How to Make A Kick Ass Book Trailer... DIY and Cheap.

This article is for DIYers who want their homemade trailer to look great, be memorable, and lead people to take action. 

Before we start, I’ve got a couple reasons why you shouldn’t bother with listening to me about making a video, and couple of reasons why you should.
Con: I’m not a graphic artist or a filmmaker. 

Pro: I’m not a graphic artist or a filmmaker. I’m just like you! Only probably dumber. If I can do this... you certainly can.

Also, my day job is in brand consulting and marketing. So I really do know how to pretend that I know what I’m talking about (but I really kind of do. About some of it).

Still here? Wow. Okay, here’s your last chance to leave. Look at this video below. I made it in a few hours for close-to-free, using nothing but free or cheap software on my 2011 iMac. It is a basic Ken Burns parade of stills, but... if you don’t think it kicks ass, fell free to click to another blog and no hard feelings. 

But if you stick around, I’ll break down the recipe and methods.

Still here? Awesome. Let’s dig in.

What’s Close-to-Free mean, exactly?  I used a few paid images from a stock photo sight to make the book cover and other promotional images. You can pick up a few for just a few bucks. I got a email just this morning from Deposit Photo offering 100 images for 100 bucks. A dollar an image? That’s a lot for a little.

Other than that, I’m using Pixelmator, iMovie, and Garageband.

My Methodology:

1. Use Original Images:

Nothing is more important in a video than visuals. Duh. Worth a 1,000 words and all that. Just because you are mostly investing time instead of money, you still can’t fill the screen with cheese. You’re selling a story, so you need characters and atmosphere to match the vibe of your incredible book. If you spend a year writing a book, but then sell it short in a video, why would I buy it?

So this is my big expense. As mentioned above, I use stock photos (heavily customized with editing software) to make my own covers and promotional images. The paid images are big and of the  highest quality so they hold up much, much better in a Youtube video, looking crisp and HD instead of pixelated. They are also ideal for manipulating with software.

To be clear, I made this video in a few hours, true, but the images I used are things that I also “created” previously. They were just sitting around waiting to be put to good use. I’m not counting those hours, but I do advise any DIYer to do this. Build a library of images during your writing down- time. It’s a good exercise anyway, keeps your head in your book, and you wind up with a lots of material for later - not just for covers and videos, but to post on Instagram or Pinterest, etc.

Here are some examples of leftovers from Kings X that proved usable and worth the time spent.

Bottom line, don’t skimp on the visuals. Pay for photos and use them to tell your story.

I made several different images for potential Corsair covers. But in the end, there can be only one cover, so what to do with the leftovers? How about telling a story in 59 seconds.

Pixelmator made the cover,
and apparently purchased ad space. It does everything! 
Is making interesting images from stock photos hard? Yeah, kind of. On my ol' Mac, I use software called Pixelmator, which is an amazing saver of cash. It does everything that a non-professional like me could conceive of doing with Photoshop, does it well, and costs $39 to Photoshop’s many hundreds of dollars. I have never used photoshop, nor am I an expert on Pixelmator, but I did manage to get pretty good at it by trial and error. If you have no idea how to use this kind of software, it does take time to learn. But it’s worth the effort. Plus you can not only make strong book covers, but you can do neat things like this.

2. (Good) Music:

Oh, man, if you could just use any song you wanted... if you could use “Across the Universe” or "Stairway to Heaven,” you’d have the greatest book trailer in the world. Yep. But you can’t so forget it.

While I was making the Corsair trailer, just for fun I dropped in The Donnas cover version of “Too Fast for Love.” And sure, it was the greatest possible version of this video, it’s highest evolutionary form. But that’s why using copyrighted music is expensive.

So what to do?

Well, in this world of independent artists fighting for exposure, there are royalty free services where real musicians with actual talent put up well-produced songs - royalty free - just for the exposure.

Youtube has several services like that. I went to a channel called ByeByeCopyright and found a great vibe in a song called Necromancer from a band called Haterade. The music was up for free, its use was encouraged and hoped for. I credited the band and song in the info box on youtube. That’s all they ask.


You can do your own music/audio. For this trailer for King’s X, I used Garageband (free with purchase of the computer) to make a simple but compelling soundtrack, featuring an ominously intense sound-swell, and a voice over from yours truly.

3. Tell a (Good) Story:

I’ve noticed two pretty common flaws in DIY book trailers. I bet you’ve seen these a few times, too.

First Common Problem: too much atmosphere, not enough substance. Somebody got the “all the HD video you can download” deal, picked a few clips that sort of almost make him or her think about their story, and just dropped them in. That’s not a story. It’s more like bad poetry - an overload of imagery signifying very little. This is why the Ken Burns technique works so well. I’m using images that I’ve actually thought about and created for my novel, to tell this smaller story. And the story is coherent. It’s not a branding exercise where you cut out pictures from magazines that evoke the mood of whatever you’re selling. It’s about Corsair and one thing, specifically, that is so interesting about it.  In this case, the main character.

Second Common Problem: too much story. Bottom line, this video is never going to do justice to your great novel, but as an author, you want so badly for everyone in the world to understand what’s inside that book, that you give every detail you can cram in, just knowing that the next awesome element will be the one that hooks ‘em.

