I’ll admit, when my debut novel, Little 15, published earlier this year, I didn’t see the need – or the importance – of having a book trailer video.
But then I ran across a blog post by best-selling author Jonathan Gunson that completely changed my mind.
In that post, Jonathan featured the book trailer for the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, analyzing in detail what made it the best book trailer he had seen in years.
Unlike most book trailers, this one featured the author describing the book in her own words, which as Jonathan pointed out in his post, makes for a compelling and emotionally driven presentation. And he should know, having worked in publishing, in advertising agencies, and in television drama programming for more than two decades.
“Writers wanting the secret of an effective book trailer need look no further than [Skloot's] example,” says Jonathan. “Forget bland text quotes drifting in and out over cheap still shots, that go on and on over a cheesy sound track. Book buyers simply won’t watch those any more. Instead, it needs a human communication.”
This is exactly the concept I used in making my own video. Shortly after reading Jonathan’s post, I recruited the help of a tech-savvy member of my family to help me with filming and production, wrote a script and got to work on story boarding. Although I didn’t have any actual video production experience, I’d written numerous speeches and scripts for executives during my years working in corporate communications. Writing the screenplay for Little 15 also came in handy for planning out the scenes in the video. So tapping those skills – and drawing on my passion for my story – I decided to take the plunge and go all in.
The rest, as they say, was complete baptism by fire, spread over the last three months while promoting my book, visiting book clubs, speaking at a writer’s conference, blogging, being a mom and gearing up for NanoWrimo. For me, producing a book trailer has been an exhilarating creative experience – and one that I hope to repeat again and again. Here are some highlights of what I learned:
Keep filming simple.
You don’t have to spend loads of money shooting your video in some remote location. Your own living room will do, which is where I shot mine. Throw in a black curtain, a sitting stool and some natural light and voila, you’ve got yourself a studio.
But if you do decide to shoot your video in the comfort of your own home, make sure to …
Lock up your cat.
Especially if she likes meowing at the top of her lungs for no reason at any given moment. I can’t even begin to tell you how many takes we went through with my cat Tyra wailing in the background, until I finally closed her up in my closet at the far end of the house.
But noisy pets aren’t the only things that will disrupt your filming. So if you’re a parent like me …
Lock up your kids.
Or at least send them away for the afternoon. I don’t care, ship ‘em to the park, grandma’s, wherever. Just get them out of the house or else you will never finish your video.
And if your husband (or wife or girlfriend or boyfriend or mom or whoever) is hanging around wanting to watch, then you’ll have no choice but to …
Lock them up, too.
I mean it. Pack ‘em an extra snack and ship ‘em off with the kids. Whatever you do, just Get. Everyone. The. Heck. Out.
Now, on to the fun stuff.
Recruit technical help.
Don’t want to throw down $5K-$10K for a book trailer video? I didn’t either. Fortunately for me, though, my step dad is quite the technical guru – and a good photographer to boot. So between the two of us (and the help of his HD video camera on his Nikon), we put our heads together and made it work. Don’t have access to a technical wizard of your own? Then check local colleges for film students looking to build their resume and experience. Worst case, you can ask you neighbor or friend to hold your flip-top video recorder while you do your thang. Then download a relatively inexpensive video editing software program that can give you the basics you need. Done, done and done.
Make use of Creative Commons.
If you’re a blogger who likes to include stock images in your posts (and who doesn’t these days), then you most likely know what I’m talking about here. Creative Commons licenses provide a standard way for content creators to grant someone else permission to use their work, without having to purchase the image (as long as you abide by their attribution guidelines). There are numerous sources that offer creative commons content for stock footage, such as WANA Commons and Vimeo. Most of the images and video clips in my video are being used under creative common licensing, which I made sure to appropriately attribute in the closing credits. The benefit to using creative commons? It costs nothing. But if you still can’t find what you’re looking for, you can always purchase relatively inexpensive video footage and images from online stock libraries, which is also what I ended up doing for a few choice images I couldn’t live without.
Talk from the heart.
I wrote a script, went through a couple takes and then threw it out, ad-libbing the rest of the way. And that’s when I started speaking from the heart. That’s when I broke through and really let my passion for my story channel through me. Just like writing a story, filming a video is as much about instinct as it is preparation. The more you stay true to yourself, the better.
Petrified of getting in front of the camera? You’re not alone. A lot of people would rather cut off an arm than speak in front of a camera or group. A good option in this case is voice over. Your video can still have the same personal and emotional effect through the sound of your voice, while trailing through eye-catching images and video clips. I utilized this technique in several places in my video, as well.
And finally …
A little insane courage goes a long way.
You’ve heard me say this before and it’s so true. If it wasn’t for blind ambition, if it wasn’t for that 20 seconds of insane courage nudging me along, I would have never even considered doing this video in the first place. But I stretched beyond my comfort zone, expanded my creativity and took a leap of faith. And then landed on my feet. Just like my psycho cat.
So without further adieu, here’s the official trailer for LITTLE 15:
So, what do you think? Have any other ideas on how book trailers should be done? Have you ever based a purchasing decision solely on watching a book trailer?