The Elements of a Successful Book Trailer

Before I decided to purse a career in writing, most of my ideas of the profession came from television and movies. Once I’d penned my masterpiece, I expected entire PR departments at big publishing houses to handle all facets of advertising. In my world, the writer wrote, then awkwardly cute girls in glasses took care of the rest: they set up the tours, booked the flights and hotel rooms, placed full-page ads in all the dailies. The press contacted you for reviews. And that does still happen. For the Stephen Kings and Stephanie Meyerses of the world. For the rest of us fledgling writers down here in the trenches, getting the word out is squarely on our shoulders.

But there is some good news. This new digital age presents myriad, affordable avenues to help promote one’s work. While live readings and tours are still essential and help put a name with the face, the Internet provides options that simply weren’t available twenty years ago. And the latest indie craze seems to be the book trailer.

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junkie-love-joe-clifford        joe-clifford-writer-author

Column by Joe Clifford, acquisitions editor for Gutter Books
and managing editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive. He also
produces Lip Service West, a “gritty, real, raw” reading series in
Oakland, CA. Joe is the author of three books: Choice Cuts and
Wake the Undertaker (Snubnose Press), and Junkie Love
(Battered Suitcase Press). Joe’s writing can be found at See the book trailer for JUNKIE LOVE here.



Prior to my latest novel, Junkie Love (Battered Suitcase Press), getting released, I began seeing these trailers popping up on the web, and I found the possibilities for the medium tantalizing. I mean, why should movies have the trailer market cornered? With sites like YouTube and Vimeo, a writer can bypass television ads (which, let’s face it, he can’t afford anyway) and take his message right to his or her fans.

I’d seen some cool trailers but wanted to push the envelope, since I felt Junkie Love was so ripe for cinematic treatment (then again, what author doesn’t think his or her book would make a great movie?). I had a modest budget, since this was entirely out of pocket, and it’s hard to justify breaking bank when royalty checks tend to be so small.


The first thing I’d need was a director (I’d had a rough treatment mapped out since getting the book deal). Fortunately, I live in the Bay Area, an area renowned for its artistry. Junkie Love is an autobiographical novel traversing the ten years I spent addicted on the streets of San Francisco. It possesses a definite rock ’n’ roll vibe I wanted to capture. I contacted local filmmaker, Jamie DeWolf. In addition to his award-winning underground variety show, Tourettes Without Regrets, Jamie has been making edgy, counterculture shorts for years.

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Next I needed actors. Specifically, who would play a young me? As much as I’d like to believe I still have a face for film, there’s no way at forty-two I was pulling off twenty-six (raising a two-year-old tends to age you pretty fast!). Plus, I’m a little heavier than my junkie days. About fifty pounds, to be exact. I needed someone young, skinny, and who had that “street” look (which is how I pitched the role, since saying, “Hey, you look like a junkie. Want to be in my movie?” doesn’t exactly win a lot of friends).

Local poet Joel Landmine, whose hardscrabble, rockabilly aesthetic perfectly suited my vision, got the gig.

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The treatment I’d written was basically a music video, so the right song was paramount. Since the trailer would be used for promotion, I needed permission from artist and label. Lucky for me I had struck up a casual, online friendship with Mike TV from the band Get Set Go, after hearing his “I Hate Everyone” on Grey’s Anatomy back in grad school. The album that track is on, Ordinary World, is one of the best I’ve heard dealing with the subject of addiction. One track in particular had always haunted me, “Won’t Let Her Go,” which fit nicely with the love triangle arc of Junkie Love. I reached out to Mike, who connected me with his label, TSR Records.


Last I needed my bad guy. A friend put me in touch with Stephen Geoffreys, Evil Ed in the original Fright Night, a favorite of mine since I was a teenager. Stephen graciously donated his time and talent to the cause.

With script, director, and cast, we headed to my old stomping ground, Sixth Street and SOMA, one of San Francisco’s seediest districts, and got to work.

We premiered the short at my book launch last week, and since then it’s gotten good traffic. Most importantly, my sales have been going well. How much of this is due to the trailer or buzz or just good reviews and word of mouth? I can’t say. I do think the trailer’s visual elements present a unique angle. It wasn’t easy revisiting some of those scenes, but I think the end result was worth it.

Hope you agree: Here is the JUNKIE LOVE TRAILER.

(Here is another article on How to Make a Book Trailer: 6 Tips That Work.)


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3 thoughts on “The Elements of a Successful Book Trailer

  1. jevon

    So how much did your book trailer cost? And what if, instead of doing a music video, you act out a couple of scenes from the book and make interesting statements similar to an actual movie trailer? Are there any book trailers like that?

    1. joeclifford

      The nice thing about trailers, Javon, is that they are wide open in terms of interpretation. We thought about acting out scenes, but decided the music video approach worked best for what we were after. As for cost, it’s really up to what you want to spend. This whole endeavor cost around $500, with most of the money going toward the editing. The actors really donated their time (though in the end, everyone was paid something.) If you go on You Tube and just search Book Trailers, you’ll see a wide array. Usually, they are still shots with music in the background and voiceover. Check out Eric Beetner’s trailer for the Devil Doesn’t Want Me. Good stuff!


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