Book Trailers: Five Things Shteyngart Gets Right

Guest: Thomas Doane

1. The ‘Viral’ Element: Style/Content

The style of the trailer reflects the content of the book. Shteyngart’s book is a satire; therefore, his trailer is satirical. Obviously, this particular trailer is hilarious, which helped it to become a viral sensation. At 150,000 views, this is not exactly Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday,’ but it’s pretty damn good for a book trailer. I’m not going to go super in-depth into the math since these things are always highly variable, but if the conversion rate on views-to-sales was 5% then that would make this book a bestseller.

Which, in fact, it was. The book charted at Number 11 on the New York Times bestseller list the month it came out.

Obviously, not all of us write satires. The important thing is to match the style of your trailer with the content of your book. If you do this it will engage the audience you’re targeting.

But how do you disseminate your trailer to your target audience? That brings us to the next step in our dissection of Shteyngart’s trailer.

2. Use all media outlets.

This trailer went viral because it was disseminated across all available platforms: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, blogs, PPC, email marketing, etc. It was on the publisher’s site. It was mentioned on Fresh Air. Not all of us get interviewed by Terry Gross but YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are available to everyone – for free! In some cases, you (or your agent) might want to hire someone to amplify and accelerate this process of dissemination across these mediums. Or you could invest some time into learning how to optimize this part of the process yourself.

There are plenty of materials teaching you how to most effectively use social media to promote yourself out here on the blogosphere. You get to choose your own level of engagement obviously, but the whole point of making a trailer is to leverage your impact across these platforms, so don’t neglect this step. More or less, you’re guaranteed to get out of it what you put into it, but you could get a whole lot more out of this step than you put into it.

You want your trailer to go ‘viral’ on some level—whether that means hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of views – and you will be scaled according to a few factors. One of those factors is your level of prior exposure/popularity. That may not be something you can control. But another factor is: How effectively are you using social media? That’s something you can control.

3. Interviews/Budget

Notice the trailer is packed with interviews. Interviews are cheap to shoot, easy to edit, effective, informative and engaging. That’s why. The convention grows out of common sense and is dictated by the generally small budgets we have available to shoot our book trailers.

It would be nice if we all had the budget to ‘engage’ our audience with exploding cars and supermodels. If we had that kind of money, maybe we wouldn’t be so concerned about pumping up our sales. Since we don’t have that kind of budget—and since exploding cars and supermodels are often completely superfluous to the books we’re promoting—interviews will have to do.

Choose great subjects, edit lovingly, and this part should go just fine.

4. Timing

Note that Shteyngart posted his trailer on YouTube July 7th when his book came out on the 27th. That gave the trailer three weeks lead time before the book hit the stands, and the timing calibrated it to coincide to the weekend when most people would have been reading pre-publication reviews for Super Sad True Love Story in The New Yorker and Harpers. I’m betting that Shteyngart’s agent told him to drop the video on that date.

Not all of us are lucky enough to get reviewed in The New Yorker or to have an agent for that matter, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t follow Shteyngart’s lead here.

This may be obvious, but your trailer should come out a few weeks before your book. If your book is being reviewed prior to its release, reviews will be coming out at the beginning of the month. You should time your trailer to coincide to the time when people will be reading these reviews.

If your book is not being reviewed, you should still release your trailer a few weeks before the book itself is available. This adds to anticipation, and whets the consumer’s appetite. People often want what they can’t have. If your book hasn’t been released yet, and they find your trailer interesting this might—ironically—influence them to buy your book more strongly than its presence on the shelves or on Amazon—one among the millions of other possible choices. This is part of how we must, of necessity, ‘manufacture scarcity.’

5. Length

Shteyngart’s trailer is 4 minutes and 42 seconds long—skirting the outer limits of recommended length for a book trailer. The point of doing a book trailer is that more people will watch it than will watch an author interview. People who do not know you and your work will sit and watch the advert—then listen through the pitch. Shteyngart’s video would probably not have gone viral if he’d stretched it out to 10 minutes in length. So he kept it down to five. Go and do likewise.


Thomas Doane works as a freelance writer and content manager for several internet concerns, writes novels and blogs at gospel(s).

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