book trailers? I don’t have the skills, but would love to look into this!

  35. If they’re done well they sell books. Book trailers are also emerging as a new art form. Kind of like how music videos started as hybrid ads for albums and ended up transcending advertising while at the same time promoting albums and bands exponentially. A book trailer even won awards at SXSW this year: https://vimeo.com/184248826

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