How To: Create a Free Book Trailer

Once upon a time, a twitter user (twitterer? twit? tweeter? Obviously I am not twitter conversant) lamented about not having the means to be able to create a book trailer. Here’s my response: as long as you have access to a movie making program (like Windows movie maker which came standard with my Windows 8.1 Lenovo [oooh, I feel like I’m gettin’ my tech speak on!!]) you can create your own book trailer for FREE.

I did. See, here it is, and I loooove it.

So if you are wondering how I did it, here is a step by step tutorial. And yes, it will take some time to craft your own book trailer, but honestly, it’s free. That makes it more affordable than a cheeseburger. (Note: I do not receive one scrap of kickbacks from any of the companies I’ve referenced below. I’m only listing them because they are companies I’ve used and use and find them reliable.)

1. Collate the goods

The nice thing about doing a DIY author project like this is that you aren’t relying on anyone else’s artistic interpretation. You are picking all the materials. If, however, artistry is really not your thing, perhaps considering hiring me to do it for you (haha, like how I slid that in there?)

So, here’s what you need:

A) Information:

Figure out how long you want your trailer to be. In my opinion (and this is my entirely un-researched opinion so feel free to second guess and do your own research), if I read the word ‘trailer,’ my expectations are set on a very short amount of time, a minute or less. Anything longer than that and I feel like it’s dragging on forever, no matter how exciting the story is.

Plan out the order you want it to go in. Consider your most boilerplate pitch, the elevator pitch, or a two to three sentence blurb and break it apart into phrases (we’ll assign each phrase to a photo later).

B) Images:

All of your images should speak to you as being representative of your novel. Your trailer will not be a moving action piece, but a collection of stills artfully put together with music. (And if you know someone with a great voiceover voice, by all means, get them to read the trailer and set it over the music.)

Where to get them: My two favorite places for 100% free photos is wikimedia commons and unsplash.com. Unsplash has high-quality pics that are great for backgrounds to set other pictures against (I used this technique quite a few times in my own trailer).

To layer the pieces together or apply filters on them and add text, use a free site like canva.com or picmonkey.

But before you go jumping into collating your photos, do read my full article to get some idea of just how many you’d need to complete your project. I only used 4 (not including the various photo elements that went on top of the photos.)

The most important thing you can do in the creation of your images is to make sure that the text is easily readable. This means using your pic manipulation magic (gray overlays, transparency overlays, black text, white text) so that your text can stand out in relief.

C) Music

For free music, the best place to search is the public domain. There are a couple of places you can go for this. Freemusicpublicdomain.com and freemusicarchive.org have music across a lot of genres, Freesounds.org has a variety of short and longer clips of sounds and music – super fun stuff here,  and museopen.org has classical music. There are others, but just be wary of what you’re downloading. Download at your own risk and make sure you pay attention to licensing requirements.

Make sure that your piece is long enough to cover the entirety of your video or that it can be easily looped (e.g. no massive explosion at the end, so when you loop it, it’s really obvious).

Also, you can use individual sounds (freesound.org has a ton of free sound effects, you just have to spend some time combing through them) set over the music and video, but IMO, you easily run the risk of being cringe-worthy, so be careful and get a second, third, and fourth opinion. Most of all, pay attention to that little niggling feeling of doubt in your gut, whenever it appears. It is the single greatest indicator of how it will be received by your audience. Just go with that gut feeling. (And that applies to writing in general too!)

D) Software

The software you will need is some sort of movie making program that you can use to put it all together in one amazing production. My Lenovo laptop came with Windows Movie Maker (which makes me think it comes standard with Windows 8.1 computers). It’s very easy to use and I highly recommed it.

If you need more in-depth editing of the sound – for example if you have a voice over part, but it gets “buzzy” in spots or needs editing, you can try out audacity, a free opensource audio mixing program. Once you get the hang of using it, it’s simple to use, it’s just a matter of learning how to use it that can be frustrating. But maybe then you can use it for other stuff, like podcasting!

2) The Process

A) Prep photos

Before you put all these pieces together, you are going to want to have all of the individual photos lined up. So go into your photo manipulator tool of choice. Open the photo that you’ll be using for your Opener. I like to plan on jumping right into my story. Unlike a talk, or a speech, you don’t want to tell us what we are going to see before we see it. You want us to experience it as it unfolds.

With that said, I’ve seen a few videos where the body is prefaced by an intro (“a new novel of love and horror in the northeast…”), but I would personally prefer that sort of info at the end. Just a matter of opinion.

When it comes to how you are going to set up the text on your photos, you have several options here.

Rather than having bald transitions between photos of text, you can do it silent film style and and have one photo that you use multiple times and add additional lines of text to, so as to make it appear that you are shooting video. In fact, you are manipulating the amount of time it takes to transition between photos (more on that later).

You can see this in action in the video I posted from 00.00 -00.08 sec. I only used four different photos through the video, but I did multiple sets of them with varying amounts of text, sometimes with new text laid below older text on a copy of the older image. It’s nice that canva has an option where you can simply make a copy of a piece you are working on and work on it in the same window.

