Book Trailer Levels

Book trailers are made with many media elements including photos, music, on-screen titles, voice-over narration, video and animation. Music and photographs are common elements of book trailers to create a mood or tone. They don’t usually describe details of the book. The exception is science fiction or any imaginary world where they convey the setting. The real description of the book comes in one or more of three media elements: on-screen titles, voice-over (VO) narration or live-action video and animation. Book trailer level is determined by which medium is delivering the key message about the book.

Level-1 On-screen Titles Only

A trailer with just on-screen titles is called level-1. The images and music set the mood, but the only book-specific content is conveyed in the titles. Level-1 is easiest to produce, but is 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 on-screen titles only, you have about 60 words broken into short phrases.


Level-2 Voice-over (VO)

Level-2 adds a voice-over and enhances 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, it does not lose the listener. Also, the tone of the voice-over sets a mood and engages the viewer. 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 include: mini-radio drama, slam poetry and spoken word performance.


Level-3 Live-action Video or Animation

Level-3, live-action video or animation, or cinematic approach, has the most ability to deliver information about the book. Add to the voices the visual impact of the video, and you maximize the amount of book description conveyed. You also increase your chances of appealing to all of the senses and broadening your target market. Pretty well all viral videos are custom-shot video. If you goal is viral, then level-3 is the way to go.

Monument 14 – Savage Drift by Emmy Laybourne is an excellent example of a level-3 trailer. As the book was optioned for a movie, the trailer demonstrates the movie potential and teases audiences to look forward to the movie, as well as sell the book.

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 requires only 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 is 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 as Apple iMovie / Final Cut Pro X, Microsoft Movie Maker or Adobe Premiere. It is possible to assemble a level-2 video with The voice-over is mixed with the music and uploaded as the song. It is not possible to achieve precise scene timing, though.

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


Trailer Length by Level

How long should a trailer be is a complicated question. One factor is the richness of the media. It is difficult to hold the viewers’ interest on a long level-1 trailer with just titles, music and images. That is why the rule-of-thumb is 1:00. Level-2, where a story narrative is used, tends to be longer at 2:00, while level-3 trailers that are more movie trailer like can be effective at 2:00 to 3:00 minutes. As the richness of the media increases, so does the appropriate length.

Describe book with Complex Time
Level Image Music Titles Voice Over Live-action Video
1 Yes Yes ~60 words/min Least 1:00
2 Yes Yes Yes ~120-150 words/min Middle Story 1:00 – 2:00
3 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Most 2:00 – 3:00