How to Make a Book Trailer: Your Step-by-Step Guide

POSTED ON Mar 7, 2024

The Book Designer

Written by The Book Designer

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Whether you’re choosing to go the self publishing route or the traditional publishing route, you’re going to end up doing a lot of your own marketing. Sometimes, writers can get a little offended at the business side of this job—it’s art, after all, and writers tend to view books as particularly sacred objects. 

I’m not here to dispute any of that, but I will say this: writing is an industry (one of the oldest, in fact) and a business. If you want to write full-time, you have to sell copies, and if you want to sell copies, you’ll either need to get supremely, ridiculously lucky, or you’ll need to get pretty good at marketing. This is going to mean using all the tools at your disposal.  

In this article, I’m going to explain what book trailers are as well as step by step instructions for how to make a book trailer. We’ll talk about what makes a great book trailer, pitfalls to avoid, and how you can use your book trailer effectively in your marketing plan. 

You may already be familiar with needing a social media presence, placing Facebook and Amazon ads, and making a mailing list. And here’s the great part about book trailers: you can use them to enhance all of your other marketing efforts!

What is a Book Trailer?

Mechanically speaking, book trailers are cousins to film and TV teasers, giving you a great avenue to promote your book. They seek to motivate the audience to buy and enjoy a product firsthand. This will be a video, usually under a minute long, which is meant to advertise your book to the reader.

Think about your experience watching movie trailers: they set the tone, show us some of the main characters, maybe introduce the main conflict, and leave you rushing to the theater to see the rest (or marking the date the movie comes out so you can do so). 

Book trailers function the same way! Some book trailers look like movie trailers, with actors, voice actors, and full scenes. Other book trailers are illustrated or stylized some other way, but all of them serve the core function of advertising your book. 

The problem is, a lot of book trailers aren’t very good. 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 (very) short films.

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What is a Book Trailer Used For?

What’s the point of making a book trailer? After all, trailers are usually effective for movies because the medium is the same. A viewer watches the trailer before they watch the movie. It might seem strange to try this for a book, but here are all the different things a book trailer can do for you: 

Tease Your Book 

Most obviously, the book trailer’s going to give the viewer a sample of your story. The viewer will have an idea of what it’s about, what’s to come, and ideally they’ll be left wanting more. This means pre-sales, and it means sales! 

Pre-sale Hype 

The pre-sale period is vital for self-published and traditionally published authors alike. How many people are interested, and how many copies need to be ordered? What kind of profit and growth can the author expect, based on these numbers? 

Because this period is so important, authors should pull out all the stops when marketing their book. This includes book trailers! Book trailers can be a great addition to your marketing plan to generate hype for your book—for your existing readers, it can be an exciting look into your new book, and for new readers, it’s an advertisement for not only your book but your brand as an author. 

Reach a Wider Audience 

Book trailers, when done well, can be extremely engaging. People are visual creatures, and they’re more likely to watch a book trailer than they are to read a book synopsis. Using sound, whether that’s music or voiceover, combined with the visual elements of the trailer will create a more dynamic, immersive experience. 

That means a book trailer is generally going to appeal to a wide variety of people. Ideally, this will mean it’s shareable across platforms. Maybe someone who isn’t even an avid reader might see it on Facebook and think hey, maybe I should check this out. They aren’t likely to go looking for upcoming releases—if not for the book trailer, they may never have checked it out. 

Where Many Book Trailers Fall Short

Even though there are some great book trailers, people aren’t used to seeking them out. They’re still just not a well-known promotional tool among the general reading public.

Another common issue with many book trailers is in their conceptualization and the way they are created. The first thing you should understand is 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 more than a product (even though the book is, in the end, a product). We’ll break down what that means as we explore how to make a book trailer. 

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 story 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 information that publishers and authors can glean from the movie industry when figuring out how to make a book trailer. 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.

For example, 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 information 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.

How to Make a Book Trailer

Now that I’ve explained how a book trailer can help you market your book, let’s talk about how to actually make one. Before I do, though, let’s consider one question that plagues self-published authors at every point in the publication process: should I spend a ton of money on this, or should I do it myself

The answer, of course, is that it depends. Assess your budget for marketing your book and decide how much you’re willing to set aside to make a book trailer. If you want to hire a company to make one, take that into account. At the end of the day, you shouldn’t be going broke over your book trailer, and finding an option within your budget is always your best bet. 

If you hire a company, the process will depend on their guidelines and work style. If you’re making it yourself, though, here are a few tips to help you on your way: 

How to Make a Book Trailer, Step 1: Choose Your Software 

You’ve got a ton of options to choose from. Maybe you want to use iMovie, because it’s already on your computer and you already know how to use it. Maybe you want to finally use that Adobe subscription that you have access to through your college. Or maybe you want to try using AI video generators to create your book trailer. There is no right answer. 

