13 Things I Learned About Making Book Trailers (updated!)

13 Things I Learned About Making Book Trailers (updated!)

This is an old post from when I made Malcolm at Midnight‘s book trailer. I updated it some, though, because I learned a few new things with the sequel.

(First, a disclaimer: I am NOT a book trailer expert. I’m an amateur. Nor do I think I’ve made the most compelling book trailer ever. But I did learn some things and thought I’d share them here in case they might help you so YOU can create the most compelling book trailer ever for YOUR book. :-))

  1. It’ll take much longer you’ll think. Much, much, MUCH longer. I went into mine with some experience from creating school newscasts at the library where I work. If you don’t like this kind of work or are not familiar with video editing at all, it’s probably worth your time and money to hire someone. You can hire someone to do the whole thing ($$), or, consider gathering the images and music and text yourself, then hiring someone to put it all together  for you ($). It’ll cost less, but save you time in learning a video editing software program. If you want to save even more, think about posting on a university or high school job board – those crazy kids are a savvy bunch.
  2. Storyboard first. Not sure how to break down a complex 50,000-word novel into 100 words or less? I wasn’t. So I watched a bunch a trailers. I copied down the texts of ones I liked so I could see how many words I should aim for. I noted how long the words and images were shown on the screen. I listened for how music was used for dramatic emphasis. Then I blocked the ideas for my book using these examples. I made a simple table listing text and images and sounds as they progressed through the video’s timeline. It kind of looked like this:
    Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 8.11.49 PM
    Edited to add: A
    nother idea is to start with your flap copy. That’s what I did for Malcolm Under the Stars‘s trailer. Because really, the trailer and the flap copy are trying to do the same thing – get people to read the book.
  3. Images are everything. After all, a video is a visual experience. Whether you are using video, animation, or stills, don’t skimp on the images. I am super lucky (in more ways than one!) that my book’s illustrated by Brian Lies, so I had top-notch images to choose from. If your book is also illustrated, you’ll still need to ask your publisher and illustrator for permission to use the images in a trailer. If your book is not illustrated, you’ll need to find images elsewhere.
  4. Use your book design. Your book probably had a designer, right? (No? Well, somebody decided what goes on the cover.) So, ask your publisher for the colors and fonts they used and use them in your trailer. Not only will it make your trailer tie in with your book more, it’ll save you a ton of time in trying to figure out what color combinations and fonts look good together. Because, presumably, whoever designed your book cover was hired for that job because s/he is good at that sort of thing.
  5. Text or spoken words? I debated this. When I show book trailers to my students, they strongly prefer spoken words – it’s more movie-like and more visually appealing because you can use more images. However, I ended up using text for three reasons. 1) people can watch and still get a sense for my book even if their sound is turned down (like, say, at school or work), 2) I wasn’t confident about directing a narrator, and I certainly didn’t want MY voice on it :-), and, 3) a personal reason: my son is hearing impaired and I’m very conscious about providing information visually for kids like him. I have no idea how to go about creating closed captioning, so it seemed like the right thing to do.
    Edited to add: I know how to add captioning now! And with my Malcolm Under the Stars trailer, I did add it because I used a narrator. It’s super easy to do once you upload to YouTube. I urge you to do this and make your videos more accessible to ALL readers.
  6. Use music. Music sets your tone. So spend some time thinking about what tone you are going for. Not sure? Go back to watching more trailers, especially genres similar to your book. I knew I wanted something a little suspenseful, but playful. I found what I was looking for at a royalty-free music site called Incompetech. Which brings me to . . .
  7. Be mindful of others’ creative work. Or, as my students would say, “don’t copyright.” If you did not physically film the video, take the photo, write and perform the music that you want to use in your trailer, then you need to make sure you know what the copyright law is for using them. Don’t guess. Don’t assume.
  8. The shorter the better. A minute is ideal. It’s easy to get drawn into that whole, “but my story needs just a few seconds more.” I did. But it really doesn’t. And the closer you get to that sixty-second mark, the more likely people will click to watch it. Which is really the whole point, right?
  9. Not sure what to cut? Get feedback. Most of us are less competent in our video-making than our writing. And we would never think of sending our writing out into the world without some critical eyes on it first, so why would we send our video out un-critiqued? I got feedback from friends, kids, my editor, my agent, and my illustrator. One thing I was concerned about was if my text was going by too fast. I’m a fast reader – and I know the story – so it was hard for me to judge that on my own. (And yes, it was my editor who proclaimed: it must be shorter!)
  10. Think about what information to include. Of course, you want your ISBN, your publisher, your name, but what else? I decided not to include my release date. Yeah, I’m all excited about that now, but keep in mind that (hopefully!) people will be watching your trailer in months and years after it’s out. Having that “Available September 4, 2012!” seems kind of like stale news when it’s 2015.
  11. Share widely. Post on YouTube, on SchoolTube, on TeacherTube, on Vimeo, on your website, on Goodreads, on Amazon . . . you get the idea. Your trailer is now a calling card you can use whenever you do guest blog posts or interviews or go places on the Internet. Use it!
  12. Be generous with your tags on YouTube. I use book trailers a lot at my school library – showing a couple at the beginning of each class. And I’m always a little amazed at how hard it is to find them through a YouTube search. So be liberal. Use terms people might be looking for, like “middle grade,” “book trailer,” “books for kids,” your publisher’s name, your name, whatever you can think of.
  13. And finally, it’s worth it. I don’t know that my trailer will translate into more book sales. But if you can afford the time or the money, it doesn’t hurt. It just widens your book’s footprint online. And having more people hear about your book is never a bad thing.
    Edited to add: You don’t need a super polished, fully animated production. My students are just as captivated with shorter, simpler trailers. So, instead of learning complicated video editing software, or paying tons of money, you could try a photo slideshow site, like Animoto. Here’s a post I wrote waaaay back about that: http://www.whbeck.com/2009/07/25/easy-peasy-book-trailers/. The point is to get your book in front of readers’ eyes.

