Do Book Videos Work?

I can’t think about William Blake’s “The Lamb” without thinking about Shelby’s and Jonathan’s impressions of Foghorn Leghorn reading the poem:

“Ah… Little Lamb. Ah, say… Ah, Little Lamb. Dost thou know… I, say, I say, dost thou know who made thee?

We were seniors in Ms. Wilmers’ high school English class and she had just finished asking us:

“Why can’t you imagine the vision of a song or a poem in your own head? Why do you need videos?”

She wasn’t able to help us create a shared visual image of the poem and blamed it on our reliance on videos. For her, video didn’t kill the radio star. Video (and Foghorn Leghorn impressions) killed her students’ imaginations.

Last week I read Walt Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” for the first time in years. And though I can’t remember if Ms. Wilmers introduced it to me, I thought of her because the words were overwhelming and I could see President Lincoln and Whitman’s grief over his assassination in my head—and I felt it yanking at my heart, pulling it up through the back of my throat.  And then I asked myself Ms. Wilmer’s question about videos—except instead of with music, for books.

If we can create a vision in our own head, why do we need video to do it for us? And:

Do videos sell books as they used to sell entire albums?

If you’d asked me a few years ago, I would have answered with a loud:

“Yes, they sell books.”

And if they didn’t, I assumed the author hadn’t done it the right way.

And then Steve created a video for his book Killing Rommel.

The idea was that it could be used as a marketing piece, but that it wouldn’t have the look of a marketing piece. Steve knew stories sold more than commercial pitches, so he went for more of a documentary feel, which told a story. He did an amazing job—but it didn’t travel that far off its YouTube page or Steve’s site.

What happened?

Steve avoided doing something closer to a movie trailer, which is something we’ve seen other authors fall into. They create pieces that are teases, which give bits and pieces, and catch your interest, but which don’t tell a story. And while I’ve been drawn to movies and books with cool trailers, it’s usually a word-of-mouth recommendation that pulls me in. There’s more than the trailer to the sell.

So what happened to Steve’s Killing Rommel video? And what about Ms. Wilmer’s question about why we need videos?

We don’t need videos—but they do help.

A video would have helped Ms. Wilmers eliminate the Foghorn Leghorn images, and clue us into what Blake meant. We were still being introduced to Blake and though we didn’t need a video, it would have helped a few of us—same thing with new readers. Authors don’t need a video, but it can help introduce them to new readers.

And if Blake had created it, it would have been an opportunity for him to extend his art via another medium—and share the exact image in his mind as he wrote his verses. Instead of a short trailerish commercial or a long-form film, it would be amazing to watch him talk about how he approached his work—to see his face, his expressions, his emotions.

I can’t prove this, but I’ve often wondered if the Killing Rommel videos needed more Steve.

Yes, Steve’s front and center narrating a script he’s written, but it’s a serious Steve. It’s not the one I’ve gotten to know, who is quick-witted, with a dry sense of humor—the one who has opened his life up for sharing via his Writing Wednesdays and other series. Maybe, instead of telling a story in the style of a documentary, the videos should have been more of what drew Steve to the topic, why he chose what he chose to write about Rommel—more of a director’s cut for a film, talking about a specific scene in the book, pulling it out to show why it is important, why it was written, what it took to write it, additional research available, and so on. Maybe we needed the story behind the story—how Steve got to Rommel, similar to how he’s been sharing how he’s gotten to The Profession.

I don’t have an answer to what happened with the Rommel videos. I like them, but I don’t have a solid reason why they didn’t move.

Do you know?

And I don’t have much of an answer for Ms. Wilmers, either. We don’t need videos. But they do help. I’m certain her follow-up question would be:

“Why do they help?”

For me it comes down to getting to know the author a bit more. That’s what sold me on buying everything from the album to the line of mesh gloves an artist wore in her music videos. There was something more personal about seeing the artist, seeing her vision. It didn’t mean I didn’t have my own vision, but for those artists I was getting to know, it is what set them apart from the rest of the crowd. I’m going to buy that new book or album, or go see that new film, from the artists I already love—whether or not I have the video. The video helps me learn about those I don’t know and serves as a reminder that those I do know have something coming out.

Speaking of videos…

Steve’s publisher Crown created a video for The Profession. They did a great job with it. Sharp stuff. Click here, on the book video link to view it.

Will you be let us know your thoughts on it?

What do you like, not like?

Does it “work” for you?

Is it something you’d share with others? Why? Why not?

Do videos encourage you to buy books? If not, what else gets you shopping?