Again, it comes down to budget. If you’re going to buy a totally new piece of software, make sure you’re also going to invest time in learning to use it. Skillshare offers lots of classes on things like video editing and short films, too. 

You also may want to use something you’re already familiar with. If you already have iMovie, for example, and you use it all the time for YouTube and you know it really well, that may be your best bet. 

How to Make a Book Trailer, Step 2: Watch Book Trailers 

Much in the way that you should read a ton of books to become a better writer, you should also watch a ton of book trailers to get better of how to make a book trailer.

Go on YouTube and search for book trailers in your genre. Take a look at contemporary trailers—what are other people in your genre doing right now? What themes do you see? Which ones do you like, and which ones don’t you like? Figure out why you like or dislike them.

Doing this will help you get a sense of what book trailers should look like, how they play out, and what viewers will expect from yours.  

How to Make a Book Trailer, Step 3: Write a Script 

A script is absolutely necessary for a good book trailer. All of the decisions you make in video editing and sound design will correspond directly to the script—-without one, you could end up with an unrelated series of images and sounds, which might look more like a slideshow set to a soundtrack than a trailer. 

Come up with a narrative for your trailer. It should set up the story, introduce at least the main character, and give us a sense of the main conflict. That main conflict should be introduced as a sort of twist—we should get a hint of the calamity to ensue, and then the trailer should end with a call to action. 

How to Make a Book Trailer, Step 4: Create a Storyboard

A 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.

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. It allows you to fix potential problems before they appear. And it lets you see exactly what you’ll need in terms of images, video clips, and other resources before you begin.

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”—important moments you definitely want in your trailer.

How to Make a Book Trailer, Step 5: Get Feedback 

Once you’ve created your book trailer, get a few brutally honest friends to look it over. Here are a few questions you should ask: 

  • What was the weakest element of the trailer? 
  • Did the trailer make sense? 
  • What was the strongest element of the trailer? 
  • If you could change anything about the trailer, what would you change? 

The 4 Must-Have Elements of a Great Book Trailer

We know how to make a book trailer, and we know why we should make a book trailer. But how do you make sure your book trailer is doing its job and doing it well? The following points can be used as a sort of checklist—if a trailer is doing these things, it’s doing its job well. 

Set the Stage 

A book trailer should give the viewer a strong sense of the setting. If this trailer is illustrated, the illustrations should depict the setting—if we’re using a camera, we should be in a location that’s at least very similar to the one written about. 

We should also meet our main character and their main source of conflict. We might get a strong sense of the first act of the book. Our character is living in their hometown, they kind of hate their parents, and then! a dashing old flame from high school shows up, and they might fall in love. Will they fall in love? Will they say goodbye forever? 

It’s also important to establish tone in the trailer. Is your story uplifting? Scary? Cheerful? Sad? Lean into that while you’re creating it. Watching trailers in your genre will help you learn how to convey tone in a short film or trailer. 

Hook the Reader 

Leave the buildup for your novel’s chapters; start the trailer with something that grabs the audience’s attention right away! The whole point is to hook the reader, so the trailer should have a compelling hook! A few different ways to hook your reader include: 

  • Build your trailer to a cliffhanger, which will only be resolved by reading the book. 
  • Include strong bits of conflict that the reader will want the context for, and for which they’ll have to buy the book. 
  • Lean heavily into the tone and theme of your book, leaving your reader wanting more of that atmosphere. 

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 trailer early on.

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. Music can help a great deal in this regard. But be careful not to overdo it.

The last thing you want to do is make your video sound 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 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. There are royalty-free music directories out there, just like there are are royalty-free image sources.

Custom music is always an option, too. You might be able to find an up-and-coming artist who’s willing to record something original for you for a minimal fee.

Keep it Concise 

Book trailers need to be exciting. They need to have a ton of tension and leave the viewer wanting more. This means they absolutely have to hold the viewer’s attention all the way through, and the best way to make this happen is to keep it as concise as possible. 

In general, a book trailer shouldn’t be over a minute long. Try to keep it between twenty and sixty seconds—any longer, and the viewer might get bored, become desensitized to the high-drama nature of the trailer, and click off.

Include a Call to Action 

Book trailers are meant to market your book, and everything in your marketing plan should point directly to a pre-sale or sale. At the end of a movie trailer, for example, it tells you when the movie comes out and whether it’s available in all theaters. 

A book trailer should tell the reader when the book is being released, it should tell them where they can buy or pre-order it, and it should tell them to buy or pre-order it.

And of course, you should put this book trailer on every form of social media that you have. 

Final Thoughts

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 your book otherwise.

By minding the aspects outlined above, 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.

Take the time to properly plan and execute your book trailer and you’ll have a value marketing asset you can use across all of your marketing endeavors.

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Editor’s note: The information in this article is from articles originally written by Joel Friedlander and Gloria Russell and has been updated by The Book Designer editorial team.

The Book Designer

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