Monday 15 July 2013

How to Make a Book Trailer - Part Two: Tools and Tips

<< Read Part One

By Candy Gourlay

So after the inspiration of Part One, it's time to roll up our sleeves.

But first, Cynical Author waves a weary hand. 'I'm already on Facebook and Twitter, why do I have to have a video on YouTube as well?'

The short answer is you don't have to be.

The less hissy response is: guess what the Number Two Search Engine in the world is after the omnipresent Google?

It's YouTube.

If you've published a book, you want to be FOUND wherever people are searching. Studies show that young people are more likely to search YouTube before Google. So if you write for young people, YouTube is a no-brainer. 

In my experience, Twitter/ Facebook engagement for authors is mainly B2B networking (business to business). You find yourself engaging with the people who might distribute your message (teachers, bloggers, booksellers, publishers, agents). But YouTube is B2C (business to consumer) - your book trailer is a way to reach your reader directly.

From the Nailasaurus

And if you still need convincing, read this (scroll down to YouTube in your content strategy) and this. Those who don't need convincing can move on to the rest of this blog post.

Caveat: Am I an expert? No. I'm just another author making do (who also happens to be a YouTube hobbyist of the lo-fi variety). These are just my on-the-job revelations - I just want to share because I'm excited. If you're excited too - do share your own revelations/links/tips in the comments. Speaking of sharing, I found this brilliant list of tips about the substance of a book trailer :
"Your book may be a novel but your trailer should be a poem." How to Make a Book Trailer: 6 Tips by Chuck Sambuchino (Writer's Digest)


This is probably the toughest part - coming up with a Big Idea for the trailer that would fit within the boundaries of your competence (or incompetence) and the limitations of skill and equipment.

Script development

You can write the script in any format you like. I decided to write mine in a format I was taught in a long ago TV class with two fat columns: Audio and Video.

Blurred some bits because  this draft of the script changed as the film evolved.

Separating out what is seen and what is heard gives you clarity about what your production needs. Effectively, each column is a shopping list.


Under the 'Video' column, I made notes about location requirements (exterior, interior, stock footage) and necessary kit (lighting, effects). For example - in my video I needed to isolate my character in darkness. I considered using a black duvet in the background but realized it would show up in the video. So I bought a black background to achieve the effect.

Setting up my black background involved dangling it from the windows of my office. Next to the black sheet is a cheap softbox video light my husband got me for Christmas. In the event, the black background was still really shiny and I had to cover all the windows of my office to achieve the darkness I wanted (see a frame from my soon to be screened trailer below - that dark background was hard to achieve)

Under the 'Audio' column, I compiled another list - the dialogue, yes, but also sound effects, voice talent, music, microphones.

If you watch enough book trailers, you will notice that poor sound recording really flags up the DIYness of a video. Never mind if the camerawork is shakey, or the angles are not brilliant, one can pretend that all these were intentional ... but if you can hear a cat barking in the background or the distant rumble of traffic, then you lose. Go back to start. It's important to source proper voice talent, good sound effects and to figure out how to record a clean sound.

My lovely daughter recording the voice over for Tall Story's book trailer
before she became too cool

If you decide to use my scripting system, you could add another column, 'Miscellaneous' to list anything else you might require during production - eg. make up, special effects, light.

Geeking About Sound

  • Microphones are not very expensive and are a worthwhile investment. I use this cheap lavalier mic for interviews - it cuts out background noise. The downside? Cheap means you might have to replace it sooner than you think
  • Some smartphones are great recorders - I've used my Samsung Galaxy Note to record very nice, clean voice overs. 
  • Be aware that different recorders use different formats.You need to convert your sound to a format that your film editing software can understand, usually mp3. I use Mediaconverter to convert my Samsung's weird soundfiles to mp3s.
  • If you're in the position to acquire a camera, make sure it's got a microphone jack. Having a jack gives you the option to plug in a better quality of mic or isolate the audio by using a lapel mic.
  • Built in camera sound recorders are usually of good quality, but they capture the sound of the camera zooming in and out as well as the clicks when you're changing a setting so plugging in a mic moves the recording away from all these background noises. 

This is a trailer I made for a DIY documentary about reading. I created the soundtrack by just building up loops of royalty free music in Garage Band. When I first put it up, I got a warning from YouTube that someone was claiming that I had stolen their music. It gave me great satisfaction to prove them wrong. Also on this video you can see rolling lines over some of the footage. That was when I got the shutter speed wrong and the film reacted to the fluorescent lighting in the room.

