Book Trailers: Ten tips to help you avoid the suck, Part I

A few weeks ago, I launched a book trailer for Backwards. Since then several authors have asked me how it was created. Here are three things on that:

1) It took more time than I thought.

2) It was fun.

3) There are several things I’d wish I’d known before I’d started.

With thing number three in mind, I thought I’d create a post to help anyone else out who wants to make a book trailer. More on that below. But first, a little on what I was attempting to do in creating this trailer. (And if you want to see the book trailer I’m talking about, click here).

Book Trailers… love ’em or hate ’em?

I’ll confess, for years, I’ve been one of the haters. Maybe it’s because I’m a word guy, and I want my books to be books. Or maybe it’s the stock images of pretty people that bug me. Every time I see a stock image in a book trailer, I keep thinking of this: awkward stock photos.

Like it or not, though, book trailers are part of the modern literary landscape (especially for YA books), and trailers will probably become even more necessary as people search for books on devices like the kindle fire or iPad. For big name authors, publishers are forking out major bucks to create some pretty fancy trailers. Some of these are amazing. Some I can’t believe actually work (or maybe they work by secretly saying to potential readers, “See, kids, surfing the internet sucks. Go read a book instead.”).

In creating a trailer for Backwards, I wanted to do something different. Rather than me making a lame trailer myself (like I did for The Secret to Lying when I attempted to do an anti-trailer trailer —the squirrel nearly getting ripped to shreds is probably the best part), and rather than hiring a Book Trailer Company to create a cheesy trailer with stock images and low-budget music, I wanted to work with other artists to create a trailer that could be entertaining and intriguing in its own right.

At least that was my goal — to see how visual artists, film makers, and musicians could work together to create something that’s more than simply an advertisiment for a book. (Also, I think Backwards would make a pretty sweet movie, precisely because it’s the sort of story that would be very challenging to make a movie out of —so if you know any Hollywood folks, please give them my book!).

So, I pitched the idea to my all-time favorite band, Cloud Cult. And here’s how amazing Cloud Cult is: they gave me permission to use their music. If you don’t know Cloud Cult, they will seriously change your life. Just listen to this. Or this. Or check out lyrics like this (good advice to character development):

Some of us are laughing/ and some of us are choking.

Some of us can’t change/ until every bone is broken. 


Leading Lost

Next I convinced one of my all-time favorite artists, Kari Lennartson, to sign on to the project. She does gorgeous paintings like this one, Leading Lost, which gives me the chills. She’s also done illustrative work. Below is a sneak peak at some of the art she did for the project. (More of this to come in an interview with her).Cat'sPaintingSmall

And finally, I asked award-winning filmmaker Timothy David Orme if he’d be interested in getting involved. Tim has done everything from quirky PSAs, to music videos, to award winning short films. Serious talent, and a poet, and good with the animation too! (By the way — if you want to work with an amazing video producer for a trailer, contact Tim!).

That’s the dream team. In the next few days, I’ll post more on the process, including interviews with Kari and Tim on their artistic process, techniques, and advice on collaborating with other artists. The results of which I think are pretty amazing.

I don’t hate book trailers anymore. Instead, I see them as an opportunity to work with artists to create something new from a story.


Ten tips for creating a trailer (that I wish I’d known before):

Tip 1: Start with the music. Get the rights, or record your own, or find some in the public domain. But I think it’s best to structure and time things around the music.TheBridgeSmall

Tip 2: Create a timeline. I did mine on imovie. Nothing too fancy —just a bunch of different colored backgrounds with titles on them describing what image would go there, and how one image would move into the next, and what would be annimated. These placeholder descriptions were sequenced and set in time to the music (to give a sense of the overall pace of the piece). Although simple, give this timeline plenty of consideration, since it will be something that you and the others keep referring back to. It’s the skeleton the flesh is hung on.

Tip 3: Think visually, and simplify! (Get your timeline down to the barest, simplest images). You might be surprised by what you can cut or combine.

RiderFallingSmallTip 4: If you’re using art, make sure you get the aspect ratio right (we didn’t, and that’s why, in the video, you can’t see all of Cat’s painting in the farmhouse). For a widescreen Youtube video, for instance, the artist will want to work in paper that fits a 16:9 aspect ratio.

Tip 5: Think about how images will move into the next to create a narrative. POV, etc…

Tip 6: Work in layers. Separate the background from foreground to create a sense of space and movement (more on this in Tim’s interview).

NeighborhoodSmallTip 7: The devil, (or the good stuff), is in the details. Use texture, movement, and color to give 2d images more depth and visual interest. Some of the sequences in the Backwards book trailer, for instance, are made up of twelve layers of images (like that falling sequence). Also, there are little things you might not notice at first that make a big difference (like the fact that in every frame there’s something red, and the lights on the tower blink red, and for a fraction of a second between cuts, the whole screen goes red).

Tip 8: Consistency. Things need to hold together. The red between each scene, the red in each scene, the color matching with the opening sequence, the use of text at the beginning and end…. all this works to tie things together.

Tip 9: Keep it short (under two minutes).

TRfallingSmallTip 10: If you post on youtube, and you don’t own all the rights, they’ll put commercials on your video. The only way around this I know of is to own all the rights to your content.

Finally, if you have any other tips on making a trailer, please share them below.

And stay tuned: In the next few days I’ll post more on trailers, including interviews with the artist, Kari Lennartson, and filmmaker, Tim Orme.

Click here for Part II on Book Trailers (an interview with Kari Lennartson on narrative art, her creative process, and Wonder Bread).

Backwards is now available in ebook, audiobook, and hardcover formats! Click here to order now.


  1. Laura Resau says

    This is so helpful, Todd! Thanks for taking the time to share your lessons learned. I’ll definitely be referring back to this post when I’m making my next trailer.

  2. Great post Todd! I especially love the opening & closing of the trailer – you had a great idea with that! Plus the Cloud Cult music is perfect.

  3. Very timely. I am just thinking – should I/shouldn’t I? If I decide that I should, this will be very helpful. Great site to.


  1. […] recap: In Part I, I posted ten tips for those interested in creating short trailers (or other animated videos). In […]

  2. […] Author Todd Mitchell has 10 great suggestions on creating book trailers that don’t suck. […]

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