Whew, that’s it. But how about you? Got something you love or hate about trailers? One you want to share? Please, tell me about it! I’m always on the hunt for more trailers to show my students.

And in the meantime, here’s mine! Edited to add: with Malcolm‘s sequel, Malcolm Under the Stars‘s trailer, too. :-)

November Events and News

November Events and News

I’m home for the holidays now, but November’s been a busy month.

Illustrator Brian Lies and I attended the Wisconsin Book Festival. Here we are (thanks, librarygrl2):

Owly Images
I love presenting with Brian because I learn so much. And, look! We found out we’re both left-handed.

The next weekend, I headed over to the Loft Literary Center, for a reading with writer pal Julie Bowe.

Julie and me, with kind of crazy lighting.
My name (well, kind of)–in lights!
Not only did they have treats, they had THEMED treats. Mild cheddar cheese for Julie’s Friends for Keeps; these cuties for Malcolm.

Last Sunday, Malcolm and I were featured in my hometown newspaper, the Leader Telegram.

A little scary, seeing my face that big.

Malcolm’s back in stock on Amazon and your local bookstore, just in time for the holidays! And in fact, Malcolm’s listed as a great gift on both Common Sense Media‘s website and in National Geographic Kids magazine!

My savvy nieces spotted this in their National Geographic Kids.

Malcolm got a great review in BookPage last week. The reviewer said nice things like,

“First-time author W.H. Beck combines many beloved themes—intelligent animals, secret clubs, middle school melodrama—into a fine-tuned noir mystery.”


Malcolm at Midnight is ultimately a story about identity and inclusion, but kids will get that message along with a spoonful of adventure, a smart whodunit and several laughs. This one’s a winner.”

and my personal favorite,

Snip the cat is evil enough to star in an animal remake of Cape Fear.”

You can read the whole review HERE.

And finally, yesterday, we came in from our Thanksgiving travels to find my audiobook copies of Malcolm had arrived.

I’ll admit it, I’m a little squirmy about listening to my own book.

Whew! And now, I’m settling in for a hibernation in my office. This next book is not going to write itself!

A Post in Pictures: Tweens Read Book Festival, Houston, TX

A Post in Pictures: Tweens Read Book Festival, Houston, TX

This past weekend, I got the chance to participate in a super fun event dedicated to books for kids: the Tweens Read Book Festival in Houston, TX. Twenty-one authors, hundreds of middle grade readers, personalized cupcakes, hand-made knitted water bottle cozies, 85 degrees weather (it was a wet and coooold 45 degrees when I left Wisconsin)—well, let’s just say, as a newbie author, I think I’ve been spoiled as far as book festivals go!

And then…we all headed home. It was a whirlwind trip! I’m back in Wisconsin today, ready to share all my fun times with my own tweens this week.

Thanks for a great time, Texas, Tweens Read, and Blue Willow Bookshop!