Think about your trailer like this - you're at a cocktail party, and someone politely asks you what your book is about. That’s not an invitation to follow him or her around the room for an hour until you're satisfied you’ve fully communicated the depth and cultural value of the tale. If it’s the kind of conversation that makes listeners check their watch, they aren’t going to buy your book.

So, don’t just tell a story. Tell a good one. You're a storyteller, right? Break apart your magnum opus and figure out an angle. Your video doesn't have to tell the whole book, or even the main plot, it just has to be compelling and create a reaction so viewers remember it or, better yet, act on it.

In this case, I focused on the main character and why you might find him interesting. So, not what he’s specifically doing in the book, just “why you might want to find that out.”

Every good story has a hook, so what’s the hook with this character?

Sean Dedalus is man who remembers every important detail from the dozen or so lifetimes he's lived  since 1292. Most people can’t remember their past lives. Sean Dedalus can’t forget his. Every experience, every lesson, every skill mastered, every failure, every obstacle  overcome, even every death. That first life in 1292? He was a pirate. The scourge of the Mediterranean Sea. Today? He’s the greatest thief in the world. Unscrupulous, unknown, untouchable, with his heart of gold buried so deep... he’s James Bond crossed with Jack Sparrow.

Interesting as all that may be, it's also a lot of words and ideas for a video.  Which leads us to...

4. Go Fast:

Because people just barely have time for coffee. This is a commercial. That means that people are doing you a favor by watching it. Have a point, and get to it immediately.

You've got images. You’ve got good music. You’ve got a story to tell. Also, and this is important, you’ve got less than a minute. I realized that when I tried to post a 67 second version of this trailer on Instagram. Videos must be under a minute or it’s no go.  But what about the depth and value...? You can do it. Just do it faster. For example, here is the recut of that nearly 2-minute-long King’s X video. I lost the V.O., dropped the branding tag at the beginning that I thought was so cool, and just got to the point faster. In 57 seconds.

5. Words - Less is much, much more:

You are an artist. Your video is like a haiku - a purposefully restrictive form that, through some strange magic, allows you to reveal something, to make a point, to make people feel something by following its rigid rules.

But where a Haiku counts syllables, your book trailer counts seconds. You've got 59 of them. You can fill them with sounds, words, images, moving or still.

Keep in mind that as words appear on the screen, they draw the eye away from your image. So black screens and negative space in your images are your friends.

With this epic tale you’ve got to tell, you may think that time is your enemy. But it’s not. Remember the haiku. 59 seconds forces you to be concise, forces you to edit, forces you to be a better story teller even though you are working outside your medium.

6. Putting it all together:

A note on the music - Sound is super important to punctuate important beats. Notice how the song crescendos at the reveal of the cover and really makes the SFX seem more special. In order to time that out, I had to start the song about 7 second in. But watch it again after you finish reading this and you can see the difference it makes.

So, here is my script for the story I want to tell. Keep in mind that the paragraph above about Sean Dedalus is around 100 words and still doesn’t really scratch the surface of all the fascinating aspects of this character. Below is the “haiku” version. It’s 46 words. What’s left out? All of the details.

(comments in parenthesis)

Meet the best in the world... (over black screen - music starts.)

at all the bad things  (ah! you thought you knew what was coming... but already a twist, a surprise.)

Corsair is a little like Batman.
in 1292, he was called The Hawk.

Sean Dedalus is... 
(note that his face is partially obscured in shadow)

If you can help it, don’t give people a good look at a model 
for your main character. 
His face is for them to imagine.

A Liar...  
(seeing her with this word shows we mean ALL kinds of lies. Stay away from this guy, ladies. If you can.)
Do show the face of the love interest, 
male or female, 
because beautiful faces are compelling.

A Thief 
(the car shows a bit of his world, modern, glamorous, fast paced, Bond-like)

Adjusted to fit the color scheme
And all kinds of killer 
(another femme fatale from the novel - note the music softens perfectly at this slide - it’s clear what the words mean without saying “lady killer” or something corny. I'm loving this song.)

I abandoned this as the cover because I’ve seen this girl
too often on other books. But it’s a great image.
Making her dress the only color against the noir... was a shame not to use it. 

How did he get so good at being bad?
another rejected cover
 sexy, action, events from the book

Lifetimes of practice. 
(The reveal that something supernatural is happening here)

Script piggybacks on the tagline
of another rejected cover

That’s the story I wanted to tell. And there is still 19 seconds left for a Call to Action.

Read his origin story right now
(Corsair is coming soon, but he first appeared in King’s X)

Or get on the list for this... 
(the music peaks here with the reveal of the cover, and the new tag line "Villain is the New Hero,” so, if you were concerned, he is in fact a Good Guy... sort of.)

The Final Cover 
Tag it with your website where people can learn whatever else they want to know.

And there you have it:

A compelling, well branded “story” about the main character of a new novel. Done in a few hours with basic equipment and minimal expense. Now go make your own video and tell me what you think in the comments.

Also, if this was helpful, Corsair is under consideration for a publishing contract with Kindle Press right now. You can help a ton with a simple click. Follow this link and “nominate” Corsair on the Kindle Scout page. If it's selected for publication, Kindle Press will send you a free copy when it’s published.

CORSAIR: The King’s X Protocol on the Kindle Scout Page 

Thanks for your help!

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