Workshop Issue: Book Trailer Basics


Vision 64


Book Trailer Basics


Lazette Gifford

Copyright © 2011, Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved


I'm new to the art of making book trailers. I've created a few which can be found on my YouTube Channel:   I've enjoyed the work and I've learned something from each one, as well as learning a lot from watching other people's trailers.


This article is going to be as much about attitude in the approach to the book trailer as about putting the pieces together. The technical side is easy to learn once you decide on your program, but because there are so many programs, it's not possible to teach you them in an article like this. Trust me, though -- that's the easy part.


Book Trailers, much like books themselves, are personal representations of what you feel about your art and how you view your book. The choices you make will reflect your individuality and you need to focus on that aspect and not on how you can make your work look like someone else's. This is about you and your work. You may want something to reflect the same sort of feelings, but make certain you approach it in your own way.


The first thing to do, however, is to study other book trailers.


Or look through YouTube or at your favorite publishing site. You'll find all kinds.


Check out more than the ones for your genre. Look at techniques. See if the book trailer is done by the author or by a professional team. Yes, many of the professional ones are incredible, but unless you have a huge advance on your book sale, don't even consider hiring it done. You don't need to. You can do the work yourself like so many other authors have done.


You may not have the budget to do 'movie' style trailers, but then again this isn't a movie. Remember that fact as you put the work together, because you are trying for a different audience. The two, naturally, overlap in many places and plainly book trailers are meant to be like movie trailers -- but they are not the same. You want to draw your audience in to read something, not to sit passively while the story comes to them. The reading public is more imaginative and discerning than the average person who does not read.


There are two basic programs people often use to create a book trailer.



Windows Movie Maker


It is outside the scope of this workshop to teach you how to use the programs themselves, but I can say that Windows Movie Maker is quite simply a matter of dropping the pictures into the timeline at the bottom of the program, putting the music in the sound track section and adding titles either before, after or over the pictures. You also choose the length of time a picture remains up so that it can better coincide with the beats of your music choice. You can add in special effects. Windows Movie Maker is usually bundled with the Windows programs. Check and see if it is on your computer. The Mac program, iMovie, is available on newer Macs as well.


You can also use a site like One True Media ( ) to create your trailer. What program you use is less important than the visual and sound sections you put into it.


If you are not an artist of any sort, you will want to find Royalty Free images and music. The easiest way to track down what you want is to go to Google and type in Royalty Free Images or Royalty Free Music and start checking the sites. Be certain you look over their usage rules. Sometimes you cannot use them in order to sell something else, and your books fall into that category.


Step 1: Think Short


After studying several hundred book trailers I found the ones which held my interest -- even when they were not in a genre I read -- were the ones which were short. Trailers that went over two minutes often dragged because the author was not getting to the point. There were a few that could hold the interest for that long (and longer), but usually they were exceptional.


The written part of your book trailer is the most important part. Remember that you are trying to appeal to readers, and if the writing here is lackluster, then they are not going to be drawn to your story.


A book trailer is a blurb for your story and not a synopsis or even an introduction. Think of the presentation as the equivalent of the little bit of back cover writing which draws the reader's interest to the story. You don't want to give away too much and you don't want to load it down with facts about your world or characters. Entice the potential readers. Tease them. Get them to want to see more.


That's not easy, of course. Working with your novel's actual blurb is a good place to start.


Here is a blurb for my science fiction novel, Ada Nish Pura



Fighter Pilot Marcus Trevor is the only survivor of a treacherous attack against the star ship on which he served. Injured and alone, he must take refuge on the world of Kailani, a place of vast stretches of water and where a large portion of the population is genetically adapted to living in the sea.
With the enemy taking over this mineral rich world, Marcus must work with the locals while waiting for help to return. And it is here that he learns the true meaning of civilization and honor.
Ada = Decision
Nish = No
Pura = Return
Sometimes there is no going back.


This is too much wording for a book trailer, but it does give the basics I need to work with. You will use pictures to reinforce the written word which means you don't have to explain everything out in detail.


Line 1: An act of unforgiveable treachery (Ship destroyed)

Line 2: A desperate and dangerous escape (3 pics, crashing into sea)

Line 3: Refuge among people he doesn't understand (Pic of seaborn in water)

Line 4: Caught between mistrusting allies and dangerous enemies (Marcus)

Line 5: Marcus Trevor is going to learn the true meaning of civilization . . . (Close up Marcus)

Line 5: and Honor (Same as above)

Line 6: Ada: A decision (Knife)

Line 7: Nish: No (Knife in hands)

Line 8: Pura: Return (Take knife)

Line 9: Sometimes there is no going back (Star field)


There in nine lines I have recreated the feel of the blurb. There are additional pieces you will need to include, however.


Very beginning:

Ada Nish Pura, a new science fiction novel by Lazette Gifford, (Star field picture)

And at the end (all shown over the cover art):

Ada Nish Pura, Available in Ebook format at Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble

For more information check


At the very end many people will add credits which include program used to create the book trailer, where got or how created the pictures and where you got the music.


If you can work out your list to about ten to twelve lines you will know exactly how many pieces of art you'll need to fill in the spots and what type of pictures you are going to be looking for.


