Writing Tips from Dorothea Helms

Not all book trailers involve words, but most do. To write your trailer, think short. A 30-second radio commercial, for example, can accommodate about 70 words, and that is if someone speaks the entire time.

Keep in mind that unlike a manuscript, for which you create visual pictures and appeal to the other senses, the book trailer is mainly a visual medium. Your words are there to enhance the visual and auditory components.

With such a compact word count, editing is critical. Eliminate every unnecessary word. For example, saying a phone number isn’t one number; it’s 10 words! Better to show it on the screen. Same with a website address.

Unlike traditional prose, sentence fragments may work for your trailer, rather than complete sentences.

For example, for a novel:

Instead of “Janet finds a stash of letters from her mother’s youth under a false bottom in the antique cedar chest and discovers disturbing truths about her ancestry”

how about …

  • Cedar chest false bottom
  • Hidden letters from her mother’s youth
  • Janet’s tears fall onto the yellowed paper


Once you have selected the key messages you want to convey, start playing with words. Your lead may be all visual, visual and music, visual and words, etc.

How to grab your audience

If words are involved, like the music and visuals, they have to grab the viewer’s attention within a handful of seconds.

Alarming statistics

Let’s say you are promoting a non-fiction book about dealing with stress in everyday life. You could start with, “Did you know that 500,000 Canadian workers are absent from work every day due to mental health-related issues?”

OR, say your book is about sexual assault in Canada. Your first words could be, “What Canadian city should you avoid visiting if you want to minimize your chances of being sexually assaulted? Believe it or not, Belleville, Ontario, which in 2013 had the highest rate of reported sexual assaults per capita.”

A poignant quote

Is there a quote from a famous person or from one of your fictional characters that can catch the viewer’s attention?

For example, “Go ahead, make my day.” Big words for a short man facing a behemoth.


How many guns can fit in the pockets of a nun’s habit?


On May 29th, Betty Hale woke up thinking it would be another routine day in Toronto, but she was wrong—dead wrong.

These are just a few examples of potential first lines that can hook the reader.

Make the most of the media you include in your trailer. Avoid saying the same words as the text on the screen. It’s like sitting in a seminar where the facilitator simply reads what’s on the overhead projector – BORING!

Remember: Every word is precious in a trailer. Edit, edit then edit. Does every word support the goal?

Eliminate unnecessary modifiers.

“Any kind of salad dressing will do” could become “Any salad dressing will do”

Omit redundancies.

“true facts” should be “facts”; “necessary requirements” should be “requirements”

Make phrases out of that, who and which clauses.

“The condo, which was recently purchased” could be “The recently purchased condo”

To give your trailer punch, use active rather than passive language.

Rather than: It is Ruth who will pay the price for her actions
Substitute: Ruth will pay the price for her actions

Finally, have fun writing your trailer.

Play with words. Try them on for size. Read them out loud. Juggle them, tease them, tickle them until you hit on just the right combination and length to make your trailer sing.

Dorothea Helms

Award-winning Dorothea Helms is an internationally published writer, editor and popular writing instructor. Her work has been published in books, magazines and newspapers in Canada and the U.S. Owner of the highly successful Write Stuff Writing Services, through which she provides topnotch writing for businesses, public relations firms and ad agencies, she declared herself “The Writing Fairy” in 2004. Under that brand, she offers books, workshops, courses, keynote speeches, writing contests and writing-related items.

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