From BookTrailer101™ - Learn how to create a Book Trailer
Jump to: navigation, search
Previous - In The Beginning Next - Step 1
Link: Video:
Book Trailer 101

Book Trailer 101 Primer Book

Book Trailer 101 Prier Cover.jpeg

After releasing my Book Trailer 101 book, I received requests for a version focused on how-to with none of the theory. Book Trailer 101 Primer is a smaller book laying out the steps to create your effective book trailer. It is lower cost, smaller size (6x9") and also available in Kindle format. iBooks and ePub3 formats are in the works.

In July 2015 I released the PDF of the primer book.

What is a book trailer?


BT101 new logo.png

Short Link:

As a movie trailer is a video commercial for a movie, a book trailer is a video commercial for a book. While the concept is the same, the characteristics of a book trailer are different from a movie trailer. Let's explore book trailers by comparing them to movie trailers.

Movie trailers have been around since Nov 1913 when Nils Granlund produced a short promotional film for the musical The Pleasure Seekers, opening at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway. (The Evolution of the Movie Trailer
Echo Park by Michael Connelly is considered to be the first book trailer. It was uploaded to YouTube on Sept 20, 2006 and has been viewed over 50,000 times. The video is 9:41 long and cost about $10,000 to produce.
The trailer is a cinematic adaption of the book’s chapter-one ending with the tagline – “Read what happens next in” – then a shot of the cover followed by 53 seconds of production credits. The video is low resolution 320×240, which is 1/2 normal standard definition’s 640×480, and a long way from today's HD 1080p at 1920×1080. By today's standards of book trailers, it is very long, slow and over acted. I would never hold it up as an example of how to do a trailer. It was groundbreaking though and the first.
Echo Park by Michael Connelly: view the trailer and analysis.
Movie trailers are watched before the feature movie at the theatre or DVD, on television and the Internet via YouTube or embedded in a web page. Book trailers are really an invention of the Internet age and pretty well viewed only online. I am sure there are exceptions for very high-profile books, but the cost to show a book trailer as a TV commercial would be too high for most book promotion campaigns.
Movie Trailer - Theatre, DVD, TV, YouTube - embedded on a website
Book Trailer - YouTube - embedded on a website

Note: there are video sites other than YouTube such as Vimeo. I use YouTube here as it is the most popular.

Raw Material
While a movie trailer is created with footage and music from the film, a book trailer's raw materials consist of words from the book. All visuals and sounds must be created for the trailer. A movie trailer is a visual medium promoting a visual medium, while a book trailer is a visual medium promoting a text medium.
Movie Trailer - Footage and sound/music from the film
Book Trailer - Words from the book
For cost reasons, a movie trailer for viewing on television is usually one minute, but movie trailers for the theatre or DVD are 2:30 long. The MPAA limits movie trailers for theatre showing to 2:30 except for special productions. Book trailers, on the other hand, are typically about one minute in length but there are successful trailers ranging from seven seconds to over 25 minutes. There is no cost difference in putting a longer trailer on the web; both are free. The challenge is keeping the viewer interested and engaged.
Movie Trailer - Television 1:00; Theatre, DVD, YouTube, embedded on a website 2:30
Book Trailer - Any length, but around 1:00 is the most common
Viewing on the web
Assuming the trailer is hosted on YouTube, a viewer could watch it on the YouTube site or embedded in another website such as the author's or publisher's page. When a video is viewed on YouTube, it is surrounded with thumbnails and click bait for other videos, so abandoning your trailer for a video of 'kittens and puppies' is just a short click away. Your viewers may be scanning the lists of other videos while yours is playing. If you don't grab and hold their interest they are gone.
The goal of a movie trailer is to get you to go to the theatre or later in the release cycle to watch on-demand or buy the DVD. The goal of a book trailer is to visit the book website for more details or to purchase the book. A book trailer for a popular title may pitch more directly to buy the book.
  Movie Trailer Book Trailer
First Trailer November 1913 September 2006
Viewing Theatre, DVD, TV, Internet Internet
Raw Material Film footage, sound and music Text from book
Length TV 1:00 - Theatre 2:00 to 2:30 - DVD, Internet any length Internet any length but rule-of-thumb is 1:00
Goal Watch movie Visit book website
Medium Visual promoting visual Visual promoting words

What a book trailer is NOT

  • A book trailer is not a plot synopsis. It does not go past the act one crisis or life-changing event.
  • A book trailer NEVER has spoilers in it.

