Tips for Producing an Effective Online Book Trailer

Waiting on line after viral marketing campaign
••• Rob Stothard/Getty Images

Video platforms like YouTube and Vimeo have created a great conduit for book promotion via online video book trailers. Like a TV commercial—only cheaper to produce and all-but-free to distribute—the right book trailer can help spread the word about your book to a wide audience.

The ideal, of course, would be for a book trailer to “go viral” and reach hundreds of thousands—or millions—of viewers. A more realistic (and perhaps even more practical) goal is to create a book trailer that gets passed along from one potential reader to another—like-minded people who are truly interested in the book’s subject matter and might actually buy the book, rather than just appreciate your video production skills.

There are several things you can do to make a book trailer more effective.

Be Informative

At the very least, the book trailer should provide potential readers with an idea of what the book has in store for them, whether that's a good romance, great baking recipes, a thrilling mystery, or a peek into the history of a World War II general.
If your book is in a “how-to” genre, you can help promote your book with a piece of useful advice taken from the text. In this way, you’re giving the book trailer viewer a true idea of how helpful your book will be to him or her. A title about automobile maintenance might show the viewer how simple it is to check the oil; a knitting book can demonstrate a tricky stitch.

A great example of a useful trailer to promote a cookbook is the video produced for the cookbook "Les Petits Macarons." Authors Kathryn Gordon and Anne McBride produced an extensive demonstration video of the pastry techniques that go into making French macarons and that are outlined in the book. The trailer got great attention and boosted book sales.

Be Visually Arresting

Video is a visual medium that demands movement, which makes it great for books that are art or graphically focused, including children's books. Even if you don’t have any live action in your book trailer, you can create movement in other ways, such as by panning over still images.

If the book is very visual, it’s especially important that the trailer showcases the photography, graphics, or artwork in a dynamic and appealing manner.

The book trailer for "Once Upon a Time Machine," editor Andrew Carl’s graphic collection of fairy tale retellings, brings the book’s images to life brilliantly.

Create an Atmosphere

When promoting fiction—especially fiction in a genre like mystery, romance, sci-fi, or historic—it’s helpful to create an atmosphere to draw in potential readers. Fans of the particular genre will recognize the conventions of what they love to read and will be more inclined to investigate the book.

For an example of a book trailer that creates an atmosphere, check out Kevin V. Symmons's video for his magic-infused romance novel "Rite of Passage."

Be Clever and Bold

Online video viewers are used to and very much appreciate cleverness. Meg Mateo Ilasco and Joy Deangdeelert Cho, the authors of "Creative, Inc.: The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Freelance Business," made a fantastically creative video to promote their book. It was cleverly done and highly appealing to their creative base of potential readers.

A bold move can capture eyeballs, too. Author (and adviser extraordinaire to other authors) Steven Pressfield created an epic trailer for his novel "Killing Rommel," complete with rented tanks and filmed in a California desert with the help of Hollywood pros. The book trailer probably cost more than most of us would spend—but it was an over-the-top way to show serious World War II buffs that the author meant business. And as a bonus, it helped land Pressfield a gig with the History Channel, narrating a television show about General Erwin Rommel.