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Making a professional book trailer on a budget

This past weekend, I released my new CANDOR book trailer. Just over a minute long, it uses still photos, fancy transitions, text, and music to hopefully hook the viewer on my book. It does NOT contain any video! And the whole thing cost me less than one hundred bucks ($69.90, to be precise).

I love book trailers. It’s fascinating to see how an author, or their publisher, manages to distill their book’s subject and make it visually interesting. It’s like flap copy in motion.

There are some very nice trailers out there that use actors and are mostly made of of video (two of my recent favorites are FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH by Carrie Ryan and MODELS DON'T EAT CHOCOLATE COOKIES by Erin Dionne). But don’t fear—if you don’t have actors, professional video cameras and a budget (or gifted film student) to do something like that, you can cook up a professional trailer at home.

Here’s how I did it.

SCRIPT: I drafted a brief script. Then I sent it to my agent, Elana Roth, to review and give me feedback. Elana was my sounding board throughout the video creation process, which was very helpful. Remember to keep your words to a minimum. You’re not making a book report, you’re making a marketing piece that leaves people wanting more. And keep the script flexible: I changed mine (mostly removing words, but also adding in some “subliminal Messages”) as I assembled the trailer.

IMAGES: Next, I split the script into chunks and looked for photos to match each chunk. Photo research is something I have professional experience in, so listen close, friends: be sure to use photos that you have the right to use. Just because you found it on Google Images doesn’t mean it’s kosher to include in your trailers! No author wants to violate another creative person’s rights, right?

To keep your image costs down, you could either shoot your own photos, ask a friend to handle it, or to assure a professional look (and save a lot of time) try the low-cost microstock sites. These sites sell royalty-free photos (which is what you want… authors on low-cost budgets will usually want to steer away from more costly and complicated “rights managed” photos).

I used Dreamstime and spent a total of $49.95 on my photos (I purchased the “small” size, since it’s for web use and it’s cheaper!). That money bought me the right to use the photos anywhere, for as long as I want, except for things like t-shirts and billboards. You could also try Shutterstock, iStockphoto, Fotolia or StockXpert, among many others.

If you use photos with people in them, make sure they are model released (the data on the site should tell you).

One more photo tip (can you tell I’m a photo geek?): you can download “comps” of photos from all these sites and use them to make a draft of your video without paying a penny. They will be watermarked and you can’t post the video with the comps in them. But it’s a great way to play with photo options and not have to pay $ until you know you definitely want to include that photo in your trailer.

ASSEMBLY: I used iMovie 9 on my husband’s Mac laptop. I had never made a video or used software like this before, and at first I was very truly frustrated. But after about a half hour of looking at documentation and watching their intro videos, I knew enough to get started, and learned as I worked.

Two things I particularly loved about iMovie: first, the “Ken Burns” effect. This is named after documentarian Ken Burns, who has a penchant for “animating” photos by zooming in and out, or sliding left to right, etc. This makes the photos almost feel like video, or at least a lot less boring. Of course you want to be subtle or you’ll end up with seasick viewers. Other video editing software offer similar “Ken Burns” options, I believe.

I also loved iMovie’s options for adding text to my trailer. I was able to easily put text on top of photos or create transition slides, like my embedded subliminal Messages that flash for 10 frames and then are gone.

MUSIC: I saved this part for last, waiting until I’d composed the text and images, since I figured I needed to know the video pretty well before I added music to it. Unlike images, I have zero experience in finding music! So I just googled “royalty free music” and a boatload of sites came up. You can search them by keyword, or browse by mood (“creepy”, “edgy”, “triumphant”, etc). This was the toughest part for me; I found so many pieces that would be laughably wrong for the trailer. I finally found the music (“Distorted Fragments” by Bjorn Lynne) for my trailer on Again I was able to grab sample music and integrate this into my “draft” trailer so I could see if it would work before paying for it. I also liked that I could select different lengths of the song at this site—I knew my video was clocking in at around 60 seconds so that was the length I looked for. Total cost: $19.95.

TOTAL INVESTMENT: Like I said above, my cash layout was $69.90. It would have been more if I didn’t have iMovie already. Time spent? Probably somewhere between 10 and 15 hours, and I also “outsourced” final fiddling (transitions and fonts) to my husband, who spent maybe 2 hours on that. But besides the time spent swearing at my iMovie incompetence, those were 10-15 really fun hours.

I’ll also spend a little more to promote the trailer, as I’m running a “Spread the Message'” giveaway to encourage folks to post links and embed it in their blogs.

Reader Comments (3)


This is awesome. A few years ago I was working on a complicated powerpoint presentation for the Highlights Chautauqua workshop. Kent's nephew looked at me and said "why are you going through all that trouble" and showed me how to use iMovie. In less than a day I had a beautiful video with captions set to music. And it was easy to convert to DVD.

Never thought about using stock photography for a book trailer, though. I'm inspired. Thanks for the tip! Loved your trailer. Good job!

July 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChristineTB

Great post Pam - and timely too. Just working on a book trailer now for my picture book. Found it on Twitter through Elana R. - just retweeted. Good luck with the book!

July 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeannine Norris

An Excellent "How To". I've dabbled in video trailers a little and it can be frustrating. I have the same issues with finding the right music and sound effects.

Thanks for the tips...I will definitely use them.


November 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTod Langley

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