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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.

It would seem obvious…


Though I’ve posted many book signing tips here, there are a few things that seem so blatantly, searingly obvious that I haven’t bothered to write about them.

I suppose I should have.

We had an author in my bookstore last week for a signing and talk. When she and her husband arrived, we chatted for a few minutes about where we would set her up, and then I went in the back to grab some supplies for the talk. Doug, the tea bar manager, had coincidentally gone back in the kitchen for a moment.

A bit later, when the author went out to her car for a moment, some customers that were seated in the tea bar pulled Doug aside.

“Do you know what that author said when you were both out of the room?”

“No,” Doug responded.

“She made some comment about being in the middle of nowhere and asked her husband why they even bothered to come to this place.”

I suppose it never occurred to her that in a small town indie bookstore, the customers sitting at the table might be friends of the owners.

Needless to say, this exchange made us feel rather uncomfortable when she came back in the store. Because I like her book and was looking forward to the talk, I didn’t say anything to her.

As it turned out, this was one of those rare events where nobody shows up. Where most authors would be setting up a table and engaging everyone who came in the store, she hung back and stood by the projector. When customers came in, I told them about the book and encouraged them to take a look. I had to specifically ask her to come over and engage.

After 15 minutes with nobody sitting down waiting for her talk, she told me she wanted to pack up and leave. I talked her into staying another 20 minutes or so, and then she signed a pre-sold book and left, even though the event was scheduled to go on for another hour.

As an author, I’ve done book signings where we didn’t sell anything, but I never packed up and left early. I never stopped trying to engage a customer. And I definitely never talked bad about the store or the town.

As a bookseller, I’ve had big-name authors in my store who didn’t get enough people to justify standing up and giving a talk. What did they do? Sit down and engage with people one-on-one. Offer to sign stock. Talk to the employees about their books. Anything but talk us down and leave early.

So, let me offer another book signing tip for authors: if you don’t get the turnout you expected, don’t bad-mouth the store and leave. Word spreads about this kind of thing.

7 book signing tips for children’s authors


7 book signing tips for children's authorsThere are a lot of things that are different for an author who writes books for children — especially picture books. I’ve talked about some of these things before, but I’ve never specifically addressed how to actually sign the books. Most of the generic book signing tips and guidelines apply (see my 14 book signing tips for authors and 11 MORE book signing tips for authors, among others. Here are some specific things to keep in mind for children’s picture book authors:

  1. No cursive. I was born in 1958, so handwriting was a big thing in school. We learned to write beautiful cursive script, and that’s what our generation uses for formal occasions. Today’s children, however, are often not taught cursive. Schools in our area have dropped it, and many others around the country as well. If you handwrite a clever little note to the children, odds are they won’t be able to read it. This doesn’t apply to the signature itself, but…
  2. Who Pooped signatureUse a clearer signature. When I’m signing a check or a legal document, my signature is a scrawl. If you didn’t already know my name, you’d never be able to decipher the signature. As grownups, we get this. An illegible scribble is the standard for signatures. Little kids don’t necessarily get it. If the family is plopping down $11.95 for a copy of my book, I figure the least I can do is make it readable. I know kids who don’t read cursive won’t be able to read a signature, but the letters are close enough to identify if you know what you’re looking for. Speaking of which…
  3. Sign on the title page near where your name appears. When the child is looking at the book, they see your name printed in the book and your name signed close by. The younger the child, the harder time they have grasping that you’re the person who created this book. That proximity of printed name and signature helps reinforce it.
  4. If you’re the illustrator, draw something. Nothing fancy. Even a little smiley face. What you drew doesn’t matter. What matters is that you drew it just for them (anecdote below).
  5. Always include the child’s name. You probably do this anyway, but it’s doubly important for little children. One of the first things they will learn to spell and recognize is their own name, and it’s infinitely cool to them when they see their own name in the book.
  6. Always ask the spelling. Again, you probably already do this, but it’s more important with children’s books. If you are signing a book for a 60-year-old named Ellen, it’s almost a sure bet that her name is spelled E-L-L-E-N. Young parents today are much more likely to use unique (strange, odd, phonetic…) spellings than their parents or grandparents. A six-year-old with that name is much more likely than previous generations to spell it Ellyn or Elin or Ellan or Ellin or Elhen or Elen.
  7. Talk directly to the child. I see far too many authors of children’s books that speak to the parents and barely make eye contact with the kids. The book is for the kids. The experience is for the kids. Ask children what their names are and how to spell them, and look to the parents for confirmation if you can’t understand. Children are used to being ignored by grownups. Be the exception.

