Whether you take the reins and make your own video, seek assistance with elements of the process, or outsource the project to a professional firm, an author video can be a great way to connect with your readers — and find new ones as well.
As an author, harnessing the power and global reach of video can be a potent tool in your marketing efforts. Book trailers have become ubiquitous these days across social media channels, providing a straightforward way to spark interest in your title. But, although trailers might be easy to create, they require a certain level of communication expertise and technical skills to be effective and convey the nature of a book. After all, books are not movies, and all the visual pyrotechnics, jump cuts, attention-grabbing background music, and action scenes often don’t always translate well when trying to capture the essence of a book.
Another route you can use to directly communicate with readers is through an author video, sometimes called an author trailer. You can choose to stage it as an interview, discussing your breakthroughs as a writer with questions provided by an interviewer (who might be off-camera), or you could simply set up a camera in your home office and tell your story, with relevant clips interspersed into the finished product. Or, you could enlist the services of a local moviemaker and walk through a certain locale that is the setting of a favorite book or is significant to your growth as a writer.
However you do it, an author video is an effective way to give existing fans a glimpse into your process — or a behind-the-book-jacket view of you — as well as attract prospective readers.
To provide some insights into the options available when creating an author video, three paths are discussed in the sections to follow:
- DIY. The homegrown, do-it-yourself method in which you tap personal assets and tools at hand to take full control of the video creation.
- Assisted DIY. Enlisting the services of a freelance videographer, music composer, interviewer, production team, or animator to complement your skills can elevate your video to a higher level.
- Professional services. If you have the money and the inclination, you can work with a team that helps you shape the video, film the sequences, and generate a polished, professional result.
DIY: Taking control of the process
The DIY approach is often motivated by a lack of funding, but it also provides a unique opportunity to maintain full control over the production process. When Sarah Lipton finished writing her book, The Harmony of Dissonance: Ageless Connections, she decided to create a video explaining the origins of the book. The book, co-authored with her cousin Rifke, begins a journey that starts in Ukraine and spans four generations of family history.
“I didn’t have the money to purchase somebody else’s services,” says Lipton. “I had thought about doing the video way back in the winter — the weekend before the pandemic hit. The last time I visited Rifke, I knew I would want — some day — to have content for a trailer. So, we sat down and figured it out in her living room. We put draperies in the background, arranged the furniture, sat on the couch, and her husband hit the record button on my phone.”
“We recorded three takes of a three-minute video about the book, talking about our writing process and why we wrote the book. When it was time to print the book, I sat down and spent three hours, maybe more, editing in iMovie, cutting the video down from three minutes to one minute from the clips.”
A video clip that Lipton took months earlier of a redwood tree, panning from bottom to top, was added to the trailer, a metaphorical reference to the deep ancestral roots that are central to the story. Stills of some of her ancestors also help provide the context for the book.
Learning video editing is key to a professional end product
“I’ve had many different iterations of video training,” Lipton explains. “It was a slow process, years really, piecing together the different tools. I reached out to colleagues who recommended skilled people and they sent me in different directions to get training. One person taught me how to set up a video recording environment: How to get the right lighting, how to make sure you have the right audio levels for the recording, how to look into the camera. I have a little smiley face sticker right next to my camera on my computer, so I am looking at a face when talking. It is a surprisingly helpful tool. Otherwise, it is hard to know exactly where to look when recording.”
“For video editing, iMovie is pretty easy to use. It was already on my Mac and it is free. On my smartphone, I have a video editing app called Splice, which I really like. It includes access to royalty-free music and does all the things you can do in iMovie. It makes it really easy on your phone to upload a video, upload some audio, upload pictures, and whatever else you want to add into the mix.”
Basics of recording set-up
“I hired someone to give me tutorials about the recording set-up. She sent me a list of her key tools, like umbrella lights and the paper background (if I want to have a plain background behind me). I learned to always have a logo sign behind me to brand the video. Since I didn’t have branding in my author video, I dropped my logo into it, which is a function in iMovie.”
“It required a lot of fiddling to learn how to do the editing — many, many hours. But, it is fun. I think it is worth it because, as the author, I know my content. I know what it looks and feels like. I know what I want it to sound like. I was more satisfied making my own video because I knew what I wanted in there.”
Honing and practicing your pitch
“You may have spent all the years writing the book,” says Lipton, “but have you ever talked about it? Get that practice in. Just start talking about your book. What is it about? How do you feel about it? Get that out. Start talking with friends. Talk to yourself in the mirror. Practice recording. Practice looking into the camera. Do 10 takes. Do 20 takes. ‘My name is Sarah Lipton. I wrote a book called The Harmony of Dissonance with my cousin Rifke.’ Start practicing, and somewhere in there you will get a take that you really like and that you will feel good about and you’ll say, ‘OK, I can share that.’”
Assisted DIY: Lean on additional resources to help
If there are areas in which you don’t feel up to the task — whether it’s finding music to back the video, capturing high-quality video content, or getting a clean audio recording — you can bypass these constraints by seeking outside help for specific parts of the production.
Some book publishers will support an author’s efforts to market themselves and their writing efforts. For example, Cambridge Author Hub provides support to writers of titles it publishes under the Cambridge University Press imprint. The essentials of the program are summarized in a YouTube video, “Author Hub: A guide to creating great author videos.” Authors can also obtain assistance in creating a video, as well as with editing and posting of the completed work.
