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15 Tips for Building Book Trailers in iMovie


Book Trailer Tips Header

Over the last four years, we’ve seen more and more publishers creating book trailers. For those not familiar with the concept, it’s basically the same thing as a movie trailer. Think of it as a TV commercial for a book.

Book trailers can be funny or serious. They can feature the author reading the book, or have no spoken words at all. If you’re a self-published author or your publisher doesn’t do trailers, the idea of creating a trailer is pretty daunting.

Book trailers from the big publishing houses are slick productions, often using professional videographers, editors, and actors. The budget on some of these is probably bigger than your advance. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make your own.

Not all authors like the idea of making a video book trailer (Jonathan Franzen is a good example), but we have to recognize that YouTube isn’t all cute cat videos. It’s a powerful marketing tool, and book trailers are a great way to pitch your book.

A few days ago, I decided to give it a try. I Googled around looking for tutorials on trailers. Most focused on fairly primitive slideshow-like tools. That wasn’t quite what I was after. I spend a whole day last year trying to build something in Prezi, but it always looked like a Prezi presentation instead of a book trailer. Same thing with PowerPoint. No matter what I did, it always felt like a slideshow.

I use a Mac, and a few years ago I spent some time working on iMovie. I was fairly unimpressed. But I watched a tutorial on the latest version, and it has improved a lot. It looked like it could get the job done. Here’s the result:

That trailer took me about four hours to build. I had already scanned all of the pages from the book for a PowerPoint presentation I did some years back, so that was a time-saver. I certainly wouldn’t call this the equivalent of one of the big fancy children’s book trailers from Penguin, but it says what I want it to say.

I’m not going to try to write an iMovie tutorial here — the video tutorial from PC Classes Online that I linked to above handles that just fine — but I’ll give you some tips:

  1. Don’t use commercial music. You value the copyright on your book, right? Then respect the copyright of the musician. You can search for free music (Freeplay Music has thousands of songs you can use on YouTube videos), use the built-in music in iMovie (I confess: that’s what I did), or create music yourself. You can also do it without music.
  2. If you use spoken words, repeat them in subtitles or closed captions. If someone is watching your book trailer in an office or other quiet environment, they’ll have the sound off. They should catch the whole message. Besides, deaf people read books, too!
  3. This should be obvious for writers, but proofread, proofread, proofread. And then have someone else proofread, too. It looks really bad for a book trailer to have spelling or grammatical errors.
  4. If you use a lot of Ken Burns effect to pan across your pictures or pages, try to keep the motion relatively slow and steady. In retrospect, I panned too fast on some of the shots in my trailer.
  5. Include your website. This is a trailer for your book. Include your website!
  6. If your book is only available in ebook format, state that explicitly. Don’t make people waste a bunch of time searching for the printed version.
  7. If your book is available in bookstores, say that. Don’t just say “available online” or “available on Amazon.”
  8. Once you have the trailer ready to go, put it everywhere. Create a YouTube channel. Tweet out a link. Put it on Facebook. Put it on your blog. Put it on the book’s website if it has one. The trailer doesn’t do any good unless people watch it.
  9. Keep it short and sweet. A minute is a good length. Two minutes is the absolute max for most of us. I’ve seen effective book trailers only 30 seconds long!
  10. If you use your voice, use a professional microphone. We can take some great video with cell phones these days, but you don’t want your audio to sound like that Jonathan Franzen video I linked to above.
  11. Watch a bunch of trailers for books similar to yours to get a feeling for what people expect in your genre. I watched a lot of children’s book trailers before deciding what I wanted to do.
  12. Don’t try to pack in too much information. Unless you’re doing a trailer for Goodnight Moon, you can’t do a full plot synopsis in 30 seconds. Keep it simple!
  13. Use the title of the book, and show the book cover.
  14. Don’t forget to include your name, too.
  15. Have fun! If you obsess over making the book trailer perfect, you’ll never end up making one. Enjoy the process, and when it looks good enough, put it out and move on.

Customizing presentations at book signings


Seven years ago, when my first Who Pooped in the Park? book was hot off the presses, I cut one up, scanned it, and turned it into a PowerPoint presentation.  I have used that slide show many times, and I learn something new every time I give a talk. That, actually, is one of the things I like most about public speaking: if I do it right, I learn as much as my audience does.

Among the things I have learned are:

  • Carry props. It keeps the talk more interesting if you can show people something tangible, not just pictures.
  • Move.  Don’t just park yourself safely behind a lectern. This may be controversial advice, because a lot of speaking coaches will tell you not to wander all over the stage when giving a talk, but my primary audience is children and they bore easily. I move around, point at the slides, hold up props, walk over to audience members and hand them things to pass around. I’ve even been known to demonstrate different gaits.
  • Engage the audience.  Ask them questions. I like to ask where people are from at the beginning and make references to their home states or countries later during the talk. Address people directly.
  • If you expect to sell books after the talk, mention the book. Say something about how and why you wrote it. Put a picture of the cover on one (or more) of your slides. And mention that you’ll be selling and signing books after the talk.
  • Make sure you have contact information on one of your slides in addition to having bookmarks or business cards available. That makes it easier for people to send you pictures they took, or invitations to other events. Instead of an email address, consider using your website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and other social media contact methods. You’ll get less spam that way, and you may pick up followers on those sites.

And, to bring this back to the main subject for the day, customize your slide show. I just gave a talk at the National Bighorn Sheep Center in Dubois, Wyoming a few days ago, and we did a book signing afterward. Here’s what I did to customize the PowerPoint presentation:

First, the opening slide. The top half of the slide has the book banner on it. I went to the Sheep Center’s website and grabbed a picture with their logo, added that to the bottom of the slide, and overlaid the date. I set up the projector in advance and left that slide up on the screen as an introduction until the talk started. That way, attendees wouldn’t just think, “oh, this is some generic presentation,” they’d know it was in some way connected to here.

Next, since the Center is all about bighorns, I figured I should insert a picture of a bighorn sheep. When I am doing slide shows, my first preference is always to use a picture I took myself. If I don’t have an appropriate shot, my next stop is either a stock photo house or Wikipedia, so I know I am using the picture legally.

I have an account with a stock photo company from when I published a newspaper. Generally, I am not going to pay $10 or $20 for a picture I am using one time in a slide show, unless it’s absolutely perfect. This stock photo shop, however (Dreamstime) has a free photo section which sometimes has what I need.

Wikipedia (or, more accurately, Wikimedia Commons) has a wealth of photographs that you can use in slide shows without royalties — just check the license.

Since I didn’t have a good bighorn sheep picture of my own, and there weren’t any cheap (or free) at the stock photo house, I picked one up from Wikipedia, overlaid some scat and track photos, and it made a perfect slide.

The local bookstore in Dubois set up and promoted the talk, so I added a “thank you” slide at the end. It’s typically easy to get logos from a store’s website or Facebook page. After they put a bunch of time and effort promoting the talk, it means a lot when you go to the effort of making a slide to thank them.

I am not a “read from my notes” kind of guy. I think it sounds awkward and stilted, and when you are reading from notes you aren’t looking at your audience. If I know my subject matter — and I had better! — then all I need is an outline, to make sure I don’t forget anything important.

That makes it easy to tailor the talk to the audience, since I am speaking extemporaneously anyway. Spending an hour or so customizing the slides makes it look like you have really put forth an effort, and that’s the kind of little thing that gets you invited back.

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