In a world where hundreds of thousands of books fight for attention, the battle will be won by those armed with a new weapon: the book trailer.
If you’ve never seen a book trailer, like a movie trailer it combines pictures, sounds, and words to create a preview: in this case, a preview of a book. Here are four book trailers, which will be referenced in this article. You can find other examples at the International Movie Trailer Festival.
The Ragged Edge of Silence
Stalin’s Romeo Spy
The following instructions assume that you want to make a book trailer to promote a book you’ve written or published. Or that you’re a moviemaker assisting an author or publisher.
Just as there’s no one right way to author a book, there is no single formula for creating a book trailer. Different moviemakers have their own methods. But the following steps identify the key tasks. If you already know how to use a camera and know how to edit video, you’ll be able to complete a well-made book trailer in about a week.
Step 1. Identify the key content or experience the book delivers.
If you had only 10 seconds to pitch the book, what would you say? Here are some examples:
Book High Concept
The Divine Comedy Hell is an interesting place to visit.
Think and Grow Rich Gaining wealth requires not luck but cunning.
When Worlds Collide The end of everything leads to a new beginning.
Zen & the Art of Archery Spiritual practice affects everything we do.
The Wrecking Crew Baseball can save your life.
The Cat in the Hat Even children face tough ethical dilemmas.
Neither Here Nor There You’ll fall down laughing as you travel with Bill Bryson.
You may discover that your book can be pitched in several ways. That’s good. But to make a persuasive trailer, choose one concept and focus on it.
Step 2. Decide on the trailer’s format.
Most book trailers fit into one of the following categories. The category will guide you in carrying out the rest of the steps.
- Narrative: The trailer presents dramatic scenes from the book, for example, characters fighting or escaping or making something. Example: Inferno.
- Informational: The trailer delivers the book’s key facts and opinions. Example: Ragged Edge of Silence.
- Thematic The trailer gets across the book’s big idea or theme, for example, that owning a pet is the best way to achieve inner peace or that war is inevitable.
- Personal: The author speaks directly to the viewers about the book, selling himself or herself as well as the book’s content.
Of course, a trailer might combine two or more of these approaches, for example, intercuting the author talking to the audience with dramatic scenes from the book.
Step 3. Write a script.
A script covers the actions, locations, dialogue, and sounds. Carefully planning what to include in your trailer will enable you to:
- Refine your ideas.
- Identify the cast, props, locations, and other elements required for the production.
- Budget your production.
- Predict how long the production will take.
You can read an excerpt from a book trailer script here.
Some moviemakers like to make a storyboard that pictures each shot in the trailer. You don’t need to be an artist to make a storyboard; stick figures will do. If you’re drawing averse, ask an artistic friend for help, or take photos previewing each shot.
Step 4. Scout for locations.
Investing time finding visually interesting locations can add great value to your trailer. With a bit of ingenuity, you can often transform a place into something different. For example, in The Ragged Edge of Silence, John Francis’s meditation room was in fact a section of a parking garage.
Be wary of crowded places because onlookers can easily interfere with your work. If you need a place filled with people, try hiding the camera. Of course, if you have a lot of money, you can always hire extras!
Another caution has to do with sound. In an urban location, traffic and other noises may drown out dialogue. If your trailer uses only narration—recorded afterwards—no problem: But if you want live action dialogue, you’ll do best in a place that’s quiet.
Hint: If you must shoot a scene with a crowd, for example, at a party or at a playground, instruct your background actors to speak in whispers so that they won’t drown out the dialogue of your main performers.
Step 5. Budget your trailer.
Now that you know your trailer’s elements make sure you can pay for the production. You might get by with inexpensive equipment, for example, a SmartPhone. By borrowing and begging—the hallmarks of guerilla moviemaking—it’s possible to produce a trailer for nothing more than sweat equity. But study your script closely. Even modest productions can require some cash outlays, for example, food for the crew.
