The Silver Lining | How To Create a Successful Book Trailer – part 1

I create commercials for a living, and I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a blog series on what works and what doesn’t in terms of book trailers, plus maybe offering some tutorials on simple text animations or tutorials on cool effects. Would people be interested in that? And if so, what programs do you have access to? I use After Effects in my day job, but I don’t know how many people know how to use that. Do most people have Photoshop? I could probably even teach how to do text effects using frame by fame hand animation so you can just drop it into any video editing program. This would take a while to put together, but if there’s interest, I’ll try to get the first lesson up late next week (since I’ll be away from the computer for the majority of this week). For example, i could teach you how to make an animated glow across your text very easily. Or I can teach you how to take a still photo and make it look like it’s in 3D space as the camera pans across it. (Very trendy in commercials right now, and easy to accomplish). Also, one more important question, do you know what LAYERS are in photoshop?

That being said, I thought I’d share some thoughts about successful book trailers and why most I see miss the point of advertising in this medium. I don’t have time to really research this today because I’m in a huge rush to get to that NYC Teen Lit Festival. But I plan on posting examples of some successful book trailers later in the week. (I won’t post unsuccessful ones, I’m sure you understand why).

The biggest problem I see with book trailers is they are too long and they don’t quite understand the purpose. It’s essentially an advertisement. Most of the commercials I work on are either 30 seconds or 15 seconds. A LOT of stuff is crammed into that small space of time. They are not just slide shows or screen flips of static text tag-lines. One second is equal to 30 frames. A blink of the eye takes approximately 5 frames. That’s 1/6 of a second. Think about how quick that goes by! End tags, i.e. the part at the end of the commercial where the logo sits on screen with a tagline, is by industry standard, usually only 3 seconds. It’s also never static. Something on screen is ALWAYS moving, whether it’s the background or a simple glow sweeping across the text. I’ve seen a lot of book trailers that let static text sit on screen for more than 10 seconds. Your viewer will get bored.

Commercials try to entertain the viewer, because otherwise the viewer would fast forward or flip channels. I think book trailers need to operate under the same principle. Think about it, the Internet conditions us to have short attention spans. We get annoyed if it takes more than a few seconds for a page to load or if it takes more than 3 clicks to navigate to the webpage we’re seeking. Since book trailers use the Internet as their medium of delivery, I think it’s important to play by the rules set by high-speed internet connections. Don’t give us a chance for our attention to wander, we may just find another page to surf.

It’s like the opening pages of your book. When you’re querying/on submission, you want to hook the agent/editor from the first sentence of your sample pages and not let them go, right? Don’t give them a chance to get bored. Book trailers need to operate under the same principal.

The point of a book trailer, to me, should be to get people talking. If someone already knows who you are and visits your website, they most likely already know about your book. So they are not your target audience for the trailer. The trailer’s purpose should be to hook other viewers and spark some word of mouth buzz going. It’s an advertisement. Think about the Superbowl and how talked about those commercials are. I think that’s what you want for a book trailer.

If I ever sell my book, I would create a book trailer of about no more than 15 seconds. I would also try to give it some kind of "hook" like a book pitch that gets people talking. Whether that hook is in the cool animation or some interesting tagline, I’m not sure yet.

The ones that are a minute long are not successful to me unless they manage to keep the viewer enthralled that entire time. Which is a very rare feat to achieve. I’ve seen book trailers that let text sit on the screen for ten seconds before it flips to a new page or the cuts between the slide show images are too slow. There are cool things you can do to liven up static images. I can teach tutorials on how to simply achieve some very advanced techniques that will fool your viewer.

Basically, it’s all about pace. YA readers like fast-paced stories. I think a trailer should be the same way.

I’ll expand on this post with examples later, but I’m curious, what book trailers do you think are successful? Have you ever bought a book based solely on a trailer? (I realize this may be a hard answer because most likely a writer in the industry already knows about said book through other social networking means). Have you ever got bored of a trailer and stopped watching part way through? What kinds of trailers do you like, the ones that are slide shows with some

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17 Responses

  1. I wonder if people are thinking more about movie trailers when they make their book trailers – film trailers can be a couple of minutes and go into more detail about a story.

