Many of my author friends have been asking how I created my book trailer, how much time it took, and what it cost me. As I have explained to everyone who has asked, this is something that anyone can do, although not everyone will want to do it when they find out how much time and effort is involved. I viewed it as a creative challenge and approached the project as a temporary hobby. If you can't do that, you might want to consider hiring a production company to make your book trailer. Still game? Then read on.
Making my trailer was a project that stretched over an entire month. I estimate that I spent 40-60 hours working on it. (Now that I've crested the learning curve, I could make another trailer in a fraction of that time.) My only cash outlay was the $65 I paid for the right to use the "wraparound" music (the pizzicato strings) heard during my video's prologue and epilogue. The snippet from Dvorak's New World Symphony, which accompanies the main part of the video, was a public-domain recording. One of the photographs was my own; all others were royalty-free images that were available as free internet downloads. I could have used video footage instead of or in addition to still photographs, but chose not to do that for aesthetic reasons. I did not have to purchase any special software to create the video.
That's my experience in a nutshell; now I'll walk you through the process.
Go to YouTube and search for "book trailers." Spend a couple of hours watching as many as you can, regardless of the books' genre. Take lots of notes. What irks or bores you? Which clever tricks do you want to emulate?
Sketch out some ideas for your trailer. Write some of the text and make lists of pictures you'd like to find, such as "holding hands," "rocky coastline," or "smoking gun." Be aware that you might stumble across a photo or a piece of music that captivates you and changes the whole direction of your video. That's okay. If you follow your heart rather than your plan, you're more likely to end up with a video that will ignite readers' imaginations.
For the past several years, Microsoft Windows has been shipping with a nifty little application called Windows Movie Maker. Go to your Start Menu, click on Programs, and you should see it. Spend half an hour reading the how-to's, then grab some pictures off your own hard drive and make a little experimental video.
At this point you should be having fun. If you find you'd rather be trimming your toenails, perhaps making your own book trailer wasn't one of your better ideas.
Play with Windows Movie Maker until you have that little program singing and dancing for you. For a professional-looking video, you'll want to know how to make your photos fade in, fade out, and dissolve into other pictures. The WMM help file is very helpful for things like that, so use it.
Use your own or grab some off the web. Search for "royalty-free photos" and you'll score all kinds of hits. Some sites will allow you to download pictures for free, some will charge you for individual pics, and some will let you pay a flat fee for unlimited downloads. Shop around.
Start with many more pictures than you think you'll need. One of the things that makes many homemade book trailers boring is a dearth of eye candy. Remember, this is a visual medium. Use lots of pictures, but make sure they fit your story. Don't show a string of photos of mist-covered Scottish highlands if your book is about a Scottish pirate who doesn't set foot on land until Chapter Twenty. Find some pictures of booted feet and swords and cannons and old ships, instead.
Plan on devoting an entire day--perhaps even two--to searching for pictures. Yes, it's that important. And be aware that if a model's face is recognizable in a photo, you're going to need a model's release, which is separate from the photographer's permission to use the photo. I recommend avoiding faces partly because of that hassle but mostly because showing faces robs your viewers of the privilege of dreaming up the characters' faces for themselves. That's also why I used stills rather than video clips in my trailer. Because reading novels is a much less passive experience than watching films, I believe photos do a better job of stimulating the imagination than video clips would. Of course you may have a different opinion on that.
Decide whether you want to narrate your trailer, use catchy music, or both. Do a web search for "royalty-free production music." Free music is difficult to find, but it's out there. You can also find sound clips of everything from babbling brooks to ringing telephones. You may have to pay to download your chosen audio clips, but prices can be as little at ten bucks for a short piece. Again, plan on spending an entire day, perhaps even two, collecting the sound files you'll need for your trailer.
Be aware that using that really cool pop song by your favorite band is probably copyright infringement. And don't use Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, either. Last week I viewed three trailers that began with that distinctive dit dit dit dah--and it didn't happen to fit any of the stories.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
To put life into your trailer, I recommend going frame-by-frame and matching your pictures to your music or narration. Watch my trailer again and pay attention to the sound. See how certain pictures pop up just as the music rises to a crecendo? That required moving photos around and then shortening or lengthening their exposure time to fit the music. I had a blast doing that, and I was quite pleased with the results.
Ask a handful of people who are not your blood relatives or best writing buddies to view your trailer and give you their honest opinion of it. After nearly every one of my ten testers said black screens with nothing but text on them were boring, I figured out how to superimpose my text on the photographs. Thanks to that and other input from my testers, the video was greatly improved.
Start with YouTube. That's where the vast majority of viewers will happen upon your video. For maximum visibility on the internet, consider uploading to other video-sharing sites. Yahoo, Google, MySpace, and AOL UnCut Video are all popular sites, although YouTube is definitely the king. I should add that I was pleasantly surprised to get 50 views in the first 24 hours after I uploaded my trailer to a new site called GodTube. With the exception of YouTube, that's much more attention than the trailer received on the other sites during the same period. Another surprise was how few viewers discovered my trailer on Google video. I'm talking single digits.
TELL EVERYONE YOU EVER MET
Consider posting your video on your blog, website, MySpace page, and so on. Then announce it to your family and friends, your fellow writers, and your readers. Invite them to link to or even post your video on their blogs and websites. Encourage them to share the link on e-mail loops, bulletin boards, and via private e-mails.
That's about it. If anyone has a simple question, post it in the comments and I'll try to answer it. But from now on, anyone who e-mails me privately and asks a book-trailer question will be referred to this page. Sorry, friends. I'd like to be more helpful, but I have a romance novel to write.
UPDATED August 6, 2008
This page is still getting tons of traffic from Google and elsewhere, so while I am no longer checking out the video links posted in the Comments, other people are. Feel free to leave your links. Just remember, please, that this is a family-friendly blog.
Also, I've just created another video, a narrated one this time. It's humorous and slightly irreverant, but it might give you some ideas for your own videos. You can view it here.