You can also reach out to the media departments of nearby universities or trade schools to find individuals with expertise in audio and video editing, audio and video recording, animation, scriptwriting, narration, and other related skills to help create your author video.
Talk to other authors, moviemakers, and digital content creators on sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook, where you can find groups dedicated to specific interests. Gaining recommendations from other authors who have discovered services that worked for them can be valuable. Given that much of the work of creating an author video can be accomplished collaboratively over the web, it’s not absolutely necessary to find local talent to make your video. You could even do an author interview using Zoom, Jitsi, or other video conferencing apps. Always pay careful attention to lighting and sound recording, as well as backgrounds, to gain the best results.
Selecting music and stock video
Jim Infantino — an accomplished author, songwriter, and web developer — spoke to me about the importance of using music that communicates the nature of the author’s individuality.
“Music always shapes the way we perceive a video. In the age of music recognition, be careful not to include music that might be licensed because, just like licensed photos, bots will pick up that it is being used and you can get slapped with a penalty. There are many sites out there that offer tracking music with sync licenses you can purchase; however, the best result is to use something that is composed by someone you know or hire someone to compose something for you. That way, your video will have a unique feel that is best suited for your trailer.”
I asked Infantino what advice he would give to an author setting out to create a video about their inspirations and their work. “The task is to capture the essence of your work in a visceral way,” he replied. “This means attention to the imagery, typography, pacing, and background music. If you have iMovie on your Mac, that should be enough to get started. Adobe Stock has an amazing selection of background videos, but you might find what you want on Pexels, iStockphoto, Getty Images, or Unsplash. Always pay the license fee. Some of these are free, but the quality increases with the cost. If you are shooting video yourself, your phone video will be far superior to your laptop video. It’s handy to have a camera stand when you’re shooting video, so you can get your best angle.”
“Also,” Infantino continues, “pay attention to what is in the background of your shot. It says a lot about who you are. Look out for the empty takeout containers or overflowing waste bins behind you. Keep it simple and keep it short. Throw up some reviews to read. People like knowing that other people like your work. Finish with where they can find your writing. Finally, avoid complex transitions and video effects. Keep it simple. We all crave simplicity. Life is too complex.”
Using professional video services
There is no doubt that creating an author video takes considerable effort and will consume a good amount of time. Professional services that have access to the talent and resources to generate a first-class video production can be employed to show your personality and work in its best light. These services, by nature, are fairly expensive, but you can learn from the examples they provide and get a sense of what separates a mediocre author video from one that is memorable and inspired.
Adam Cushman, founder of Film 14, brings top-notch cinematic values and high production quality into the mix to achieve results that are striking and compelling. I asked Adam what makes Film 14 author trailers noteworthy.
“Personalization, for sure, and production quality,” says Cushman. “One of the reasons we normally shoot at the author’s location or creative space is because it’s personalized, which is what readers and new audiences respond to. Using the best digital cameras, operated by seasoned cinematographers, is key. With Film 14, the author isn’t being interviewed as much as guided by professional film directors who understand how to work with talent who sometimes have little on-camera experience.”
“Also, the longer the better,” Cushman says. “There’s a misconception that all videos should be under 90/60/30 seconds because people’s attention spans are limited. I don’t think that’s true. Longer videos perform better than most people realize. If it’s captivating, that’s all that matters.”
I asked what kind of approaches can be used specifically for author videos, compared with the book trailers that Film 14 also produces.
“One of the earlier author videos we produced was for Anthony Swofford’s memoir, Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails, Cushman replied. “We shot it in NYC in a day and Tony acted in it. The voiceover is him reading an excerpt from the introduction, while on screen you’re seeing Tony amongst these various visual representations of his prose. There isn’t one way to do it and you can have fun dramatizing things. The most popular approach is to shoot in the author’s location where they’re most relaxed. There’s an interview component, but it’s done via talking points, nothing is rehearsed. In addition, we shoot B-roll of things like bookshelves, writing desks, pets, maybe a shot of the author in their creative space. If the author has a cinematic book trailer for any of their books we can weave in clips from that as well. The cool thing is that where a book trailer represents one title or series, an author video gives you even more mileage because it’s promoting themselves.”
Cushman offers this guidance for working with interview subjects who may be uncomfortable in front of a camera. “It’s really no different than directing an actor who’s nervous or hasn’t acted much before, at least in terms of relaxation. It’s great to sit in a chair for five or ten minutes and just breathe right before you go on. Most times it’s like a genuine conversation. You start by speaking to the author and when the cameras roll you’re already in the flow.”
But in the end, Cushman says, “Have fun, that’s the main thing. Whether you make the video on your own, or through a production company or freelance filmmaker, it’s a great way to connect with your fans.”
Here are some examples of Cushman’s favorite author trailers, and his quick impressions of them.
This one for the late Warren Adler is my favorite aesthetically.
This one for director/author Rod Hewitt is closest to my heart, also one of the very early prototypes.
Holly Marytn’s video for her memoir is more of a book trailer, with Holly making a cameo at the end.
And then, there’s the time I got to hang out with Paul Stanley.
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