Do I need a book trailer?

More than how to assemble a video
How to create Excitement

One million new titles will be published in North America this year. How will you make your book stand out? Perhaps a book trailer? Yes, you can do it yourself! With YouTube’s popularity, it is easy to upload and show your video. But where do you start to create your promo? This site explains the 7 steps to creating a book trailer including: where to begin, structure, elements, approaches, rules-of-thumb and production strategies.

Five Reasons You Need A Book Trailer:

  1. Sell your book: Like a movie trailer, a book trailer creates buzz for your book!
  2. Reach more readers: A well-produced book trailer drives traffic to your social media.
  3. Better than an elevator pitch: In one minute, you can get readers excited about your book.
  4. A professional touch: Self-published to large publisher, a book trailer brands you as an author.
  5. Create excitement: A trailer sets the scene for the book, creates tension and pace, and engages the imagination—all the things readers and editors look for.

My book isn’t done yet. Should I wait?

Never too early.jpg

Many people have asked: “My book isn’t finished – is there any point to me taking the Book Trailer course?” It's never too early to start your book trailer. The building blocks are the same for an elevator pitch, book proposal, marketing pitch and even the book back cover.

There are many points that support the wisdom of working on your trailer while you are working on your book.

  1. Having to decide what to include in your trailer forces you to focus on what your book is actually about.
  2. Writing the script helps you to understand what the key components that will appeal to readers.
  3. Having to visualize your trailer can aid in your settings and physical descriptions.
  4. As the book morphs into a final draft, so, too, can your book trailer, which will be all the better for having gone through changes and improvements.

Remember, your trailer will likely be anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. Making book trailer decisions is a wonderful exercise in honing in on the crux of your novel or nonfiction book.

Do Trailers Work?

This article appeared in the Nov/Dec 2014 issue of WCDR's The Word Weaver.

I don't read horror. Never watched it as a kid and still don't. Hell, when I was a kid, I had trouble sleeping for a week after seeing Invaders from Mars – the movie where the Martians take over people by inserting a resistor into their neck. In hindsight, the scene was so unreal it was funny.

As I do my book trailer work, it is important that I study genres outside of my own interests. I kept running into references for the "Miriam Black" trailer for the books Blackbirds and Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig. With a simple touch, Miriam knows when and how a person will die. The series is pegged as the Urban Fantasy genre, yet it is compared to Stephen King's horror. It is definitely not a book I'd tend to pick up, as I would never be in that area of the bookstore.

Once I viewed the character approach trailer, I was hooked. Chuck created what I call a mini-radio drama. The story is told in first person with the rough gravelly voice of an old man meeting a girl in a bar "with eyes like hot coals and hair that looked like she French kissed a car battery." Over the course of two-and-one-half minutes, the viewer hears Miriam make a bet with the old man that she can tell him when and where he will die. The trailer raises several questions, such as if she can tell when he will die, why does she just show up to collect on the bet and not help him? I studied the trailer over and over. I wanted to know more about this person. I ordered my first horror book.

The second trailer to have this effect on me was the "Escape from Furnace" YA series by Alexander Gordon Smith. This is a five-book series aimed at teen boys about Alex, a 15-year-old boy falsely convicted of murder and sent to youth prison for life. The difference is that the prison called "Furnace" is a mile underground. The trailer's tag line is "Beneath Heaven is Hell, and beneath Hell is Furnace," and Alex is faced with an impossible challenge – escape.

