Most author-created book trailers stick to the tried-and-true format of carefully selected stock photos with thoughtfully composed captions set to royalty-free music—a potentially good way to get a story concept across to viewers. If done right, it can increase sales, but this particular marketing tool is useless if nobody watches it.
Let’s face facts: a bland video will never go viral. Authors shouldn’t settle for the occasional view from someone who happens across their website; they should aim to create a video so deeply touching, hysterically funny or downright amazing that people will be moved to post the link on their blogs, Facebook and Twitter.
There are plenty of articles on the net covering the basics of book trailer production – as long as you have a computer, a Paypal account and Windows Movie Maker, you’re all set. But if you want to get a jump on the competition – and there’s a lot of it out there – you’ll need to think outside the box. The first non-boxed-in concept is that a video that brings attention to your work or traffic to your website doesn’t necessarily have to be a trailer.
Authors are obviously creative people, so coming up with a spectacular video should be easy, right? Well, the average author of my acquaintance is certainly talented enough, but putting it all together is a more difficult prospect.
You’ve probably already been given advice to identify your target audience. If you’ve written a non-fiction book on dog training, your instinct will be to gear your video toward dog lovers; if you’ve penned a young adult romance, the target lines can be blurred to include women of all ages who enjoy reading about young love. But you shouldn’t limit yourself to the obvious audience. In my video The Indie-Author Lament, the audience was primarily indie authors like myself, but even though I wasn’t targeting readers of the genres I write in, my books ended up getting peripheral attention because the video went semi-viral. (I say “semi” because the subject matter was of interest to a limited group of people. The more broadly appealing the video, the better.)
I’m sure you’ve also been participating (as a reader not a spammer!) in online forums where your audience hangs out. It’s essential to the success of your video that you make contacts that have contacts, because in this business the old adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know” applies. You want your link spread far and wide! So if you haven’t already, go make online friends. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people who are influential in their field; not everyone reciprocates when you friend or follow them, but you won’t know if you don’t try. And you may not have a ton of followers – yet – but if just one person who does have a ton of friends sends your link out, you have just potentially reached all of his/her contacts, and so on. In my case, I plucked up the courage to send the Indie-Author Lament link to Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords. He thought it was “awesome” and posted the link on Facebook, thus sending it into orbit!
Now it’s time to take stock of your abilities to see if you can tie them into your project. You might be surprised to learn that some of your less marketable skills can come in handy. Do you love to scrapbook? Think about making a stop-motion video trailer using paper or other items as in this example (after commercial). Are you an amateur photographer? Try something like this. If you can’t think of ways to integrate your non-writing skills into your video, you could maybe do a unique version of this. Even things that don’t take a lick of skill can be used. Does your dog do something laughingly outrageous? Film it and use it to promote your dog training book. The possibilities are endless.
Now that you have an idea, it’s time to assess your budget. I’m guessing you already have a video camera and a basic video editing program such as Windows Movie Maker on your computer, but if you want more effects options for your video, you may want to invest in low-cost software such as Corel Video Studio or Final Cut. You also probably have photo editing and/or digital drawing software on your system, but if you don’t, you’ll need it. For a more robust product, I recommend Adobe Photoshop Elements.
Let’s assume for the purposes of this article that you want complete control over the project from concept to production and plan to Do It Yourself rather than pay a video production company. DIY rarely means “free,” but there are ways to cut cost and still get quality. Choose any models or actors you might need from among family, friends and friends-of-friends. A wide variety of free backgrounds and textures can be found at places like CGTextures. There are some really talented art and photography students out there who could use help with tuition money. Deviantart is a good place to find them.
If you want to take it one step further into the realm of 3D animation like I did in my trailers for The Gossamer Sphere and Xenofreak Nation, you’ll find a dizzying array of software choices, with a wide range of pricing. Many of these are beginner-friendly and inexpensive (some examples are Xtranormal, DAZ Studio and CrazyTalk Animator), but if you decide you want more content such as hairstyles, clothing and backgrounds, that’s when you’ll have to reach into your pocketbook. Artistic types have the additional option to create their own content with software such as Cararra, Poser or with freeware such as Blender, but the learning curve can be steep and it’s a time-consuming prospect. Free content can be found in places like Renderosity or from Google Sketchup 3D Warehouse. Content from one program may not be compatible with another, but conversion software such as iClone 3D Exchange allows you to get around that – at a price. The great thing about 3D programs is that with a little persistence, your characters can come to life exactly as you imagined them! (A warning here, however; if your foray into 3D creation nets you an amateurish product, your entire project can backfire on you.)
Like any movie, a good soundtrack is essential. Music can come from several sources, but according to the Public Domain Information Project even loops old enough to be in the public domain are not free. You’ll need to either buy some pre-recorded music from sites such as a Gettyimages or Sony Acid Loops, write and record your own music, compose your own music in software such as Mixcraft or Garageband, or – thinking outside the box – find an indie band willing to let you use their original music in exchange for giving them credit/exposure. Indie bands often post their music on forums that support music composition software, like Mixcraft Live.
Now that you’ve got your idea and your tools, here are some basic tips and techniques that can help give your video that professional look:
– Keep it short! (1-2 minutes.) Too long and you risk losing viewers
– Sync your music up with elements in the video to emphasize them
– Add motion to your still photos with zoom and pan (The Ken Burns effect)
– Use short captions and give your viewers time to read each one
– Stick with the same font throughout, large enough to be easily read
– Font should always contrast with the background for visibility
– Edit, edit, edit! Typos make projects crash and burn!
– Put your website address at the end of the video
If you don’t already have one, you’ll want to create your own YouTube channel page once your video is complete – another place for people to find you. Your page is customizable with themes and templates, and advanced options allow you to upload your own background. Use your photo editing software to design an image that is 1260 pixels wide by 1600 high, and make use of the narrow strip along the sides (150 pixels), like I did on my channel.
Now that your video is live, it’s time to spread the link. I’m sure you’re already aware that there’s been a recent backlash (especially in forums) against all indie authors because of the relentless spamming efforts of a few. Getting word out about your product takes subtlety, so step carefully there! If you tweet the link every hour on the hour, you risk irritating and losing your followers. That may seem like obvious advice, but I see that behavior in my Twitter stream every day. Embed the video in your website and/or blog and ask trusted friends and contacts to pass the link on. Otherwise, be patient and wait. If you’ve achieved the goal and created that deeply touching, hysterically funny or downright amazing video, viewers will come.[author] [author_info]Melissa Conway is the author of three young adult sci-fi ebooks and four contemporary romances under the name M. Margaret Neil. She is the founder of Indie Review Exchange and the book review site Booksquawk. Her website is here, she blogs at Whimsilly and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.[/author_info] [/author]