Make up your mind

You've got to make a lot of decisions. Here are some things you might want to consider at this stage.
  • Are you going to film your own footage? Or can you get away with buying royalty free video from stock footage companies?
  • Where can you beg, borrow, steal equipment? Or can you make do with your crappy digital camera that can also shoot HD video? (Do think through your equipment list in fine detail - there's nothing more annoying than taking hours to set up only to discover you need an adaptor for the mic) ... YouTube videos are watched on mobiles and small screens - you don't need too fancy a camera.
  • Who are you going to cast? Consider appropriateness, character, dramatic ability over kinship, emotional pressure and bribery. 
  • Can you outsource the work that is beyond your skillset? 
  • Skill up by putting time into watching How To videos on YouTube (How to use Garage Band, How to use Windows Movie Maker, How to use iMovie etc). It's all there, I promise. You just have to search  
  • How much is this going to cost? What's your budget? Will your publisher contribute to the project (this is the point when you write an email to Marketing wondering if they could pay for some of it). 
  • Involve your publisher. Discuss your film with your publisher's Publicity and Marketing department - they might have clever ideas about  targeting and message. They might even be able to contribute if not cash, perhaps graphic design and access to stuff or people you need.
  • Be honest with yourself NOW BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE: is it really wise to save money by casting your buxom 25 year old daughter as a 12 year old? Is your dull middle aged delivery really good enough for the voice over?

Is it really wise to save money by casting your buxom 25 year old daughter as a 12 year old? 


You've made your decisions, you've got your script. Now you need to make it real. Here's a checklist:

  • Scouting locations. Where are you going to shoot? Consider permission, access, timing, light and noise.
  • Scouting a voice talent for voice overs. You could do it yourself I suppose, but consider approaching drama schools or even hiring a voice talent from the internet ... You can listen to VO talent on websites like 
  • Get proper written permissions for both your actors and your locations. The permissions make sure the talent knows what you're going to do with their appearance - for example, they have to understand that you might use stills from the movie for promotion. You can download location and actor release forms from the internet and rewrite them according to your particular production and requirements. If you're featuring children, have a parent or legal guardian sign a Minor Appearance Release. For locations, you need to get permission from the owner / landlord as well as the current occupier. You can wing it - but do think ahead about consequences. These release forms are a good example.
  • Royalty Free Music. At this point, you can trawl royalty free music websites like my favourite, - Download "preview music" to test out if the music works with your visuals. 'Preview music' is protected with an overdubbed voice-over until you purchase it.
  • Consider using loops instead of full pieces. Loops are short lengths of music that you can assemble to suit the action in your movie. To do this, use a music editor like Audacity (free for Windows) or Garage Band. Garage Band (which is preloaded into every Mac computer) comes with plenty of music clips, loops and sound effects.
  • You don't have to film every bit of footage and take every photograph ... or heaven forbid, PAY for anything  - there are lots of places to source FREE stuff (see box below)
  • Credits. Remember to note the origins of music/video/images - you might need to credit and link to them according to the terms of the free download.

Sources of Free

I had a lot of fun with free B Movie footage making this book trailer for the audiobook of Tall Story (although I totally didn't notice the bottle of hand cream on the shelf in the background). And there's another tip - if you've got an audiobook, get permission from your publisher to use the audio as the soundtrack of your book trailer!


Production is whatever you do to get your raw footage, if you're using live action. Here are some things I learned from making my book trailer:

  • Mind the eyes. Make sure the eyes are in focus ... and watch where the eyes are looking. The camera magnifies everything and an actor looking weirdly off camera is just wrong.
  • Mind the hands. People standing around do weird things to their hands.
  • Continuity. It's not just clothes and props but the hair! Hair always seems to wind up in the wrong place after a break in shooting.
  • Keep the camera running before and after a scene. I got some gorgeous footage of my actress when she was unaware the camera was running. (see how I used such footage in my video below of Teri Terry talking about her book Slated
  • Start filming earlier and end later than the prescribed scene. This gives you cutting space when you're editing. An extra second here or there can make a difference to your pacing.  
  • When framing a shot, take in more of the surround than you need to. This gives you room to recompose a shot using editing software - you can give the impression of having a multi-camera setup by cutting from a wide shot to a tight close up - using the same footage.
  • If you or your actor needs to say lines you might want to use a DIY teleprompter. All you need is a laptop and teleprompter websites like Cueprompter or you can use Powerpoint to create a scrolling teleprompter on a computer screen.
  • Keep checking that sound is recording. One nightmare scenario is to finish a day of shooting only to discover that the microphone was turned off.
  • Make sure your horizons are level. There's nothing more discomfiting than a diagonal horizon line in the background.
  • I often use the webcam on my mac to make videos of myself talking to camera. The quality is good enough for YouTube. I treat the computer as if it were a camera, propping it up on books to achieve the best angle at which to hide my double chin.
    The cool thing about filming yourself with a webcam is you can see the result. The downside is the screen reflects in your eyeglasses and the resolution is not good enough for the video to be watched on larger screens.
  • Use a surge-protected extension outlet for plugging in any lights or camera equipment. You don't want any of your stuff blowing up from dodgy electrics (it happened to me)
  • If you're using a DSLR, mind that some shutter speeds in some lights create rolling lines on the film.
  • Batteries! Expect to run out so do get back up batteries - you can buy cheap versions of branded battery packs for most cameras these days.
  • If you're hiding a lapel mic under your subject's jacket, use gaffer tape to fix the wire on his or her clothes. A jiggling wire might create static.

