Written by Pam Withers
Author of 19 young-adult adventure novels, www.pamwithers.com
We all know that book trailers are the latest thing. They boost book sales, impress publishers (as long as they look professional) and connect with audiences (especially young audiences). But if you don’t make them yourself, it’s pretty hard to justify the cost of $200 and up. And even if you want to subcontract the work to a professional, the more you prepare, the less it will cost you.
If you’d like to create a simple one for close-to-free, but you have no experience with manipulating photos, presentations, sound or video, you CAN. Just follow this step-by-step guide.
All you need is a book summary (the paragraph that appears on the back cover of your book) and a laptop. Ready?
- Create a Word file, and label it “[booktitle]trailer.” If you don’t know how to do this, check out https://m.wikihow.com/Make-a-New-File-in-Windows
- Create a photo file, and label it “[booktitle]trailerphotos.” (Ditto for instructions.)
- Lift or type your back-cover paragraph into your Word file, then edit it until it’s a teaser (enticing readers to want to read it) rather than a summary, and under 100 words.
Decide if you want to kick off with a catchy phrase regarding the topic or essence of the story, or just, “Author So-and-So presents…” I opted for the former on my Drone Chase trailer (“Teens with drones vs. poachers in the woods”), the latter on my Stowaway trailer (Pam Withers and Dundurn Press present…”). Short, choppy sentences work well.
WHERE TO FIND MY EXAMPLES:
My Stowaway trailer is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbf84yeOb-0
At the time of posting this article (Nov. 2019), my Drone Chase trailer is not yet publicly posted. If it’s still not posted when you read this (you’ll know if you google “YouTube” and “Pam Withers” and “Drone Chase”), all you have to do is email me at: withers (at) intergate.ca to request access to it — “Drone trailer please” — and I will send it to you within 24 hours. That way, you can follow both of my examples while reading the instructions.
EXAMPLE 1: STOWAWAY
Stowaway back-cover copy:
Owen’s plan to sail away on an adventure puts him on a collision course with some very dangerous people.
When Owen’s parents leave him on his own for a week, the sixteen-year-old gets bored and hatches a crazy idea: sneak onto the yacht that’s visiting the sleepy Pacific Coast island where he lives and stow away on an adventure! Once on board the vessel, Owen quickly finds out this is anything but innocent fun. The ship is packed with teenagers from Central America, and it looks like Owen has stumbled into a people-smuggling operation.
Complications pile up and as things head from bad to worse, a haunting incident from Owen’s past tightens its grip on him. There’s only one way to break free and make his way home. Owen and the first mate, Arturo ― a former street kid ― must work together to commandeer the boat and win the trust of those on board. But who’s friend and who’s foe in the shifting tides? [165 words]
Edited for trailer:
16-year-old Owen is on his own when a mysterious yacht appears in the bay. He sneaks aboard looking for adventure. What he finds is a people smuggling operation. To make matters worse, pirates terrorize the ship, storms rock the seas and Owen is haunted by an incident from his past. Owen and the first mate, Arturo, must work together to commandeer the boat, escape the evil captain and free everyone aboard. Find out who prevails. [75 words]
EXAMPLE 2: DRONE CHASE
Drone Chase back-cover copy:
When his orphan bear cub goes missing, 16-year-old drone enthusiast Ray McLellan decides to use his airborne spying skills to find it. Little does he know that the evil bear-poaching gang operating in the surrounding forest has drones too—and a cold welcome for those who would attempt to take them down. [52 words]
Edited for trailer:
Teens with drones vs. poachers in the woods. A new adventure novel by Pam Withers. Ray has just moved to a small town. He lacks his schoolmates’ outdoor skills and their respect. When an orphan bear cub goes missing, he decides to use his drones to find it despite poachers in the forest. But they have drones too – and no time for nosy teens. Can Ray use his drone-smarts to find his cub, expose what’s going on and prove himself? The Drone Chase by Pam Withers. [86 words]
- Now divide the teaser paragraph into “stanzas,” or short lines like it’s a poem. These will be your “frames” (typically one photo or video per frame) and the rule is no more than 10 frames — plus two frames for the opening (first) and credits (last). Also, no more than 10 words per frame. It’s called the 10X10 rule! Way fewer than 10 words per frame is best. Why? Ever watched a foreign movie with English subtitles and gotten annoyed because you couldn’t finish reading the subtitles before the screen flashed on to the next one? Also, it’s generally agreed that today’s viewers have no patience for trailers more than 90 seconds long (30 to 60 is even better). You’re right, one of my frames below contains 11 words, but hey, I figure the world’s not going to end for that misdemeanor.
