Friday, March 20, 2009

Leanna Renee Hieber's Guerilla Do-It-Yourself Book Trailer Guide

(Lise Says: Leanna's most informative article on creating a book trailer follows. She will be checking back to answer anyone's questions, so please visit and comment and ask away!) Note: I have one (1) book trailer to my credit. I’m writing this article because people liked my trailer and asked me to talk about how I did it, so I’m sharing my thoughts. When you discover something else, new, better, cool, please share other ideas/resources with the chapter! For those who haven’t seen my book trailer, it’s right on my homepage: Okay! Before you decide to do a book trailer, ask yourself this question: Is this worth the time, money and energy I’ll be putting into it? - I won’t do a book trailer for my smaller works/novellas, because I have to make a financial choice about what I’m going to promote. While I did the trailer myself, the trailer was not free, because I was sure to buy royalty-free images and buy royalty-free music so that I was released from copyright infringement. I believe I ended up spending somewhere around $130 dollars. Does a Book Trailer translate directly into a book sale? I’m not sure, but it gives people a sense of your work in a visual way, and the more ways you can market your book, the better. It opens up new venues, there are many author sites to use and upload them, they attract the more visual connoisseur and are far more eye-catching than mere text and coverblurbs. Step #1: Think of your book and write a short teaser script. Your book in one paragraph. Make it catchy. While you can certainly have someone narrate the story and record it, like in a movie trailer, what if someone is watching at work with the sound off? Having text makes sure people can see what you’re trying to sell, and if your recorder isn’t professional studio quality, you don’t want it to cheapen your trailer. Keep it simple, like a cover blurb cut in half. If there’s a ton of text, people will lose interest. A sentence or two at most per image. If right now you are already stuck and/or panicking, watch some movie trailers or book trailers on YouTube, you’ll get ideas. The text will determine your images and your images determine the $ spent, so do text first. Step #2: Open a movie-making program on your computer. - Windows has a basic “My Movie Maker” - Mac has “iMovie” - Apple has “Final Cut and Final Cut pro” movie making software (more advanced) - Surf the web for free media / movie making software, just don’t download from a site that looks sketchy. - You might also be able use a slide-show program, just be sure you can make it into a .wmv file or other uploadable media file (check and see what your options are under your “Save As”.) Get familiar with what your program does. I did mine using Windows “My Movie Maker”. It’s very user friendly, with a lot of click and drag options onto a ‘timeline’ of your movie. You can run through these programs’ tutorials. (Or if you’re hands-on like me, just tinker till you get it). Experiment with loading pictures and music files into the program and learning how to arrange them, time them, and caption them differently. It’s fun to tinker.  Step #3: Think about the “Look” of your book. What are the colors of your book? The sounds? I see my book much like how the Underworld franchise of movies created their “Look”, very dark and blue. So I chose to stick to blue and grey-scale, with a period quality, and very supernatural with a lot of dark shadows. Since my heroine has skin, hair and eyes as white as a ghost, I use pale images contrasted with dark. Black, white, and blue. I stuck within that color palette and made sure nothing looked too modern in my Victorian England (I had to crop the cars out of the bottom of my Tower Bridge photo – even still, it’s anachronistic because the bridge went up in 1894 and my book takes place in 1888 – but hey, this is Hollywood folks – just don’t make those mistakes in your book!) What are the colors that you think of for your hero, your heroine? These very important “look and feel” decisions on your setting and your storyline will be very important visceral clues for the audience. They’ll put your book immediately into a mental category due to these factors as well, so choose the basic ‘look and feel’ carefully, especially starting out. Think from your gut and most likely your choices will play like you want them too. Try to be consistent with your choices. Keep in mind that we all have distinct emotional and physical associations with color and sound, work with it rather than go against it. If you use photos of people for your characters, be aware that whatever images you use for the hero/heroine might work as a movie works in imprinting the image of those people onto your readers’ minds, so choose them carefully if you use them. Step #4: Start looking at image sites. Such as: Do some price checking before you buy, some sites have better deals/packages than others. You can’t legally just pull stuff from google images, if you do, you must ask permission from the photo credit or website. You can certainly use some of your own images, but for these I have many caveats. If you have a high-resolution digital camera, see if something works. Don’t cast your best friend as your heroine without asking her permission. Make sure a specific photo of your own won’t look out of place against the more vague and general mood-setting photos you might get from photo sites. Try and make sure the resolution and quality of the photo you use matches with the photos you buy. You will probably lose photo resolution when it uploads to sites, I notice this with YouTube. You want the visuals to look consistent in quality. Toying with your photos can give them fun moods and can work to even out the quality of the prints. Changing a photo from color to black and white might hide the fact that its lower resolution or quality. For those of us dealing with historical settings, the Sepia tone setting does wonders.  (Note – I won’t be talking about using actors, nor would I encourage the use of actors in a book trailer, and I am one, so you know I mean no disrespect. You’re not promoting a movie. While many top-selling authors do use actors, unless you’re a NYT bestseller and have a huge production budget - or unless you want to use the trailer as your experimental filmmaking project too – it’s not going to look professional unless you have access to top shelf production companies and talent) Editing: This means putting the pictures in order and timing how long they will stay on screen. This is putting text onto those pictures, or in between pictures. The exact process of step by step editing depends on the program you’re using, so I can’t really go into a whole ‘how to’ since there may be several different programs between everyone. But essentially the trick with editing is to create the proper timing and flow of each picture/segment. Keep your text simple and your images simple, so that you don’t have to sit on the images or text for a long time to figure them out. Make sure it’s time enough to read it, but that the images and text keep flowing. Your video will have a ‘timeline’ that grows the more you add, you can rearrange your images and text on this timeline, but remember shifting one thing affects the rest of the flow. Keep it under 2 minutes, otherwise sites like Facebook won’t upload it. You run the risk of losing viewers if it’s not succinct, and the file becomes too unwieldy if it’s long. Readers I spoke with said they won’t look at a book trailer over 2 minutes. Try to avoid ‘choppy’ looks or sequences – there are transition effects to smooth one image and/or text into the next one as well as fading in, easing the image in or out and fading out. These give some nice movement qualities to static images, so play with what your movie making program can do and see what looks good. Save a striking image for last but remember it’s a teaser, so leave people wanting more. Music? If you want to use music as an underscore, I find it effective. Be sure it’s something that fits with the mood of your book. Pick music that’s a nice compliment but not competition with the images. If the piece is too dynamic, it might be hard to sync the images to the rise and fall of the music, perhaps pick something a little more generally atmospheric to the world of your book. I used a Chopin waltz that I love a lot, and bought the download for a one-time fee to assure I would be free from copyright infringement. There are many royalty free music sites. A few: Editing the music: Depending on your program, adding music can be easy using an MP3 file, I literally “clicked and dragged” the MP3 file from a folder and into my open movie-maker window. Again, the exact particulars will depend on program. Make sure your music syncs up with the pictures. If you have a really bleak image but really happy or upbeat music at that moment, it’ll look/sound odd, try to pick something that compliments the trajectory of your text and images. Where do you put the trailer once its done? On your website. On your blog. On MySpace. On Facebook. Anywhere you can upload video. On free author pages like Manic Readers and trailer site Blazing Trailers: See if your publisher will put it on their website. YouTube is a must. It’s free. A lot of sites use YouTube as default for uploading video. When you sign up for a free YouTube channel, it can be like a free author page. And it’s a great way to expose your work to a hugely trafficked site. Without announcement on my part other than this chapter loop, I have about 150 views in a month, just because of how I “tagged” it, people searching for Book Trailers or Victorian London or Dark Fantasy or related subjects can find it because I “Tagged” it (like you do in blogs) with key search words. Have fun, stay true to your book, and you’ll come away with a great little marketing tool! *** Leanna Renee Hieber’s The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, the first in a Gothic Victorian fantasy series-- for which she created her trailer-- releases 9-9-09 from Dorchester Publishing.


