Targeting a specific audience for your book trailer

January 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

Or: Book trailers from a video pro’s perspective: The sequel

Last week we talked about book trailers in general and A) book trailers can be a powerful way to market your book, but B) there are a ton of mediocre book trailers out there, and C) if you want to only spend $100 on a book trailer, you should spend your money on other kinds of marketing instead because there is a quality threshold with video, below which I would be surprised if you recouped the cost of the video from added sales (even if it’s only $100). This post started out as a discussion of all the challenges book trailers face, but as it turns out, they are legion and I wanted to take more time addressing them than I could in a single post, so here’s a start talking about the most fundamental problem most book trailers have.

Before starting any book trailer (or any marketing at all), it’s important (if you want your money’s worth) to ask two simple questions: Who is your book trailer trying to appeal to, and how are you going to appeal to them?

The answer seems obvious at first glance: “we’re trying to appeal to people who might like the book, and we’re going to do that by making an awesome book trailer.” For better or worse, there are many layers to these questions, and these layers aren’t always reached. Knowing about both video marketing and writing, it seems to me like the creators of those book trailers are generally trying to throw all the spaghetti against a wall and hope something sticks.

Digging one level deeper than the awesome-book-trailer-for-anyone-interested surface, you have the obvious demographics you want to hit. For example, playing The Clockwork Prince trailer during The Jersey Shore makes a lot of sense, assuming they are targeting teen girls. You can’t get much more obvious than that, and it is straightforward when you’re talking about TV air time. Let’s dig a level deeper though in the same question. Sticking with The Clockwork Prince, are they trying to appeal to readers? Non-readers? Fans of the author? Fans of the genre? Fans of the series? Parents of kids in that demographic? We could go a lot deeper, but I think that adequately demonstrates that there is a lot more to think about than age and gender.

I’ve seen quite a few book trailers that are actually decent, entertaining with quality video, but don’t seem to have a message or target audience. For example, the book trailer below for Alan Arkin’s “An Improvised Life.”

Alan Arkin is not only an Oscar winning actor (for his role in Little Miss Sunshine), but also a founding member of the famous Second City comedy club and improvisation school, so it’s not for lack of talent that this book trailer isn’t a runaway success. I finish watching it thinking “so what?” It’s a clever premiss, and there are some funny moments, but it doesn’t tell me any more about the book than I could get from reading the blurb online. And it doesn’t take three and a half minutes to get that information from a blurb online (book trailers, in my opinion, are almost uniformly too long, but that’s a discussion for another time).

The next question to ask after you’ve figured out who you’re trying to target is: How am I going to target them?

Looking at the trailer for The Clockwork Prince, I’d say it is targeted, whether intentionally or unintentionally, for teenage girls who have already read the first book in the series. It appeals to this age group by focusing on the romantic element of the book, and it targets primarily people who have read other books in the world because even after watching it a dozen times, it still doesn’t make any sense to me. I understand that someone (or several someones) are keeping secrets, that at least some of those secrets are romantic in nature, and the secrets are eating away at them, but I don’t understand much beyond that. I can’t keep track of who’s who or even how many main characters there are (I think there are four or five, but there could be as few as three and as many as eight [one big challenge that book trailers face, is not having characters from past books be instantly recognizable to the audience, even if they’ve read the book, but that’s for another post]).

Let me say right now that I think the trailer is very well made with great music, a great voice over, and an intriguing script (and only one and a half shots that I hate). That said, if Miss Clare or her publisher had approached me and said that they wanted to make a book trailer to target teen girls who had read the first book in the series, there are some things I would have done much differently. First, I would have told them that if they were only targeting girls who had read the first book, I would do a much shorter piece because you don’t have to introduce them to characters they already know, you just have to let them know a new book in the series is coming out and drop a few hints about what’s to come. If they wanted to continue with the longer piece, I would have strove to make it accessible to everyone, not just fans of the series. To do this, I would have cut the number of scenes in half, which would allow more time to get to know the characters and help the audience keep them straight in their heads. Taking more time with fewer scenes would hopefully give me a better sense the plot and who is keeping secrets from who. The montage style doesn’t work well for this because the broader audience has very little context. This would also mean cutting the extraneous scenes that don’t mean much to my target audience, primarily the shot I hated, which was of what I assume was a magician with cheesy glowing balls in his hands (Pitfall #2 for book trailers: special effects. But we’ll talk about that next time).

To look at the trailer from an entirely different angle, if the author/publisher had decided that they were going to go after steampunk fans because of the book’s setting, I would want to focus more on establishing the steampunk aesthetic in the trailer with the visuals, especially in costuming, props, and backgrounds, than on the relationship drama. The steampunk audience may be a small niche, but they are devoted and tight-knit, and a solid steampunk book trailer stands a good chance of being passed around amongst steampunk enthusiasts.

Going back to Alan Arkin: if I were tasked with creating a book trailer for him, I would’ve focused my attention on people who are already interested in comedy and Second City. Not only does that include improv groups around the world and anyone interested in Second City, there are also tens of thousands of people who watch stand-up comedy online who it could catch on with. Sit down Arkin and have him retell a story from his time at Second City. He’s got to have a million of them. Better yet, record all one million of them, then choose the best ones and instead of coming away with just one book trailer, roll out a half-dozen of them, one every week, leading up to his book launch. With a simple interview setup it wouldn’t have been any more difficult than what they ended up shooting.

Again, the key is to ask who your target audience is, and how you’re going to try to appeal to them.

More book trailer posts to come, though it might be a couple weeks. They take a lot more time and energy than my usual posts.

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