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Trailer Trash, Making A High Quality Book Trailer On A Budget -- by Jon Goff


When I sat down to create a book trailer I hadn't realized how difficult it would be.  I'd cobbled together a book trailer that was pretty to look at, had rousing music, but was ineffectual. It was boring. I played with different takes as I learned how to create something visually interesting that would pique interest in my book. And while it was fun and I enjoyed the creative process, I was a beginner and had no idea how to proceed.

When I write, ideas come to me fairly quickly, and I jot them down in a journal of sorts. I make sense of them and organize them after the fact, and there's a lot of work once the first draft is done, but I don't do a lot of preparation in advance. There are main plot points I want to hit but they're very general, along the lines of something like "Corsin is Elise's nemesis." And that's it. I know he will be the enemy she has to overcome, but I don't know precisely how that will happen, I just know that it has to happen, and it is the back of my mind while I write. It shapes the writing, the plot, and the character's development.

Book trailers are different.  After creating a mostly vacuous trailer with nothing that piqued interest in my book, I sat down and revisited what I was trying to do.

The first thing I discovered was that when making a book trailer, you need a script. It doesn't have to be much, but whether your trailer is fifty seconds long or two minutes long, you need to know how it will progress from start to finish. 

Here's the script from my trailer:

Opening: A rune wheel on black background with a Great Rune emblazoned in the center, a light arcs across the rune as mists roll into obscure it.

Queue music: Dark, ominous and pensive music begins to play as the mists clear to reveal a mountain fortress.

Words blaze across the screen: "The took everything from him... his family... his hope... his humanity, until vengeance was all that remained."

Fade to a savage thunderstorm with a weary, war torn man braving the elements.

Fade to black, queue the words, "When a man has nothing left to lose, the gods themselves fear his wrath."

Fade up to the mountain fortress end with reviews , music fades in time with the fadeout of the mountain fortress.

Now I had a script, and idea of what to do, but putting it together was something altogether different. I'm a writer, not director.  There are companies that do produce book trailers, and some high quality ones, but they're not cheap, (, and I'm on a budget. A very small budget.  I imagine you are too.  I'd already made a decision that my sales would pay for everything, and while my books sell a modest amount every month (very modest), they are bringing in some money so I knew that I could afford it.  I set my budget at $500, including footage, music, software and hardware.

To do this right I knew I needed more than the preinstalled software on my pc. It's tempting because it's free, I know, but don't even click on that icon.  You don't want to use it, trust me. It's for making simple, cheesy home videos.  The kind you invite friends and family to watch on YouTube and Facebook, and which they noncommittally "like" without ever watching.  Besides, there are high quality video editors that relatively inexpensive (some are even free), and do a much better job.

This is a business, and just as importantly, it's your brand.  As an author, what do you want your name to mean to your audience? Quality, professionalism, great stories?  Because while someone might pick your book up out of curiosity, they come back because it has those elements.  If you're going to do a book trailer, it should be up to the quality of your writing. 

Here are some book trailers from major publishers, best- selling authors, and award winning authors.  And then one from me. I'm none of those things, and I don't have the budget they do.  Some of these are clearly high quality with a high production value and cost thousands of dollars to produce, heck, they have actors acting out scenes from the book!   



Shatter Me


The Maze Runner

The first thing I want to talk about is what you'll need to make this work.

·         Video Editing Software

·         Audio Editing Software

·         Photo Editing software

·         High Quality Studio Microphone (optional) for voiceovers.

·         Studio Quality Headphones

So let's talk budget.  There are a  lot of options available, ranging from the high end software to the free, but since you usually get what you pay for I don't generally recommend the free stuff. Don't get me wrong, a lot of it is top notch as far as output is concerned, but it isn't often user friendly.  Regardless of whether you go with the free stuff or something off the shelf, you're going to want software that has the ability to work with chromakeying,  better known as green screens, or blue screens. This is the foundation for every Hollywood special effect you've ever seen in the last fifty years, and working without it severely limits how professional you can make something look. This is also where your photo editing software comes in. 

For video editing software you can download a free version of a program called Jahshaka. It's pretty powerful but it has a very high learning curve, and frankly I'd rather spend my time writing than learning how to use it, so I went with Sony's Vegas Movie Studio.  It's relatively inexpensive ($60) and has the ability to work with green screens.

