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How to Make Awesome Book Trailers (and Why!)

by | Apr 9, 2020

By Victor Blasco

If you’ve ever considered producing a book trailer to promote your book, today’s informative post by Victor Blasco might answer any questions you have about making a trailer. Have a read and leave any questions you may have in the comments below.

Here’s a question you don’t hear very often: “Did you see the trailer for that book?” And here’s why that’s a problem:

Mechanically speaking, book trailers are cousins to film and TV teasers, giving you great avenue to promote your book. They seek to motivate the audience to buy and enjoy a product firsthand. But whereas film trailers set the expectations of millions of moviegoers from months in advance, that sense and scope of widespread delightful excitement is rare when it comes to books.

The fact that most book trailers tend to be, well, bad, might have a lot to do with that, though.

It’s not just that they don’t deliver their marketing message effectively. Some do. But book trailers are rarely well-produced or even developed, so they end up coming across like awkward, low-budget clips.

The good news is, nowadays, there are plenty of high-level, professional video companies that are specializing in making fantastic book trailers. Today, we are taking a page from their playbook and figuring out how to make book trailers that shine!

Where Many Book Trailers Fall Short

Let’s get something clear: Even though there are some great book trailers – given that they are a dime a dozen – people aren’t used to seeking them out. They don’t expect them to be a thing!

Another common issue with many book trailers is in their conceptualization and the way they are handled. First thing you should do here is understand that, while book trailers have a lot to learn from their cinematic counterparts, their purpose is quite different!

Done right, book trailers are supposed to sell an idea, not so much a product. We’ll break down what that means as we explore how to handle them appropriately. But suffice it to say for now, that we must dispense with the notion that trailers are just some form of commercial!

Learning from Movie Studios to Capture the Audience’s Attention

The biggest challenge book trailers face — compared to movies — is that there’s no existing footage of the product. You are selling words in print, not a longer version of the teaser! So, you should approach your book’s trailer from a different perspective.

Good book trailers don’t necessarily show you the book itself, or even the writing – although they can, in some instances. Instead, they go about finding the best way to promote each specific title by creating an engaging short that stands on its own.

A great book trailer is a brand-new work of art and should be treated accordingly.

That said, there’s still plenty of know-how that publishers and authors can learn from the movie industry. For starters, good trailers don’t settle for giving you just a shorter version of the film. They find narrative cues and audiovisual combinations that entice audiences and spark their imagination.

Spoilers aside, we had no idea about the actual fate of Tony Stark before the Avengers trailer was released. Good trailers like this are designed to give the audience just enough to create a sense of expectation about the final product; they are not scaled-down versions of it.

Creating similarly effective pieces for books is entirely possible, but there are a few key aspects you should consider.

Hook Viewers from the Get-go

Leave the buildup for your novel’s chapters; start the trailer with something that grabs the audience’s attention right away!

Usually, you don’t need anything outside your book to achieve this. Just spend some time thinking about what particular values you expect the reader to find in your book and highlight this early on in the trailer.

You don’t need to provide a synopsis or brief summary of the content, either. Rather, you want to invite the audience to be part of something bigger. Whether your book is about a mystery, a new problem-solving method, or the answer to one of life’s central questions, these premises hold value to your audience. Make them present in your trailers early on.

Take this trailer for the lavishly titled The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making as an example. From second one, you are hit by a unique pairing of unusual music accompaniment and graphics.

It is a simple strategy, but one that perfectly sets the stage for the simple animations and on-screen text to tell you what the story is about in a very “matter-of-fact” way. A different tune and a more conventional art style might render that same text (and trailer) rather bland affair, but all elements combined synergize into something great!

Focus on the Premise, Not Developments

The secret behind a successful book trailers’ effectiveness lies in their ability to reveal neither too little nor too much about the piece. Just enough content to pique the audience’s interest.

Set the most basic conflict or situation in the trailer when appropriate, but beware not to overload the audience with information. You can take the structure of explainer videos as a guide. These pieces illustrate complex ideas in a short amount of time by dividing it into three acts but steer away from overloading the audience with information.

So, at most, strive to provide a solid indication of the main plot or primary argument of the book but avoid adding detailed developments.

Mind Characterization

Readers enjoy using their imagination to create their own images of the book characters while reading. Unless visual representations are already included in the book, avoid incorporating them on video—which means, think twice before using real-life actors as the book’s characters.

