Book marketing and book trailers as mini-docs


Author Steven Pressfield posts about book marketing: what doesn’t work, what used to work, the book trailer he spent too much money on, and how little we know about what does work now.

The TV interview gone wrong was the most painful part of his story (who flies 3K miles for a book signing–unless he was already flying in for the interview and thought he’d arrange a visit, I guess?) but there’s nothing to differentiate his post from dozens of others by writers flailing to find a way to effectively market their work.

As he says, his trailer didn’t work (it’s more a mini-documentary than an actual trailer, but there you go) but it was terrific fun to do. To me, that means he’s doing things the smart way, even if he’s not really seeing sales from it. I wonder if he’d had more success marketing his book with a shorter trailer–more negligee, less bare skin, so to speak.

He also says that the only thing that truly helped sales of his book was a rave in the NYTimes. Naturally, this leads to a lament about the loss of the book review sections of the major newspapers and their ability to reach so many people at once.

And I sort of agree with him–not that the NYTimes would ever give a second glance to one of my Twenty Palaces novels. Book talk is very decentralized now. We get our recs from friends on Goodreads or Library Thing, we read amateur reviews on blogs, LiveJournal, Facebook, we… what? Read tweets? Stumble upon? There are a hundred different ways that we discover the books we read and love.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no way to reach a large audience. Scalzi’s blog gets 45K unique visitors a day, which is 500 times what I get, but still small potatoes compared to other folks. If Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, or Neil Gaiman tweet how much they liked your latest, that’s a direct recommendation to nearly two million people. I know a great many of my sales have come from kind words by Jim Butcher, who has the ear of a great many people.

The difference is, of course, that these aren’t institutions you can contact cold. These are real people touched by fame, which means they have to guard their time and energy from users and crazies.

The easiest way to get a rec from someone like this is through dumb luck (ie: they happened to buy and like your book). Beyond that, you need a personal connection, someone who knows them well enough to say “You’ll love this!” without being intrusive. That’s how Jim Butcher read Child of Fire before it was published; Del Rey was publishing his DRESDEN FILES graphic novel adaptations, so my editor contacted him).

Or, if you have to do it yourself, well, that would be a whole different post, one that should be written by somebody else.

But what you can’t do is befriend people for the sole purpose of getting a review or furthering your career. That’s creepy and awful.

So it’s not that there are no avenues to get the word out to a whole lot of people at once. It’s that many of these avenues are people rather than institutions, and you can’t just call them up and say “I’m sending you a great book. Write about it, will you?” Because these folks need to protect themselves from the crazy.

How to market your books, then? Well, in a way, you can’t. You can’t pester complete strangers to rave about your work. What you can do is offer reading copies to the people who already have a relationship with you. You can ask them to help spread the word (hopefully, they don’t need to be reminded).

If they don’t? If none of your friends or acquaintances post rave reviews or give you five stars on, or link from their blogs? Then just forget about it. Brush it off. Drop the subject and never bring it up again.

Finally, if a stranger raves about your work, it’s cool to contact them to thank them and, if appropriate, offer them an early copy of your next book. But that is only for people who already know you or have a reason to talk to you, and you have to treat them with the expected social graces. Leave strangers alone, especially if you’re only going to stare at them the way a starving dog stares at a rib eye.

15 thoughts on “Book marketing and book trailers as mini-docs

  1. Greg

    Have you noticed a steady increase in traffic since you started blogging back in 2008? I’ve noticed that I do tend to buy books from authors whose work I’ve read before on a more regular basis if they have a blog that they update regularly.

    One good example for me would be Pat Rothfuss. I really enjoyed The Name of the Wind, but if he didn’t have a blog, I’m not sure I’d be planning to pick up The Wise Man’s Fear when it comes out in March 2011 given the amount of time that’s passed between his first book and the new one.

    Oh, and Twitter helps, too, I think. You tweet often enough to remind me to check your blog on a regular basis.

  2. This blog gets fewer than 100 hits a day, most days. My LiveJournal, which is mostly a mirror to this site now, has been going since 2004, and that’s where most of the commenting happens. But it’s not that much.

    The only time it got more was when Jim Butcher linked to it from his site.

