Myrlin A. Hermes is the author of THE LUNATIC, THE LOVER, AND THE POET, which will be published on January 26th by HarperCollins
Book trailers are all the rage these days, but it can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars to have one professionally made—an expense your publisher will probably be reluctant to shoulder unless yours is a genuine blockbuster. And most of them, quite frankly, still end up looking generic, cheap, and dull. But it’s not that hard to put together your own book trailer for next to nothing; and many of the same creative issues we deal with as writers–such as establishing tone and setting, creating vivid characters, pacing, and remembering to edit–are also applicable to creating an effective video.
You don’t need fancy equipment, either–I put together mine using Windows Movie Maker on a tiny 10″ MSI Wind netbook. Just a disclaimer: I am not endorsing any product–of course, if you have Photoshop and professional video editing software, or even a Mac with iMovie 2, the mechanics will be easier. Nor am I claiming any particular expertise–in fact, I had never done any video editing before–but I’m willing to share what I learned through trial-and-error as I put together the trailer for my novel The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet. It took me about four days to make–in retrospect, I would recommend scheduling a bit more time for the project, especially if your plans also include eating or sleeping!
First, you’ll want to select your background music. This can be very helpful for establishing the tone and genre of your book, but it’s important that your selection be royalty-free, so you don’t run into rights issues. Kevin MacLeod’s site Incompetech has a very good selection of music clips searchable by both genre (examples: African, Electronica, Silent Film Score) and feel (Driving, Eerie, Uplifting). These are all available for use royalty-free: he requests only credit on YouTube (or wherever the final piece is uploaded) and a $5 donation per clip used. I was so happy with the short piece I found for my book trailer, I donated $25. Still a bargain compared to hiring a professional!
Once you’ve chosen your music, it’s time to pick out your images. This is where you as the author have a real advantage over the professional video-editor, who may not have even read the book. Take some time to “cast” your characters and choose images that resonate with your themes and settings. Again, you’ll want to make sure that these images are in the public domain or that you’ve secured the rights to use them. There are stock image and video sites on the web where you can pay a flat fee per image or clip, but I was able to find everything I needed for free on Wikimedia Commons. To edit and resize my pictures and add the text, I used the open-source GNU Image Manipulation Program, or GIMP.
Don’t get too wordy or complicated with your text–a few phrases about the premise and characters are fine; repeating the entire jacket copy on plodding powerpoint slides, as so many book trailers seem to do, is a sure way to cause eyes to glaze over and browsers to click shut. Yes, your target audience is readers–but remember–this is a visual medium. Let the words support the images.
Windows Movie Maker allows you to drop photos and movie clips onto a storyboard, cut between them using several different transitions, and apply a variety of effects. These effects can be a lot of fun to play with–but, just as 90% of the time the effectively invisible “he said” is a better tag for dialogue than its showier (muttered/sputtered/exclaimed/interjected) replacements, I would stick mostly to the basic cut and fade transitions, unless you want your trailer resembing an ’80s music video. In my minute-and-a-half long trailer, I only ended up using four “specialty” transitions.
One thing you can’t do on Windows Movie Maker (at least on my version, 5.1 for Windows XP) is the pan-and-scan or “Ken Burns effect”–a nice way to give a cinematic and dynamic feel to still photos. For this, I downloaded a piece of Freeware called Digital Clip Factory. It’s another video editing program, and in theory I could have made the entire trailer using nothing else–but I found WMM a bit more versatile and easier to use, so I mostly used DCF to create short video clips of 1-2 second pans across individual photos, which I then imported to my WMM storyboard.
Try to vary your pace a bit–just as you wouldn’t want to fill an entire page with sentences of the same length, mixing longer and shorter shots and alternating pans and zooms helps to hold the viewer’s interest. I also included a fun bonus “easter egg”–a flyaway page of the Poet’s writing (which I put together using GIMP) passes by too quickly to be read, but can be perused at leisure on my novel’s Facebook group.
In general, shorter is better–aim for under two minutes, and don’t worry if that doesn’t give you time to cover every twist in the plot. Get across the genre, setting, and general premise of the book, briefly introduce a compelling character or two, then direct the viewer to your website or blog for more extensive information. Remember–the point isn’t to win an Oscar for your brilliantly complex cinematic achievement, but to get people to buy the book!
How effective is a book trailer as a promotional tool? Well, that depends on how you use it. Sitting on your website, it probably won’t help much–after all, those readers have already heard of you! But posted in relevant communities or sent to targeted recipients in the media, it can act as a virtual “calling card” for you and your book. These days, people are accustomed to multimedia grazing on the internet, and it’s easier to click on–and forward–a YouTube video than download and read a sample chapter.
Want to see what I mean? You can check out my trailer, below. (You’ve got to be a bit curious about it after all this, right?) If you think the book looks interesting, or know someone who might like it, wouldn’t it be easy to share the YouTube video, tweet it to your friends, or repost it to your blog or Facebook page? In fact, why don’t you take a minute and do that right now? No, that’s fine, go ahead–I’ll just wait right here.