    That said, I do get bored when trailers are just slideshows of stock photos with lots of text to read. Obviously, the ones that involve custom footage are more gripping. But this conversation almost has to get into a chat about cost. I do commercials and other video pieces for a living, too, and I know how expensive it is just to do 30 seconds of moving stuff, especially if you have actors, etc. Time consuming, too. Just how much of our budgets should writers have to spend on effective trailers? And does it bring enough ROI?

    • Right, I agree about the movie trailer part, but the problem is that movie trailers have lots of action that comes from the movie itself. Since books don’t have that, they are more like commercials to me. The thing about movie trailers is they are meant to be viewed in theaters. Of course they are posted on the Internet as well, but the people who watch them seek them out because they’re already interested in the movie and it gives a taste about what the movie will be about. Even still, movie trailers have mini-story arcs in them! So even if people are thinking of book trailers as the equivalent to movie trailers, I don’t think they are executing them the same way.

      Yes, cost can be high. I know all too well how expensive some 30 second commercials are. I’ve worked on ones where we had 20 people going for more than 3 months just to create one commercial. This was an AT&T commercial and the actors in it? All people who worked in the office. Sometimes even big companies have to cut the budget somewhere!

      My point of the post was about showing ways people can create more exciting trailers themselves.

      As for how much they should spend…it’s a tough question. They probably shouldn’t spend much, especially if their advance doesn’t allow it. I think the only way the author might see returns is if the video goes viral. Like, take John Green’s Brotherhood 2.0. That project only cost him time and yet I bet it gained him a lot of readers. It wasn’t a book trailer, but the videos were entertaining, and that was the point.

      • I’d *love* tips on how to do a great trailer yourself – as one of those authors who didn’t make a fireworks-worthy advance (I’m more than happy with it, but I’m not quitting the dayjob or buying a sports car) and whose publishing house probably won’t spring for a trailer themselves, I’ll be looking to get the biggest bang for my buck!

  2. book trailers

    Hi Shana,

    I’d love to hear about how to make a book trailer, and your insight on what makes a good one.


  3. This was really fascinating — I had no idea about the timing of things. And I agree, the trailers that I tend to click away from are the ones where the text is on the screen too long. To me, the least effective trailers are the ones that are essentially the back cover copy with pictures because if I can skim the copy in 10 seconds, why would I want to wait 30-60 seconds for it to slowly flash on screen?

    The ones that intrigue me the most are the ones that tell me something more than I could get just looking at the book, but that can be hard to do! Thanks for posting this!

    • Right, I totally agree that it should showcase something other than the back copy, otherwise what’s the point?

      BTW, your book trailer is one of the most effective ones I’ve seen! Very nice job!

      • Thanks! I really had nothing at all to do with it — I was just lucky that FHT was part of the Random House/Kirkus Teen Book Video Awards where they send a few books out to film students and have them do trailers. I’ve seen some other ones that were done similarly — a fellow Deb, Erin Dionne (Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies) I think held a contest and the one she got rocks.

  4. I would love something like that. I have no computer skills but my husband is a computer whiz. Why I don’t believe he, or I, knows is what works and what doesn’t. I haven’t look at many book trailers but they tell me they are very popular and the one’s I’ve seen have been awesome. Off course they have been for books I already bought so I don’t know if that counts.

  5. This is a fascinating topic. I’d love to hear more.

    I think my favorite book trailer has to be Simone Elkeles’s for Perfect Chemistry– Her goal was to make something fun that could go viral and spread word about her book. I’m not sure how effective it was for the price she paid to make it (though her book has gone through several reprintings, IIRC), but I think it’s a great example for authors willing to shell out the $$.

    • Yes! Hers is one of the best I’ve seen. It got a lot of people talking on blogs that don’t normally discuss book trailers. That’s the kind of response you want. Maybe it translated to sales, maybe not, but I definitely knew more about the book through that trailer than just from the jacket blurb.

  6. Great post, Shana, and I’ll definitely be following along (though I don’t have any of the programs I would need). But I’m interested in your take on specific things to make a trailer successful anyway.

    To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever sat through an entire book trailer (though I haven’t attempted many).

    You’re right, it needs a hook and some good action to combat my ADD brain 😉


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