I promised an anecdote:

Tippi Hedren signature

The cover to Tippi Hedren’s book, The Cats of Shambala, and a closeup of her signature in the book.

At a Cheetah Conservation Fund event years ago, I met Tippi Hedren, the actress who became famous for the Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds. She had written a book called The Cats of Shambala, and I bought a copy. When she signed it for me, she added three simple little birds around her signature (see the picture under the book cover at right). I told her the birds were really a cute touch.

“I wish I’d never started that,” she said.

When I asked why, she told me about when she first started drawing little birds. It was a random thing. Sometimes she’d draw two, sometimes three, sometimes four. Then, when she drew two birds by her signature in a book, a fan complained.

“How come my friend got three birds in her book and I only got two in mine?”

The little birds had stopped being a cute improvisation and became a part of her signature; an expectation rather than an extra.

Be prepared, as this could happen to you, too.

When I sign books I always write the same thing: “Watch where you step,” unless people ask me to do something else. That makes my life easier, as I’m not scrambling to think of something clever for each book I sign, and people really seem to like it.

I’ll add a little caveat to all of this. A really good book signing for me is a hundred books in three hours. Call it an average of 30 books per hour. With two minutes per customer, I have plenty of time to chat, write my little personalized greeting, and even get pictures with fans. If you are Mo Willems (Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus) or Eric Litwin (Pete the Cat), then you’ll have massive lines and no time for such frivolity. Of course, if you’re Mo Willems or Eric Litwin, you’re probably not reading my blog.

Book signing

If they want a picture with you, do it! Here, I’m signing books in Yellowstone Park. Most of the time, the parents just want the kids in the picture, but sometimes they join in, too.

11 MORE book signing tips for authors


11 More signing tips for authors

It seems like I’ve been writing a lot about book signings lately, most likely because my mini-book tour has made me think about events more. While on the road, I’ve been jotting down more ideas that aren’t in my 14 book signing tips for authors, and I’ve already done one blog post from the road about making a classic mistake at an event.

Rather than go back and add a bunch of material to the old post, I decided to do another tip post, and add some material I’ve gleaned from some other good blogs. Sandra Beckwith, for example, wrote a great set of book signing tips on the “Selling Books” blog (I love the post title, “Read this if you’re not Sarah Palin“).

  1. Hand people your book. This is an old bookseller’s technique. If people are holding a copy of the book in their hands, they are much more likely to buy it.
  2. Develop a “look.” You want to be memorable. This doesn’t mean you should wear something silly, but you need to look unique. If you wrote a cookbook, wear an apron. If you wrote a children’s book, make a T-shirt with the book’s logo. Make your own nametag. If you write mysteries set in Hawaii, wear an Aloha shirt. Don’t look like every other author out there.

    The t-shirt looks like the book cover.

  3. Don’t just sign; personalize. When I’m signing the store’s stock after the event (tip #14 from my previous list), I just write my name. But when I’m signing a book for someone, I write their name and some appropriate saying. Who Pooped signatureWith my Who Pooped in the Park? books, for example, I usually write “Watch where you step.”
    Do remember, however, that once you develop a characteristic autograph, people will come to expect it. I remember talking to Tippi Hedren (the actress from The Birds) at one of her book signings. She drew three little birds above her name, and told me that people actually complained if their book had no birds, or had only two of them.
  4. Bring a pen that dries quickly. Especially if your book is printed on glossy paper, you don’t want to close the cover and have the signature smear or transfer to the previous page. If the paper is thinner, make sure your pen doesn’t bleed through.
  5. Don’t limit yourself to only bookstores. I’m a huge advocate of bookstores (after all, I own one), but sometimes gift shops, fairs, and other venues can actually work better. My two best signings (in terms of books sold) were at a trade association’s annual conference, and in the lobby of the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Park.
  6. Use props. I’ve had cookbook authors at my store bring along cookies or other treats. When signing Who Pooped in the Park? books, I often bring along sample of animal scat cast in Lucite blocks. Anything you have that grabs attention is good.
  7. Make your own sign. Some stores provide really nice signs, but that’s rare. If you can’t talk your publisher into making one, then do it yourself. If you don’t have strong graphic design skills, get a designer to help you. Most stores will have some kind of easel or stand, but you might want to carry your own fold-up easel if you can.