Remember how we decided on the text (our elevator pitch) for the video and broke it up into phrases? Assign each of your phrases a photo. It can be the same photo, as mentioned above. Set up the text on the photos using canva. Double check to make sure the text is highly visible (large enough, contrasted enough, etc.) As mentioned, the transparency tools and filters can be a huge help here for quick fixes. If you want to go more in depth, picmonkey lets you take the photo lighter or darker, etc.

I will say, plan on keeping your photos simple and uncluttered. Too many elements to attract the eye will take away from your viewer’s ability to concentrate on the text or overlay. So, for example, don’t put a book cover pic over a picture showing your two main characters. Humans want to look at human faces, our attention would be split between faces and your book cover image.

For your closing photos, use the upload and drag and drop features to add an image of your book cover, along with any other pertinent “find me” info.  Include your website, your book cover, where they can find your book, if/when it’s going on sale, etc. As well as copyright claims and attributions (neither of which are in my trailer, but what can I say, I am far from perfect myself). And, oh, yes, take it from me, advertising a sale or pre-order might sound good, but don’t use time-sensitive information unless you don’t mind redoing your closing photo later. Just don’t use too much information. Viewers need a certain amount of dead space in order to read comfortably. It makes it easier for our brains to determine where our eyes need to go.

A quick note on fonts: scripty fonts are more difficult to read. Modern fonts speak to contemporary fiction. Try to pick a font that is reflective of your writing, but isn’t going to look corny or cluttered. Canva has a bit of an edge here over picmonkey because canva doesn’t charge for fonts, whereas you have to have the picmonkey subscription to get access to about half of the picmonkey fonts (even though the same fonts are free on other sites! But I love picmonkey, I do.)

B) Prep Music

Once you’ve figured out what music best represents your story, make a copy and cut the copy to your max length. I say max length because you are likely going to make some tweaks on length, but this is the holding spot, if you will. Your video absolutely cannot be longer than this (however much that ‘this’ is for you). My video ended up being 52 sec what with the various transitions, etc. out of a one minute absolute max.

C) Put it together

Open your movie maker program and start inserting your photos into a new project. I don’t know how other programs function, but the Windows version allows for a drag and drop which makes it easy to move things around.

Play around with your transitions. For a more professional look, stay away from “fun” Powerpoint style transitions (turning pages, checkerboard, explosions, sliding up, down or across) and stick with fade in and outs and cut aways.

Consider timing your photo transitions with natural phrasings, the way we speak. This will add to the flow and be less jarring to the viewer. But also consider that how it’s put together can lend to the overall tenor of your work. If it’s a jaunty adventure piece, having shorter transitions and more photos might be called for. If it’s a long epic piece, consider having longer transitions for calmer parts and shorter transitions for intense battle parts.

Faster transitions will affect the pace of the video. If you want an explosive effect, don’t do a transition, just cut to the next photo. If you’re wanting a calming effect, drag the fade in/out longer.

Once you have all your photos in place, play the video and read the text aloud as it plays. Plan on reading it slow, because unlike you, a new viewer is seeing this information for the first time. If the video stays on a photo for too short amount of time for the viewer to comfortably read the text, extend the amount of time the photo is visible.

Now that your photos are comfortably lined up and the transitions are in place, you can add your music. The video may be shorter than your audio clip, it may be longer. Set up the audio to do a short fade in (unless you want an explosive opening) that matches the fade in on your opening photo. Cut the entire audio to length but plan for a few extra seconds to apply a fade out a little bit (a second or so) after your last photo fades to black.

If your video is too long, you may have to rework your text (if you really need to keep every last bit of info in there). It’s rather like the challenge of using twitter, you only have x amount of space to get the most pertinent information across. Keep the comfortable transitions and the length of time the viewer spends on any one line of text, but if the video is too long, plan on reworking or cutting on the photo side of things. In my video, I ended up cutting two lines of text (two photos) because of the length problems, and then I went back and readjusted the audio

And that’s it!

If you want a detailed break down, mine went something like this:

Opener:

I used a single image (1) four times with additional text or different text on each copy, although the transitions are seamless allowing for a smooth, flowing video.

  1. In Regency London
  2. In Regency London, John Grissom, bacteriologist, works on a cure
  3. In Regency London, John Grissom, bacteriologist, works on a cure for one of the most disturbing diseases known to man:
  4. Vampirism.

Body: Used Single Image 2&3

I used the same technique as above. As with the the ‘Vampirism’ photo from above, anything I wanted to draw emphasis to, I did a stand alone photo for (e.g. @ 22sec “But his humdrum research existence is about to change” <—- you’ll notice that’s the hook. Also @ 32 sec “To aid in the defense of the country he loves”) But that’s just me, you can do them all stand alone, some stand alone, none stand alone. It’s purely personal preference here.

All told, for Image 2 I used that single image 3X and I used the third image 5X

Closer: Single Image 4

I included my cover, website, and sale info. I didn’t want to overload the viewer with info. If you care to do a comparison to see the cuts I made to the earlier. longer version that went over my minute standard, see the bottom of this post.

One final piece of advice: there will always be haters. Just make a video that you would like to see and keep editing it until you love it. As with writing, if there is anything that you think is in need of fixing, don’t brush it off. Assume everyone else is thinking the same thing. If you follow this tutorial, you are more than welcome to link to it in the comments section here. I would love to see how it turns out and maybe we can do a guest interview and get some feedback.

 

 

 

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