Book Trailers: Do Authors Get Enough Bang for Their Buck?

Because book trailers are becoming a popular online marketing tool, I thought it was time I did a study of what was going on in this phase of book promotion. First, a trailer has to be a part of the total book package. You must keep that in mind as we proceed.

I reviewed 50 trailers, some from the HBS Author’s Spotlight group and some from high-profile authors. That should give us a good cross-section of the development of this relatively new process.

Are they worth the time and money? What did I see and hear that made a good book trailer? It must be noted at this point, the following are my opinions and hopefully some helpful observations.

Plan your Trip

Before you go down this trail, you must plan where you want to end. As you’ll find out, it is more detailed than you would image.

The first major decision to make is how I am going to produce the trailer? Am I going to do it myself or outsource it to a professional? Cost is the primary question in this decision I would guess. As you’ll see in this blog, there are some real good trailers created at a very reasonable cost.

Start of the trailer

Most start with a storyboard in which they create a scene list and match script text alongside each picture or slide. For example, the majority of trailers in my review start with the book cover or a slide with the Title and Author displayed. You may think that is elementary but there were several that didn’t give you that information until well into the video.

How does it sound?

This is important to the effectiveness of the trailer. The music and sound should fit your vision of your book. The sound includes music, voice, singing and special effects. Here are some observations.

Some trailers had great mood music which fit right into the story line. Some had singing in the background. A couple started off with strong music right up front which was a great attention getter.

There was one that was streaming along at a steady pace then out of the blue there was a loud gun shot. That got your attention. Several had cry outs, screams, eerie sounds and even the sound of arrows whizzing through the air.

Two observations: if you are going to use voice over for your slides, use a professional or not at all.

International Best Selling author Stacy Eaton, had one of the best music selections. It fit the mood of her book completely.

Stacy said, “I love making video trailers!!! They are so much fun! I use Windows Live Movie Maker and it is really easy. I know that many people use music they have in their own libraries, but you have to be careful about copyright infringements. Some people think video trailers are good, some don’t. It’s a personal taste, just like how one reader will like one book, but not another.”
Check Stacy’s Book Trailer: Whether I’ll Live or Die

Another author in the review was Joanna Penn. She is an action-adventure writer plus she is an expert in the book writing, marketing and publishing industry. Her trailer starts with strong music which immediately gets your attention.
Check Joanna’s Book Trailer: Pentecost. An ARKANE Thriller

I have to include Monica Mathis-Stowe in this section. Her combination of pictures and music sets the tone for a very impressive trailer. If this doesn’t get the reader’s attention nothing will. One of the eye catching items of her book package was the girls from the cover. The music she used in the trailer fits right into a complete package.

Monica said, “The (trailers) were created by DzinebyKellie.  Kellie saw my vision and made it come true. I gave (Kellie) my book’s synopsis and she created this wonderful book trailer. I was amazed.”
Check Monica’s Book Trailer: Where Did We Go Wrong?


You have a lot of choices here. You can take them yourself; you can get pictures of models for your cast of characters or you can buy stock images. One author had her readers/followers supply drawn images which she included in her trailer. Talking about getting your readers involved in the process. I like that a lot.

Several had police radio calls or displayed newspaper articles which I thought was quite effective. I even saw silhouettes used which conveyed the message while leaving the character’s appearance up to the reader’s imaginations.

I think it is all about the pictures. You need to get readers involved with sight and sound.

Mystery author Dave Folsom takes the pictures used in his trailers himself. Several of his books are based in the northwest and he captures the rugged setting in the trailer. The reader can truly visualize the surroundings.

Dave said, “I used One True Media where you can upload your own photos and create videos for a very reasonable price.”
Check Dave’s Book Trailer: Scaling Tall Timber

Next I would like to highlight Young Adult Author Elise Stokes. Her picture presentation was unique. She had her text on the side of the pictures, giving the reader a real shot at reading the message. Her trailer’s pictures were all hand drawn.

Elise said, “Seeing my characters as these talented young artists do, and I’m honored they were inspired to draw them. I had the satisfaction of doing it myself.”
Check Elise’s Book Trailer: Cassidy Jones and Vulcan’s Gift

Next we have Crime and Horror Author Jade Varden. She uses a newspaper in the front of the trailer to convey a story is coming. Also her use of video clips was great.

Jade said, “I got the video clips for my trailers at Creative Commons, because that material is all Fair Use. I put it all together using Windows Live Movie Maker.”
Check Jade’s Book Trailer: The Tower (Deck of Lies, #2)

Slide presentations

Using slides in your trailer is all about the timing. You must give the reader enough time to read and digest your message.

Historical Fiction Author Ron Fritsch spent time on his sequencing. He has one part of his trailer that uses arrows flashing across the screen with sound. You get the message right away. It also finishes with a picture of the author, which I recommend.
Check Ron’s Book Trailer: Promised Valley

Distribution of the trailer

Well by far the favorite way to display a trailer is YouTube. There are many other free locations and I would recommend distributing your trailer to as many places as you can.

My favorite is to embed the trailer on a page on your blog or website. It gives you the ability to add extra information on the sides of the trailer. Even links that may be skipped by the reader during the trailer viewing.

A great example of this is from award-winning Author Melissa Foster. She embedded her trailer on her website. It gives her the opportunity to give static information to the reader that maybe overlooked in the trailer like contact information and where the reader can buy the book.

