Everyone’s familiar with movie trailers—and everyone knows how some of them really work, really whetting your appetite for the movie. And how others somehow take all the juice from it, spoil your enjoyment by letting you in on all the jokes, for instance. The difference between the good and bad movie trailers of course is whether they act as an enticing, spicy appetiser; or as the kind of stodgy nibbles that spoil your appetite for the main course. And that’s the same with book trailers.

If you’re not familiar with book trailers, they’re the latest thing in book publicity. They’ve always been around, up to a point, in the form of ads for blockbuster books that you might see on TV. Those were expensive and could ever really be indulged in by publishing companies. Mostly, though, the book-jacket blurb became a kind of virtual trailer—with the lengthy and often too revealing blurbs of the past replaced by short, snappy, intriguing little amuse gueules, as the French term appetisers—the better to entice the reader in. Authors couldn’t even consider the idea of making their own video publicity—not only was it expensive, but where would you place it after you’d made it? Send it to bookshops perhaps—but that would beggar your average writer.

That was of course until the advent of Web 2.0 and the proliferation of do-it-yourself publicity/networking sites such as My Space, Bebo, Facebook—and, most especially, You Tube. Now any author armed with a computer, basic movie-making software, and a good dash of imagination, can create his or her book trailer that includes words, pictures, and music. Not only does it work well as an Internet showcase for the book—and can be used by your publishers for their regular publicity—it’s also a lot of fun to make.

I was the kind of kid who loved making scrapbooks, pretend newspapers and magazines, little books, etc, so making a book trailer was just up my alley. Before I successfully made one, for my forthcoming mystery novel for kids, The Case of the Diamond Shadow, which is set in 1931, I experimented a fair bit so that I’d have an idea what would work and what wouldn’t. I also had a look at other people’s efforts. Some I looked at on the web, on various author sites, and which are worth looking at:

http://www.youtube.com/MichaelJPryor

http://www.youtube.com/isabellemerlin

http://www.youtube.com/ianirvine1 

I showed variations of my embryonic trailer to long-suffering family and to my publisher so I could get their comments on what they thought worked. It was a real case of trial and error. I’d made videos before for my You Tube site, but these were different—more like virtual author talks, as I’d intended them for use by schools who might be interested in my books but unable to get me in for a physical visit. These were also much more ‘home-made” in feel, because my video skills are not world-shattering, to say the least. That didn’t matter, with a talk—people forgive the amateurish quality because it’s just, well, a talk, not a documentary. And rambling on is allowed—up to a point (you should still script a talk, however). But with a trailer, it’s quite different. It must not only look pretty good but also not outstay its welcome. 

So here are a few of the things I learned when making my trailer for The Case of the Diamond Shadow:

  1. Do not use a video camera to shoot a trailer. Instead use stills that you have stored on your computer, and manipulate them with Movie Maker(or whatever your movie software is). The reason for this is that amateur video always looks like amateur video. Moving pictures are dodgy to get right, unless you’ve got real skills in that department. Still ones work much better for most authors.
  2. Keep it short—up to 1 minute and a half is ideal. More than that risks losing the viewer’s attention and takes longer to upload as well. Less is OK as long as you can get in everything you need! Too cryptic may also not work.
  3. Use a compressed blurb approach to the words—you need words, but not too many. Don’t try to explain too much of the story’s premise.
  4. The pictures you use are important. Not only must they be appropriate for the story, but they must also be owned by you—in other words, you can’t just pick any old picture off the Internet and stick it in. I was lucky enough to be able to use my grandfather’s glamorous 1930′s photographs(he was a photographer and cameraman)as well as pictures from 1930′s magazines I own.
  5. Music is very important. Choose not only the right sort but also make sure it’s one you can use—that it’s either out of copyright or is something written by someone you know who has given you permission to use it. The music I chose for Diamond Shadow was the 1931 song, Minnie the Moocher, by Cab Calloway, which is still under copyright but which I was granted permission to use—You Tube will automatically search out copyright holders when a song or part of one is uploaded, and contact you with the result of whether or not you can use the song.
  6. Put it up on You Tube. This site is the easiest to use and the most versatile. You can then if you wish, through You Tube’s Share button, post your trailer to your Facebook or My Space page as well (Bebo is not linked directly to You Tube yet but you can still post videos there from You Tube, it’s just more complicated). You can also send links to it to everyone you want to know about the book.

Does it work, as far as generating reader interest is concerned? I don’t know. But I don’t think it can hurt at all. And not only do you learn a great deal, but you also have a lot of fun. And that can’t be bad!

Have a look at my trailer for The Case of the Diamond Shadow at www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RC8C8YBAtU

Photo by Knows-Flower

About Sophie Masson

Sophie Masson has published more than fifty novels internationally since 1990, mainly for children and young adults. A bilingual French and English speaker, raised mostly in Australia, she has a master’s degree in French and English literature. Sophie's new e-book on authorship, By the Book: Tips of the Trade for Writers, is available at Australian Society of Authors.