If your script calls for something expensive such as an unusual costume or a fancy car or a scene in a jetliner, ask yourself if you really need it. Creative thinking may enable you to find a frugal way to achieve a desired effect. For example, instead of traveling to Cape Kennedy to record a rocket launch visit one of the many websites that offer free or cheap stock footage. In some cases, you can save money by using a still photo instead of a video clip. (See Stalin’s Romeo Spy.) Using narration is another way to save money without compromising dramatic impact. (For example, Nightfreight.)
If you plan to exhibit your trailer publicly, don’t use copyrighted music without permission. Ask a musician friend for original music or look for a bargain online music provider.
Hint: Like every other activity, things can go wrong in a movie production. Equipment can be damaged. People can be hurt. It’s prudent to make sure you have enough insurance to cover problems that might arise.
Step 6. Assemble your team.
To produce a trailer you may need onscreen talent (actors) and a crew: director, camera operator, sound person, make-up artist, props person, musician(s), and editor.
On a low budget production, crew members usually perform more than one job. In the tradition of the one-man band, you might do it all yourself. But generally you’ll do better if you have a team—the more experienced the better.
If you need actors, invest time in casting. Don’t use friends just because they’re handy. A weak performance will instantly make your production look amateurish.
The same thing goes for cinematography. You want someone who understands not only how to make the camera work but also how to move it smoothly. Artful lighting is also important. Unwanted shadows or flat lighting will doom your trailer.
Having an experienced sound recordist is crucial. Bad sound ruins more indie movies than any other flaw. If you don’t have a boom and other sound recording equipment, you may do better relying on voice over as a way to help the audience follow the story..
If you don’t know anything about the craft moviemaking, rather than learn on your trailer, find someone who can do it. Almost certainly you’ll be able to find a friend, neighbor, coworker who has directed previous videos. Or advertise for someone at the local film school.
Step 7. Rehearse.
If you’re going to shoot dramatic scenes, especially scenes in which actors have to say lines, rehearsal is a must. This is true with experienced actors and even more so with beginners. Start with a table reading in which actors simply read their lines. When you notice an actor stumbling over a word or phrase, consider simplifying it.
If your actors are stiff, one trick is to give them props to handle or simple actions to carry out.
Step 8. Shoot your trailer.
This will be the most exciting and fun part of your effort, especially if you’ve planned
carefully. However, a million movie productions have given proof to Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will. Cameras will break. Actors will not show up. Rain will fall. Jetliners will come by during your best take.
Because it’s almost certain that things will take longer than you predicted pad the shooting schedule. If you think a scene will take an hour to shoot, give yourself two hours.
You can’t avoid problems, but you can overcome them if you and your crew bring the right attitude to the shoot. Flexibility can save the day. If something isn’t working in the script, be ready to change it. If you get a better idea—and there’s time to try it—give it a go.
During the production, keep in mind the three biggest pitfalls:
- Bad sound: Check it often to make sure the quality is what you need.
- Shaky camera: Consider using a tripod for most or all of your shots.
- Weak acting.
Step 9. Edit your trailer.
Experts say that the editor is the second director. You can totally transform a production in the editing room. If a scene is playing awkwardly, try shortening it. If the sound is bad, see if you can substitute narration.
Although everyone loves dramatic moving images, printed words can play a dramatic role in book trailers. What’s need is bold and concise text. (The Ragged Edge of Silence.)
Step 10. Test your trailer before posting it.
Ultimately you’ll want people to see the trailer, for example, on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or YouTube. But before posting it, get feedback. This is what Hollywood has done forever. Don’t rely on friends. Find people who know nothing about the book. Then ask them a few specific questions such as:
- Is there anything about the trailer that puzzles you?
- Is there anything that might be omitted? Anything that needs to be added?
- What could I do to make the trailer better?
Keep an open mind. Although you don’t need to take action based on the comments, you may learn something that could improve this particular trailer or your future work.
….unless you have an idea for improving this set of directions, in which case you’re invited to email firstname.lastname@example.org