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How to Make an Effective Book Trailer

Updated on March 28, 2013

Inverted-A Press: Staff Proofing Books

The first truly effective book trailer that I ever saw was one for a book by K.M. Weiland, Behold the Dawn. It was just like a trailer for a movie, and it made you feel that you knew what kind of book it was, that you could almost taste it, without ever having sampled a single page of the author's writing.

Here it is embedded below. What do you think? Is it an effective book trailer? Does it make you want to read the book? And if so, how does it achieve this effect?

Behold the Dawn by K M Weiland

K.M. Weiland: Behold the Dawn

Many of the best book trailers are quite brief. It often does not take more than two minutes to get across to the potential reader what sort of book it's going to be, what kind of world it depicts and the main conflict that it seeks to resolve.

Consider this trailer for the new best selling science fiction novel The Galactic Mage by John Daulton.

Book Trailer for The Galactic Mage by John Daulton

Notice that the trailer for The Galactic Mage manages to make its point in a minute and a half.

When I started making book trailers myself, I had trouble keeping the message that brief, For instance, the trailer for my children's chapter book, Ping & the Snirkelly People, is over three minutes long.

Book Trailer for Ping & the Snirkelly People

Ping & the Snirkelly People

Handling Difficult Conceptual Issues in a Book Trailer

Coming in at three minutes and six seconds, the trailer for Ping & the Snirkelly People may seem a bit on the long side. After all, this is a children's chapter book. Why should it take longer to get across what the book is about?

The problem is that sometimes conceptual conflicts take a little more effort to explain. Learning language and the intellectual struggle that it entails, and then discovering that once you've mastered language, the cultural divide is still there is what Ping & the Snirkelly People is about.

Did the subject matter require a longer trailer? Maybe. Or it could be that it was my first book trailer, and I could have brought it in at two minutes, if I had been a little more experienced.

The next book trailer I did was for John Wheatcroft's book, The Portrait of a Lover.

Book Trailer for The Portrait of a Lover by John Wheatcroft

The High Concept Novel

The Portait of a Lover is a high concept, literary novel. Getting across the feel of thing is a little bit different from relating the story of a historical romance or a science fiction fantasy. The background music, a piece by composer Jackson Hill entitled "Magnolia Blooms" creates a somewhat disturbing effect. And the trailer is by no means short.

The next book trailer I made was for our upcoming book A Thousand and One Stories of Pericon de Cadiz, which is an English translation by John Moore of the flamenco classic by Jose Luis Ortiz Nuevo.

The music I used was played by the translator, and since this is an oral history by a famous flamenco singer, Juan Martinez Vilchez, the video features a recording of one of the stories in the book.

The length of the trailer, in this case, was determined by the length of the story and the musical accompaniment.

Book Trailer for a Thousand and One Stories of Pericon de Cadiz

Vacuum County

My briefest Book Trailer: Vacuum County

The shortest book trailer I have made so far is for my novel, Vacuum County, which is coming out on April 19 of this year. Making this trailer was a major breakthrough for me. Not only does the trailer come in at little over two minutes, it also manages to skirt that difficult question: "What is this book about?"

The Vaccum County Book Trailer

What the Book is About

"What is your book about?" People used to ask.

"It's about commercial chastity," I used to answer cryptically.

This did not satisfy anyone, but I always felt I was lying when I just gave them a brief synopsis of the plot. The plot implied to their minds a genre that the book did not belong in. Now, if anyone asks what the book is about, I tell them: "Watch the trailer!"

Of course, the trailer can be misleading, too. One friend who had read Vacuum County many years ago, upon seeing the trailer, asked: "Have you changed the book?"

No. I haven't changed the book. Just the way I'm presenting it.

When Is Short Too Short? The First Trailer for Our Lady of Kaifeng

When is a Trailer too Short?

In my zeal to keep all my trailers short, I kept the first trailer I made for Our Lady of Kaifeng, my upcoming novel, down to under two minutes. But then I got some feedback from someone who could not read the text in the amount of time allotted. He told me that with the Chinese-like font I was using he would need more time for each caption.

Watch it yourself and tell me what you think. Is the video posted above too short to understand? Is the longer video posted below easier to follow? Leave a comment with your opinion.

The Longer Trailer for Our Lady of Kaifeng

The Non-Novel: Transatlantic Lives

Some books defy categorization because they are somewhere between reality and fiction. One such book is Transatlantic Lives by Jesse Bier, coming out this week from Inverted-A Press. Somewhat of a memoir, it still has elements of fiction.