Before I go any further, allow me to illustrate why a program that works with green screens is important.  In a nutshell, green screens let you do some pretty amazing things rather easily and inexpensively.  It opens doors that otherwise would be closed, and allows you to superimpose one image over another for dramatic effect. 

Take for instance this rather beautiful still from a thunderstorm, followed by a still of a young man wielding a sword.  Because he's on a green background, I can overlay him on top of the footage for the storm, which gives us a dramatic scene, which also happens to be out of the book.  Both the footage of the storm and the young man are stock footage you can purchase a license for from sites like and


This is not something you can do with video editing software that comes preinstalled on your pc.

Green screen makes a huge difference in the quality of your video.  In addition to green screen, you have the ability to set the opacity of different layers, which can create a pretty interesting effect.

Here, I've taken fog and a painting for the cover of my second book. Because the painting is a still image and rather bland to look at in a video, I overlayed the fog on top of the painting and lowered the opacity of the fog so that you could see the painting behind it.  This gives the effect of a live action shot rather than a static one, and the mountain appears as if being seen through clouds that drift by.

The still doesn't do it justice, but hopefully you can see the value of having a program that has the ability to incorporate and manipulate green screen effects. 

Next on the list is audio software. I won't even bother with the paid versions. They're out there, but the exception that proves the rule is Audacity, a very powerful, free audio software program. The reason this is important is you will need to edit audio.  I found some wonderful music online, but there were a few problems. It was either too long, not long enough, didn't have all the elements I wanted, or I needed to add or edit sound effects.  For that you need audio software.

Audacity allows you to "zoom" in to fractions of a second, eliminate hiss, speed up or slow down tempo, merge and overlay tracks, add bass, etc. In short, it's very powerful. In point of fact, in this rather long book trailer you hear my voice lowered and given considerably more bass than my normal speaking voice. A good program for editing and manipulating sounds and music goes a long way to making your video sound professional.

While I learned a lot from making these videos, including how to incorporate a rather cheesey cgi dragon, I didn't like either one enough to make it official. First, they're too long, and more importantly, they don't evoke a desire to read the books. They don't tell a story, they don't grab you. In other words, there's no hook. We all know the importance of a hook in writing, but it's more important in a book trailer, which is supposed to generate interest in your story.  No hook, no sales. 

The next item on the list was photo editing software. I use a program I've had for years because, well, it just works.  I designed my book covers with it, and I've been very happy with it. It's Corell's Paintshop Pro, which while it's not free, you can download a free trial copy. I recommend it because of all the software I've worked with, it has the best text effects.  I created the following text overlay in Paintshop pro, and you'llnotice that I did the layout on a green background. Yup, I'm going to put this in over some underlying video and chromakey the green out.  

If you're going to do voice overs a high quality microphone is a must. I recommend the Blue Snowball Microphone as an inexpensive but professional quality microphone. It has a usb port that plugs straight into your computer and does a wonderful job capturing high quality audio.  Along with the microphone, I recommend studio quality headphones over speakers.  Headphones allow you to hear things you might miss if you're using speakers.  Your work is only as good as the tools you use, and I don't recommend skimping on these last two items, the headphones in particular.  

When all is said and done, you will have all the tools you need to produce a high quality, professional looking book trailer. Now all you need is time and a lot of practice.  Which brings me to the next purchase. Footage.  Again, you get what you pay for here, and I don't recommend free or cheap.  I purchased footage from and The quality simply isn't there with open source and free footage, so it's worth it to pay for quality footage.  For the footage used in my trailer I paid just under $200, including the rights to the music.  Was it worth it? I'll let you be the judge.

click on the link beliw to see the finished product.

Sommerstone Chronicles


Posted by Jon Goff 13 Jun 2015 at 00:46
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Responses to this blog

