Friday 12 July 2013

How to Make a Book Trailer - Part One: Inspiration

Out 5 September 2013. Yes, really!
By Candy Gourlay

Note: I added more stuff after I posted this and added the actual video I made it was officially launched.

Hello, stranger ... long time no see!

I know, I know, for a group blog, we are highly irregular bloggers - but our policy on Notes from the Slushpile is: Books Come First. Blogging and the rest of it? We'll get there eventually.

So this is eventually.

I've just finished making a book trailer for my forthcoming teen novel Shine (gratuitous cover image on the right).

Like many authors I'm not expecting my publisher to shell out for a blockbuster book trailer directed by Sam Mendes and scripted by Richard Curtis. Yup, it's the DIY route for me - terrifying for some but very exciting if like me, you're a lo-fi YouTuber!

Before I got to work on my video though, I had a trawl through YouTube scoping book trailers for inspiration.

The thing about book trailers is ... they just can't compete with movie trailers. And yet so many DIY book trailer makers try to copy the format of actors doing dialogue and proper scenes. Unless you've got a proper budget and real actors and a real director and cinematographer, there's a danger that this full-on approach will make for inadvertent comedy.

But with a budget and a  half, the movie approach does work. Here's the cinematic trailer for Jacqueline Wilson's Lily Alone. Never mind the book, when can I watch the film?

Cinematic trailers are effective in making potential readers want to get to know the characters better. But beware, DIYers: if you cast wooden amateurs you might alienate them.

Added the next video after super talented illustrator Heather Kilgour posted this stunning animation for Going West by Maurice Gee in the comments - definitely not a DIY job. But we DIYERs can learn from the way it blends sound and image in a way that raises the tension to a climax. Author reality check: Unfortunately, author-made trailers tend to be wordy because yeah, Words R Us. We authors love words. But a video is a medium where sound and image count just as much as the words. Write out the script, then see how you can use evocative images and sound effects to throw your punches.

My all time favourite has to be the trailer for The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. To achieve something like this, you'll need an illustrator, an animator and of course, Neil Gaiman to do the voice over. Note that the whole thing is constructed as a set up for the brilliant final line.

One can try recruiting thrusting young film students, of course. I was very impressed by this trailer for Chasing the Dark by Sam Osman aka Sam Hepburn.

Sam says: "When my publisher sent me the design for my new book Chasing the Dark I was amazed to see that the boy on the cover photo looked exactly like my son from behind. Quite a coincidence but it prompted him and his friends to make a trailer for the book."

The director is fifteen year old George O'Regan who is studying film at the Brits school in Croydon. George is available to make more book trailers, contact him via Sam, quick before he's deep into his GCSEs!

YouTube is the thing of the moment - we've all become used to the crackly, handheld, blurry look. Yes. You can get away with DIY if you pretend it's intentional.

In fact, YouTube has plenty of inspiration for the prospective book trailer maker - check out this great trailer for Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, using the YouTube idiom of timelapse to come to its shocking payoff:

Wise thought that occurred to me after posting: Endings are so important to any kind of work. When you finish a reading book or watching a movie or even listening to a talk, it's the ending that you come away with - that amazing twist, that surprise, that inspiring message. In the compressed format of a book trailer, that final message is even more important. The final message should not be 'Buy this book' ... the message is 'Love this story/character/idea so much you want to know MORE'.

It could be of course that you have an Amazing Friend with the skills to make you a mind-blowing trailer.

I recently spotted this book trailer for Phoenix the new book of SF Said (of Varjak Paw fame) made by none other than Amazing Friend Dave McKean (of Coraline and The Graveyard Book fame!). Out of this world!!! (Trying to restraint the exclamation points ... oops ... too late!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

The Phoenix book trailer highlights the importance of a good voice over talent - even if your visuals look like you scanned random magazines, the voice will resonate and grab the viewer by the ears. There is nothing that alienates an audience more quickly than a mediocre vocal performance. Added tidbit: For my first book Tall Story, I auditioned neighbours far and wide (well, I auditioned my  husband and one neighbour) for a good VO. Luckily my neighbour, a barrister, had a brilliant VO voice. And my hubby wasn't at all upset when I rejected him.

