While a video can be a great attention-getter online, a poor-quality book trailer can be disastrous for your promotions. Here are ways to create a book trailer that sells books.
If you’re nearing the publication and promotional phase of your novel’s life, then you may be thinking of creating a book trailer — a short video to pique viewers’ interest in your story. The benefits of trailers all involve attracting attention on social media and the novelty of experiencing a print product via video. In my personal social media experience, trailers are shared far more often than posts with only photos or text, and according to Business Insider, “Online video ads are getting three times more clicks on average than other digital ad formats.”
Still, while videos can be great audience-attractors, I find that book trailers are pretty awful, more often than not. In fact, sometimes I click on a book trailer for the same reason I might look out the window after hearing a crash, just to see what fresh disaster has occurred. As a video producer, I think the reasons for these disasters are often due to a poor understanding of the limited number of viable approaches. In fact, I would say that for novels, there are only a few good trailer types (and take notice that one of them is not the author talking on camera, which can be disastrous).
Animation with music
The simplest method for creating a book trailer, and the one I chose for my novel, is to use a little animation and music. The animation can involve textual or figurative elements (like animated drawings or photos), and I’ve done a little of both for The Futility Experts. I think a text-based trailer matches well to a text-based product, and if you have some good blurbs, this is a great way to showcase them, as long as you keep the whole visual show moving, which I’ve done by continuing my silly text animation through all of the blurby screens.
Music is critical for this type of book trailer, and since I’ve written a comic novel, the music needed to do its part to convey that. I searched long and hard to find an ideal match — I used PremiumBeat, but there are many other royalty-free online music sites — and I added a cymbal-roll sound effect whenever I wanted more emphasis. The budget for this trailer was $750 for one day of an editor’s time on the animations and $49 for the music. It may seem like a lot of money for book promotion, but it forced me to then come up with as many ways as I could to share the video, and in the end, I believe it will more than pay for itself.
Animation with voiceover
This type of trailer is closely related to the one above, and here is an excellent example for The Miriam Black Novels by Chuck Wendig that has stayed with me since I first watched it. This uses animated text on screen to match the reading by a wonderful character actor. There’s no music at all for this one, but there could be. I’d say that if you have a killer opening paragraph (and of course you should), then this can give readers the experience of opening the book in the bookstore and falling in love with the text, delivered by the narrative voice of their dreams. The costs here are for an editor who does text animation and for a voiceover artist. There are a few websites where you can find and hire voiceover artists, like Voice123 and Voices.com.
Scene re-creation (or scenic video footage) with voiceover/text and music
What if you want to bring a scene (or scenes) to life with actors? I think this works best if you also include a narrator who can explain the chosen scene and how it relates to your story as a whole.
For this type of trailer, here’s a wonderful example for the young-adult novel Trust, by Kylie Scott. You can also use onscreen text instead of the narrative voiceover if the scene doesn’t need much explanation, and you should add some music, as the example does quite well.
As tempting as this scene-recreation approach is, I would urge caution unless you have a bigger budget (starting at a few thousand dollars) or a number of really great actor/video-crew friends who will work for free, with emphasis on the great, because lower-level acting skills and poor production values can draw attention away from your story and put a video more in the category of “gawked-at disaster.”
A cheaper way to incorporate video footage in your trailer is to shoot scenic, moody images without people in them — a forest, an abandoned house, a country road. You can rent a decent video camera and tripod from rental houses or some camera stores for not much money and shoot these scenes yourself if you have a good eye. Many people also use video shot from mobile devices or stock footage. Then add some explanatory text, lay music under it, and voilá!
Length. The three trailer examples I linked to above are all under two and half minutes, but I think it’s best to stay under one and a half if possible, because unless you’ve got a real dazzler, most people just won’t take the time to watch the whole thing.
Striking the right tone is crucial. I’ve seen some trailers that are so over the top in the drama department that they serve the opposite purpose of making people want to read the book: they make it look like the creator doesn’t know how to tell a compelling story. And I wouldn’t use overly dramatic, big cinematic music unless it’s clearly for a joke. If you’re trying to be scary, quieter music is scarier — the sound of a child playing piano one note at a time, for instance.
Movement is necessary to hold interest. Making a block of text slowly grow larger on the screen is not the kind of movement I’m referring to. If your trailer is text-based, have individual words pop or move onto the screen or use vivid color changes. If it’s image-based, dissolve quickly among the images.
Strive for originality. What does your novel have going for it that makes it unusual? Is the main character 100 years old? Have the narrative voice match that feature of the character.
End the trailer with a call to action. Show an image of the book cover and let viewers know where it can be purchased. If you’ve done your video-producer job right, they will.
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