Monday, January 11, 2016

How to make a book trailer on the cheap

A post by Mary Fan
Book trailers are fun. No one can say for certain whether they actually help boost sales, but they
certainly don't hurt. And personally, I find them a lot of fun to make.

There are several different types of book trailer out there, and which book gets what type depends on budget. For instance, if you're a Big Cat Publisher like Hachette, you can made a full-blown Hollywood-style trailer with lights, camera, action, and all the bells and whistles:

If you you don't have $30,000 to spare (that's a guess... I have no idea how much a live-action trailer like that would cost, but I did work on a 2-minute animated promo video at my day job, and that cost $30,000), don't despair. You can still have your book trailer and watch it too.

Unlike movie trailers, which show actual footage from the film to tease the audience, a book trailer doesn't have to be precise. It's more about capturing the atmosphere and idea of a book than the actual events (similar to what many book covers do). The genre and mood matter more than whether the house depicted in the trailer looks like the house described in the book.

This is how to make a basic book trailer on next to no budget. All you need is a computer, simple video editing software (like iMovie), and an internet connection.

Step 1: Choose the music

Nothing sets a mood like music. Or sets up genre expectations. For example, when I worked on the trailer for Kelley Kaye's cozy mystery, Death by Diploma, we used circus music to depict the frenzy of the main character's life and the quirkiness of the situation she finds herself in:

The stock music site Audioblocks has tons of options, from epic orchestral soundtracks to soft piano melodies. And you should be able to sign up for a free trial, so if you just need to download one song, then your budget for music is exactly zero dollars.

Step 2: Write the script

A book trailer's script is similar to the back cover copy. It should introduce the main characters and central conflict in a nutshell and leave the reader wanting more. This is probably the hardest part about making a book trailer. You don't want the script to be too long, since people who watch trailers have short attention spans. Ideally, a book trailer should be under 90 seconds long (two whole minutes is pushing it).

The reason this step comes after choosing the music is so you can time the script to the musical cues (it's much easier to adjust text than to edit a sound file). Depending on what you're comfortable with, you can either narrate your book trailer, like this...

Or use text only, like in the first example. When using text, though, timing becomes even more important, since you don't want to bore your viewer by having them stare at the same line of text for 10 seconds, but you also don't want to make the text go by so fast, they can't read it.

If you have blurbs or customer reviews already, you can also include those, like this...

iMovie cheat: If you want to use a font that's not in their options but have it on your computer, you can type the text into a Word doc, then copy and paste it into iMovie. You won't be able to change the alignment from left, though.

Step 3: Choose the video and/or images

The next step is to find the right visuals to illustrate your script. These can be either videos, still images (though if you use stills, add a panning or zoom effect to keep the trailer from becoming static), or a combination of both. Again, it's more important to capture the mood of your book than illustrate the literal events.

For instance, when putting together the trailer for Traci Borum's Christmas-themed novel, Seeking the Star, we focused on finding images of winter and old-fashioned Christmas decorations, rather than trying to depict the characters or events.

Of course, this doesn't mean you shouldn't pair words with images that match when possible - just that it's not 100% necessary (and sometimes not 100% possible, depending on what kind of book you wrote. I had a lovely time searching for visuals for my space opera...).

The stock footage site VideoBlocks has a lot of options, though some types of footage are easier to find than others (basically, you're going to have an easier time if you're doing a contemporary novel than sci-fi/fantasy). You can sign up for a free trial, which means so far, no money spent. If there are items around your house or buildings in your area that you think would illustrate your story well, you can also take your own footage (you don't even need a fancy camera... since web videos are small anyway, a smartphone will do). For the Oracle of Philadelphia trailer, I whipped out my iPhone near some local gothic buildings to get those shots depicting hell (hell in the book is a gothic mansion).

For photos, you can get cheap stock images on Dollar Photo Club, or take pictures yourself (some of those Christmas pictures in the Seeking the Star trailer were ones I snapped at a tea house during my travels).

You don't necessarily need a lot of visuals. For the Sleeper Protocol trailer, we focused on the text and pacing, with a few images interspersed to bring the words to life:

Step 4: Edit it all together

Now that you've got the ingredients, all you have to do is piece it together! Personally, I like to match downbeats in the music to changes in text and footage, since it tends to emphasize the words and drama more. Especially when the music has very strong beats, like in this one:

When it comes to transitions, keep the pacing in mind. If you're doing a slower-paced trailer (like the one for Seeking the Star), page-turns and fades work well. Fast-paced trailers (like Seeing Evil) pretty much require cuts only. The music will largely dictate the pacing.

You can also use different text colors and effects (iMovie comes with a handful), though use sparingly, since too many sparkles become annoying.

Fair warning: The editing process will probably take longer than you think, just because there are a million ways to tweak the timing and trim footage. And you might end up adjusting the script slightly depending on how things are looking in practice.

That's it! After that, you have a book trailer!

Oh, and just because, here's the trailer I made for my very own Jane Colt trilogy...


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I always wanted you to make me a book trailer because you're so good at them - and I don't want to.

Carrie Beckort said...

Great tips, Mary! I've not done a book trailer yet, but I've been thinking about it. I did get to play around with iMovie a few months ago. My daughter had a book report for school and part of it was to 'bring the book to life'. She decided to do a movie trailer and it was a lot of fun. It turned out so cute. I could see how it would be easy to use for a book trailer as well. Also - love all the trailers you worked on! Great job.

Mary Fan said...

Lol! It ain't that hard :-)

Mary Fan said...

Thank you! I think they're wicked fun :-D

Leandra Wallace said...

Thanks for the tips! I'd love to have a book trailer someday, so I'll probably refer back to here. Need all the help I can get, b/c I suck at technology...

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