Interview Part 1: Sheila Clover English, Circle of Seven Productions

Five years ago, before anyone could have anticipated the rise of YouTube, Sheila Clover English asked Michael E. Miller to help her put together a trailer for her book Circle of Seven in the hope it would attract the interest of a publisher. What happened next was a sensational plot twist worthy of the novels she now helps to advertise. English launched what would become a robust video production company recognized with Davey and Telly awards for its romance novel advertisements.

An October blogpost about book video trailers has been steadily attracting page views here, and it caught English’s eye this week. Using online videos to promote books has been one of the few Web trends the average person can recognize as worth the investment. English agreed that book videos are suddenly receiving lots of attention:

We’ve seen an increase in booksellers using them. Borders Group has taken our videos since 2003. A lot of independent booksellers started using them, playing them both on their websites and, in some cases, in their stores. Barnes and Noble recently started taking the majority of our videos this year.

What author’s promotional budget can accommodate a Circle of Seven Productions Book Trailer? English was candid about the cost:

People always think it’s expensive to have one made, but really it isn’t.

Prices start at $250 and all of our videos come with online distribution as part of the package. For the price of a print ad that someone will see one time, you can have a promotional tool that will stay up for a year!

The least expensive COS videos consist of a single image, usually a book cover, enhanced with music and text. Extra costs are incurred if the video needs to be formatted for television. More complex trailers start at $1,500 for an author interview or begin at $4,000 for provocative scenes based on a book.

COS Productions owns and distributes the finished videos. Clients receive copies to distribute with press kits and feature on blogs, video-sharing sites, and other websites. “But, the copyright,” said English, “belongs to COS Productions.” To illustrate her position, she noted:

That is an industry standard. Anne Rice doesn’t own the copyright to the movie Interview with the Vampire. The author does not give up any intellectual rights. But, they also can’t take our work and have another company make changes to it without our permission. We do have contracts that cover copyright and protect the rights of both the client and COS.

YouTube and MySpace users enjoy watching, creating, and rating mashups, which means video junkies will be pleased to know COS Productions tactily allows its trailers to be edited and remixed. English was good-natured about the inevitability of tributes:

There are different kinds of licenses out there, and the kind we use when we make a video allows for people to pass it around to their friends. We are flattered when a fan makes a mashup. The client may not want that. Once you put them out on the ‘net you have to figure someone will want to make a mashup.

A twentysomething fan who calls herself Nerd Girl with the Yoda Backpack arranged a video compilation of COS trailers for a popular series of Christine Feehan’s erotic paranormal thrillers and then set the remix to the music of Evanescence. Displaying the casual reaction of a publicist who understands viral, English remarked, “I thought it was cool.”

“If you don’t want mashups done, you have to pursue copyright infringement and have the sites take them down,” said English. “It’s hard to control and to police.” Instead, COS Productions launched Reader’s Entertainment Channel, or RECtv, and provided a place for users to post their own book videos. English promoted the venture with this offer:

If you’re someone who has made your own, please send it to us! We own Reader’s Entertainment TV, and we play non-COS videos there. If you mention this blog we’ll set you up at no charge!

Viewers and readers who enjoy mashups, but lack the technical skills to produce them, can send English creative suggestions. “Oh, yes!” she urged:

There are even groups, and we have a fan site where people can make suggestions. We also have beta testers who are a part of our quality assessment program. These are various people who have volunteered to preview our videos and give us feedback on them.

English, who runs her company from Mt. Sterling, Kentucky, is a digital thoroughbred, keeping pace with new media entrepreneurs who capitalize on virtual workspace and untapped markets. Her business’s name could easily refer to its circuit of far-flung associates working in locations that span the U.S.

COS Productions’ corporate office and special effects studio are in California, along with its head of productions, Victoria Arias Fraasa, whose office is in Los Angeles. COS production teams mobilize for sessions with authors like Mark Stuart Ellison and travel to writers’ and publishers’ conventions, where interviews with established clients can be recorded for RECtv.

As more video production companies get into the book promotion business, COS relies on its past performance and its record of creative achievements to remain competitive. Knowing the history of the book video trailer, said English, will help the company predict the future of the advertising specialty:

In 2002, when we started making book trailers, we Googled the term and there were zero returns on it. So, we trademarked the term Book Trailer. No one knew what it was. No one cared. Now, try Googling that term.