  1. Hi Leanne,
    Very good article, very thorough!. Hope you don't mind if I refer to it on a blog I am writing for next week.

    Yes, your trailer is very good and I'm glad you mentionned this about adding a greyscale or something like that to cover poorer image quality. I did that with mine and it made a big difference.

    Thanks for sharing your experience :)

  2. Leanne, thank you so much for sharing such useful information. If I could get a trailer looking as good as yours I would be very happy!

    Kandy Shepherd

  3. Leanna, I think this is a wonderfully good overview of this process. Especially helpful are the links for images and music. I actually did have an opportunity to chat with a New Orleans band that plays in Penn Station. They had really cool music, all original, and I asked them if they were open to having their music used on a book trailer, for just the credit (and I said lots of credit in everything I promoted about the trailer) and they were thrilled at the idea - free publicity is what they called it. Plus I bought both their CDs. So that might be another option for folks and I have seen people's trailers who used original compositions of a friend or acquaintance. But I agree definitely that the music should be an embellishment, and a subtle one. Not intrusive or overwhelming. Thanks for this terrific post.

  4. Marie-Claude,

    My dear, by all means you may refer to this article, AND CONGRATS ON THE NEXT ROUND OF AMERICAN TITLE! Rooting (and voting) for you all the way!


    You're so welcome, thanks for the compliment. Just be really specific and clear with your choices, and you'll get something you really like too!


    Thanks for sharing your idea and experience with original music, that's an awesome way to go!!! Plus they can promote it for you! Cross promotion is a great thing, plus you get something really unique with original music!

  5. Hi Leanna,

    Sorry I'm jumping in late, but I thought your post was wonderful. I think in your case the trailer will translate into sales, you did such a great job and I'm sure you'll be able to use it more and more as you get closer to your pub date.


  6. Sarah's comment has prompted me to voice an opinion that your talent with your tailer and your "business savvy" supports, Leanna. I hear many folks in various loop situations comment that book trailers, blogs, newsletters, and other forms of self-promotion are a waste of time. That they have tried various and sundry ways themselves to no avail. The big caveat with having all these opportunities is that simply having a blog, or creating a book trailer, or a newsletter is not GOOD ENOUGH. They must be well done, they must be marketing-smart and promoted themselves - and to the write audiences. If you have a book trailer (such as some I've seen) that has typos in it, is far too long, has pictures that are not appropriate to the subject of the book (i.e., contemporary looking photos with an historical novel) and if you don't promote it widely, it isn't by itself, magically, going to translate into people buying your book. And as I've said in other forums, promoting ONLY to other authors is a start but the people to be reached are readers - so find places other than just RWA and writers' sites to promote! You can't just do things, you must do them well and wisely ... as your efforts illustrate, Leanna!

  7. Leanna! This is a great guide and I will definitely be referencing it as I start playing around with my own book trailer. I've been movie-making in iMovie for years, but I've yet to do a book trailer (haven't really had need of one! LOL!). But soon, I will! :)

  8. Thanks Sarah!!


    I agree that sinking tons of money/time into a book trailer may not be the best use of one's resources, it would be better spent writing the next book. BUT for my 100 some dollars, and my day and a half of work, I felt it has been worth it. Particularly as a new author I feel I need to try everything to launch the STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL series. I'm not sure I'll do a trailer for the next book, but I had such a great time with this one, who knows.


    Thanks darling! I'm so very glad you'll have reason to do one! Since you're familiar with iMovie, it will be a snap for you. Can't wait to see it!! :)