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The Art of the Book Trailer: 7 Essentials for Effective Video

Online video is a powerhouse in the marketing world. The statistics are astonishing–and so clear in demonstrating the extreme value of video. (Check out this past blog post for 9 quick stats about the strength and effectiveness of video.)

More than ever before, a book trailer holds massive potential to convert buyers. But it’s not always an intuitive piece to put together, nor is it an item that an author can just cavalierly shoot and post. The skill and strategy behind the best book trailers is immense.

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With that in mind, I’ve invited my close friend and videographer Caleb Rexius to join me on the blog to talk about the nuances and essentials of an effective book trailer.

Caleb is one of the single best videographers in the publishing business, and his experience with book trailers goes deep and wide. Caleb began his career in video “accidentally,” by shooting some informal footage for the medium-sized family business where he did graphic design and web dev. Making that one short, simple video hooked him…

He got his start in the publishing world through a Karen Kingsbury project, and began doing other book work for the publisher (Zondervan) from there. Publishers and marketers at other houses saw his work and snagged him for their authors, too. Word spread. Now he’s one of the most well-known and experienced videographers in our space.

Caleb says: “The book trailer niche has been really great for me. I love being able to establish relationships with marketing directors, figuring out a system and style that work for both of us, and then putting that process on repeat. I’m not saying that the final video is some product of a formula, but that our process is streamlined and consistent so we can deliver high-quality video content, in a short turnaround time, for a very reasonable price. That is really where I feel like I’ve been able to add value to my clients.”

So, let’s fire some questions at him about the art of book trailers… (Catch his “7 essentials” at the end of this post!)

1- Tell us about the process of shooting a book trailer.

Sound. Sight. Motion. Color. Time. Every book trailer is different, but there are a few different key elements that I can categorize within my work, and then the process starts from there.  

SOUND – For me personally, the first step in every book trailer process is finding the right soundtrack to set the tone and feel of the book and video. If you get this wrong, it’s devastating to the effectiveness of a video. It starts with the first note of the soundtrack that they hear. Music can communicate very specific moods even more effectively than words or imagery.  

SIGHT – The next part is the first image they see. Though they don’t always recognize it, most people are very, very good at recognizing a good video from a bad one. If you think about it, we see high-budget productions every day, all day, from high-end Hollywood blockbuster films to high-end $1 million Nike commercials. Those ads set the bar and expectations for our viewers. Make sure you are doing your best to create quality imagery. Sometimes an iPhone is all you have, or an old grainy photograph, but just make sure you do your due diligence to create the most aesthetically-pleasing imagery possible.  

MOTION – Many low-budget videos can feel stagnant and stationary. I always like to use some kind of movement when I can, whether it is a cool camera movement, or movement with a graphic or lower third, or other imagery. It shows some production value, and shows that you didn’t make it in iMovie.

COLOR – This is a tough one. Colors really help set the tone of the video. Sometimes warm tones are good, sometimes blue cold tones tell the story, sometimes dark shadowy colors are best, sometimes no color at all. Just be mindful and considerate of the color you are bringing to the table.  

TIME – More simply put: editing. Make sure the edits are crisp, not too short and not too long. Be aware of when to use slow motion versus when to use timelapse or stop motion. Also, timing of edits should coordinate with the sound for maximum impact; this is part of the reason why the soundtrack is always the first element I choose.

2- How can an author/publisher equip you really well to make an excellent trailer?

About ⅓ of my projects are in collaboration with the author, another ⅓ is collaborating directly with the publisher only, and then the final ⅓ of my past projects I produce completely on my own. So, I am accustomed to the creative process with lots of direction–and also with no direction at all. I think the #1 piece of information I like to have in order to make an excellent trailer is this: understanding the pain point that will attract readers to the book. From there, I can create a narrative to help address that pain point, and then hint at a solution or resolution. Notice that I say “hint” and not “give” the solution away. I want to create some intrigue and interest, but not give away everything in the trailer. My job is to get them to that next step–to click that pre-order button, or to click the Amazon link, or share it on social, or simply to watch the video again.

3- What are some of the common mistakes you see in book trailers?

BAD MUSIC (or the wrong music) If you get this wrong, it is just really hard to reconcile the heart of the book with the heart of the video.  

IMAGE QUALITY Sometimes an iPhone is all you have; sometimes you have a nice camera, but the setting or lighting is bad; sometimes there is no live video, and you are relying on graphics and photos to tell the story. Regardless, always make sure you are striving for excellence in the quality of the image people are viewing. It is a reflection of the quality of the book and the thoughtfulness that goes into every aspect of marketing material.

LENGTH Longer is not always better. Most book trailers should be between :30 and 2:00. I think that’s the sweet spot for attention spans, especially on social media. You’ll always have those die-hard fans that’ll just eat up everything you put out and will tell you everything you release is just wonderful, but to reach beyond that core fan base, you have to think about what a prospective buyer who doesn’t know anything about you is willing to invest two minutes of their precious social media time into. It’s better to be concise, with a clear message, and a hook that draws them in. Authors are notorious for wanting to push out the length, and say so much and give away so much information. I tell them this: “Listen, you are the professional writer here; you are amazing at telling stories and explaining concepts in 100,000 words. But I am the professional video guy, who takes those 100,000 words and condenses it down to 100 words in the form of a video.” Keep it short. Don’t give it all away.