    So as a marketing device, this blog is mostly a wash. It’s useful for people who want to Google me, but mostly it’s a way to goof off.

  3. Yeah, Pressfield’s trailer is more like a mini-doc. If it was me, I would have wanted to put together something much shorter (2-3 minutes, probably) with some exciting, grab-you-by-the-throat action from the African front during WW 2. I wanted to see tanks rolling over the dunes, soldiers rushing toward each other, planes screaming overhead, etc.

    If you’re going to do a trailer about WW2 (or urban fantasy), go for the jugular. I get the sense that’s what you did with your trailer: it seems like you pretended your 3 books were made into movies and you picked the best scenes from those imaginary movies. Almost like you’re promoting a film series, rather than 3 books. That way you get people sucked in.

    I don’t know if you’ve seen a lot of videogame trailers, but they also bring a very cinematic vibe to the footage, even if what you’re watching won’t actually be seen in the game. Blizzard does a great job of that.

  4. I don’t watch many video game trailers because I’m not really part of that world, but it does seem like its movies uber alles. The movie “style” dominates all.

    At least on the trailers where folks are spending money.

    As for Pressfield’s video, it’s possible that he aspires to History Channel-ish docu credibility. He certainly casts himself as the host of a mini-doc.

    And there’s nothing wrong with that, unless the viewers don’t go for it.

  5. My gut sense is that the History Channel vibe would work for a non-fiction book, but since Killing Rommel is a novel, I would have personally gone for something more exciting.

    Reading about Bruckheimer’s adaption of Killing Rommel, I read this: “Apparently the tone of the movie is described as ‘Mad Max meets The Dirty Dozen,’ as the the British Long Range Desert Group tricked out their formerly sluggish armored vehicles to outmaneuver the deadly German tanks.” If that’s what the book is like, that’s the tone I would gone for in a trailer.

    As you said, the movie style dominates all, for better or for worse. Personally, that’s the style I would use, since it seems to be what people respond to.

  6. Jesus Christ, it’s a novel?? I had no idea. Then again, I didn’t make it to the end of the trailer; too much crap going on.

    Well, now I’ve downgraded my opinion of the trailer accordingly.

  7. RKB

    “You can’t pester complete strangers to rave about your work. What you can do is offer reading copies to the people who already have a relationship with you.”

    I’ve seen an author pester complete strangers on their blog to rave about their work and if they can give proof that that they gave a good review (e.g., Amazon), then they give them some sort of goody.

    This same author told people if they bought the book before the official release date, then they were bad people. She went off on somebody on her blog when someone bragged on her site that they got the book a week early.

    This author also told people if they bought two books and sent the receipt to the author, they would also get some goody.

    Dear Author and other high profile blogs got wind of this authors shenanigans and it started an Internet bru-ha-ha. From anecdotal evidence, people thought the author was cruel and somewhat crazy.

    I’m not sure why I’m posting this, but I thought it was somewhat relevant. Maybe I’m just giving you an FYI on what not to do. :-D

  8. RKB

    I forgot one more thing. You can actually ask (not pester) complete strangers who don’t have a relationship with you. I’ve seen a few review blogs talk about how they got a book for free by an author asking them to review the book if they gave it to them for free. I’ve also seen a few blogs where they reviewed the book because they (sometimes randomly and not given a reason why) got a book sent for free from the publisher.

  9. Yeah, a book review blog is its own thing. I have no compunctions about contacting them directly.

    However, I can’t really think of any that have the reach of a newspaper book review section, let alone one of the three Twitter users I mention above.

  10. RKB

    Not knowing how many subscribers a paper has versus how many readers are at “major review blog sites” (maybe there is some way to look it up?), I couldn’t tell you either way which has more readers.

    *However*, without proof, I think papers get less people than “major review blot sites” because you keep hearing about newspapers losing subscribers left and right.


  11. Well, newspapers publish their readership online for people who want to advertise. The daily paper local to me, The Seattle Times, is ready by over a million people every day.

    There are a couple of sites that do book reviews that have that kind of traffic, but not many.

  12. RKB

    I’m not saying your wrong about the Seattle Times
    readership, but I couldn’t find via a Google search a verification of said readership.

    I did however find that the Seattle Times is in the black as of 2009 and that their paper readership was up. :-)

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