For the trailer of Transatlantic Lives, I used photos provided by the author that went well with the themes of the story. Since this is not a plot-based book, no attempt was made to spell out the plot, and a two minute plus video was the result.

Book Trailer for Transatlantic Lives by Jesse Bier

Complex Issues May Demand Longer Trailers

I'm not sure yet what the real solution should be or whether one size fits all. We can often boil down the plot of a novel into a succinct summary. For such a book, the shorter the trailer, the better and more effective it will be.

Other books do not have a plot, because they are not novels. For episodic memoirs, like A Thousand and One Stories of Pericon de Cadiz, highlighting a single episode by telling its plot may be a good way to go. But.some books are a collection of vignettes, like Transatlantic Lives, where the meaning of the book is more in the relationships of the characters than in the things that happened to them. In that case, a short video that sets the mood is better.

But for those books that have a story to tell with an unusual twist, maybe adding an extra minute to the trailer would not go amiss.

Theodosia and the Pirates Book Trailer

Theodosia and the Pirates by Aya Katz

When You Can't Have an Action Sequence

For some books, you want a cinematic feel, You want the people watching the trailer to feel as if they are going to the movies. But we can't always have actors to do the scene for us. However, if you have a beautiful cover drawn by a professional artist, then you can just take different shots of the same sequence, in order to get the feeling of going in for a close up.

This is what I did with my latest trailer, for the book Theodosia and the Pirates. The beautiful cover illustration by artist Lanie Frick came to life when viewed from different distances.

(c) 2013 Aya Katz


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    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks

      Hi, Shadesbreath. Glad you found this. I am gradually learning to make my trailers shorter and sweeter as I go along. The Galactic Mage trailer is a very good example of how to do it right!

    • Shadesbreath profile image

      Shadesbreath 5 years ago from California

      Hey, Aya, I just found this. Very cool, and an interesting line up of videos. This is a really good topic to hit, and a lot of indie writers would do well to think about this subject.

      An interesting thing to look at is the metrics on your youtube channel, you can see where people are jumping off, how many are making it to the end. Tells you a ton about what's working, what isn't, and the average attention span of a viewer. If you want to get to that call to action at the end, you need them to be there when it shows up, which is why I'm a believer in short and sweet.

      Thanks for the link, btw. :)

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks

      Artrush, thanks for the comment. Certainly, word of mouth is most effective, but how do we get to word of mouth? By the time the average person hears about a new book because a friend recommends it, there has been a lot of marketing invested in the book by the publisher.

      Otherwise, neither our friends nor the friends of our friends would ever even have heard of the book.

      The question is: how to attract those first readers, the ones who go on to recommend the book to others? It used to be people picked up books in a library or a bookstore, but no more. Now, most books are bought online. They can be had at Amazon, but what if nobody thinks to search for your book there? A book trailer is one way to attract the very first, pioneering readers of your book -- the ones who do not rely on word of mouth -- the ones who create it, instead.

      An author of a new book does not necessarily know his readers, so catching them all in the same video would be hard. However, there is such a thing as an author trailer, which focuses on the author, rather than the book.

    • artrush73 profile image

      artrush73 5 years ago

      It was a good read and nice trailer, but I think it would be even better if the shots of the author of the book were taken and some real people who read the book talking about the book. I think its the best to get attraction is by ward of mouth about book.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks

      Sweetie Pie, yes, I do think that book trailers can attract new readers, people who might not otherwise open a book.

      However, it's not necessarily kids who will be attracted to the SF or fantasy books. There seems to be a trend in the opposite direction, where adults are going for books intended for yound adults or children.

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 5 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Good to know about the author trailer idea, though. I do enjoy watching these book trailers, and it definitely is a good tool for getting people who might not usual read to open a book, like kids who might be enticed by the scifi book trailer.

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks

      Sweetie Pie, besides book trailers, I have also seen author trailers. In author trailers, it's usually different shots of the author, sometimes in his day to day life, and often the trailer mostly consists of the author talking about his book. You might feel more comfortable making an author trailer.

    • SweetiePie profile image

      SweetiePie 5 years ago from Southern California, USA

      If I decide to self published and wanted to do a book trailer, I would have to hire someone else to do it. I am just not a video editor, and do not have the software to pull it off. Also, the thing that makes me feel weary about it is the need for music in a book trailer, and I just do not associate my book with music. If my book is self-published I guess it will be music free, and maybe just me talking. It might be boredom land, but oh well. I shall just have to think about it.