Thursday, September 27, 2012

Writer Conference Workshop Notes: Book Trailers - Putting the 'Tease' in Teaser

In August 2012, I attended the SCBWI annual summer conference. My first blog post recapping the conference covered a workshop called Digital Landscape (hosted by agent Rubin Pfeffer), and can be found HERE AT THIS LINK.

Today I'm sharing what I learned at another workshop, hosted by Young Adult author, Sara Wilson Etienne (Harbinger, Penguin Putnam). The workshop was called Book Trailers: Storyboards, Scripts, Lookbooks, and Everything That Puts The 'Tease' in Teaser.

Book trailers were a mystery to me before this. I didn't know how people went about making them, but I do love watching them, so I thought this workshop would be a great place to start figuring things out.

Here are the bullet points:
  • Having no book trailer is better than having a bad book trailer.
  •  When planning, create "A", "B", and "C" scenarios:
    • What is the absolute MINIMUM you are willing to accept out of your book trailer? For example, good music? A voice-over? The minimum is your "C" scenario.
    • What is your DREAM book trailer like? That is your "A" scenario.
    • Beginning with your "C" scenario, what elements from your "A" scenario seem possible, given your resources? This creates your "B" scenario. Strive for this goal, but if you hit the main points of your "C" scenario, you have still succeeded!
  •  Things to consider:
    • Your target audience, including age and gender.
    • Your novel's tone. Stick with it!
  • Less is more: length. Thirty seconds to two minutes is enough.
  • Less is more: content. Remember to TEASE, not reveal. Your book trailer should give a feel for what your novel is about. It should not show much about what happens in your book, but leave readers eagerly wondering what possible things might happen.
  •  Create a storyboard:
    • Basically, this is a visual outline of what you will include in your book trailer.
    • If you are using a voice-over, write the script. Decide which images will go with which parts of your script.
  • If you are doing a photo collage book trailer, be sure to use your own photos, or purchase the commercial rights to images from places like Dreamstime or iStockphoto. Never lift anything from the internet without permission.
  • If you are adding music, be sure to purchase the commercial rights from somewhere such as Digital Juice, or find music for free or with a donation (usually with a credit given at the end of your trailer) from somewhere such as DanoSongs.
  • For the well-resourced: 
    • If you are planning on using live-action video, making a professional book trailer is like making a short film.
    • Use the best possible camera you can, and be prepared to spend hours shooting even the shortest of book trailers. 
    • Depending on your resources, consider contacting acting and film schools to see if student actors and camera operators would be willing to work free to build their portfolios.
    • Using video will make your project a lot more intensive. Sara Wilson Etienne used student actors and a film crew, and it took a year and a half of planning, auditioning, editing--not to mention the days of shooting. Read about how she did it, HERE ON HER BLOG.
  • You can either hire a freelancer to help you, or if you have video editing software, create your own book trailer using your photos and music. 
    • Hiring a Freelancer - A friend of mine (Trisha Leigh, featured below) hired an exceptional book trailer freelancer, Jeff Somers. Check out HIS SITE HERE for other examples of his work.
  •  Once your book trailer is finished, create a splash! 
    • If your book is not released yet, aim for one month prior to publication to launch your book trailer. 
    • If your book HAS been released, let your fans know that you are creating a book trailer once you are close to finishing. 
    • In BOTH cases, choose a release date, and enlist the help of as many bloggers, Tweeters, and Facebook friends to air the book trailer on their sites and link back to yours!
Now, I will share TWO examples! First, Sara Wilson Etienne's book trailer for Harbinger. But PLEASE NOTE! Sara Wilson Etienne's book trailer is an exceptional example, and much more than what the average author will be able to create without investing a LOT of time and money.

Book trailer for Harbinger, by Sara Wilson Etienne

Wow. Epic, right?

Like I said, this project was a year and a half in the making. Sara Wilson Etienne said that after the planning and auditioning, this phenom of a trailer took several days to shoot, and months of editing to finish. She let us know in her workshop that she lives in Los Angeles (so had easy access to acting schools for auditioning the roles), and that she is married to a movie person (I forget what sort, a director or something) and so he had many connections for getting a camera crew together, a script writer, video editor, and all sorts of other movie businessy-type people to make this happen.  Again, the average author will not have access to this level of awesome, but it's a good idea to see how well the trailer works on a conceptual level, i.e. tone, teasing, and leaving more questions than answers.

There are much simpler, less intensive, and less costly ways to go about making a book trailer that still does your story justice, and ultimately, garners interest in your novel. Here is a great example of a simple book trailer that really gets it right, in my opinion:

Book trailer for Whispers of Autumn by Trisha Leigh

Trisha Leigh, much like myself, didn't know the ins and outs of creating a book trailer. She hired a the freelancer I mentioned above, Jeff Somers (linked here again, for your convenience), and he did an outstanding job. Just like the Harbinger book trailer, this one sets the tone, and entices potential readers to find out more.

Much like the back cover blurb of a book, the story's overall theme is highlighted and you get to wonder what the book is about--and hopefully, you feel the urge to buy a copy and see for yourself.

A successful book trailer reaches people who might not have otherwise known what a fantastic book you've written. Trailers are more about capturing interest than anything else. Remember, your goal is to create a short piece of visual imagery to lure in a curious reader. Hopefully, you will make an impression that lingers on in the viewers mind.

I'm still on the fence about creating a book trailer for Timespell. I would love to have one, but the task seems daunting! My target audience is teenage readers, and I know how visual that age group is. Plus, it seems that the more media there is about a book, the better. I can't help but wonder, wouldn't my book benefit?

What are your thoughts on book trailers? When you watch a good one, does it make an impression on you, enough to look into buying the book later? Do you think it's worth the time and effort to create one for your own novel?

Final resources:
  • Book Trailers For All - Lists sources for music and images, and also gives advice on how to create and edit your trailer.


  1. Great post Diana, gives me a lot to think about and I always like that in my quest to write a better story. As for book trailers, your final question. I don't know how worthwhile they are, I hear people love them or hate them. For me personally I just like to make them, or at least like making it for my book, trying to find something just right, trying to create the just right feel (yes I know how horrendous that sentence sounded) to sort of give a bit of an impression for my novel. But then, for me, everything I do in writing and promoting is about a vision I have, hoping that people will find something in it that they like, knowing though that, first and foremost it's something I want to do. To me that's sort of what the trailer is about in my mind. But then that's just me and I'm eccentric.

  2. I really enjoyed this post, thank you for sharing such great information. I enjoy watching trailers and so far have made 3 for my own books. Like Wyatt, I make them simply because they are so much fun, and they have generated reader interest in my writing. Even on a shoestring budget they can be a strong way to get your message across, as well as being an excellent focal point to help envision your story as you write. Currently I'm working on 3 more, so it was good to see how the market is moving. Thanks again!

  3. This is a fantastic overview! Thank you so much for sharing it. I bookmarked it in case I ever get to the point where I need a book trailer.

  4. This is a really great post. I honestly enjoyed reading what you had to say.