For the intro of this video, I used some footage of author Teri Terry when she thought the camera wasn't running ... and pssst ... there's a lapel mic hidden under her blouse (with no tape)!


Now I can't really give you specific tips about the business of assembling the thing - you'll all be using different bits of software and you'll all have different levels of ability. But I can suggest ways to take your video editing to another level. Sometimes you just need to know the correct words to look up tutorials on Google (search with the item plus the name of your video editing programme eg. "Detach Audio iMovie". You might have to specify the programme version eg. "Final Cut Pro X" is not the same as "Final Cut Pro 7".

  • "Detach Audio". Most movie editors have a facility to detach the audio from the video so that you can say, insert a cutaway to a book cover without interrupting the flow of the sound. I  wish I knew this search term when I started making movies because not being to put a video over a soundtrack was the bane of my life when I was just starting out. I couldn't find it on the web because I was not using the correct search string. 
  • "Ken Burns". Ken Burns is a panning and zooming effect available on most editors
  • "Color Grading". Color grading is the process of enhancing the color of your video. 
  • Search "Edit to the beat" + "name of your video editor" to learn how to make your visuals groove with your sound
  • If you're really geeking out on video-editing, you might want to check out this list of cool post-production video editing sites.
  • If you want to automate changing the levels of your soundtrack to dip under other audio, use the search string "Ducking Audio"
  • Don't go mad on fonts. There's nothing more amateur than a video that uses four different fonts just because you can.
  • Ditto transitions. Transitions should not call attention to themselves. So using a dissolve, wipe, spin and turn one after the other is not only amateur looking but sick-making.
  • Know that this thing takes time. And lots of repetition. But you've got to get it right because once it's up, it's what people will find when they search for you. What do you want them to think when they find it?


Well that was a long post. I'm tired now so I think I'll stop abruptly here. Well, maybe two last links:

How to upload a video to YouTube

How to embed a YouTube video

How to embed YouTube videos without the annoying related videos that appear at after the video has played.


Read Part One - How to Make a Book Trailer - Inspiration

You might also be interested in reading Lori Mortensen's My Book Trailer Education

And here's how Joanna Penn made hers.

Laura Bowers talks about how she made her brilliant book trailer using Animoto.

Barry Hutchison makes a very scary DIY trailer ... then follows it up with another DIY trailer but this time liberally sourcing a voice talent, swooshing clouds and a flaming title from So wonderful I'm embedding it here:


  1. This is brilliant, Candy and soooo generous.
    Thank you

  2. How do you find time to do all this? Oh, procrastination, yes . . . Except this is very USEFUL procrastination, now please excuse me while I go and weed the driveway.

  3. THis is gob-smackingly helpful! Speaking as one who is CURSING not getting a camera with an audio jack - I wish I'd read this before I did! My big thing in editing is not being able to detach the audio easliy from my camera video footage and replace it with external audio. It means pain.

    1. It really is pain! Some programmes are easier than others!

  4. This is brilliant. And the trailer for Terri Terry's book is so good I immediately want to read 'Slated' AND follow her on twitter. I think when my book is published I am going to have to recruit my teenagers as help though, as your tips are so helpful but I just can't imagine having the courage to try it on my own. Collaboration will have to be the key - and one of my daughters has only just told me she would like to be a voiceover artist so....!

    1. Yes ... the secret is in how talented your relatives are! Good luck!

  5. Thanks, Candy. This is invaluable information. I had been fretting about not having time to make a trailer yet for my book coming out in November. Your comment about releasing the trailer when the book becomes available makes sense. There is so much terrific information in your two articles.

    1. Thanks, Joyce. I myself can't decide if I should release it a month or two weeks before publication.

  6. Hi Candy, thanks for your comprehensive post with some great tips and trailers. If you're on a tight budget, though, I would also add Prezi to the panoply of tools. That's how I made my trailer for less than $100. I've published a post about how I did it for people with restricted budgets and little or no equipment. Here's the link:

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