And if you like videos for books, what would you like? What would you share?


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Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.



Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.



Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"



  1. Scott Oden on June 3, 2011 at 6:30 am

    A good question! I like the more cinematic trailers, and while they don’t make me rush out and buy the book, they are excellent for sharing along social media lines — thus creating some of the word of mouth that you talk about.

    I’d love to see Steve go back and make a book video for Gates of Fire 🙂

    • Callie Oettinger on June 3, 2011 at 6:36 am

      Thanks, Scott. If there was one for Gates of Fire, what would it have to look like for you to share it? More like a traditional movie trailer? Something along the lines of a short story? Steve talking about Gates? A mix? What would you want and what would you share?

      • Scott Oden on June 3, 2011 at 7:21 am

        The easy answer is, it would simply need to exist for me to share it. But, I think it should be cinematic, perhaps peppered with relevant quotes from Plutarch or Herodotus on the Spartans, have very martial music interspersed with something a little more somber, and eschew anything even remotely suggestive of the movie “300”.

        The only narration should be someone speaking at the end, in ancient Greek with subtitles, Simonides’ couplet . . .

  2. Jen Young on June 3, 2011 at 7:28 am

    Hi Callie,

    Very interesting topic! When you mentioned, “O Captain, My Captain!” my mind immediately went to an image of Ethan Hawke standing up onto his desk to salute his teacher, Robin Williams, in “The Dead Poets Society.” It’s a powerful image of respect and grief.

    Video has become ingrained in our culture and our metaphor. That seem to be more the case everyday.

    I think video for books can work but it needs to become a genre with a format of its own. The “In a world…” movie trailer genre carries too much bravado to be taken seriously for books.

    I like your idea of having Steve being Steve in a video. I always enjoy hearing authors read passages from their books on talk shows like Diane Rehm, for example. Authors are storytellers afterall. Maybe it’s a way to bring back the oral tradition of storytelling.

    I don’t know. You got my brain working this morning though, girl. Thank you.

    • Callie Oettinger on June 3, 2011 at 8:04 am

      Thanks, Jen. I’ve always enjoyed in-depth author interviews and I like watching directors/writers do voiceovers while their movies are playing, to describe what’s going on in the diff scenes, in addition to how the scene was made, the inspiration for it – anything funny that happened while making it, etc. But for books, it’s different. What works will depend on the book and the author – can’t be the same for all books. I haven’t seen one that’s blown me out yet.

  3. Man of la Book on June 3, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Great topic.
    I think the jury is still out on book videos. I think it might work based on genre (paranormal or self help for example).

    Personally, no video trailer has ever made me go and buy a book.

    • Callie Oettinger on June 3, 2011 at 8:09 am

      Are there any trailers that have caught your interest and made you aware of a certain author, book, movie, etc. – aware of something/someone new to you? I can’t recall one making me buy a book either, but they’ve put the artists featured on my radar, which gets me closer to buying – often takes one more siting of the author/artist in a magazine, through a friend’s recommendation, etc., before I buy their work.

  4. Jeff on June 3, 2011 at 7:51 am


    Great post! As for the video for The Profession, I really felt like it didn’t do the book justice. First, the overly dramatic voice over was distracting. Similar to your visions of Foghorn Leghorn while reading “The Lamb,” the voiceover on Steve’s video instantly called forth visions of:

    I also thought that one piece of info given in the video could legitimately be seen as a plot spoiler.

    As for your intuition about book videos that feature the author more than the book, I’d have to agree. Two of my colleagues made exactly that kind of movie for their book, The Soccer Mom Myth. You might find it interesting:

    – Jeff

    • Callie Oettinger on June 3, 2011 at 8:22 am

      I almost fell out of my chair watching “5 Guys In A Limo.”

      I like what Crown did, but it feels like a movie trailer more than a book trailer – but then I’m struggling to define what a good (as in, it sells books) book trailer is, so perhaps the movie trailer appeals to some? Just wondering about that sweet spot between all these different versions. What is it?

      Thanks for sharing the trailer for your friends’ book,too. I like the personal style – and that both authors are so different, bouncing back and forth.

  5. Owen Garratt on June 3, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Hooboy – I’m nervous bringing this up because I respect Steven so dashed much – but that’s also the reason I should be frank.

    The one and ONLY problem with the Killing Rommel video is that there’s too much of it. I don’t mean in terms of length, I mean in terms of content.

    It tells too much of the story, when its real function should have been to sell the story.

    It was very clean and professional, and Steven comes off terrifically on camera, but it was too much of a documentary instead of a sales tool that should have been edited in half.

