How to Make an Awesome Book Trailer (And why you should!)

book trailer - woamn in forest

Wherever you take a look online, you can see the internet is becoming more and more audiovisual. Flashy pop-ups, animated advertisements, that funny cat video your bestie just retweeted.

As the technology reaches that point of comfort,video content becomes more of a necessity than just an alternative. And while beautiful and compelling long-form prose is essential in bringing your book to life, it faces too many challenges as a primary method of promoting it online.

There’s just too much content out there vying for your potential reader’s attention!

So much so that while having complete strangers spend time reading your excerpts and sample chapters long enough to get hooked can happen, it’s not necessarily the best way to go about it.

What’s the alternative then? – They asked, quizzically. (Yes, I just adverbed quizzical. Deal with it.)

Well, just as the title of this piece already spoiled it, book trailers have gained more and more ground as a powerful piece in any promotional blueprints for a new book. Wait, allow me to correct that: awesome book trailers, that is.

Now, as great as an excellent book trailer can be to help get your new novel in the limelight, a bad one can easily push it into oblivion. Or even worse, have people actively avoid it!

But fret not! It might seem counterintuitive at first, but making a good trailer for your book can be easier than making a bad one if you are paying attention…

The Number One Reason Why Most Book Trailers Fail

I think that most book trailers that fail do so because their authors weren’t paying attention, and invested too much into the making process.

To be a writer you need to be intimately familiar with storytelling. Yet, it’s not difficult to do a quick YouTube search and find dozens of book trailers that amount to little more than poorly put together image slideshows with no rhyme and even less reason.

Just as it is with novels and movies, trailers are meant to be narrative instruments!

This means that all those other important storytelling concepts that apply to other mediums should be accounted for to an extent in your trailer as well.

Trailers have to tell a story (albeit an incomplete one,) and do so as they convey your book’s dominant idea, tone, style, and intent; as subtly or as overtly as your work demands it.

Oh! It also has to do so in the span of a few seconds! Almost forgot to mention that…

However, before you start to hyperventilate, let me reiterate that this isn’t necessarily a herculean task. Instead, it just requires you to be attentive to the process, aware of a handful of tent pole components that you need to include to make your trailer an experience in and of itself.

One that will leave viewers with little choice but to learn more about you, and your book, as soon as it ends.

Well then, with our objective clear, let’s go over these essential pieces and start gearing you up with the knowledge you need to start making those fantastic book trailers.

On alluring your audience, and learning from movie studios:

Whether it is for a movie, TV series, or book, trailers are there to inflame a viewer’s interest for a longer-form piece of content. It is an advertisement format that the movie industry has been using and honing for decades, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t go there to reverse engineer the components you should include in yours.

The Hook

Just as you slaved for days on end tweaking, editing, and polishing your book’s first few lines to make sure they captured any curious eyes that glanced at them, you need to strive to do the same with your trailer’s opening seconds.

Don’t let yourself forget what you are going up against here: an endless stream of data, competing for user’s attention.

Most of these users decide whether to engage or not with your content out of the video previews or the first three seconds, so the beginning of your trailer is paramount.

Find a sequence, sentence, or opening capable of hooking your viewers and not letting go.

The Premise

Your trailer should be able to communicate the basic premise of your novel, without spoiling it!

It can be a hard balance to attain, however, nothing you probably haven’t faced already while writing cover letters and back-cover sales copy.

Just make sure you are giving out enough information for anyone watching to “get” what your book’s about while fighting the urge to reveal more than absolutely necessary to get them to the point where they want to know more.

The Characters

I’ll be bold and state that your trailer should always include at least a character, regardless of the format you end up going for.

Stories are characters; characters are stories. So, thinking that you are done with your trailer by “being mysterious” (a common mistake I see often) and just attaching a handful of phrases, and describing some inciting incidents and world-building details is a mistake.

Even for non-fiction, the authors and their vision should take the place of the main character in a trailer (much in the way documentary trailers do,) providing something that the viewers can attach to.

In the same line of ideas, please do not overdo it.

Be aware that you only have roughly a minute and a half, so don’t try to cram your entire cast, regardless of how important you feel each one is.

The Music

Sound is another vital piece necessary to make a good book trailer, one that a lot of authors struggle with.

The best advice I can give you in this regard is for you to make sure the piece of music you choose to accompany your trailer fits. Nothing can make a trailer feel disjointed faster than inappropriate scoring.

What’s worse, choosing the wrong piece of music can kill the mood you are trying to go for, which in turn can portray your book incorrectly.

If you don’t have any of experience in this field, find a couple of trailers for movies you think share the same tone and feel with your book, and see how their trailers did it. Then use the same musical principles in yours.

The Script

The script is another huge reason why many book trailers fall through.

Just as many authors fail to realize a trailer is in itself, a storytelling instrument, they also tend to ignore that it can benefit greatly from developing a script for it.

A script is an instrument that helps you guarantee that the whole thing works.

A lot of authors settle for copy and pasting parts of their books or a selection of quotes about or from it. This is a mistake, as it often makes the end result feel disjointed and disconnected.

Strive to create a cohesive script for your trailer, one that supports the narrative and marketing goals you want it to achieve. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to make your trailer an overt story, but it does have to work like one (as stated before) and the script is the best place to make sure that happens.

Working on your trailer script is also an ideal format to start making annotations to guide other elements that will become irrelevant later, like visual cues, imagery, animations, etc. Something that we’ll cover in our next, and final, point.

The Storyboard

To wrap up this incursion on the things you should account for on your book trailer, let’s talk a bit about the storyboard, and why you should work on one to ensure the quality of your trailer.

If you haven’t worked on one before, the idea of working on a storyboard can seem daunting, however, they are more manageable than most people think. At least not once you know how to work them. (Don’t worry, the process is the same whether you are doing one for a whiteboard animation, a commercial, or your book trailer.)

You can think of the storyboard of your trailer as very similar to your book’s outline. A storyboard is there to help make sure everything you started to set up in the script actually fits together in a more visual format. Taking the viewer from point A to point B precisely the way you want it to.

Storyboards matter because they let you get a clear view of how all the significant elements of your trailer are coming together (visual cues, the script, voice over, animations,) and how these elements interplay even before you have to invest even more time and money bringing the whole project to reality.

Example of a video storyboard

What’s more important, storyboards help you spot issues with your trailers from all stages of the project while still in the pre-production process of the actual filming stage, which can be the difference between something that works and something that doesn’t.

Finishing a book is such a demanding and challenging project for most authors that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed once they are faced by the also intimidating task of actually advertising it and letting people know about it. Yet, having an awesome book trailer doing the rounds and showcasing your work, to strangers and fans alike, in a compelling and exciting way can make all the difference in the world toward achieving your goal.

While there’s a lot more that goes into the actual technical process of recording and producing book trailers, the topics we discussed here are things that rely heavily on your input. Ensuring each of these critical elements is developed correctly is a good step towards being head-and-shoulders above most other authors who try to improvise a fantastic trailer that every good book deserves.

So, what are you waiting for? Crack those knuckles, open up a file, and start working on that awesome book trailer! Just like everything else you’ve accomplished thus far, it’s not going to create itself.

About the author

Victor Blasco

Víctor Blasco is the founder and CEO of the explainer video company Yum Yum Videos. He is also an audiovisual designer and video marketing expert. Aside from running the business, he loves studying Chinese Philosophy and is a real geek for science fiction films and comics! Contact Victor on LinkedIn or Twitter