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Book Trailer Basics: What to Consider Before Creating Yours

Video book trailers are fast becoming an effective tool for book promotion. Try these approaches for creating and distributing one of your own.

In recent years, authors and publishers have taken a tip from Hollywood and begun creating video “trailers” to promote their books. At first, most book trailers were little more than jazzy PowerPoint presentations, but the quality and content now range from quirky DIY videos to productions with full blockbuster glitz. Read on to learn how to create a promo of your own, and what to do with it once you have it.

Cindy Callaghan is the author of the middle-grade novels Just Add Magic, Lost in London, Lost in Paris, Lucky Me and Lost in Rome. Watch Lost in London’s trailer at cindycallaghan.com

cindy callaghan
lost in rome

Callaghan is also working with Amazon Studios on a live-action original series, for kids ages 6-11, based on her debut novel, JUST ADD MAGIC.

Follow her on Twitter @CindyCallaghan.

Choosing an Approach

Options for your video book trailer’s style and content are as limitless as your imagination. But if you’re looking for tried-and-true approaches, here are three to consider.

1. The Hybrid: Award-winning mystery author and investigative reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan utilized an interesting customer insight when developing the trailer for her crime thriller The Other Woman. She’d found in her promotional efforts that “Readers respond most enthusiastically to a face-to-face meeting with an author,” Ryan explains. So, her trailer spotlights the storyteller as well as the story. This is known as the hybrid trailer. Her video toggles from book synopsis to author interview. “I tried to recreate the experience of a conversation, chatting with readers about my work and my books, answering their questions.”

The result? “When I place the video on my Facebook (facebook.com/HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage) or Twitter (@hank_phillippi) pages, I get an automatic influx of email. This tells me it resonates. I have no doubt that the video has made a difference for The Other Woman in terms of sales, attention and readership,” Ryan says.

[Learn the 4 Successful Approaches You Should Consider for the First Chapter of Your Novel]

For another example of the hybrid trailer, check out the promotional video for James Patterson’s middle-grade novel Middle School: Get Me Out of Here. In the trailer, Patterson interviews an animated version of the protagonist, Rafe Khatchadorian. Through this discussion we get to know both Patterson and Rafe.

2. Clever, low-tech DIY: When it comes to making a video all on your own, don’t be intimidated by technology. It isn’t always the production quality that counts—sometimes a unique do-it-yourself angle can attract a following on a shoestring budget.

Max Barry, author of Jennifer Government and Syrup, took a clever approach to the trailer for his sci-fi thriller Machine Man. First, Barry explains to his audience that he must have a trailer because that’s what authors are expected to do. He runs through a few boring ideas, and then quotes his publisher’s suggestion: “Act out a scene from the book.” Because the book is about a man who amputates his own limbs and replaces them with homemade parts, Barry has only one real choice. It’s low-budget and simple in execution, but memorable and effective, as well.

3. Bonus Content: For the launch of my latest MG book, Lost in London, I’ve created a video piece that’s not exactly a trailer. It splices together video clips that are presented as actual footage captured by the book’s main characters during their escapades in London. A montage of the characters’ personal pictures and videos not only teases would-be readers to buy, but also engages readers who’ve already enjoyed the book.

Delivering the Goods

No matter what form your book trailer takes, the key to making it an effective tool is in distribution. A successful video trailer must first reach its target audience. For that to happen, an author must be strategic and creative.

1. Strategic Distribution: You might be surprised to learn that video trailers are not just for online use. “For a teen and tween audience, online distribution makes sense,” explains Julie Schoerke of JKS Communications. “For those less responsive to online videos, we’ve been successful with offline channels.” Schoerke recently worked with a mystery author whose video ran in New York City taxis during the large Book Expo America conference, and thus was delivered directly to those traveling to the event. “It’s a surprisingly economical way to generate quality coverage,” Schoerke says.

Kate Klise, author of the humorous children’s mystery series 43 Old Cemetery Road and Three-Ring Rascals, says librarians use her trailers to prepare students for her school visits. “Trailers are a fun way to introduce young readers to authors.” Klise adds that she often hears from children who discovered her trailers after reading her books—further demonstrating that strategic distribution of a trailer engages enthusiastic readers at all stages and encourages them to look for more information about favorite books and authors.

[Writing a Hero's Adventure story? Here's a simple template you can apply to your own work-in-progress.]

2. Sponsorships: Publicist Dana Kaye negotiated a sponsorship for client Jamie Freveletti’s first novel, Running From the Devil, which involved an ultramarathon runner. For this project, Sugoi Running Apparel provided Freveletti with clothes to wear in the video. “Sugoi wrote a review on their consumer website and provided signed books to their top accounts,” Kaye says. “This distribution quadrupled views and reached an audience we wouldn’t have reached otherwise.”

3. Video Press Releases: According to MaryAnn Zissimos, former HarperCollins senior publicist, the video trailer can be an efficient, non-text way to get your book in front of website editors and book reviewers who might otherwise disregard yet another press release. Emailing a video trailer is an attention grabber. “I get more responses from media to whom I’ve sent a link to a trailer,” Zissimos says. “Even if they tell me that aren’t running a story, they respond, so I know they’ve looked at the pitch. They like it because it’s different, fast and catchy.”

Whether online or offline, built by a pro or a creative novice, an effective video trailer breaks through the clutter with innovative content and a targeted distribution strategy. As Paul Fireman, owner of video and content development agency Fireman Creative, says: “It’s an exciting time for authors to have a video trailer. They have excellent options to get their story in front of billions of eyeballs. Social media makes an author’s video piece highly accessible to a wide variety of potential customers.”

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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