Exceptions are acceptable for individual cases, based on your creativity and the risk you are willing to take. But you should always have good reasons to include live-action acting in your book trailers, not the other way around.

Music is a Powerful Asset

Part of what conveying an idea rather than a product means, is setting the general tone of the book in your trailer. The atmosphere your book conveys once you read it. And music can help you a great deal in this regard! But you need to be careful not to overdo it.

The last thing you want to do is make your video look cheesy or too dramatic. So, it’s critical to mind the music and sound design cues you’ll use.

There’s no level of priority here: work on the musical aspect of your video either alongside visuals or – at least – before you have your main message worked-out. Just try to find good-quality audio pieces to accompany your visuals, which isn’t necessarily expensive.

Custom music is usually the more reliable option available, but crowdsourcing with startups or freelancers can be an effective alternative too.

A Good Script is Paramount

Good book trailers are self-contained stories in themselves that never try to substitute or stand-in for the book. That said, using effective storytelling is essential to communicate the idea that’s driving your project explicitly, even if you are not dissecting the piece in detail.

Short written text and voiceover phrases are the norm. But the important thing isn’t just what is said, but how it’s said. Especially when incorporating a voiceover, finding the right voice to do it is crucial: you probably don’t want to be your own awkward narrator. Resorting to professionals isn’t an absolute, but this particular task requires skill and expertise, so it’s often the best alternative.

Now, if you are clever enough, you might be able to pluck your trailer’s script right from your text, as Chuck Wendig did for his Miriam Black book series. Just keep in mind that in those cases, on-screen dynamics and acting (voice acting, in this example) become that much more vital! People didn’t click on your trailer just to read or be read something. So, the script has to remain interesting, engaging, and in tune with what’s happening on the screen.

The Storyboard

The storyboard is the graphical representation of how the video will unfold. Think about it like a comic book in which the action develops scene by scene. Powerful imagery can be used to express your book’s tone and content, but you want to do it neatly, relying on high-quality photos, graphics, or images.

For that purpose, you might want to hire a video editor. However, having a previsualized projection of the trailer you want to compose has the benefit of aligning both your vision and your intent for an aesthetic match. And allows you to fix potential problems before they appear.

Does this mean that you should draft your trailer in painstaking detail? Of course not. Storyboarding is merely a tool. One to be adapted to your project’s needs. That said, try to at least storyboard the “keyframes” or important moments you definitely want in your trailer.

A Word on Pricing & Quality

Before you go, I think it’s important to make a brief point about what all of this may cost and the big pitfall you should avoid.

Firstly, know that without knowing the particulars of a specific piece, it’s nearly impossible to offer an accurate estimate on its price. Most video production companies price their services starting around the $5,000 mark, a number that will most often go up depending on a project’s needs.

Live-action pieces will require gear, staff, on-camera talent. Animation pieces will require artists, animators, voice-over talent… Making a great trailer is quite an endeavor, so you should be aware of these things upfront.

Now, you could try and produce the piece yourself, which should – in theory – cut these costs significantly. But you’ll still need to provide everything that’s necessary to create the video, and that alone can be quite of a logistical, and sometimes financial, nightmare in itself.

Either route you go for, do know that your primary concern should be the quality of the finished piece.

A poorly made, shabby looking trailer will do nothing but hurt your promotion efforts, and could potentially impact negatively on your book’s reception. So, think about these concerns before embarking on this endeavor, consider what’s within your possibilities, and take it from there!

It Might Not Be Easy… But

It’s definitely worth it.

In the age of social and multimedia, a fantastic book trailer can and will help you reach a broader number of potential readers. Generate buzz around your work, and serve as an excellent first-impression with people who might not have heard of it otherwise.

By minding the aspects we just talked about, you’ll have a much easier time driving your project to the final work your book deserves!

Ultimately, the difference between an awesome book trailer and an average – or bad – one isn’t always the money you spend, but the dedication you give it. And the steps you take to ensure the quality of the piece.

A book trailer is, above all, a composition meant to present a larger project! So, cutting corners is out of the question.

Click on the links for more articles on book marketing and book trailers.

Victor Blasco is an audiovisual designer, video marketing expert, and founder/CEO of the explainer video company Yum Yum Videos. Besides running the business, he’s a lifelong student of Chinese philosophy and a passionate geek for all things sci-fi.

Photo: BigStockPhoto

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