    Sign for book events

    The sign makes it pretty obvious what’s going on at my table.

  8. Bring giveaways and promote them. I still have a couple of boxes of my first book, which is old, out-of-print, and not so useful (a 15-year-old Internet book). I took five of them along to a Closed Captioning Handbook book signing at a trade show. I sent a Tweet with the event’s Twitter hash tag that said, “the first person to mention this Tweet to me gets a free book.” I did the same thing on Facebook. It was interesting to see how many professional people were sitting in business meetings and educational sessions checking their Twitter feeds!
    You can also use drawings as a way to collect names. Have people drop their names or business cards in a fishbowl or basket, and then draw one every hour and give away something.
  9. Make sure your business cards have the book title on them. I actually have different cards depending on whether the event focuses on my technical books or my children’s books. The cards have the book cover right on them.
    Also make sure you get an easy-to-remember username on Facebook and Twitter (e.g., “http://www.facebook.com/whopooped” or “http://twitter.com/GaryRobson“), and print that on the cards.
  10. Take a camera. If you have a friend or family member along, have them take pictures. If not, ask someone at the store to do it for you. Then use the pictures on your blog, Facebook page, website, and newsletter. If someone else takes a good picture of you, give them a card and ask them to email it to you or post it on one of your social networking sites.
  11. NEVER complain or blame the store if you don’t have good sales. Smile about it. Make a joke. Tell them you’ve done worse. Offer to try again sometime. But nobody likes a complainer. If you gripe about it, you’re not likely to get invited back.

Book Signings: Learn from my mistakes!


Last month, I wrote a blog post entitled “14 book signing tips for authors.” Last night, I kicked myself for not following all of my own advice.

Actually, things started out just right. I talked to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center well in advance and worked out the details. I would give a talk in their theater from 7:00 to 8:00 pm, and then sign books in their gift shop afterward. I publicized the talk and signing on Facebook, Twitter, and this blog (tip #1), leaving the local publicity to the Grizzly and Wolf Center — and I made sure the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce knew about it. I sent them some artwork for posters (tip #2) and packed my big sign. Since they told me that they regularly carried my book and it sold well, I assumed they’d have plenty of stock, but I tossed a few extras in the car, just in case.

See the problems? Hint: they’re both in that last sentence, and there are two key words in each problem. The first one is “I assumed” and the second one is “a few.” When I showed up a couple of hours early to check in (tip #4) and chat with the staff (tip #10), one of the first things the manager said to me was, “we sold out of your books, so I hope you have plenty of them out in the car!” Oops. I had five. Count ’em, five.

Luckily, West Yellowstone is a small, friendly town. The gift shop manager at the Grizzly and Wolf Center knows the owner of the bookstore in town, and called her. Oops again. They were out of stock, too. Fortunately for us, a very pleasant assistant manager at another store in town (thank you, Smith & Chandler) had a big stack of books they were willing to share.

Talking Poop in West Yellowstone

So all went well. I gave my talk to a good-sized group, and there were plenty of books for the signing. I also learned my lesson. I should have paid more attention to my own tip #13 (see below), and I should have called the store before I left home to ask whether they would need books. Calling ahead might not have been adequate, though. My event was on a Sunday, and they had a good stock going into the weekend. She might have told me they had it covered. But it still would have been good to ask.

TIP #13: Carry some spare books. If you’re lucky, the signing will be a smash hit. With the economy down, though, booksellers are being cautious about over-ordering. That means that if your signing is fantastic, they just might run out of books. If you have a box or two in your trunk, you can grab them (be prepared to sell them to the store at the standard distribution discount!) and keep on going. If you don’t, the signing is done.

As always, everything comes down to communication. As writers, that’s our first job anyway, right?

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