EXAMPLE ONE: STOWAWAY
15 stanzas including opening and closing lines (I did this one before I read about the 10X10 rule.)
Stowaway by Pam Withers [4 words]
Pam Withers and Dundurn Press present [6 words]
16-year-old Owen is on his own [8 words]
when a mysterious yacht appears in the bay. [8 words]
He sneaks aboard looking for adventure. [6 words]
What he finds is a people smuggling operation. [8 words]
To make matters worse, pirates terrorize the ship, [8 words]
storms rock the seas [4 words]
and Owen is haunted by an incident from his past. [10 words]
Owen and the first mate, Arturo, must work together [9 words]
to commandeer the boat, [4 words]
escape the evil captain [4 words]
and free everyone aboard. [4 words]
Find out who prevails. [4 words]
Stowaway by Pam Withers / nominated for a Red Maple award / Now available at Indigo and Amazon
EXAMPLE 2, DRONE CHASE
10 stanzas plus opening and finishing lines = 12
Teens with drones vs. poachers in the woods. [8 words]
A new adventure novel by Pam Withers. [7 words]
Ray has just moved to a small town. [8 words]
He lacks his schoolmates’ outdoor skills [6 words]
and their respect. [3 words]
When an orphan bear cub goes missing [7 words]
he decides to use his drones to find it [9 words]
despite poachers in the forest. [5 words]
But they have drones too – and no time for nosy teens. [11 words]
Can Ray use his drone-smarts to find his cub, [10 words]
expose what’s going on and prove himself? [7 words]
Drone Chase by Pam Withers [6 words] [Don’t forget to include your website and credit your publisher somewhere, too!]
- Voila! You’re well on your way. Now, label each of those stanzas by letters of the alphabet. So per Example 2, mine are a) teens with drones…, b) a new adventure…, c) etc., d, e, f, g, h, I, j, k, l, m. That’s so you can label potential photos for those lines accordingly, in a moment.
- Now, open up spark.adobe.com (It’s a Google site, so you don’t need to create an account if you already have a Google account.) This is your easy-as-pie template. There are other templates for book trailers out there, and I’ve tried some, but I have found this to be the easiest. Go to “start from scratch,” and pull down the word “video.” It takes a while for the site to process it; be patient. Next it asks you to name your file. So, type in something like “[Booktitle].” Then it asks you to pick a template. If one of its template offerings really turns you on, click on it. Otherwise, I suggest “Hero’s Journey.” It doesn’t really matter what you pick because you’re mostly going to ignore its suggestions and build your own from here on.
- You now have a string of frames in front of you, and some of them have suggestions like “call to adventure,” “challenge,” “climax” and so on. Ignore these, and just make sure you have the exact number of frames as you have stanzas, plus two for the opening and the final credits. You can add more by pushing the plus sign in front of the first frame on the lower string of frames. You can delete by right-clicking on any of the lower string of frames.
- Okay, on frame No. 1 (the large one above the lower string of frames), push the plus sign in the middle of the frame, and it will ask you to click on text, photo, video or icon. Click on text. It will give you a space to insert your text, and of course you are going to copy and paste in your first stanza there. In my first example, that’s “Stowaway by Pam Withers.” In my second example, it’s “Teens with drones vs. poachers in the woods.” You have only two choices for text size, so once the phrase is copied in, you can use either the plus or minus signs to change the text size. (You don’t need to save each frame as you go. The three dots in a circle on the upper righthand corner of each frame do that for you. Also, it is being autosaved.)
