For this Trailer Time, I’m going to take a look at a book trailer that might not be. See, the title of the trailer is not the title of the book, it’s the title of the series; yet, the trailer itself serves the purpose of introducing us to the first book and to the series.
Watch and see…
So, what do you think? Is this trailer marketing a book or a series? Is there a difference? Let’s work our way through the trailer itself to find the answers.
The trailer starts with a dramatic musical score and some interesting play with colors and images. Both elements continue throughout the majority of the trailer and they help to give the trailer an epic feel. To me, epic implies series, but it doesn’t have to. There are individual, independent books that are epics unto themselves. Still, the epic feeling is strongly tied to multiple books in the contemporary marketplace.
Ten to twelve seconds in, we get our introduction: “a world haunted by its past.” Thus, the first act the trailer takes is to build the milieu (setting, atmosphere, ect.).
Now, I grant, there are books where the milieu is the most important thing. A few of these books are single-episode books. Most of these (at least, those that I’ve read) are part of a series. Often this is done intentionally, but there have been times where reader demand has required a sequel or a series when the author intended to tell a single story. In this trailer, the first book is intended to be followed by other books in the same series.
We have another forty seconds of milieu building. We learn there has been an epic struggle, lasting generations, which has created a norm of uncertainty. This, again, suggests the epic nature of the story and it also suggests a series of stories that could or should be told.
At the 53-second mark, we are introduced to the first characters, a princess with a secret and a leader with a mission. One is of the Dark and the other is of the Light. So, we start to have a story, but we’re still very much immersed in the epic nature of the story.
Now I have make a two distinctions. First, a story is about people doing things. A milieu is great, but unless you develop characters who take action within that milieu, your readers are not going to care about your milieu. (You also need conflict and whole slew of other stuff to make a real story, but the point is that a milieu is NOT a story.) Second, the conflict between light and dark is culturally iconic. Both light and dark are metaphors (which may be turned on their heads, but let’s not complicate this too much) for good and evil. Western culture (England and all its descendant countries—though why that’s “Western” I’ve never been sure) regards the battle between good and evil as a thing of epic proportions that, in one sense or another, transcends the entire scope of time and space as we know it. So, by evoking Light and Dark, the author immediately creates an expectation of epic proportions.
Thus, even by introducing the characters, the author is reinforcing the epic nature of the story. This battle, this milieu, this story goes beyond these two characters. It has to! Metaphysically speaking, these two characters may embody the epic battle in finite fashion, but that’s a temporary illusion. The battle started before they existed and it will continue long after they’re dead, whether the story does or not.
Next, we have a distinction made between destiny and fate. “Destined” is used as an expectation—probably finite in nature—whereas “fate” is used to indicate chance taking them in a different direction, which may or may not involve a higher purpose leading them to a better outcome. To put it in more familiar context, this is like saying Romeo and Juliet were destined to hate each other as their families had always done, but they were fated to fall in love and die, thus healing the rift between their families. Not sure that use of the words really works—but enough with the quibbling.
So, now we are subjected to questions we can’t answer, but are supposed to want to answer:
- “A journey began…but where would it end?”
- “a heart broken or a war won?”
- “a continent gained or a kingdom lost?”
Thus, we know the stakes of this story (stories?) are epic in proportion. But we don’t know if these stakes apply to the series or the book. We don’t know if these characters are the main characters of the book or of the series. We should expect these characters to be introduced in the first book, but we don’t know if their paths cross early in the book or later in the book. But we do know their paths cross in a way that changes things. We suspect that they each have a goal and that their goals will, at least in the beginning, conflict.
None of these questions are resolved by the time we reach the call to action: “Experience the pain, the adventures, the epic struggles…”
What do we know? We know there is an epic battle between Light and Dark. We know there is a princess and a champion, and that the champion is not the champion (at least, to start with) of the princess. We know there is war and that this war has gone on in some sense for generations. We know that this book is part of a series, but we don’t know whether the series will follow generations of characters or the lives of these two characters. We know that there are weighty stakes, but we don’t know whose stakes they are. We know that the title of the series is “The Altethlon Chronicles” and the title of the book is “Book One: The Queen’s Hero and the Ubion Princess.” We know it’s by Zee Gorman. We know there is a single book available at Amazon.com.
So, is the trailer marketing a book or a series? Unfortunately, it’s marketing both. And that’s why it fails. Don’t get me wrong. I’m interested, but… And that’s the problem. There’s that “but.”
If the purpose was to market the series (the milieu), then the author got off to a good start, but failed to follow up on that promise. If the purpose was to market the book (the story), then the author got too caught up in the milieu to really communicate what we need to know about the book. I’m left feeling confused, not motivated, and that’s bad.
See, here’s the thing: You do NOT market a series to new readers. You ONLY market a series to fans of your work. In other words, if you want to sell readers on your series, you have to start by earning their trust. You can’t do that in a trailer. You can’t do that in a website or a book poster or in any other form of marketing. You can ONLY do that by writing a great book that deserves a sequel or series. This doesn’t mean that you don’t ever create a trailer or other piece of marketing to advertise the existence of a series, but it does mean that you keep those items away from a general audience and take steps to make sure they are available primarily to the fans who will come looking for them. You START reaching out to new readers by marketing a book. A single book. Preferably the first book in a series. IF you already have a second book out, you can mention that…at the end of the trailer. But, the trailer itself should focus ONLY on the book that’s going to hook new readers and ONLY as it stands as a book. You can also market subsequent books in a series, but that is something you have to do carefully and how you do that depends on whether readers can really read the book as a stand-alone story.