Melissa said, “I love to make book trailers. I buy stock photos off of different image sites like Shutterstock, I download music from free music sites, and I use Movie Maker or Animoto.”
Check Melissa’s Book Trailer: Megan’s Way

I have to include myself in here somewhere. (James Moushon) I chose to distribute the trailer both ways. I put my trailer on YouTube and then embedded it on my website. I had a problem with the website version at first with MAC users not being able to view the video. Then I discovered that I could embed the YouTube code into my web page and I was off and running.

I like the web page version the best because it lets me have an Amazon buy page next to the trailer so my readers can buy right away without leaving the page. I like the expanded screen option.
Check my Book Trailer: Black Mountain Secrets

So where does the text fit in?

First of all the text should be a teaser for the reader not a spoiler. I guess that is common sense. The first advice I got was to choose my words wisely. They should be captivating, relevant and concise. I spent a lot of time on this.

Here are some tips. Don’t use rolling text unless you can slow the feed so the viewer can read it. If you’re going to use text over your pictures, choose your text colors wisely. If you have more than two lines, use a solid colored background like white or black or red not a picture.

One trailer I liked had the text in a colored insert rather than right on top of the background picture.

Cost or Budget or whatever you want to call it.

You can do this for almost nothing or you can spend some real money. You must remember to count in the value of your time when you make the decision.

Amazon Best-Selling Author Cheryl Bradshaw put it this way in a previous interview in the HBS Author’s Spotlight.

“The kind I’d want to do would be very high dollar and look more like a movie trailer. I am fairly unimpressed with the low-budget trailers.”

One side bar to this is that as you’ll find out below, some of the big hitters are not impressive with their trailers. I think if you have a following and its presented well, you’ll get your monies worth.

How long should your trailer be?

I don’t have a good answer for this one. Of the fifty trailers I reviewed, 18 seconds was the shortest. It was by a big time author. He gave us a cover, his name, blurb from a review and the buy now message. That was it.

The longest was 5 minutes and 33 seconds. Again this trailer was from a big time author. Yes I did manage to stay awake. But I felt like dosing off at the 3 minute mark.

I would say a minute to two and half minutes gives you plenty of time to get your message across. This is a marketing tool not a movie streamer.

Creation time should be a consideration

The question you have to ask yourself is: Am I creative enough and have the skills to do this myself or do I need help? Remember if you can’t get your readers to visualize what your selling here you should outsource the project or move on.

Best-Selling Author Pamela Burford said in a recent Author’s Spotlight post, “I find it too easy to spend enormous amounts of time on promotion, at the expense of writing time.”

At the end of trailer

The last slide should be timed to allow the reader to consume the information. Typically the last two slides include Coming soon announcements, contact information, the author’s picture or the cover. You know like the back cover type information.

I am not a big fan of Internet addresses or trailer credits at the end, especially the rolling text kind. I guess that’s why I like the embedded version of the trailer. Remember YouTube goes directly to an advertising page when your trailer is done, so that last page is gone unless you can extend the viewing time.

So what is your Goal if you decide to go down this trail?

It is all about marketing. You want the prospect to watch the trailer and want to buy it as soon as possible. Make sure to put links to your trailer everywhere. Then you need to get readers to watch it. The trailer should be a part of your complete book marketing package, together with a well-done trailer. Sometimes not doing a trailer is an okay decision.

Dani Amore, an award-winning, international bestselling crime author, said recently, “I have done book trailers and have no idea if they helped or not.”

Mystery & Thriller Author Maree Ward Russell expressed it differently.

“They are yet another avenue for attracting readers – especially as the visual medium is always so effective. I am looking into it.”

Award winning author Dawn Greenfield Ireland echoed the same thing. “A book trailer is high on my list.”

So now did the Big Authors do in my review?

I was very proud of my Spotlight Authors compared to some of the top authors. Let me summarize what I found.

The top authors had most of their trailers under one minute. Most had poor music or none at all.

They had professional voice over when it was used. They did have strong music but very poor timing on the slides vs. text.

One had kids acting with very poor sound and a misspelled word. I won’t release that trailer.

They basically were selling their self and not necessarily the book.

I must include this. One of our top indie authors (not a Spotlight author) had the poorest trailer in the survey. The trailer was 29 seconds long. It consisted of the author holding the book up in front of a camera and yelling “Buy me” over and over again.

Things like this are why indie authors and self-publishers get a bad rap.

What do you think?

Is there a pay back? Is it worth the time and money? Did you read anything here that will help you create your next trailer? I know I did.

Other documents

How To Create A Book Trailer by Joanna Penn
Book Trailers: 11 steps to make your own also by Joanna Penn
Writing 101: Book Trailers by Jade Varden

Follow me:

Follow Me on Twitter: @jimhbs
Or EMAIL at: jim@jamesmoushon.com
View my website: James Moushon – Mystery Writer
Or visit my blog: The eBook Author Corner
Take a look at my Author’s blog: HBS Author’s Spotlight

Check out the Jonathon Stone Mystery Novels: Call Off The Dogs
Or newly released: Black Mountain Secrets

  • Thank you once again, James, for sharing some valuable information. Thanks also for your kind comments on my trailer. I’m glad you liked “the sound of arrows whizzing through the air.” I have to confess I had my trailer done professionally, although I did provide detailed suggestions along the way. I suspect if I’d tried to do the technical work myself, the trailer would’ve instantly become a prime example of how not to do it.