Saturday, 3 September 2011

Book Trailers Part II

After debating the merits of book trailers in Book Trailers Part I, and coming up a little short on enthusiasm - I decided to try my hand at one anyway.

I was curious to know just how difficult it is to make a book trailer on a budget. Accepting the fact that top-listers will have the full financial clout of their marketing department behind them - what, then, is available for struggling shoestring authors?

Before I start this, I should mention that I'm not a complete novice when it comes to sound production and editing programmes. It would be unfair to give the impression that I started from absolute scratch. Keeping it simple, I used the following two tools to make this trailer:

Windows Movie Maker: I prefer Adobe Premier Pro, but Movie Maker used to come free with most Windows office suites and, as far as editors go, it is fairly easy to get the hang of. AVS Video Editor is also cheap and fairly easy to use. They're both simple point-and-click non-linear editors. All of the photo manipulation shots at the beginning (where the photos look like they're moving) were added at the click of a button. You can cross-fade and insert film clips very easily.

Audacity: This is a free audio editing programme which you can download online. I had to edit the sound track separately before adding it to the film reel. Audacity does everything you need it to do, but personally I don't find it to be that intuitive. Actually, at times I find it frustrating for its lack of guidance. But it's free, and it works. If you get stuck, search for a YouTube tutorial on what you're trying to achieve. Nine times out of ten, someone will have done one.

Accepting that I know my way around the software, from beginning to end this project probably took me in the region of five hours to compile. The main frustrations were:

  1. Recording a usable voice-over with a stinking cold (yes, I am swallowing my own snot towards the end there - seriously, who says 'human nate-ur'?)
  2. Lining up the music tracks so that they fitted the timing of the visual track, then dipping it at appropriate intervals for the voice-over. Very laborious work unless you have Premier Pro which has an auto-duck feature.

If you haven't got a cold, you can rule out having to deal with one of those two problems.

If you are a complete newcomer to editing software, or just interested in the subject, author Morgen Bailey has created an easy walk-through: How to create your free 30-second book trailer video using Animoto.

Here's some observations and considerations from my own attempt. You can judge for yourself from the quality of the video whether it's worth reading them.


I realised very quickly that I was blessed for having written a work of historical fiction. Of all the genres, it's possibly the easiest to create a basic trailer for.

Firstly, you have a wealth of previous material available: documentaries, music, photographs, archive footage. Secondly, you're more likely to get those for free than with contemporary work (see below on Copyright).

If you've written a work of science-fiction, fantasy or contemporary fiction, the likelihood is that you're going to need the assistance of some funky CGI, possibly actors, and probably a talented artist who can bring your vision to life.

TOP TIP:  So you've written a novel set in outer space in 4022, or a contemporary thriller in the wilds of Afghanistan from your comfortable bedsit in Peckham. Pulling off a convincing trailer is going to be tough. Instead of trying to compete with the big budget production companies - keep it simple. I knew that I couldn't find a group of actors, fly to Aus, or pay to use documentary footage, so I went for a simple interview style voice-over. If you try too hard to tell the story in your trailer, you may spoil it for the reader. After all, it's their imagination that completes the novel. But an interview adds to the reading experience by letting them get to know the author. That was my reasoning, anyway.

Here's a good example of that in practice:


That cringesome word.

My trailer cost me a grand total of nothing to produce. The reason being? Well, once again - historical fiction.

The photos were either mine, or taken from the Library of South Australia's archived footage - which they're happy to give permission for so long as you fill out a form. The music is taken from original recordings which are now all out of copyright (though not the lyrics! - be careful there. If I'd subtitled them, I might have had to pay!). Even the film clips are now in public domain. There's a useful Public Domain Calculator to help you work out what you can legally use.

The massive money saver was that I was able to do my own tech. That's what you're paying other companies silly amounts of money for: editing time. It's well worth getting to grips with Movie Maker/AVS and Audacity. But, if you can't get your head around it, you could always make an appeal to friends on Facebook, tech  or arts forums.

Just remember - you always need copyright permission for any images, music, recordings and clips you use unless you take them yourself or they're out of copyright. Make sure you have written permission from anyone who says 'yes'. Also - just because something appears in the public domain, doesn't mean that everyone can use it or alter it. Run a Google search for creative commons image sites. Creative Commons license (CC) is material that is in the public domain for anyone to use. But you then need to check whether that material has a commercial CC license. A lot of stuff is free for non-commercial use, but for commercial use (meaning advertising - of your book) it might not be.

If you need backing music, check out Jamendo. This is CC music. Again, mostly free for non-commercial use, but it's easy to contact the artists to ask about terms for commercial use.

TOP TIP: Don't be afraid to brows through other people's Flikr and YouTube accounts. If you see something you would like to use, contact them. A lot of people are happy just to get a mention in exchange for letting you incorporate their work. But get something in writing, even if it's just an e-mail response. This avoids argument later down the line.


The earlier you start to think about your trailer, the better. I put aside a full day to cobble mine together. But that was after I'd spent three weeks waiting for permission to use the archived photos, scouring YouTube for footage, obtaining permission for that and - above all - managing to formulate the approach in my own mind.

You want your book trailer ready to roll the moment your book is available, if not a couple of months before. The longer your pre-release lead-in, the greater the chance of pre-orders and publicity hype which will boost sales on the day.

Another aspect of timing is how long to make the book trailer. In Book Trailers Part I you can see that the first book trailer ever produced was four minutes long. Most would agree that's too long. The shining example from Penguin Books: What the Nanny Saw, only ran for forty-eight seconds!

TOP TIP: Really, the shorter the better. People usually understand quicker than they're given credit for, and switch off faster than we'd like. Two-and-a-half minutes should be ample. Not forgetting that one minute of footage is likely to take you a couple of hours to compile.

So, that's my little foray into the world of book trailers. It has certainly been useful to have something to direct people towards when they ask 'So, what's your book about?' and to drop a living flyer into online forums. It's received a couple of likes on YouTube and a few thumbs-up on Facebook. Whether it's sold any books - I remain sceptical.

Please feel free to leave a link to your own book trailer as a comment, and explain a little about how you chose to approach it.

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