A book trailer you make on a small budget can be as captivating and entertaining as one that costs thousands to make, but you have to be ready to invest a good deal of time on effort on it. When I made the book trailer for my middle grade book, Pirates Off the Deep End, I had never used video editing software before and was pretty clueless about how to begin. Finding blogs such as this one can be invaluable resources. In fact, one blog I found handy is The BookBaby Blog.
For my second book trailer, The Zombie Next Door, I had a handle on what I was doing and could get a little more creative. I wanted to create a scene from the book that involved a nightmare the main character Goldie Rich had. She wandered in a creepy graveyard at night, of course, and admired the beautiful angel statue, which proceeded to turn into a hideous gargoyle right before her eyes.
Although video and .jpgs can be incorporated into your trailer, if you have any ability with photo editing software such as Photoshop, you can produce some ‘book trailer magic’ as well. I am not a Photoshop expert by any means, but after taking a class and playing around with it, I can generally get projects put together the way I envision them. Above left is a 5-inch angel statue I photographed at a fountain store. I turned her into a headstone using Photoshop to use as the first photo in a series that changes the angel into the gargoyle show below.
Haunting Goldie’s Nightmares
The gargoyle above was a two-foot high statue at the same fountain store. Since I only photographed the statues and didn’t purchase them, it didn’t cost me anything. Using Photoshop, I converted the angel into the gargoyle with two photos that underwent a combined 18 stages. In each stage, the main subject was slightly skewed, shrunken, and re-colored. For the final pictures, I flipped the gargoyle vertically and colored the eyes red.
I was happy with the results, and my SCBWI critique group that watched the video thought it was a nice touch. I also used the technique to make the voodoo doll in the Zombie video wink. If you’re thinking…zombies, graveyards, voodoo doll…pretty cool, check out my book The Troubled Souls of Goldie Rich: The Zombie Next Door on my Amazon Author’s Page. And good luck with your trailer.
Making my Pirates Off the Deep End book trailer was a multi-step process. If you haven’t followed my blog, I’ll do a quick summary. First, I literally sketched out my scenes with pictures no better than you’d draw for Pictionary. That helped me organize my thoughts to know what video I needed. I also matched the scenes with quotes from my book. Next, I shot 10 to 20 seconds of different video to try to match the ideas I had on paper.
Before I put the video clips together, I searched for music and sounds to enhance the trailer. Of course, when you take video, it has audio. However, the audio may not be clear and may be saturated with background noise. On the bright side, audio isn’t as expensive to purchase as video. I also used free software, Audacity, to pull audio out of video such as in my Zombie Next Door trailer. The ringing doorbell was removed from one video and added to the ‘tortilla chip scene.’ I am not promoting Audacity software, just telling you what I used.
Did I Spend Any Money?
Yes, I did. My Pirates Off the Deep End book trailer cost $32 to make plus my time. The hourglass cost me $12 plus shipping. I also bought $20 of sounds from iStockPhoto. You MUST give credit for any audio or video you purchase in your trailer. If you look at the credits at the end of my trailer, you will see the iStockPhoto purchases. I’m not sure about other companies, but once you download through iStockPhoto, you can use it in multiple trailers as long as you give credit. Their website goes over all the rules and regulations. Once again, I’m not promoting them, just telling you where I purchased my audio.
For my second trailer, The Zombie Next Door, I used the same sounds I’d purchased already and recorded some of my own such as the wolf howling. This goes back to my advice of keeping the camcorder handy. I actually got lucky with the howling wolf. I visited a wolf sanctuary, and an emergency vehicle passed by sirens blaring. That will set the wolves off every time. I used Audacity software to extract the howling from the video so that it could be added to the creepy moon scene.
Whatever Works Part II
Audio makes a huge difference toward the quality of the trailer. I actually purchased the pirate laugh and the candle noise at the end of my video. My camcorder didn’t pick up any candle crackle, so I added the sound for effect. Although the movie editing software cuts out a lot of background noise, music or sounds cover any that is left. In Turbo’s scene, the music covered over the noise of the vacuum cleaner. Turbo doesn’t attack on command, but he does attack the vacuum every single time it’s on. I needed him in attack mode, so I fired up the vacuum. Whatever works.
I have to admit, I learned a lot making the trailers, and I had a great time doing it. I’m still learning. Of course, I like doing creative, artsy stuff. It also helps when family and friends get involved. When I filmed The Zombie Next Door, my neighbor let me film the curtain scene in his house since I don’t have curtains, and my brother-in-law videotaped some creepy graveyards for me since they have a huge selection where he’s from. Just be sure to give whoever helps proper credit in your credits at the end of the trailer. In my next blog, I’ll tell you how I put the video, audio, and .jpgs together with Movie Maker software.
With my rough sketch of my book trailer in hand, I grabbed my camera, camcorder, and tripod and got down to business. Let me just make it clear that I do not own professional video equipment. My digital camera is a nice point-and-shoot Sony Cyber-shot, and my digital camcorder is a Sony Handy-cam. I borrowed the tripod from my daughter, who is an aspiring photographer. I used Movie Maker software, which I’d never used before making the book trailer. It’s easy to figure out and worked well for my needs. As with any software, you get faster with it and learn tricks as you go. I am not selling any product, just telling you what I used.
My first challenge—my book, Pirates Off the Deep End, is set mainly on a boat in the ocean or in South American ports. I live in a desert. It could have been a potential problem, but I made it work.
I could have driven four hours to the ocean, but I didn’t. I would have loved to, but a beach trip costs time and money. I went down to the local lake and videotaped scenes of different boats and the marina. A tripod helped tremendously, especially after a cup of coffee, to get non-shaky video. I zoomed in and out, filmed from different directions, and took some random fish video. You never know. I did have to drive 30 minutes, so I made the most of my time.