    It did a great job of tweaking the viewer’s interest in The Story, but then it went too far in telling the story…that was supposed to be the book’s job.

    I’m sweating buckets – I hope Steven takes this in the spirit of respect that’s intended, and not in umbrage! 🙂

    • Callie Oettinger on June 3, 2011 at 1:37 pm

      Owen –

      Thanks for your honesty.

      There is a long and short version. Do you think the short version is too long, too?

      We want to avoid an obvious sales tool, full of pitching, which turns people off. Then there’s the doc style, which didn’t hit either. We’re wondering about that spot in between, which hits the mark – which shares something readers want to share themselves. If you have any ideas on what that might be… Please share.

      And if the books job is to tell the story – instead of the video sharing that bit – should there be a video at all? Or should the video be something completely different?


      • Owen Garratt on June 3, 2011 at 5:06 pm

        Hey Callie!

        I don’t know if I saw both versions; the one I saw was, porous memory notwithstanding, around 20 minutes long. (?)

        Sure there should be a video – It’s a perfect way to promote across various media and reach people one may not have reached otherwise. And yes, one doesn’t want a “BUY NOW!!!” over-hyped video – but that wasn’t’ the problem the video had – nor is hype the solution.

        I’ve been a full time artist for over 15 years, and despite what SO many artists and creative types believe and are horrified by, marketing isn’t about being a blowhard or a gasbag.

        Proper marketing is about creating interest and sharing information: it’s just like a first date.

        The objective of a first date isn’t about bolting into the sack or to the wedding chapel…it’s about getting a second date.

        If, on that first date, one of the parties shovels out his or her whole past – warts and all – there’s not much reason for a second date because you just got the whole story. There’s not much left to discover.

        Who hasn’t been on a date that went like gangbusters – lots of conversations and shared experiences – only to shrug your shoulders in retrospect? The magic is the discovery, and if it’s presented in point form…it just isn’t the same.

        That was the problem with the Rommel video – in its effort to share the story it went too far and inadvertently robbed us of our own thrill of the chase and the journey…

        All that needed doing was cutting out the parts that explained what happened and leave us with what they were tasked with.

        It’s got nothing to do with hype…tell us ‘what’, but not ‘how’…that’s what The Book is for.

    • Steven Pressfield on June 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm

      No sweat, Owen, you’re right! We actually did shorter versions — a three-minute one and a thirty-second one — but oddly enough they didn’t work either. Thanks for shooting it to me straight!

      • Owen Garratt on June 4, 2011 at 1:32 pm

        Thanks Steven; I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I’ve spoken out of turn – I only spoke out of much respect…

        You’re Da Man!

  6. Trish on June 3, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    I’m on the cusp of being an old-style vs. new-style reader, but with that in mind, I’ll say that I can’t think of a single book that a video has enticed me to buy. There is one that made me shy away from buying but that was because it was embarrassing to watch.

    What does make me buy is a sample chapter. If I like it, or if it intrigues me or catches my interest just right, I’m quick on the ‘click to buy’ button. I may find that sample through looking up an author after reading an interview and – on occasion – a well-done review.

    Note that I don’t go searching for book videos (and haven’t seen Mr. Pressfield’s), so I may not be your target audience.

    • Callie Oettinger on June 3, 2011 at 1:50 pm

      Trish – Thanks for your comments.

      I agree on the sample chapters. That’s what often pulls me in, too.

      With all the videos, though, we’re wondering about them moving forward, so if you don’t mind a few questions…

      IF you ran across a video, what would capture your interest?

      For those authors you know, would you rather watch something personal, about them/their work, or a commercial for their books? Or would you skip the video altogether?

      Thanks, Trish!

      • Trish on June 3, 2011 at 8:03 pm


        Wow, good questions, though I’m not sure I can answer them usefully. My own personal tastes are probably outside the mainstream, so my ideas no doubt will be, too.

        I think what would first engage my attention would be the author’s passion for his or her work, so some sort of interview or quick cuts of them talking about or discussing their writing might do the trick.

        Another tack might be to pique my interest with aspects of the novel that appeal to me, though not necessarily with actors. (To be honest, I personally tend to dislike seeing actors cast in fictional roles of books I haven’t read yet, but that could just be me.)

        For instance, I’ve been looking on the Amazon site about Mr. Pressfield’s next book, The Profession, and it seems to me that you’ll have to make a choice as to who you want to reach with a video: those who naturally have gravitated to his earlier books or to a new audience who will need to be intrigued by aspects of the book that may not be obvious.