Trevose 19 May 2015 at 13:36  
Thanks for sharing this! I love detailed "how tos" such as this. And it is timely: I was just starting to think about how to go about doing something like this. I'm skeptical about how much traffic it will drive to my novel, but I'm always eager to learn new things and add new skills to my skill set. I'll work through this in greater detail over the coming weeks, and will probably come back to you directly with any questions. Thanks again for doing this for the community!
Jongoff 19 May 2015 at 17:05  
If there's sufficient interest, I can go into more detail on how to put together the video using the software in question.
Jenstra 22 May 2015 at 19:40  
This is amazing!! Thanks for posting Really informative.
Trevose 24 May 2015 at 22:48  
So you got me energized to try making a video... I'm sure I violated half of what you proposed, but you are well beyond my level of competence for such things. So after working until 3:00 AM this AM, and more time today on this pretty simple concept, this is what I came up with... Feel free to critique it.
Peggyc 13 Jun 2015 at 16:52  
Wow. I have to read your book now! Beautifully done, and thank you for taking the time to share. It is amazing how accessible technology has become. I, for one, would love to see more details. I'm quite a ways off from needing it, but it's a great time to start learning.
Eddielay 26 Jun 2015 at 18:18  
I wish you were around when I did mine. I used a cheap video camera and family. My wife, son, and granddaughter were the actors. My daughter did the editing, and chose the music. I think it turned out pretty well, but amateurish. Thank you for sharing.
Jongoff 28 Jun 2015 at 17:37  
Trevose, I popped on over to watch your video and I actually think you did a good job with the images and the music. I believe it was too long. I know the temptation to put as much in as possible, but consider that your average television commercial is just 30 seconds. You can do a lot in 30 seconds. I'd pick the very best clips and winnow it down to under a minute, my advice, 30 - 45 seconds.

Trevose 28 Jun 2015 at 21:07  
Thanks! It was pretty dang simple, as you saw. And, yes, it is too long. I intend to shorten it one of these days when I can find another 2 - 3 hours to revisit it. I don't think I'm going to take it down to 45 seconds, though. I'm targeting Vietnam Vets, so a demographic in the 60-year old range. Though I don't think they spend too much time on YouTube (I could be wrong) they generally prefer media they can better keep up with. Thanks for the feedback!
Mrsmack 4 Jul 2015 at 11:47  
If you want to teach others how to make a good book trailer, you should collect better examples for the professional ones. I can't think of a better one than this, "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children":

Now THAT is a book trailer that does its job... makes me want to rush out and buy the book RIGHT NOW!

The Divergent one, for example, is fancy but doesn't tell you squat about the book. That doesn't make me want to read it. The description on Amazon piques my interest more than that trailer does.

What is the point of a book trailer unless it entices potential readers?

I think we can (and should) expect more from our trailers.
Trevose 4 Jul 2015 at 12:20  
Thanks for sharing that link. Just watched it. Excellent! Very well done, and I'm sure it did drive sales. That was clearly well planned, nicely acted, used several sets, great special effects, good sound track, etc. My only caveat is that was probably at least a $10,000 job if not not far more (based on my limited experience of hiring crews to shoot 90 second case-studies/testimonials with customers in the business world). Something comparable to that is worth striving for, but that is way beyond what most of us here can afford, and beyond the scope of what the OP had suggested could be done on a budget. But, yes, a great example of what to strive for.
Mrsmack 5 Jul 2015 at 02:34  
Like I said, a professional example, to compare with the likes of the Divergent one. Not necessarily what the average Joe can do, but something to take inspiration from.
Jongoff 9 Jul 2015 at 07:41  
I specifically picked titles that were best selling books to illustrate that book trailers are something done by traditional publishers and that it's a legitimate way to promote one's book. Any additional examples of effective book trailers are welcome. Feel free to share your favorite trailer.
Piperm 10 Aug 2015 at 12:58  
Thanks for this - very useful! I'm getting ready to make a book trailer, but we are also about to embark on producing a series of short videos related to something completely different (on sailing, although with a bit of tie-in to the books.) We've just had a go at producing our own admittedly amateurish home-style video (below) using only the free programmes on the PC. It was a frustrating experience, so I've been wondering how to figure out what programmes are best and will work on our very limited budget - so again, your tips are much appreciated

I especially agree with your point about creating a narrative guideline or story-board before putting any footage writers, we already know that structure and pace can make or break things when it comes to grabbing and holding audience attention!

Jongoff 8 Nov 2018 at 17:03  
In the three years since I wrote this, a new non linear software program for editing videos has become available. It's called HitFilms, and it's free... sort of. The core program is free, and you can buy add ons for different things you'd like to do such green screen (which I recommend since it's very useful and only 20 dollars), which can quickly run up the cost. However, you can try every plugin out for free before you buy it. I can't recommend this program enough. It is professional grade, and easy to use with lots of tutorials and video on how to do pretty much everything you'd want. It does have a high learning curve, but that's most because of what it can do.

Here's a link to their site where you can download the program:
Good writing is the act of recalling memories of events and feelings the reader never actually experienced, but nonetheless lived.

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