Interview with Skye Van Raalte-Herzog of Expanded Books – Book Videos Demystified

Book videos – also referred to as “book wraps” and “book trailers” – are becoming enormously popular.  Publishers of all sizes are beginning to experiment with them as promotinnal tools.  Similar to movie trailers, books videos are typically short 2-3 minute videos which provide a visual synopsis of a title and perhaps feature a brief interview with the author. 

Expanded Books logoReaders have expressed a lot of interest about book videos recently, so we interviewed Ske Van Raalte-Herzog, producer and co-founder of Expanded Books, one of the largest producers of book videos, to learn more about their creation, uses and cost.  Before starting Expanded Books, she worked at Warner Bros. Worldwide Publishing for nine years producing film and television tie-in books for the studio. She has collaborated with nearly every major U.S. publishing house on tie-in books.  Skye is also a literary agent and book packager, and has developed and sold publishing projects under her Libros Publishing Group banner.

FPP:  There are a number of terms floating around – book trailer, book wrap, book video. Has one of these become standard?

Skye:  No, there is not a standard term that we know of. They are all book videos and beyond that publishers are using any of these terms to describe them. As the business matures, there may be a point in the future where it will make sense to come up with clearer classifications, for a trailer or a commercial for example. As of right now, the terms are interchangeable.

FPP:  How popular are book videos are with publishers?

Skye:  As publishers recognize the power of video in general and the amazing reach that’s possible through the web, more are starting to embrace video promotion for their books. At least some of the imprints at all the major publishing houses are using video for promotion and we expect that the smaller publishers and authors will follow suit.

FPP:  Is there an optimal length for a book video?

Skye:  Book videos, like all other videos on the web, should be only as long as they can hold a viewer’s interest, with all the other distractions that are competing for their attention on the desktop. In general, our videos are around 3 minutes, although we have released some that are much shorter and others that are much longer. There is no set length that is standard. What’s important is the content and how long it can engage the viewer.

FPP:  What materials, if any, do you usually have the author provide?

Skye:  We are always happy to work with as many materials an author publisher can provide.  If the book has photographs, we can include those in the video.  If the author has any other visual elements that relate to the book and subject matter, we can use those as well – including video. Depending on the nature of the book, authors provide no visuals to lots of visuals. For novels and books that have no visual element, we try to create some that are appropriate when possible. In cases where artwork is available, our aim is to display it in the video as tastefully as possible.

FPP:  Is it always a good idea for the author to appear in the video?

Skye:  This really depends on the nature of the book and the author’s comfort level in front of the camera. There are some instances where the author is the best person to “sell” his or her book but that’s not always the case.  Sometimes, the artwork can tell the story, other times a dramatization or a short promo would work better. The video should be a fitting reflection of the book and since there are so many different kinds of books out there, there is no one set method of approaching a video for that book. Each video is conceptualized and conceived on a case by case basis, taking into account the subject matter and the wishes of the author/publisher. We try to come up with an approach that will best sell the book-sometimes that might include the author and other times it won’t.

FPP:  What are the key production values for a successful book video?

Skye:  This depends on the nature of the video. In general, we strive to achieve high production values, meaning that they are professionally shot and edited. However,  we have worked on some where the author/publisher wanted a more gritty, viral look and for some books this might be appropriate. The other elements that make a high production value video are the audio  quality, the music, sound effects, additional visual elements to make it interesting to watch, etc. Because we distribute our videos through the major portals on the web, we feel it is important to strive for a certain level of quality.  In addition, a high level of quality is important since it enables us to pursue distribution through other channels such as libraries, video on demand, internet TV, etc.

FPP:  What are the steps in creating a book video?

Skye:  We first speak with the publisher or author about the book and what they envision for the video. We always read the book and either develop interview questions or an alternative creative approach which we work on until it is approved by the author/publisher. We then set up a shoot date with the author or shoot the footage on our own and finally, we put the video together in post production. We deliver it to the publisher/author and they have the opportunity to make changes and then it is finalized and distributed.

FPP:  How long does it take to produce a book video on average?

Skye:  In general, we usually produce a video in 6-8 weeks. We like to have as much time as possible to create visuals and shoot additional footage if necessary. It also takes a lot of time to edit the full length interview down to an acceptable length for the web. Most of our clients give us at least 2 months, however, we have delivered a video in as little as a week – although this is not recommended!

FPP:  Based on the length of video, what should a publisher or author budget?

Skye:  The average cost of a video is about $4,000 – $7,000 and this varies
depending on the shooting location and what is involved in the production – if it is a dramatization, has computer graphics and animation, etc. The cost is determined once the creative approach to the video has been solidified.

FPP:  What are some of the most popular uses of book videos?

Skye:  Publishers are using video in many ways to promote their books.  Their aim is to raise awareness and have an ongoing presence on the web in as many outlets as possible. One of the advantages to a book video is that once it is posted on the web, it is up forever so it can continue to garner attention and streams for years after a book is released. When compared to sending an author on tour, the cost is significantly less and the reach is much greater and longer lasting.

Some of the ways publishers are using book videos are: postings on retailer web sites such as Borders,, and Amazon, postings on their own web site and author web sites, distribution to the media to aid in booking TV appearances for authors, in electronic press kits, running video loops in major retail outlets such as Wal-Mart and Target, for generate presales interest and orders with retailers, distribution to blogs and specialized web sites related to the book.

One of the services that Expanded Books provides is distribution, in addition to production. Expanded Books’ distribution channels include: MSN, Yahoo!, Google Video, iTunes, YouTube, MySpace, Revver, Roo, iFilm, Powells Books, Bebo, Veoh, Transit TV, and more. (You can see a complete list of our distribution on the Expanded Books website under Publisher Info.)

FPP:  Where are the best places to post book videos?

Skye:  It’s important to get as wide distribution as possible for the videos and also to post them on sites that are relevant to the audience. For example, we have done several craft videos, for knitters and crocheters and these videos were posted through our distribution channels and they also were posted on craft, knitting, and crocheting web sites and blogs.

FPP:  Do you see any new trends in the creation, distribution or use of book videos emerging?

Skye:  At this point, publishers are still trying out video and gauging how well it
works for different kinds of books. They are also trying out new formats, such as trailers, promos, and longer format videos distributed to book clubs and individuals on DVD. The areas of video creation that will grow are the ones in which publishers have gotten the best correlation to promotion and sales.

We are working with several publishers that are even expanding beyond the web and are producing TV commercials for their books. Because there are so many specialized cable channels available to publishers, the cost of the media buy is now affordable. Also, production of the spots, which used to be cost prohibitive, is more affordable as well when working with companies such as ours.  You can see examples of our TV spots on the Expanded Books website under Publisher Info.

film reelOf course the best way to gauge what is happening with book videos and convince yourself of their power to captivate is to watch a few of the latest from Expanded Books’ catalog.  You can also see a sampling of some of the company’s recent work by viewing their Sizzle Reel (Windows Media format or QuickTime format). 

WARNING:  Books videos are highly addictive!

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