        The reviews, oddly enough the less than 5-star ones, lead me to believe this book is not “just” a futuristic military thriller, but a book that will make me think about where our current choices are leading us. That appeals to me.

        Maybe show me, the reader, what I will get from reading it, not only the story per se but the reward of the whole reading experience.

        My best guess is that a short video of various readers’ experiences of reading the book – genuine emotions, no clichéd publisher-ese (including perhaps about the characters as well as the political setting) – would catch my interest and at least make me look for the book.

        In this case, I think including military readers (though not exclusively) would lend an authenticity that would add weight to the appeal of the story for both military and non-military alike.

        It’s interesting, but I have the expectation that I won’t look at my current world in quite the same way after I read The Profession. And that definitely appeals to me.

        Hope this helps. (Please forgive any typos. I’m typing this on my iPad.)

  7. Paul C on June 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    What about a video of Steve on the road promoting his book, and doing some book signings? It could be informative and whimsical. An inside look with a sense of humor at what a book tour really involves.

    • Callie Oettinger on June 3, 2011 at 1:57 pm

      Was just thinking about that, Paul!

      If I bring a camera to Steve’s signing and catch him in action – what would be of interest to you? Seeing him sign? Sneak off to play golf? Answer questions off the cuff, which readers send in? Talk about the weather?

      • Paul C on June 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm

        We must be reading each other’s mind. Get the most important stuff in first- pictures on the golf course, and a picture of Steve’s golf swing for the Legend of Bagger Vance to analyze! You could make a pretty funny slideshow of pictures from hauling in the books and answering odd questions to pictures of the waitress asking Steve who? Or a picture of Steve holding up a Callie You’re Fired sign if the book signing bombs. Just kidding.

        • Callie Oettinger on June 3, 2011 at 3:30 pm

          OK. I’m going to figure this one out – something other than the fired sign would be great!

  8. Corey J on June 3, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I’m not sure I understand the concept of using one medium to sell another… It seems to me that today’s book reader actually reads books because they get something from them that they can’t get from a movie or TV, whether it’s being read as an e-book or an audio recording… The book itself has to appeal to readers who want to experience the activity of reading and it’s benefits that one can’t get from a more visually oriented medium. Those are the aspects that have to be touched upon and accented in a video for a book.

    It seems to me the target audience for a book video is one of two camps–those that read books already, and those that watch videos who might be convinced to pick up a book. Which is the video aimed at? Both will be looking at the video with different perspectives and different needs/wants. I would think it would be difficult to use a video to “market” to both camps.

    There are many today who simply don’t read books. Is the video trying to win them over? Is the video speaking to current book readers who don’t have to be convinced to read and are instead perhaps choosing which book to select? Each will have different content, different approaches, and different styles. I’m not sure it’s beneficial to create one video that tries to speak to all audiences…

    • Callie Oettinger on June 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm

      Corey –

      Thank you for commenting – ALL great points.

      One medium to sell another – I didn’t think about it this way. I always thought of book videos as a way to sell books – as a marketing piece vs. another artistic medium. So if the video truly is one medium selling another, should it be an extension of the book/author and less commercial? It would gain interest by expanding upon the book/author vs pitching the book/author or telling a background story that isn’t of interest. Or should it even exist? Do book readers buy off of video? Videos work when selling other products/in other arenas, but for books?

      I’m with you on marketing to the two camps – they both require different approaches. I’ve been assuming that we could use the same video for both, which is what has been done in the past. I wouldn’t use the same approach for different audiences in any other arena, but I didn’t consider different videos for different audiences. I’ve not seen an author with multiple videos/approaches. For the most part, there’s just the one.

      Thanks, again, Corey. I still have tons of questions, but your comments helped me switch gears.

      Late edit: Just saw your recent post on your blog – good reading!

  9. Harry on June 4, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Thanks Steven Pressfield for what you do. Reading this particular piece has inspired the thought that there is perhaps a book to go with the film i made about Harold Pinter. Here’s the trailer:

  10. Harry on June 4, 2011 at 10:58 am

    Sorry – full disclosure: It’s a terrible Trailer. More of a clip really. But the film is very good indeed! Harry

  11. Owen Garratt on June 4, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    As for the original question ‘do book videos work’, #1 bestselling author Tim Ferris will tell you “Yes, absolutely”. He has lots of posts about the process he used to hit #1 this past January.

