How to Make a Book Trailer: 4 Must Haves

POSTED ON Mar 16, 2022

Gloria Russell

Written by Gloria Russell

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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. We’ll talk about how to make a book trailer, what makes a great book trailer, 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 ads, and making a mailing list. But there’s one more thing writers can use that’s a little outside the box: book trailers. Trailers aren’t just for movies!

What is a book trailer?

A book trailer, simply put, is a sort of movie-style trailer for your book. 

This will be a video, usually under a minute long, which is meant to advertise your book to the reader. It’s supposed to do exactly what a movie trailer is supposed to do. 

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. 

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! 

Presale 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. 

Reaching 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. 

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 for 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: 

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 one of the many book trailer sites online—there’s 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. 

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 at making them. 

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? 

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.  

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 the story up, 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. 

Run it By Friends 

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 

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 heavy into the tone and theme of your book, leaving your reader wanting more of that atmosphere. 

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, desensitized to the high-drama nature of the trailer, and click off.

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. 

Do you know any book trailers that hooked you when you watched them? Got any tips on creating a book trailer? Let us know in the comments! 

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Gloria Russell is a freelance writer and author living in Colorado. When she isn’t writing short stories or streaming Skyrim, she’s planning her next road trip and knitting yet another cardigan. Follow her here: Twitter Twitch 

Gloria Russell

Written by
Gloria Russell

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