There is one more important aspect about the written sections of the book trailer. Keep the lines short so that you can make the letters large. There is nothing quite so annoying as small writing and lots of words on a book trailer. Either they are too small to read in the regular YouTube window or they go by too quickly -- or sometimes they stay long enough, but it makes the piece static while the reader waits for the next thing to happen. We know that not everyone reads at the same rate. However, with fewer words and a faster movement, you are more likely to pull back someone to watch again if they think they missed something. If they felt that the trailer was boring them, they're not going to go back anyway.


Exercise 1:


Take one of your novel blurbs and rework it into a list like I've done above. Cut it down to no more than 12 lines and make each line as dramatic as possible and fit the story. Do not give away too much of the tale, though. You want to surprise the reader!


Step 2: Pictures


Limited space means limited number of graphics and lines of text. Each section of the trailer is likely to be no more than five or six seconds long. Pictures may stay up as text changes or text may stay the same as pictures change. On the average, though, you are going to want from six to ten pictures per one minute of trailer. Six means each one will be up for ten seconds, and that's far longer than it sounds. Time some of those you see on other trailers.


Some pictures can do double duty. You can zoom in on sections of a single picture to stress some aspect of it.


If you make your own art, then you don't have to worry about hunting out pictures, but it will take you some time to create all the pictures for your work. If your ability is not fully up to the work, you might want to do some of both.


Do NOT use copyrighted pictures of your favorite actors/rock stars/etc. Only use pictures that you find on the royalty free sections or pictures to which you own the copyright. You can go out and take pictures of the world around you, but if you take pictures of people, you need their permission to use them.


Picture after picture of different people on your book trailer is going to get boring. Think of something else that works with the theme of your story and that you can use as a symbol. Feathers are often symbolic of wings, for instance. A tree on a hill can represent a moment of peace. You can also use impressionistic pictures of colors and light to designate an emotion (red for anger, green for envy) if the picture will fit with the words at that point.


If you hunt through pictures and need to use several, be certain the faces are enough alike for the same character that it doesn't leave the person watching wondering if this is someone new. Use the pictures more than once by zooming in on faces or eyes. 


Some people use live-action video in their work. The same rules apply plus the added warning to make certain the video does not look cheap or the acting amateurish.


Exercise 2:


Find at least five pictures to go with the writing you have done in Exercise 1. You will likely need more, but this may not be the time you want to take to hunt them all down. Get a feel for what you want and see what you can come up with.


Choose at least one picture that is symbolic of your story or theme.


Step 3: Sound


Finding even a short soundtrack for your story is daunting. You are going to be listening to a lot of music and after a while, it is likely going to all start either sounding the same or annoying you. You are unlikely to find exactly what you want, but once again remember not to use copyrighted material, no matter how much you love it.


There are only three things to consider for music:


1.    Fits the feeling of the story

2.    The breaks in the tune work well with picture transitions

3.    You will annoy the least number of people


The first part is the easy one. You are the artist who best knows what works. You may get lucky and find something very early on, or it may take you a long time. You may, in the end, decide on something that works over continuing what is likely a fruitless search for the exact music.


The second part is both an essence of the music and your ability to adapt the pictures you have chosen. At this point, you might find that some of your art doesn't work or you need more pieces.


Most programs (like Windows Movie Maker) allow you to use transitions between pictures and special effects over the pictures. This means you are not going to just stick pictures up for a few seconds and then replace them with the next one. Fade in and out are common tools and some special effects include things like zoom or moving from one part of the picture to another. This simulates movement, which can help make the piece less static. So can moving words. When you pick a piece of music, imagine how the pictures and words are going to flow through it. Consider, once again, if the tune and the beat fits the story you want to tell.


And last, consider your audience. Something may appeal to you but will it annoy people listening to it? Will it be distracting rather than helpful? This is a hard one to decide. Quite often, the type of music you might hear on a movie score is less likely to annoy people but it may not work for you. Be flexible, though.


If you are going to have anything read aloud, be certain that the voice is up to the work and that the equipment used to make the recording produces a high quality end result.  Remember, though, that you are dealing with readers, and they are perfectly capable of reading the material on the screen themselves.  If you are going to do a reading, do it for effect becasue it suits the mood.


Exercise 3:


Go out there on the great music hunt. Good luck. Remember to be flexible because you are not likely to find exactly what you want. Make certain the rights say you can use it.


Step 4: Put it all together


You now have all the pieces in your hands. Putting the book trailer together is a matter of fitting them in place and making certain they flow with the music. It takes practice, but it's also fun. Once you are done, save it to a proper format and upload to YouTube, which is the most convenient spot to put them because you can then copy the code and have them appear in different places. If you are going to be doing several, be sure to set up a personal channel to handle them and make it easy to send people to one place to find them all.


There is no single 'best way' to do a book trailer. There is no perfect program, art work site or music site. What works for your first book trailer may not work as well for the next. Much like writing, you have to be open to trying new things and realizing that you can undue and redo anything. With that in mind, it is best to consider saving various versions of your work in progress if you make major changes.


Exercise 4:

Pull all your piece together and see what you can come up with.

Experiment. Don't fear trying something unusual.  You never know what might work.

Always remember that your focus is to sell the book.  You are not creating the book trailer just for its own sake.


As with everything else, don't stress over this.  If your first book trailer doesn't do well, make a second one.  Many people have more than one trailer up for single titles.


Good luck and have fun.