4- What information do you need to know about a book, an author, the target audience, etc. before diving into the shooting and editing?

In the publishing world, I’ve worked on all kinds of books with all kinds of authors and all kinds of audiences. Whether it is an Amish fiction novel, or a trendy spiritual living author, or a legal thriller, these are all vastly different audiences, authors, and books. Grasping the book and message is relatively easy, and I think book cover design is the #1 teller of the style, and to me, the target audience is a direct result of the author’s style. I don’t really research the target audience as much as I do the author. Their social following, or lack of, will tell me a lot about the audience demographic and stylistic preferences.

5- Where do you suggest authors use the trailer?

Everywhere you can: YouTube, Twitter, Instagram… I think Facebook is the #1 place right now to share promotional content, and to pay for it. Sometimes clients will just release a video in the social stratosphere and assume it is going to promote itself. Advertisements don’t work like that. You have to pay to play, especially on Facebook and social media right now. Obviously, landing pages and websites are a great place to embed some video, though you have to consider those videos may be different than the ones you would use to attract a new buyer who hasn’t heard of you before. There can certainly be instances where one video can fill a lot of different purposes, but more and more I find myself not just creating one video for a book release, but a series of videos aimed at different aspects of the marketing process.

6- What are some super out-of-the-box, creative elements you’ve seen/used?

A few things. These might be a little abstract.

PEOPLE – There is power in numbers. I love creating videos where I get to use more people–whether they are simply acting, or maybe giving a testimonial, or simply showing their face smiling into a camera. I think there is a distinct emotion we get when we see a lot of people uniting together for a message or a cause. That might sound silly just from promoting a book, but when we visually see large numbers of people behind something, there is a part of us that sees that community and wants to be a part of it–and learn what it’s all about. It’s powerful.

STOP MOTION – A lot of people like stop motion. I’ve done this for a few clients. It’s a really tedious process, but it is inherently creative and different; there’s nothing formulaic or predictable about it. I’ve seen and produced some interesting stop motion content.

AERIALS – With the accessibility of drones and aerial cameras, I am beginning to produce and see more of this style of footage, and I love it. It is not just about sticking a camera on a cool-looking drone and watching it fly up in the air, it is the message that it communicates visually–being able to see something we’ve seen over and over from a different perspective. It changes everything, it’s beautiful, and things aren’t what we had always assumed.

7- What’s your best advice for authors thinking about doing a book trailer?

Just do it! Online video is exploding. The research out there about the power of online video is startling, from conversion rates and sales, to time spent on pages and websites, etc. It has an ability to attract people in a way that text and still imagery just can’t do. I’m totally biased.  

8- So, if you could list out the 7 essentials–the top 7 things an author or book marketer must consider in putting together a book trailer–what would they be?

7 Essentials for Effective Video:

  1. Budget – Know how much to spend on video and be intentional to invest it well.
  2. Sound – As stated above, this sets the whole tone.
  3. Creativity – Get out of the box and give your audience something new.
  4. Paid advertising – Don’t assume it will just be shared organically; pay to play.
  5. Hook – Consider: What’s in it for the watcher? What’s going to get them to click “play” and then keep watching?
  6. Call to action – Be explicit in what you want the viewer to do at the end.
  7. Teamwork – I haven’t mentioned this above, so I’ll tell you a bit more here. It’s important. There are typically anywhere from 2-10 people collaborating on a video. It’s key to understand what each individual brings to the table–and to not go too far beyond your expertise. Everyone is going to have an opinion about the song, the wardrobe, the lighting, the messaging, the graphics, the length, the imagery. And while it is important to consider everyone’s opinion for a healthy collaboration, leave the final say to the professionals. The scriptwriting specialist probably shouldn’t have the final say on the musical soundtrack, for example. Just let people focus on their individual strengths.

Check out calebrexius.com for more on Caleb and his expertise. For an example of a strong book trailer, here’s one of my favorites:

My Best Friend’s Funeral from Caleb Rexius on Vimeo.

 

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  • Micah Maddox

    Great interview! Thank you so much! How often do publishers include video as a part of the marketing? Or is this usually left up to the author?

    • Thanks, Micah. It really is different across the board. Publishers will invest in video if there is a strategic reason to and it will help create exposure for the book and ultimately drive sales. I think some people just want a book trailer because that’s what you’re “supposed to do” versus having a strategic plan to get the trailer out there and also think about the idea of the actual video.

      I should say we paid for most of the book trailers for our books. Authors did do other video on their own at their own expense. Even if you don’t do a book trailer, you need to invest in video, whether that’s for Facebook or short videos for Instagram.

  • One of the most helpful posts I’ve seen from any source in a long time!
    My publisher has asked for a 2 minute video – which will be on me. I may not have the budget or resources that Caleb has, but these points will make an ENORMOUS difference in planning/producing my video. Thank you.

  • Fantastic article! I hope lots of authors read and heed this advice. Video trailers for books are really an essential tool in launching and ongoing marketing.

    As a Social Media Strategist, I’d also add that you need to keep in mind that Facebook and Instagram LOVE for you to post videos, but the sound default is mute. Videos that begin with beautiful scenery and no text overlay work wonderfully on YouTube and blogs, but will not perform on social if there’s nothing in those first few seconds to compel someone to turn on the sound. If a viewer can’t grasp the message of the video on mute, then it’s not likely to do as well as a video that is closed-captioned (at a minimum) or has text overlay.