The rest of my trailer except for the sunset and full moon is shot inside my home. By showing a boat in the first scene, it gives the illusion (or is meant to) that the rest of the action takes place on a boat.
Video Tips from an Amateur
I kept the video under 20 seconds. Short videos download faster, are easier to crop, and take up less space on your computer. If you’re only using 10 seconds of video per scene, shooting 20 seconds should give you plenty to work with. The tripod is really worthwhile. To acquire one cheaply, borrow one, buy one used online or seek out one at a garage sale. Get one if you plan on making more than one trailer. Try to limit the background noise, if possible.
Keep Your Camcorder Handy
Buying footage can be expensive, so I learned fast to shoot random video and save it. The old proverb about ‘saving for a rainy day’ really works when you live in the desert and only see rain every three months. After a huge summer rain, I ran for my camcorder. Clouds make for a beautiful sunset and great moon shots. I got lucky with the sunset video and creepy full moon. I actually used the moon in my other book trailer, too. Recycling footage and audio saves money.
Whatever Works Part I
The $12 hourglass I purchased does not glow. It only shifts sand back and forth. I needed a glowing hourglass because that’s what in my story. It’s actually a huge part of the story. To get the hourglass to glow green, I set the camcorder on the tripod and turned it on. I held a green translucent paper over a flashlight and pointed it at the hourglass. By the way, the candle and hourglass were sitting on a hamper in my hallway—far from any boat. Yep, whatever works.
If you’re still following along, go shoot some video and make sure to have a clear .jpg of your book cover. Also, you may find some free video you can use at Vidsplay. I used on of their beach videos as my opening scene for my Zombie Next Door book trailer. Don’t forget to write down the information to give them credit if you do use their video. In my next blog, I’ll cover audio.
The first thing I did in the process of making the book trailer for Pirates Off the Deep End was to decide what are the key points of my book. Pirates is a middle grade, ages 8 to 12, adventure with some tense moments, but it has a funny side—after all it involves three brothers ages 10, 12 and 13 and the trouble they get into. The main character and narrator is the middle brother, Tommy. Another main character is 400-year-old ghost pirate, Francois l’Olonnais. If the name sounds familiar, he was a real pirate in the 1600s. As the main characters, Tommy and l’Olonnais had to be mentioned in the trailer.
Set the Mood
Since my book has adventure and comedy, I wanted to have at least one ‘tense’ scene appropriate for the book’s age range and a funny scene. Cute dogs and babies always score points with people, but I don’t have any babies in my book. I do have a scene with a dog. Fortunately, I have four dogs of my own to choose from to star in the video. Turbo just happened to fit the bill. Much of the story takes place on a boat, so I need to let the viewer get the feel that the video is shot on a boat. Two huge problems for me—I don’t own a boat, and I live in the desert. Most problems have solutions, and I’ll get to mine later.
Actors or Not?
I have two reasons why I didn’t want any actors other than Turbo. I like my readers to create their own image of my characters in their mind, so I never describe my characters in great detail. I certainly don’t want to put their image in a video…unless a producer wants to make a movie of the book. That would be an exception. Otherwise, it’s my personal preference as a writer to let the reader get creative. Another huge reason to avoid actors in a low-budget book trailer is that the acting probably will be less than stellar if you recruit your child, a friend, or a neighbor. For good acting, you’re going to have to pay, and that will increase the cost of your trailer.
Use Your Words
One more thing before you grab your camera is to pick out some of your favorite lines from your book or lines that tell a lot about the story in a few words. A book trailer has to hold the audience for roughly a minute and 30 seconds, so you can’t have a huge chunk of text for them to read. If you’re switching scenes like I did, they may only have 8 to 10 seconds to take in the action and read the words.
Get Your Ideas down Quick and Dirty
So, if you’ve been following along and you want to try my method, you should pick out a few key scenes, main characters, and lines from your book. I figured that if my book trailer was a minute and 30 seconds, I’d have 10 scenes at the most. I know 13 seconds doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but it is for a trailer scene.
After I had a rough idea of what scenes I wanted to recreate, I divided a sheet of paper into 10 sections and sketched the most basic drawings of items I needed in each scene. For Pirates, I sketched a boat (the kind that looks like a banana with a sail) in one section. It’s just a placeholder for an idea, so who cares? I filled in all 10 sections with quick drawings. Next, I wrote down the lines from the book on another piece of paper. I’m a VERY visual person, and yes, I do have Photoshop and other graphic packages, but I didn’t need to spend time making it look perfect. Do you type your grocery list? Quick and dirty. Now match the lines with scenes.
My next blog will discuss filming tips and techniques, editing, and where to get the video and audio you can’t shoot on your own—all within a low budget, of course.
Promoting a published book can be as time-consuming and challenging as writing the book. It’s also a catch-22 situation since unknown authors could use the money from book sales to do promotion, but without promotion, sales suffer. Internet promotion is free when tweeting or blogging, but many other forms of promotion come with a cost. One form of promotion that is on the rise is book trailers. With videos constantly played on smartphones and tablets, a book trailer has the potential to reach the masses—especially if it’s done well.
If your book is a picture book, you already have material to put into your trailer—the illustrations. Otherwise, you’re starting from scratch. That’s how I started: no material and no clue. I read blogs about making book trailers and used that information to do my own research. My first trailer for Pirates Off the Deep End took longer to put together than my second, The Zombie Next Door. So don’t get discouraged, it does get easier, especially if you plan on shooting your own video, and you aren’t familiar with or have never used video editing software. Take a look at my trailers. If you like what you see, stop back at my blog, and I’ll tell you what I used to put them together. I also plan on making more trailers and will post steps of the process here.