- Now carry on and insert text into ALL the other frames, till all your stanzas are cut and pasted in, and you have roughly 10 frames and no more than 10 words per frame. Plus two frames for the opening and the final credits, perhaps. Again, to delete a frame, right-click on where it’s represented in the bottom lineup of frames, and it gives you the option of delete (and asks you again to make sure). To add, again, press the plus sign in front of the bottom lineup of frames.
- Hey, now you’ve got your text input, and the really fun part begins! Go back to your list of stanzas in the Word file, and start brainstorming how you want to illustrate those lines. See my example notes below, while referring back to my actual trailers; jot down your own thoughts about how to illustrate your “stanzas.”
EXAMPLE 1, STOWAWAY
Brainstorming photo ideas
Stowaway by Pam Withers [book cover]
Pam Withers and Dundurn Press present [just the words]
16-year-old Owen is on his own [yacht in a spooky or intriguing setting]
When a mysterious yacht appears in the bay [same one?]
He sneaks aboard looking for adventure [yacht leaving bay]
What he finds is a people smuggling operation [jungle-like setting? Hispanic-looking illegal immigrants?]
To make matters worse, pirates terrorize the ship [pirate flag]
Storms rock the seas [stormy sea]
And Owen is haunted by an incident from his past [underwater shot]
Owen and the first mate, Arturo, must work together [silhouette of a teen that’s ominous]
To commandeer the boat [ship’s wheel]
Escape the evil captain [same one]
And free everyone aboard [illegal immigrant rescue operation]
Find out who prevails [book cover]
Stowaway by Pam Withers / nominated for a Red Maple award / Now available at Indigo and Amazon
EXAMPLE 2, DRONE CHASE
Brainstorming photo ideas
Teens with drones vs. poachers in the woods. [Definitely a video of a teen operating a simple drone. This being a high-action novel, I need some actual action, even though moving video shots ($10 to $75 minimum) cost more than a “still” stock photo (not difficult to find for free). The teen in the story is 16 and Caucasian, so that will exclude some shots I will find. It would be okay to have just a hand operating a drone, but I think it would be more effective to have a teen in the foreground, perhaps turned away so we can’t see his face, because too many shots showing his face will have viewers thinking, “That’s not the same person as the one in the other frame.” Or “That guy is more than 16.” Also, you have to be a little careful of the surrounding scene, as my story is set in northern British Columbia, where there are no palm trees or mosques or skyscrapers, as some photos will depict.
A new adventure novel by Pam Withers. [just something that says “outdoorsy.”]
Ray has just moved to a small town. [teen who looks a little unhappy or like a loner]
He lacks his schoolmates’ outdoor skills [camping scene?]
and their respect [photo that implies he’s feeling shunned, and preferably in outdoorsy setting]
When an orphan bear cub goes missing [cute photo of bear cub, preferably a grizzly]
he decides to use his drones to find it [drone stock photo can be a still photo, not video]
despite poachers in the forest. [ideally, a few shadowy-looking men in the woods, not identifiable. And the woods need to have the kind of trees in northern BC if I’m being authentic]
But they have drones too – and no time for nosy teens. [a drone that looks kind of intimidating]
Can Ray use his drone-smarts to find his cub, [drone shot]
expose what’s going on and prove himself? [grizzly cub in cage looking sad, or empty cage the size of a small bear, or a closeup of a lock on a cage]
The Drone Chase by Pam Withers [This is where my actual book cover will go, once it’s designed and released to me. I’m working ahead 😊, which is why it is not yet posted at the time I’ve posted this article.]
- Now, remember that photo file you set up, “[booktitle]trailerphotos”? Get that up on your screen but minimize it for the moment. And go to unsplash.com, which is where you can find FREE stock photos. Not moving videos (which we’ll come back to), but “still” shots. There are lots of sites that advertise free stock photos, but many of these sites are a mix of free and not-free, some require you to pay a monthly or annual fee, and some have so few photos that you’ll have a hard time finding what you want. Further, some have better search engines than others, so typing in “blond couple” might bring you just blonds, or just couples, while other sites will actually deliver you only blond-couple photos. When I asked for “parkour” shots from one, it gave me skateboard and gymnast shots only. So, I like it when I can shorten my search by sticking with a site that has put more effort into how it searches for your request.
