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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, (http://cinemabooktrailers.com/contact.html), 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!
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 pond5.com and shutterstock.com.
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 Pond5.com and Shutterstock.com 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.