(Nepotistic note: My own book trailer for Tall Story was created by my Amazing Baby Brother Armand Quimpo. Top tip: Encourage one's kin to learn skills that will someday be useful to you)

I have this thing about interviewing young children just to hear the unexpected things they say about stuff. I love talking to young people, they just say it like it is. Here are two inadvertent book trailers I made a while back that came out of chats with the children of author friends:

I filmed Rachel (lying on the carpet) talking about her award-winning dad Mark Hudson's new book Titian: The Last Days. At the end she says, 'Well, I think it's BORING but my mum read it and she thought it was interesting.' The video got a mention in the book's Guardian review.

While visiting my friend Juliet Clare Bell, I found myself alone with young Otto, who decided to tell me the story of Clare's debut picture book Don't Panic Annika! The result is adorable.

And the medium can also be the message - sometimes the DIYness is what makes the video. Here's Nicola Morgan's memorable video made on the website Xtranormal ('If you can type, you can make movies') which craftily manages to promote both her thriller Deathwatch and her non-fiction book Blame My Brain.

Spotted any good book trailers recently?

Coming up next: Part Two - the HOW in How to Make a Book Trailer


  1. I love doing book trailers. I also get my students to make them for English as a creative response to a book they have studied in Literature Circles. You don't need actors or film students, unless you want it fancy. You just need a program - basic PowerPoint or Keynote will do it - your book cover and some music and pics from Creative Commons sites that give you permission to use as long as you acknowledge. One of my students last year was so proud of her book trailer for Marianne De Pierres' Burn Bright that she uploaded it to YouTube! (The author was impressed enough to put it on her own website) Her sister decided to make a book trailer for my novel Wolfborn as an entry for a competition.

    The only publisher ever to do me a book trailer was Ford Street and my publisher tells me he got that done by a fifteen year old work experience student. ;-) It was pretty good too.

    1. Thanks so much for this, Sue - the digital world we live in has made this possible and it's so exciting for authors to discover the creative responses of readers. I feel a blog post coming on!

  2. This one's quite cool

    1. That's astonishing! Definitely not low budget! Will add it to the article, thanks, Heather!

  3. More displacement activity! But I really enjoyed watching these.

  4. Thank you for the mention! This post was very helpful for me, I now have a better insight into both what an author wants and what the audience wants, thank you!
    -George O'Regan

    1. George - you're gonna go far! You should be proud of your work!

  5. Hours of research! Darn! That should have been writing time but it was fun and research for both my writing and my day job. I especially enjoyed the two offspring of authors videos you made Candy :-)

  6. These are brilliant. tips and vids.
    Like Jackie said complete distraction from what i should be doing.

  7. Great book trailers I must say. Just in case anyone of you are still finding it hard to do it, I would be delighted to help you out to do a book trailer for only 5 bucks right on Fiverr with the username jasveena.

  8. I love these sooooo much, Candy. Feeling inspired and slightly awed by how much I have still to learn. Thanks for this!

  9. Fantastic post! It got me excited to do a book trailer of my revised up and coming Arlie the Alligator: Story-song picture book; a children's picture book that is already fully produced with actors, sound effects and music. That should make it easy to convert.

    Now I'm going to read your Part Two and learn how to do it.
    Thanks a ton!

    1. You're halfway there if you've already got a soundtrack! Good luck ... and do share the link here when you're done!

  10. Thanks for the inspiration, Candy. I've been putting off making that book trailer for far too long now. DIY can be so daunting. But, your right, it can be charming as well. So, Ta Ta, I'm off to play with iMovie now! Cheers!

    1. I mean YOU'RE write!!

      (See how anxious I was to get to my book trailer!)

    2. I mean you're right.

      (I'm gonna stop now. sheesh.)

  11. Brilliant post, Candy! Looking forward to seeing your Shine trailer!

    And thanks so much for your kind words about the Phoenix trailer - I totally love what Dave McKean's done!

    1. Thanks Mr Varjak ...and huge respect to you and Dave! It's a good thing I saw the video because I was planning to download your book on Kindle ... much better to hold off for the book because of the illustrations! Can't wait!

    2. Thanks so much, Candy! Sadly, the Kindle version isn't going to have the illustrations; apparently they're too complex for Kindles to handle. It's a shame, but I hope people will check out the book - it's incredibly beautiful, Dave has done such a great job with it...

      Anyway, I've just had another good read of this post & the next one - I'm beginning to think about starting a YouTube channel, you've definitely inspired me!!!

  12. Okay, now I am inspired. I will shove everything off to the side of my desk and focus on making a book trailer! Thanks for the inspiration, Candy.

  13. Hi Candy,
    Thanks for this post. It gives me a better idea of what type of book trailer I want to create for my chapter books. Congrats on the trailer you did for your book Shine! J:O)anne


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