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Step 4. Write Timeline/Storyboard/Screenplay


Getting Started

Mark Twain

Once you have the log/tag lines worksheet done, it is time to write the script. It's only a one minute script - how hard can that be?

“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

― Mark Twain

Writing a one minute script is hard but you have the raw materials, let's go for it.

What you will need:

LEAD Timing - Rules of Thumb

LEAD Timing components of a trailer.

The book trailer length rule-of-thumb is one minute. As you shorten to 30 seconds, it becomes more of a challenge to present the interesting bits and the directive. The longer a trailer is, the harder it is to hold the viewer’s interest. The viewer’s ability to abandon your trailer is only a click away.

Here are the four elements of a book trailer and the order in which they usually appear. The lead and hook may be combined if what is different is included in the opening lead.

  1. Lead – (Answer the viewer’s question: Why should I give you 30 seconds of my time?)
  2. Excite – Build interest – (Why should I continue to listen/watch?)
  3. Amaze – Hook – (Why is this book different?)
  4. Direct – Directive – (How do I learn more or buy?)

The principal is to first give them a reason to listen/watch, create interest in the book, hook them with why it is different for them then tell how to buy.

LEAD is based on AIDA Marketing Principals. To quote Wiki,

AIDA is an acronym used in marketing and advertising that describes a common list of events that may occur when a consumer engages with an advertisement.
  • A – attention (Awareness): attract the attention of the customer.
  • I – interest: raise customer interest by focusing on and demonstrating advantages and benefits (instead of focusing on features, as in traditional advertising).
  • D – desire: convince customers that they want and desire the product or service and that it will satisfy their needs.
  • A – action: lead customers towards taking action and/or purchasing.

AIDA marketing

Step 4. LEAD Timing Worksheet

LEAD Timing Worksheet
Lead - (Answer the viewer’s question: Why should I give you 30 seconds of my time?)

Excite – Build interest – (Why should I continue to listen/watch?)

Amaze – Hook – (Why is this book different?)

Direct – Directive – (How do I learn more or buy?)


Grab the audience right from the start

Now that Google owns YouTube, it is placing commercials in front of videos and permitting the viewer to skip the commercial after five seconds. This is called Google TrueView. The challenge for the advertiser is to grab viewers in that five seconds, or they are gone. The same applies to your trailer. Grab with the first line. The Drowned Cities is one of my favorites for grabbing the viewer.

Think hard how many seconds will your viewer give you. For fiction unless it is a book by a well known author you probably have ten seconds. Non-fiction needs to lead with the problem you are solving with the book. Using a minute of slow build-up to the exciting climax may be a nice idea but most people will not get there. Remember the next video is only a click away.

When you view a video on the web, particularly on a news site, sometimes there is an ad you have to watch before the video appears. You can not skip the ad or fast forward. This is called a video "Pre-Roll." The advantage to the advertiser is you can not avoid the ad if you want to see the video. The drawbacks to the viewer are obvious and often I just close the browser tab thinking "I didn't want to see the video that bad."

YouTube has taken a different approach called TrueView ( The ad appears before the video but you only have to watch five seconds then you can skip the ad.

On the left the length of the advertisement is displayed. If the ad is long this encourages the viewer to skip it. Think about your behaviour. Would you watch a 2:30 commercial?

Ad skip in 5 seconds

Five seconds later

Click to Skip Ad

Tradition 15 or 30 seconds are recycled from TV for these but the odds are the user will just click to skip. Just like in a book trailer, you have to grab the audience up front. In a Google TrueView ad you have five seconds to grab the viewer. Talk about needing a short "Lead."

Superdrug ( - a UK drug store chain took a different approach.


They did several unique things.

  1. Deliver a viewer benefit (the sale items) in the first five seconds so even if the viewer skips the advertiser got their key message out
  2. If the user skips the advertiser does not pay for the ad as the first five seconds are free
  3. Talk directly to viewer and tease them about staying around.

It is the old adage - "If you can't fix it then feature it." In a light manner grab the viewer in the first five seconds and give them a reason to listen.

Great advice for book trailer designers.

Trailer Elements

Another consideration in your trailer is what type of elements will you use. A simple book trailer uses photos, music and titles to form a visual slide deck. A narrator could be added for impact.