When I can’t find what I want at unsplash, the others I try (knowing I’ll probably need to pay upwards of $10 per shot, and/or sign up for a membership), include (in order of my preference): alamy.com, canva.com, GettyImages, Shutterstock, adobestock, istock, fotosearch, pexels, rawpixel, reshot. If none of those produce what I want, I’m being too picky, but there also exist these sites: megapixl, 123rf, gratisography, pixabay, stockvault, picjumbo, picwizard, morguefile. If you’re going to do a LOT of work involving stock photos, for instance buying more than 10 $40-shots per year from one particular place, you can get a special deal from the salespeople sometimes, for instance at alamy ($400/year minimum).
Now, if you’re going for moving shots, as in stock video, as I did for my Stowaway trailer, again there are lots of companies, but I think by far the best is envato (which costs about $21 per month, and you can cancel your membership at any time), also called videohive. Some of the stock photo companies listed above also do video, like Pixabay and Pexels. And there are Videvo, Videezy, Life of Vids, Distill, Splitshire, Clipstill, Stock Footage 4 Free, Vidsplay and Artgrid. But seriously, envato/videohive is sooo good. Just watch the price; some are hundreds of dollars. They list different prices for different uses. You pay the “website” fee. Having paid for videos on all my Stowaway trailer frames, I spent around $175. On Drone Chase, I used only one video shot, and still-shots for all other frames. The video cost me $30, and all but one still-shot were free.
Whether using video or stock photos, if you’ve chosen one that costs money, don’t pay for it yet! Instead, download the “preview,” which will have a “watermark” or some such on it to prevent you from actually using it before you replace it with the paid version. (If you’re looking at my Drone Chase trailer before it’s posted, you’ll see two with watermarks.)
At this point I will insert feedback from a friend who made a trailer following my directions: “I decided I’d like a video for my opening, bought one and then found that the adobe site couldn’t use it, as it was a slightly bigger file than they allowed. Luckily it wasn’t expensive. Probably someone with more savvy than me could alter it to make it usable, but I couldn’t.” To that I want to add, yes, the same happened to me. I uploaded it onto my YouTube site, which automatically converted it to an M4 format that my site could allow, but to be honest, I then hired someone* at $50 an hour to make sure it got downloaded and inserted properly. I could have just opted for a different video, but I really liked this one and was annoyed since I had already paid for it.
- Okay, now let’s go find photos! It’s so fun shopping around, you can spend days at it. Or you can keep reminding yourself not to be too picky, and find them all in an hour! In any case, whenever you find a photo that might work for one of your stanzas, you click on it, then click on “download free,” and file it (left click) in your “[booktitle]photos” file.
(My friend’s feedback: “In the end, I didn’t use a photo file at all. Just downloaded the photos from Unsplash and used the Upload Photos button to get them in place from my downloads.”)
But here’s the BIG time-saver I’ve learned. When you’re poised to file it with the exact name that unsplash has given it (for instance, brandon-morgan-3qucB7U2l7I-unsplash), PRECEDE that name with the letter of the stanza it’s targeted to illustrate (a,b,c, etc.) and then ADD the photographer’s name (if it’s not already in the line) AND the stock photography company (if it’s not in the line) AND the price (if there’s a price), AND finally, something to remind you what the photo is of (“lightning on highway”). Of course, if it’s labelled unsplash, you know it’s free. (I love unsplash.)
So, for example, you might file something as
and another as
The latter is interpreted as stanza b, Alamy’s reference number of DET3N1, and the photographer’s name (whom you’ll include on your credits page at the end), Givaga. When it comes to making a final selection for that frame, you will know at a glance if it costs money and how much. Again, if it’s a photo that costs money, there will be a brand watermark on it until you go back and pay for what you want, and redownload it. But in the meantime, you’ll get a good look at how it might work in your trailer. (Again, if it’s unsplash, you have none of those worries.)