    It’s fascinating article and interesting to note that he didn’t “pummel his list” or do any other distasteful marketing; it was all value added (albeit controversial to some). Elsewhere in the blog, Tim’s assistant discusses the various steps they took to promote the book.

    Tim’s trailer is intriguing and focused on showing that the book reveals things that a reader may find valuable…and it sold a TON of books.

    So the question becomes “How does one effectively apply these concepts to a work of fiction?”

    • Callie Oettinger on June 7, 2011 at 1:14 pm

      Thanks for sharing this, Owen. Your ending question is THE question of the day – how to apply to fiction? I keep going back to your “value added” comment, too. That’s what seems to get shared – those value-added pieces. So what is that for fiction? I like watching cut scenes for films. Would readers want cut scenes, earlier edits, from books? Would they want to see the types of edits that go back to authors? Maybe an earlier draft of a scene? An alternate ending?

  12. Patrick Smith on June 4, 2011 at 6:48 pm

    Hi Callie,

    I’m not a buyer of the big-voice, big-promo video produced for the Professional. Having devoured the galley, I don’t think the video does the book justice, and it feels inauthentic – exactly the opposite of what it seems like you all are trying to achieve with the blog.

    It seems to me that whether it’s videos, or this blog, or supporting materials, the goal is to deepen connections – person to person, as authentically as possible.

    We’re past a world where only the hits survive. We’re in a world where there’s richness in the long tail. It’s too bad that publishers are still in “hit” mode.

    I strongly encourage you to use all media at your disposal to give us more insight into Steve’s research, thinking, obsessions, theories.

    I’d love to see whole series with personal and historical background about each of his books.

    • Callie Oettinger on June 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm

      Thanks, Patrick! Lot’s to think about. I hope you can join us at Quantico end of June.

  13. Kathleen on June 5, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Hi – just wanted to jump in here and throw my thoughts into the mix. I am not drawn to a book (fiction) by a movie trailer style video because I don’t want the images of the characters planted in my mind before I read the book. They’re two different mediums and need to be marketed differently in my opinion. Also don’t want the story to be attached to the writer in my mind. It interrupts my “willing suspension of disbelief”. What has worked for me is seeing/meeting the author in a brief appearance on a show like the Daily Show or Colbert -light and with just enough content to stimulate my interest and know if it’s something I would want to read. Thanks for a thought provoking post! Kathleen

    • Callie Oettinger on June 7, 2011 at 1:19 pm

      Kathleen – Competition is stiff when it comes to doing a Daily Show or Colbert interview. If the author did that type of interview solo, recorded himself or herself, would it have the same appeal? Callie

  14. Mike on June 7, 2011 at 8:14 am

    I’ve given some thought to the video and why the reception might have been less than expected.

    I think many of us have been trained by watching PBS, History Channel and other documentaries. These films have a definite style and pace; a style and pace that works.

    The 10 minute Killing Rommel film feels rushed to me. Steven comes off well on camera and the content is good, but his voice pace is faster than what I’ve come to expect.

    There was a another comment that it seemed like a lot of content for 10 minutes and I echo that comment. It seems like a 10 minute deadline was set and the material was rushed to get into that time frame.

    I believe as viewers that we need time to process and associate what is being presented. When delivery is rushed, we don’t have that processing time. The result is that the richness of the experience doesn’t develop and we’re uncertain about what we’ve seen.

    • Callie Oettinger on June 7, 2011 at 1:21 pm

      Thanks, Mike. It’s hard finding that balance between too much and too little. We’re learning more each day and will share moving forward. Callie

  15. Debra on June 14, 2011 at 2:40 am

    Doesn’t work for me. It sounds like a bad, generic, movie trailer – deep, spooky voice designed to evoke suspense. I wouldn’t share it with others because it doesn’t tell me anything unique about the book.

  16. David J. Guyton on June 17, 2011 at 8:43 am

    Too many authors fail to see that people who are looking at videos online are NOT interested in reading sentence after sentence explaining a book. 95% of “book trailers” are still pictures with text over them. Some readers might read along, but even true blue, hardcore readers are not watching videos online to READ something. A video is an entirely different medium than writing.

    I made a book trailer for my first book (more than 50,000 views now) and my book sales have more than tripled. I am working on an even higher quality one right now. I didn’t just put text over photos either. Both of my trailers are live action short films with actors, special effects and all. My second one even has a choreographed fight scene put together by the guy who worked on the movie Gladiator. (Coming soon)

    Will that sort of video sell books better than text over still pics? Most certainly.

    David J. Guyton

  17. Josie Johnson on October 4, 2023 at 9:21 pm

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