Drawn, stop motion or computer-generated video.
A directive usually comes at the end of a trailer and has the information on how to purchase the book. Depending on how widely known the book is, it can range from just the title and author to complete details on how to purchase.
Can be stock from a supply house or custom shot.
Music can be Custom, meaning created specifically for the work or purchased from a supply house and referred to as Stock.
Narrator / VO - Voice Over 
Narration that is not spoken on camera.
Praise, good reviews or awards the author/book received. Awards add credibility.
A common element in a book trailer is praise, be it in the form of a review or quote. A common question is, when should you use praise?
If we think of the principal of “show vs tell,” praise is tell. This person or review is telling me the book is good. Unless the reviewer is well know and respected, it holds limited weight. I watched one trailer recently that led with one page of praise, then another. Thirty seconds later, the trailer finally got around to summarizing the plot-line. I was so bored by the two pages of praise from people I had never heard of, that I almost missed the plot-line.
In most cases, praise is appropriate before the amaze step or as part of the directive. It should be brief. Video is not the place for paragraphs of text.
The bottom line is – SHOW me your book is good rather than TELLING me others think it is good.
The book is part of a book series. Example: Harry Potter books. Series books appear to repeat readers. This is appealing to viewers who invest in learning the characters and world.
Sound Effect 
Sound effect added. They can be subtle like the sound of footsteps or a door shutting.
Special Effect 
CGI - Computer-generated video effects
Video can be Custom, meaning it was custom shot from a live session, or Stock, meaning it was purchased from a stock library.

Components of a Book Trailer - Trailer Arc

Trailer Arc Components

There are nine types of components possible in a book trailer. No trailer would use all nine as it would be far too long. A trailer arc is a technique to plot the components used in the trailer and the flow through them. These include:

  • Setting – Time and place where the story takes place.
  • Ordinary World ( – the norms and rules of the world. If the story is set in a dystopia (, fantasy or paranormal ( world, then the reader needs to be educated in what a typical day is. These trailers often spend significant time establishing the norms.
  • Characters – Protagonist: (hero or main character) and antagonist: (villain or nemesis). Usually the trailer focuses on the protagonist, with any other characters there simply to showcase the main character in more depth.
  • Motivation – Why the protagonist is taking on the challenge.
  • Act One Crisis/Inciting Incident – The event that forces the protagonist to action.
  • Challenge – The challenge that the protagonist accepts.
  • Obstacles – What obstacles stand in the way of overcoming the challenge?
  • Praise – Reviews and testimonials. In the diagram, it refers to a screen dedicated to praise where the flow of the trailer is stopped for it. A title overlay on another trailer arc part would not get graphed.
  • Directive – A directive usually comes at the end of a trailer and has the information on how to purchase the book. Depending on how widely known the book is, it can range from just the title and author to complete details on how to purchase.

Trailer Arc Worksheet I use this when analyzing a series of trailers. I write the title above, then connect the components and check the box beside the one the trailer focused on.

A trailer almost always ends in the directive. This calls the viewer to action as well as signal the trailer is done. If you are inclined to have trailer credits do so after the directive. That way your message has been delivered if the viewer bails.

Trailer Arc Examples

Escape from Furnace Series

Setup.jpg Character.jpg Ordinary.jpg Challenge.jpg Praise.jpg Directive.jpg

This trailer begins with the brilliant lead: “Beneath Heaven is Hell, and beneath Hell is Furnace.” After the main character, Alex, is introduced, the brunt of the trailer (represented by the larger icon) is spent describing a typical day in Furnace. The challenge is then presented to do the impossible – escape, which is followed by praise and then the directive.

Frog Music

Praise.jpg Setup.jpg Character.jpg Crisis.jpg Directive.jpg

Frog Music is another interesting Trailer Arc beginning with author recognition (praise), then setting and spending most of the trailer in character development moving to the act one crisis and ending on the directive. This is about as elaborate an arc as you will typically see.

The Bleeding Land

Setup.jpg Ordinary.jpg Praise.jpg Directive.jpg

The trailer begins with the setting, England 1642, then moves to ordinary world using voice over narrative as well as live video of a soldier loading and firing his musket. The flow moves back and forth between ordinary world and praise. It feels effortless and smooth. The trailer ends with the directive of the cover and websites.

Step 4. Trailer Arc Worksheet

For your trailer:

  1. Select the components in the trailer arc diagram you will be using
  2. Fill in the table with the components you will be using
  3. Indicate the flow in the trailer arc diagram.
Book Trailer Components Worksheet
Setup.jpg Setting:

Ordinary.jpg Ordinary World:

Character.jpg Characters – Protagonist:

Motivation.jpg Motivation:

Crisis.jpg Act One Crisis/Inciting Incident:

Challenge.jpg Challenge:

Obstacle.jpg Obstacles:

Goal.jpg Goal:

Stakes.jpg Stakes:

Deadline.jpg Deadline:

Praise.jpg Praise:

Directive.jpg Directive:

Genre.jpg Genre:


Script Formatting Options

There are three formatting options when writing a book trailer script: timeline, storyboard and screenplay. Each have strengths, limitations and complexities. Timeline is the most simple and useful during the early phases of writing. Storyboard is very useful when visualizing the trailer. Screenplay is the most formal and complex. It is a language for working with a production company and crew as it is a universal format. Let’s look at the three with examples.

Timeline Structure

The first example is a non-fiction trailer for this website. Non-fiction trailers are a good place to start as they are easier to write. Non-fiction trailers only have to answer four questions:

  1. Topic of the book
  2. Key problem addressed
  3. Promise: How does the book solve the problem?
  4. Differentiation: How is the book different from other similar titles.