Why all this complicated file naming? Because it means you won’t “lose track” of where you got a photo. You’ll know when it comes time to finalize a deal (by copying and pasting the core part of the file name into google – in the Alamy photo example above, “DET3N1 Alamy”), which company you got it from, whether you need to redownload after paying, and which photographer to credit. I learned all this the hard way. So, you’re welcome!
Finally, when you find several photos for a stanza line that you can’t decide between, that’s fine! Just mark them all with the stanza’s letter at the front, and in your file of photos, they’ll line up exactly in line: one a, three b options, two c options, etc. And if you end up not using one of the c options for c, but find it would work nicely for stanza f, then just rename it with the f in front and it will line up for you again! (How swift is that?!)
My friend’s input: “I understood your instructions about adding the letter of the frame you were working with, etc., to make choosing the right photo easier, but I ended up using my phone to take a picture of each one as I downloaded it, then just scrolled through my phone to choose and each had the photographer’s name on it, so they were easy to find.” Yes, but not all photo services have the name of the photographer on the file, so check first.
- Okay, back to Spark.adobe.com Yes, you guessed it, when you get your lineup of frames with text in them already, one by one you’re going to click on the plus sign in the center of the big frame, then hit “photo” this time (unless you’re downloading a video), then hit “upload photo,” then hit the appropriate photo in your photo file. And hey – you now have a frame with both text and photo!
Maybe you can’t decide between two “b” options, so you hit the plus sign on the lower strip of frames below, then copy and paste stanza “b” into this new empty frame, and upload the other “b” option. There they stand, two frames with the same text but different photos. Leave them in till you decide which to delete. Ask others’ opinions. Weigh the cost. Oh, by the way, once in a while spark.adobe will tell you that a photo you’re trying to upload doesn’t work. Wrong format or size or whatever. Well, there are lots of other options out there, and you know how to go and get them. This same thing happens with attempted video uploads too (even more often), so don’t take it personally. Just go find another. Or, like I said, hire a pro* or try uploading it to your YouTube account instead.
My friend’s feedback regarding the final frame: “I had trouble with the credits page. I didn’t need both text boxes, but either one or the other kept reappearing, even if I changed the one my info was in. So, in the end, I hid it.”
- Music: The site lets you listen to and then choose one of several music-background options, or download your own. I tried downloading some I’d purchased from a different site, only to learn it was too large a file to upload. I chose other music. (Luckily, I had not wasted much money, and will have a pro* help me adapt it for a future trailer.)
My friend’s feedback: “I had to go in to Safari because I couldn’t download the music. Had to change the playback permission setting.” On one of my trailers, I used audiojungle.net (click on “popular files”). Like with photos that cost money, you can download a preview version before paying for it. Instead of a “watermark,” it has an annoying voice that coos “audiojungle” every few seconds to ensure you don’t actually post it before paying for an uninterrupted version. For free music, read this: https://www.uscreen.tv/blog/free-music-for-video-editing/
- At any point during your creative process here, you can look at the top bar and opt to “Preview” (see what it looks like so far), “share” (get a friend’s opinion by typing in her email address under “invite”), or “download” (save).
- When you’re all finished, you’ll want to upload it to your social media, and/or establish your own youtube page. Sorry, I’m no expert on those processes. But maybe you’ll hire a pro*, ask a friend, or do it easily after reading something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6QIsaTmgnY
- Finally, if you’re happy with what you’ve put together, but want a professional* to “finish it off,” or add more bells and whistles, guess what? You’ve saved yourself scads of money because he or she can take and run with something that you’ve already put the majority of the work into. (Nor do they need to charge you for the time it takes them to read your book. After all, who knows the plot and characters better than you?) Personally, I did that with my Stowaway trailer, and have someone to recommend:
*Craig McNicoll at: https://epilogueproductions.com/
I chose the videos and wrote the text and he took it from there, adding one video and trimming the text a little, while also advising me on social media strategies in general.
Photo at top by Avel Chuklanov, unsplash