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Muselings March 2009

Introduction: The date is fast approaching when my picture book, Monster Maddie, will be published. Like all writers, I am aware of the need to promote my work, and I've been checking out book trailers as a means of doing this. These short videos can be a great way to let your target audience know a little about your book, and tease them into buying it.


But how do I go about making a short video? Luckily, I count Kim McDougall as a good friend. Kim is a wonderful writer and all-round creative person, who began the great new site, Blazing Trailers. Advertised as "Books at the speed of fun", Blazing Trailers is a video preview library where writers can post their trailers for free. There are already three hundred trailers and it's only been open since February.


Kim has created over fifty trailers/video book previews, (you can see some here and is very generous about sharing her knowledge and expertise. Below, she explains what a trailer is, goes through the basic steps in making one, gives tips on music, sound and special effects, discusses cost, and adds a short list of trailer makers. Next month, Kim will again be my guest, and will discuss how to promote using book videos, as well as giving many more useful resources for those interested in making them.



Using Video for Book Promotion (1) by Kim McDougall



What is a video book preview?


A video book preview is a short movie that promotes a book. These videos can then be posted on websites, blogs and video sharing sites. They can be fun, genre-bending and little works of art in their own right, but in the end, they are commercials and are all about name branding. Some authors lose sight of this fact when making them.


***Note: You might be wondering why I keep typing the tiresome ‘video book preview’ instead of ‘book trailer.’ The term ‘book trailer’ was actually trademarked by the production company Circle of Seven. Seems silly, I know. I can’t imagine how they would ever police this, as the term is already in general use. But if you look at the trademark site, someone has actually paid to trademark the word ‘the’ also. I believe this is more of a claim-to-fame thing, but to be safe, I would suggest never using the terms ‘book trailer’ together on your site. I say fiction trailer or book preview.


What makes a great trailer?


Trailers need to reflect the mood of the book, give enough information to entice a customer to buy (without giving away the whole plot) and above all catch the viewer’s attention. One to two minutes long is ideal. Most viewers won’t stick around longer than that. If you think of a trailer as a commercial, this is already longer than any TV ad. I see many trailers that are 4-5 minutes of image after image that make no sense to someone who hasn’t read the book. Try to use fewer images, but select those that will make a big impact. Adding movement, either in live video or zooms on still images can also engage the viewer. Finally, music can make or break a trailer. It’s important to find music that sets the mood, doesn’t irritate and works with the beat of the images.


Plan it out


It might seem like quite a daunting task to compress your whole book down to a few images, but if you follow these simple steps it will all fall into place. As a writer, you have a natural talent for making a trailer. After all, the procedure is much like writing a novel. First you outline, then you fill in the blanks and revise.

The following is a basic plan for making a trailer. Start with this and then let your creativity go. As long as you remember that the whole idea is to get people to remember your name and your book, then once you hone your movie-making skills, you can turn your trailer into a your own little work of art.


Here’s the basic plan for making a trailer.


A. Write the script:


This is the layout of your trailer. You can start with your jacket flap blurb, a very short synopsis, or write a short blurb that reflects the mood of the book. If you’re planning to use a voice over, this blurb can be longer (250 words). If you are using on screen text, keep it short, 6-8 lines. Remember that each line will have to fit comfortably on the screen.


When writing the script, try to think in images. Are there any recurring themes in the story? What are the dramatic scenes that can be played up?


B. Search for images and video.


At the end of this workshop, we’ll list some sites to find royalty free images and video. Searching these for appropriate stock is probably the biggest time suck in the trailer process. Learn how to use the advanced search on each site to save time.


Take each line of your script and find an image to represent it. This may be simple for a line like this:


Mary enjoyed being a nurse.


But not so easy for something like this:


Time is a man-made invention, disdained by the gods.


Keep this in mind when writing your script. Vague sentences will be harder to represent. For the first sentence you will most likely find a suitable image of a nurse that looks like your main character. For the second one, you may have to think outside the box a bit. Maybe find a video of a clock ticking or a time-lapse of clouds swishing overhead.


C. Assemble the images and titles.


Try to make the transitions from one image to another smooth. Choose a font that’s easily readable. If your images have a lot of different colors, the text might be difficult to read. In this case, think about putting the text on their own screens before the images. Make sure each line of text appears long enough to read it. Try reading it aloud slowly. If the screen changes before you’re done, lengthen the image time.


If you’re using voice-over, add it now.


D. Find some music.


We will also list music resource sites later in the workshop. Luckily, most of them are donation-based services, so you can try several pieces of music before you have to settle on one. Everyone has different tastes in music, but try to put your preferences on hold and find something that reflects the mood and story. Once you find a piece, try tweaking the length of the images so that dramatic beats of the music are used to good effect. You will be surprised at how this often happens naturally.


E. Credits.


Make sure you show your name and book cover at least twice in the trailer. I usually begin and end with the cover. Don’t forget to include your website, links where to buy the book, your publisher and the music credit.



Some tips to remember when planning a trailer:


1. Add Movement to Stills


For budget reasons, most trailers are made with still photos. To avoid the slide-show feel, add movement to your stills, by zooming and panning. Too many vertical pictures on a horizontal screen (with blocks of black on either side) can seem amateurish. A simple fix is to crop and pan these pictures to fill the screen.


2. Hand held home video.


Unless your going for the Blair Witch look, you should avoid this at all costs. If you feel you must use home video, use a tripod and make sure the the lighting is good (don’t shoot against a bright window!). In general, the microphones on home video cameras are lousy. Unless you are going to use a large mic input, delete the soundtrack to the video or use a voice over. One exception to this would be interviews with the author. These can be quite effective (especially for memoirs or non-fiction books), but keep them short (30 seconds max). Again, make sure the lighting and sound is acceptable.


