Are book trailers a waste of time?

I’ve made book trailers before, but that was before I’d even heard of such a thing. As a result, my last book trailer amounted to little more than an excuse to fart around on iMovie. It was also nearly six minutes long, which is, I’m told, way too long. 30-60 seconds is the target.

That said, some of you watched it and liked it, and that was all I was trying to accomplish. It was fun.

More recently, however, I thought I should make one that was more focused on what my book is about. I didn’t want to get into writing a script or anything like that, so I used my back cover copy to create two book trailers. One is nearly two minutes long, and the other is a minute long (following the time limit guidelines I keep hearing about all over the internet).

30 seconds? That seems impossible. Anyway, if I can’t keep your attention for one lousy minute, maybe you shouldn’t read my novel after all.

Now, onto the question: Is making a book trailer worth your time?

Don’t act like you don’t know how I’m gonna answer this question: It depends.

For me, yes, but I’m not spending money to have one made because I enjoy making videos myself. However, I’m not sure anyone is watching them. I’m getting far more clicks on the crappy little javelina movie I put up on a whim than on any of my book trailers. Those damned javelinas are even more popular than Geordie. And that—that is outrageous.

Takeaway? Put some javelina in your movie. Get someone famous to star in your book trailer. Or film yourself getting stung by a tarantula hawk. Or just write your next book, because that’s what you’re supposed to be doing! If you have no interest in movie making, if it sounds like a colossal pain in the ass or a colossal waste of money, it probably is. So don’t bother.

If you’re not sure whether you’d be interested or not, read on.

I’ve been noodling around with iMovie for a while now, and I’m also doing podcast recording for After Dinner Conversation. Here’s what went into my relatively simple trailers, in “workflow” order:

  1. Voiceover recording with a Tula mic, noise cancellation feature turned on, Geordie locked out of the room (he makes a hell of a lot of noise. I learned that the hard way).
  2. Audacity editing (to get rid of horrid mouth noises and grumbled expletives when I fumbled the reading).
  3. iMovie video editing with footage I’d taken in Greece on a very old camcorder, background music, and titles.

It’s important to keep in mind that things like this (novels, movies) usually begin larger and longer than you want them to be, then get whittled down. The creative process is not necessarily efficient.

For the voiceover recording, I used a cheap suspension arm mic stand (I can’t recommend it), and my Tula mic. I’ve learned from doing some podcast recordings that these Tula mics don’t do noise cancellation as well with punch and roll recording, so I just keep the Tula separate and use it as an audio recorder. Much simpler, and it keeps wires out of the way. I like that. I also like the sound quality from these Tula mics. And they’re just super cute.

I read my book cover material, as well as a few passages from the novel, just in case I decided to include them. (I didn’t.)

For editing in Audacity, I try to keep it simple. The fewer filters used, the better. Audacity is free and fairly easy to use, but if you know nothing about audio editing, it looks pretty intimidating.

iMovie is fairly intuitive. If you’re doing simple editing, it’s the way to go. Anyone can figure it out.

Background music is easy to drop into iMovie, but you should be careful about copyright. Check out the YouTube audio library for copyright-free music that you can download.

All of this is to say, if you’ve never made a movie before, keep it simple. Don’t do what I did with the voiceover. Sound is where the shit hits the fan. The voiceover I did kind of sucks, as any expert will tell you. And it’s not as bad as it could be, as I can tell you.

Tips on making a book trailer:

  1. Use your phone to take decent photos and short clips and hold your phone horizontally when filming. I know people are saying vertical footage is great for such and such a format, but just don’t. You’ll see why shooting vertically is a bad idea once you get to the editing stage. Even something as simple as the “Ken Burns effect” in iMovie becomes extremely limited once you’re dealing with vertical photos and film clips, and sometimes you’ll be forced to leave those black bars on the sides.
  2. Use good quality copyright-free music that matches your book’s theme or message.
  3. Include a blurb or advance praise. (I almost forgot about this, so I include it here.)
  4. If you’re at a loss as to what to include for visuals, why not use your book cover? Film yourself moving your finger over a few lines, then slow it way down. What about stock photos? Get creative. You’d be amazed at how the simplest, most boring footage can be transformed by slow motion. (Everything looks awesome in slow motion.)
  5. Use moving titles to create interest in an otherwise static/simple backdrop.
  6. Include excerpts from your book. Even without a voiceover, this can be effective.
  7. Keep things in rhythm with the music. This is especially important if you’re keeping things simple.

More tips on book trailers.

The main difference between the two trailers below, besides length, is the first one contains a little excerpt from the novel, revealing a bit of its philosophical theme.

Nearly two minutes long. The middle section (no narration) brings in the philosophy.

This next one is virtually identical to the one above, except I cut out that middle segment:

Little over a minute long. No philosophical interlude.

I’m curious if the difference even matters. What do you think? Which trailer do you prefer?

What do you think of book trailers in general? Do you watch them? Are there any that you really liked?

5 thoughts on “Are book trailers a waste of time?

  1. I never even knew book trailers were a thing. Guess I don’t mind them; they’re a way of giving me an idea of the book. As for which one I prefer, I’d say the 2nd one. It’s shorter, but tells me the aspects of the novel that interest me (the promise of philosophy).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I actually like the first one better because it gives more information, but can see the conventional wisdom about shorter being better.

    I’m not a book trailer watcher. I might be able to count on one hand the number I’ve seen. I usually just read the book description, if that’s interesting, some of the reviews, and then the Amazon preview.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the feedback!

      I’ve been wondering how many people actually watch book trailers, because I can’t say I do either. I guess I’m like you—it’s the description and preview I go by, and/or a recommendation from a friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a book trailer. I don’t even watch movie trailers!

    So true what you said about projects getting whittled down. Even computer software projects. The more I come to understand a given project, the smaller the code gets while at the same time the functionality gets greater. I think the more time you spend on something, the more you come to see what’s really necessary. Wheat and chaff.

    The javelinas are getting more love than Geordie? Nooooooooooooooooo…….. 😥

    The answer “it depends” is rather universal, isn’t it? But as jobs go, making movies is a pretty fun one. On so many of those BTS videos and books I hear (or read) about how they can hardly believe they get paid to do this. Even the “little people” making costumes and props seem to really love their work.


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