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Build a Better Book Trailer

Build a Better Book Trailer

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At UtopYA 2014, Carly Strickland and I attended a panel on book trailers. We got to hear a lot of interesting ideas for promoting with book trailers and how to make a proto-trailer on a budget. We heard about some elaborately produced book trailers with budgets well over a thousand dollars. Most importantly, it started a conversation for us about book trailers at Matter Deep Publishing and what we’d like to see from them.

I love movie trailers. I don’t want to fast-forward the Redbox DVD to get to the menu because I like to get a little taste of what I might watch next. My husband is different. If he knows he wants to see a movie, he doesn’t even want to see a trailer. But even I can’t stand watching a bad movie trailer. Inspired by our discussion at UtopYA, I started considering what made a good trailer and what made a bad trailer.


  • Slow-paced
  • Full of spoilers
  • Quick to move past the inciting incident to show every plot arch
  • Inappropriate for tone of the movie/book
  • Filled with too many talking heads

Too many trailers fall into the trap of showing too much. Like with a good book blurb, I only need to hear the premise to know if I want to read the book. Tell me much more and I’m either overwhelmed, bored, or annoyed that you gave away half the novel.


  • To the point
  • Accurate in tone
  • Teasing—leaving me with questions
  • Visual and active

In the early 2000s I was a teenager who loved to cut music videos from my favorite TV shows and movies. I’m most proud of my Dobby “I’m a Slave For You” video that was sadly lost to old hard drives and antiquated video formats. I learned one crucial thing about editing from that experience: when you strip away the actual words, talking is boring.

When editing a music video, static characters talking are the worst thing to include. I think that also holds true for trailers, even when there is audible dialog. On the internet people click away rather quickly. Book trailers don’t have a captive audience that has to watch because Guardians of the Galaxy is about to start and OH MY GOD, GROOT! You need to be brief. Some say don’t go over three minutes, but I would warn against going over one minute. In the age of Vine, you don’t need to waste any time.


preordermars01The idea for the Mars 01 trailer came to me in the middle of that UtopYA panel. I think that things you don’t see are ultimately more horrifying than things you do see (except perhaps for that car tire spinning on the walker’s head in season 4 of The Walking Dead.) I knew that I wanted a hallway, floating blood, and lots of sound effects. After I presented the idea to my company, Kyle filled in the dialog.

The environment was modeled and rendered by Samuel R. Albro (my brother—it’s good to know artists) for a reasonable fee. The sounds were either self-generated or pulled from a Creative Commons database.

And that’s it. We could have cast a Captain Sarah Moore, Bregg Griswald, Klip, Aurora, Sylvia, Jex, Craig, Zedoc, Eshe… sure, we could have done the dramatic reenactment on sets, carefully framed to give the illusion of low gravity with terrible blood effects. Instead we used creative thinking and selected a moment to represent the novel rather than trying to recreate a full cast of characters with drama. Internet viewers are probably more likely to watch the thing we actually created to the end. And it saved us a lot of money.

What we like about this trailer is that it doesn’t really tell you anything about plot semantics. It’s our ultimate elevator pitch, boiling down the story to the main selling points. Sure, there’s inter-character conflict and political tensions. Sure, we could find three minutes worth of interesting content (it is a 232 page book, after all). But do we need to? No. We hope that this trailer, short and sweet, will tell you all you need to know about Mars 01 before preordering a copy: blood, outer space, and chainsaws. Isn’t that all you really need to know?

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