My Rainbow Sheep trailer has home video, but you can see I wiped out the sound.


Here’s an example of an author interview in a trailer:


3. Special Effects


Especially when first starting out, it can be so much fun to play with all the gadgets on the movie making software. Special effects are supposed to be just that-special. Limit their use and they’ll have more effect. Try to keep transitions between images and titles consistent.


4. Stock photos & music


Make sure all your images, video and music are royalty free. Just because a picture is posted on someone’s site doesn’t mean you can use it. Likewise with music, there are many ‘free’ music sites out there. These sharing sites are for private use, not commercial use. If you plan to use your favorite Elton John song in your trailer, you’re going to run into some trouble. Even if the irate rocker doesn’t show up on your doorstep in fuzzy sunglasses ranting about copyright infringements, you’ll still have trouble uploading your trailer. Many video sharing sites have built-in filters that detect copyrighted music. You can have your upload privileges suspended just for trying it.


5. Sound effects


The sound of a door creaking, or a siren in the distance can add drama and realism to your trailer. There are many sites that offer free and inexpensive sound effects. Try adding some to your trailers, but try to keep them natural. The viewer should not be thinking about the sound effects. Here’s an example of a couple of trailers with sound effects.


This one uses sound for ambience


This one uses sound to shock


On screen text or voice-over?


Most trailers have text on the screen with music as the only sound. This is mostly a limitation of the people making the trailers. Not everyone has the know-how to make a decent sound recording. Others (like me) have lousy voices for the job.


Assuming that you have the equipment and inclination to make a voice-over, what are the benefits of one style over the other?


Voice-overs can make a trailer stand out as more ‘professional’ but only if the sound quality is good. Poor sound quality will have the opposite effect.


But just because you can do voice over, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Some trailers have a more intimate feel with on-screen text. Also, certain types of music (like loud rock) isn’t always conducive to voice-overs.


So if you can’t do a quality voice-over, don’t fret. You can still make a great trailer without it. If you want to try making your own voice-over, here are some tips.



Voice Recordings for Trailers




Your computer


A computer sound card - Comes standard in almost every computer


A program to record your sound.


Many windows computers come with these:






Alternate Windows Programs




Free mp3 recorder


Mac Programs:

Garage Band




A microphone that plugs into your computer by USB (not serial port). These are about $30.00


A quiet room,- no dogs, cats or phones or common noises in the background  please. Turn off air conditioners, fans, and any appliances that hum.  Check for fluorescent lights; these hum too. Often, outside noises can intrude so try to do it on a quiet day.




Record each line as a separate file. This is easier if you make a mistake to redo it. It's also easier to incorporate them into the trailer one file at a time.


Don't get too close to the microphone or too far away. Stay the same distance for each line of recording.


Listen to each line (with headphones, if possible) and check for any popping noises or other distractions. Redo any lines with extraneous noises.


4. What does it cost?

So after you’ve gone over all that info, do you still want to make your own trailer? If so, you’ll need to budget for it. Here are the main components and their costs:

Images: $1 to $3 each. If you need to zoom into a picture, you might want to buy a higher resolution image which can cost up to $5. No need to buy super hi res pictures for video streaming. You can also find some free images, but be sure to check the licensing.

Video Clips: $20 each. This is the price from iStockphoto. This is one of the only stock image sites that has video too.

Music: You can easily find free music and donation-based music sites. I usually give a small donation to these, $5 per song. Other music sites can charge $30 - $60 per track.

Sound effects: There is an abundance of free sound effects there, but if you have to buy them, they are usually $3 -$10 per clip.


So, going conservative, a trailer with 8 images (at an average of $2 ea) with 1 video clip, one music clip (with a $5 donation) and two sound effects (at $5 ea) would cost $51 to make. You can cut out many of these costs, by finding free stock or going without video.


What will it cost to have someone else make it for you?

This is a difficult question to answer as the prices are all over the place. You can have one made for as little as $75 or as much as $2000! In general, you get what you pay for. My prices are on the low end of the spectrum, but I don’t do any custom video photography or animation. I need to use stock photos like anyone else. If you pay the big bucks for a pro trailer, you’ll get something uniquely yours.

What should authors keep in mind before contacting someone to make their trailers?

Ask them where they get their photos. You can check prices on those sites to make sure they are jacking their prices up too high. Trailer makers need to make money too, but if someone offers a low price, they might be making it up by charging extra for photos or music. So make sure you know all the costs before you start. You also want to be sure that they are going to use only royalty free images and music. Your name will be on this trailer and you don’t want to get caught up in a copyright lawsuit. Ask where the trailer will be posted. I post my trailers to at least 6 sites, and then give the original to the customer to post it elsewhere. Make sure you get an original version of your trailer. It’s yours; you paid for it.


Here’s a list of places and people who make trailers

Ginger Simpson

Kim McDougall

Preview the Book


Circle of Seven


Reader Views


Expanded Books


Author Linton Robinson has a great guide to making trailers at  It’s a $6 download.


Thanks Kim! I'm very much looking forward to adding to my knowledge with next month's column - Using Video for Promotion (2).


Have you been to these sites?


The Imperfect Parent

Online magazine. Paying market.


Romance Contest


9-10,000 words. $200 prize.


Life Bytes Anthology


Real stories about online dating


The Book Chook blog


My blog shares my passion for children's literature and literacy. Recently I posted about a great word game to play with kids. There are some examples to drive my blog readers crazy!


Chatel Village


You must check out this stunning example of a wonderful writer's site.




Until next time, write on!