Fascinated by the ordinary world in the trailer, I ordered my second horror book. I am currently reading book three in the series and will soon order books four and five.

So, do book trailers work? Great ones certainly do. The Miriam Black trailer has been viewed over 15,000 times in two years. My wife and I were so impressed with the trailer writing, we both read the book.

Some book trailers are like preaching to the converted; if a reader is already hooked on an author or genre, he/she will probably buy the new book anyway. An effective book trailer, however, can appeal to readers who aren't usually in the target market. Consider a trailer another tool in your marketing plan.

Levels of Book Trailers

Book Trailer Levels

There are three levels of book trailers. The level is determined by what medium is delivering the key message about the book.

Book description by:

  1. Titles only
  2. Voice Over (VO)
  3. Live-action video (or custom animation)

All book trailer start with images, titles and music. A trailer with just these elements is called Level 1. A level 1 trailer could also have some stock-video footage. The images and music set the mood but the only book specific content is the titles. Level 1, titles only, is easiest to produce but the most limited in the amount of content you can deliver. If you are creating your trailer with then you are usually creating a level 1 trailer. By describing the book in a one minute trailer with titles only you have about 60 words broken into short phrases.

Example of Level 1 - Brock's Agent by Tom Taylor

Level 2, add a Voice Over (VO), raises the ability to deliver information. A speaker will average about two to three words per second as well as deliver emotion and mood through the narrator's tone and inflection. In the Blackbirds & Mockingbird trailer Chuck delivers 150 words in the first 60 seconds. This is 2.5 words per second and as it is so well performed does not lose the listener. Also the tone of the voice over sets a mood and enhances the pull to keep the viewer engaged. In my opinion, level 2 is the sweet spot of the levels. It has the ability to deliver more engaging information using a voice over but is not nearly as difficult to produce as a full cinematic level 3.

To This Day is a trailer based on a slam poem by Shane Koyczan who performed at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The original version of the poem is also on YouTube and has been viewed over 14 million times. While the images support and reinforce the narrative, the audio could stand on its own like a radio performance.

Some non-traditional examples of voice-over: mini-radio drama, slam poetry and spoken word performance.

Examples of Level 2 - Blackbirds & Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig
Explicit language Video:

To This Day by Shane Koyczan Video: Original poem: Viewed over 14 million times.

Level 3, live-action video or animation, or Cinematic approach has the most ability to deliver information about the book. Add to the voices heard the visual impact of the video and you maximize the amount of book description conveyed. Pretty well all viral videos are custom shot video. If you goal is viral then level 3 is the way to go.

Example of Level 3 - The Bleeding Land by Giles Kristian

This trailer is actually part level 2 and part level 3. The VO of the parliament speech is level 2 while the soldier loading and shooting the gun level 3. Overall this is a level 3 but the director used the VO speech to reduce cost while still delivering the message.

Does this mean a level 3 trailer is the best. No, it means the level 3 trailer has the most potential to deliver book description. It is also the most complicated and expensive to produce. Level 1 only requires images, music and writing. If there is video it is usually stock footage for setting a mood. The final video is then assembled. No acting talent required.

Adding a voice over drives the assembly of the book trailer. Like animation you start with the recorded voice. The images and other elements are added in a video editor such is Apple iMovie / Final Cut Pro X or Microsoft Movie Maker. While in theory it is possible to assemble a level 2 video with, in practice it is difficult to do. Animoto assumes the audio is music and the randomness of the assembly process makes it hard to do accurate repeatable timing.

A full cinematic trailer can be the most powerful but done poorly comes across as cheesy and amateurish.

  Describe book with Complexity
  Images Music Titles Voice Over Live-action Video
Level 1 Yes Yes Yes ~60 words/min     Least
Level 2 Yes Yes Yes Yes ~120-150 words/min   Middle
Level 3 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Most complex

Book Trailers on this site by level

Previous - In The Beginning Next - Step 1