I structured the script and added the colours to help understand how LEAD timing works.


BookTrailer101 final trailer

Examining the LEAD elements:

1. Lead – (Answer the viewer’s question: Why should I give you 30 seconds of my time?)

"Your book is finished. Congratulations." This is meant to entice the viewer to want to watch. This assumes they are a writer with a book in progress or completed. As this is the target audience for this site that is a natural fit.

2. Excite – Build interest – (Why should I continue to listen?)

"Yours is one of a million new titles in North America this year. How will you make it stand out?" - This explains the problem that the number of new books released this year is large. In marketing speak this is called "creating the need." BTW I did not make up this number. It is based on the requests for ISBN numbers in North America from traditional publishers as well as larger self-publishing firms. The data covered to 2012 then I extrapolated to 2014 for self-publishing and left traditional publishers the same as their numbers were stagnant for the past few years.

"A book trailer can ignite your marketing strategy. Now where do you start?" - Present the solution.

"BookTrailer101, creating an effective limited budget trailer." While this was the original idea, I later shortened it to just BookTrailer101 as I found the sentence too hard sell.

Learn the 7 Steps of How to Create a Book Trailer.

1. Identify Audience
2. Create Building Blocks
3. Select Approach
4. Write Script
5. Acquire Media
6. Assemble Video
7. Upload/Promote trailer.

Fill in the details on how the viewer will create their trailer.

3. Amaze – Hook – (Why is this book different?)

"More than how to assemble a video, How to create a Book Trailer" - In my original research I found the sites which teach book trailer creation focus on how to find media and assemble the video but spent no time on writing the script. To me this was like teaching someone to use Microsoft™ Word then saying "you have the tools now go write a novel." My challenge was how to summarize that BT101 was more than just how to assemble video.

4. Direct – Directive – (How do I learn more or buy?)

The script is in Timeline format. Each block of time is a group of lines. Each line begins with either: VO (voice over), Sound Effect, Video, Image or Title. In the Lead, the scene starts with a voice over, the image and video appears along with the background sound of a crowd cheering. In voice over the narrators says the line. Part way in the picture of the books appears and the cheering starts. Then the video of fireworks appears behind the books. CSP 14998604 means use CanStockPhoto number 14998604. This makes it easier to buy the final images. If the image has been selected show a thumbnail on the right.

As I was assembling I found the crowd cheering was too much of a distraction. The fireworks, narrator and background music was enough.

Timeline is a very simple format. It useful during idea formulation and if the production team is yourself you might stop with just a timeline.

Storyboard Structure


Early test reel.

This is Amber's storyboard from the Stouffville workshop. Each image builds on the timeline format with an image of what will be showing. Often the image will be a scanned sketch.

While there are many storyboard packages a presentation package such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Open Office's Presentation can be used. Please the sketch on the slide and put the narrative details in the notes. Then print the slides with the notes.

Storyboard example.

Screenplay Structure


Bleeding Land trailer.

If you are working with film production team for say a cinematic trailer, then you need a robust format understood by all. This is the screenplay, a structured format that has been around since the manual typewriter. The format conveys all the information necessary for the reader to understand what the film experience will be like but it does so within fairly rigid rules.

There are many websites and books that go into great detail on how to format a submission screenplay. Some are noted in the resources section below. While a screenplay can be written with a word processor such as Microsoft Word®, most writers use a tool such as the industry standard Final Draft® or Celtx.

I asked Sherry Coman to transpose the trailer into a screenplay with proper formatting. Sherry is a Sessional Professor of Film and New Media at Humber College and teaches advanced screenwriting. Here is the screenplay she created.

Sample of Bleeding Land screenplay

Sherry made these comments in her email about the script.

This is a great book trailer and I can see why you want to use it! The screenplay formatting I have used here is really more of a video-to-screenplay versioning. You have figured out some of the logic of the CAPS rules but just so you know for future reference - there are generally six things that are capped:
  1. SCENE HEADINGS (which always have three elements with the dot-dash separator)
  2. CHARACTER INTRODUCTIONS in scene action description. (After that they are just initial-capped)
  4. SIGNIFICANT SOUNDS (ideally you cap the sound itself if it is in the sentence. If not, then the word SOUND can be capped. An example is: He heard the SOUND of a bell. Or ... He heard the bell RING.)
  5. ANY VISUAL EFFECTS (and titles are considered same)
  6. Editing transitions (like FADE OUT and FADE IN. FADE OUT is always on the right hand margin and FADE IN is always on the left hand margin. The general thinking is that what comes before a scene is on the left side, and what comes at the end of a scene is on the right side.)
  7. Although the title intercuts over black are technically fades in and out, they are so fast and for such brief duration that they become Inserts.

External Resources:

As part of the Screenwriting for Dummies, the publisher has several cheat sheets online. These two are useful when writing a book trailer.

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