As soon as book videos started getting more and more popular, many production companies jumped on the bandwagon. Hey! It’s American, and that’s the way a free society works. We expected it.

We remain competitive by being the leaders in what book trailers look like and what they are used for. We have many competitors who have signed up for our newsletter and follow our lead.

We work with booksellers and readers to find out what they like. We challenge ourselves to make the best videos and then we research all of the venues for distribution. We don’t just make videos. We work with the author to see what they want for their book or for their career, and we gear the product toward those goals.

We have the most extensive online distribution and we also do TV and movie theater placement. We stay on top of trends both in book promotions and in video technology.

COS registered the name “Book Trailers” as a product trademark, but English remains unruffled as the terminology eases into the public’s lexicon.

We get a lot of flack over whether or not we have the right to use the term as a trademark. Of course, no one cared back in 2002, which is how we won the trademark. Now that we’ve made Book Trailer a household term, everyone thinks it is “common.” It wasn’t so back in 2002.

We do not police the term where authors are concerned. Most authors don’t realize the term is trademarked. Besides, they aren’t making money off the trailer in a direct way. Competitors, however, are not allowed to use the term, and we do contact them or have our attorneys contact them. We spent tens of thousands of dollars to make the term known and to make it a product name of COS.

Creating brand recognition and expanding fan bases are two functions of promotional videos that lure authors to COS Productions. English has more to say about how book video trailers might evolve, who watches them, and why they’re so much fun. Check back tomorrow as she reveals more about her business:

Interview Part 2: Sheila Clover English, Circle of Seven Productions

7 Replies to “Interview Part 1: Sheila Clover English, Circle of Seven Productions”

  1. Sheila is absolutely right. She’s a very hard worker. COS provides a service for a lot of authors. I’ve seen QUALITY WORK from Sheila. If you have questions, she’ll answer them forthrightly. She will actually help the “little person” just getting started. COS is INNOVATIVE, QUALITY, ON THE MOVE, AND VERY IN DEPTH. I can’t wait to see what Sheila comes up with next.

  2. Has anyone researched the increase in author revenue generated by having a book trailer online (or on TV)? It would be very interesting to see – I would guess that there would be a substantial increase because the trailers may “entice” the reader more than just cover art or a blurb alone.

  3. All I know is that when I discovered COS book trailers, I started making my book list right away…haven’t been dissapointed yet. Now my friends who love to read go on the site or the MYSPACE site for COS to get ideas about what to purchase next. They are like mini movie trailers, great quality…we just love them…Sheila does an excellent PR job and many authors love to use her services. Love the special effects and the music.

  4. I’ve watched Sheila nurture this concept and this business from just an idea and a vision. I’m glad I had (and have) the opportunity to participate as a writer, producer and director of COS book trailers, and I love the relationships we’ve been able to cultivate with the book authors!

  5. Christi & Semet, I was also impressed with Sheila’s online networking skills and friendly demeanor. She answered my questions via email in a flash. I imagine her clients enjoy her attentiveness.

    Angela, I’ll keep an eye out for facts and figures from independent sources. In the meantime, lively discussions among advocates and skeptics are on record. You’ll note Sheila’s comments, if you follow the links.

    Papa Joe, we all know support and encouragement are frequently in short supply. Sheila demonstrates how an optimistic—and professional—attitude inspires clients’ loyalty. Contagious enthusiasm can sometimes be more important than the profit margin. I might add that I agree with one commenter on another blog who liked the least expensive book video trailers best.

  6. As far as seeing an increase in revenue the answer is “yes.” We now have publishers paying to place them on TV over and over again and booksellers taking them for free and not charging for placement. Believe me, if they didn’t help sell books no one would do that.

    COS did a survey not long ago and 80% of the people surveyed preferred the long acted-out trailers. It’s so interesting to me to get that kind of feedback. Also over 90% of the people surveyed said they had purchased a book because of the trailer!

  7. Angela, I haven’t found any numbers for you, but if you listen to this presentation by Seth Godin, you’ll notice his theories about how companies and products get noticed could be applicable to book video trailers. The one-sentence bio accompanying the linked video says, “Seth Godin is an entrepreneur and prolific business-book author who specializes in marketing in the digital age.” He’s an entertaining speaker who’s been listed on my blogroll from the start.

    Sheila, I’m looking forward to your guest blogpost, and I’ll definitely ensure you’re notified of any questions posted here by readers.

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