book trailer criteria

Memoir of a Successful Book Trailer in Six Words

by guest Lisa Gottfried of

NOTE: Lisa did the editing for my retreat video. She spoke at the San Rafael conference and I was interested enough to try her services, for which I paid. This is an invited guest post and she speaks here as a professional working full time on video promotions.

Thanks to the editors at SMITH magazine, the popular mini-memoir book “Not Quite What I was Planning,” is full of incredible pieces, all only six words long, some uplifting, some intellectual, some tragic, some incredibly accessible, but all what I would consider to be successful.

It got me thinking about the economy of communication and how that translates to book trailers. If I were to edit a book filled with only links to book trailer videos, which ones would make the cut and which would not? Could I narrow down the critical elements of a good book trailer into six words? Here’s what I would write.

Memoir of a Successful Book trailer by Lisa Gottfried

Economic Focused Editing; Authentic Emotional Entertainment

If these ideas can be met and done well, no matter whether an author has a budget of $200 or $2,000, a book trailer can be successful, i.e. move a viewer to get excited about the book, share the trailer with friends, write an on-line review of your book. Let’s look at the six key ingredients to a successful book trailer.

Economic – 30-90 seconds

On-line audiences are interacting with their computer, not passively watching a TV. You either get the message across in a short time, or your viewers are moving on with the click of a button. We all know this.

But keeping communications brief and to the point is an art form. The length of a book trailer should be thirty to ninety seconds. You might get away with two minutes, but an eight-minute trailer needs the eyes and ears of a good editor, no matter how famous the author.

Think billboard. You’ve got 10 seconds as the car drives by to get your point across. Think, big, bold and simple. Leave an impression, don’t tell the whole story. Steer clear of special effects unless they are used sparingly. Like they say on “Top Chef,” if the food is on the plate just for looks and doesn’t add anything to the taste of the dish, it shouldn’t be on the plate. Focus, focus, focus.

Edited – balance and blend text, images, audio.

Every piece to the book trailer puzzle needs to fit perfectly. The music needs to go with the words just right, not be tacked on. If you use subtitles or printed words, the pace needs to be slow enough to read and take in the background images, but not so slow that it’s excruciating to watch.

I highly recommend using a voice over artist to speed things along, but if you don’t have the budget for one, subtitles can work. Keep your sentences and phrases under six words at a time. It’s also tempting to put the entire review on your trailer. Here’s an example of how I would edit a review for a trailer for “The ABC’s of Writing for Children,”

“Pentacoff provides a most fun and readable book, packed with insights and inspiration about the children’s book field from the people who know best–the authors and illustrators.” -Andrea Brown

The pieces I would include on the trailer might be:

“…most fun and readable book….”
“…packed with insights from the people who know best…..”

It makes sense that authors want to be wordy. This is their craft. With book trailers you need to move in what might feel like a counter-intuitive direction, where less is more, a LOT less.

Authentic – be real

Web viewers have a lower threshold for BS (your Basic Story). Don’t try to be something you are not because viewers will sniff you out in an instant and be on to other things faster than you can say “boo.” People know when they are being “sold” to and there is less tolerance on-line for the tactics used on TV commercials. Your message needs to be more down-to-earth, user friendly.

You can provide something more home-grown and people will be more receptive to the message. However, home-grown does not mean cheesy. Production value still needs to be there.

Emotional – look for teasers

Find a place in the book where there is some emotional pull and concentrate your efforts there. You want to offer a teaser, a trailer that gives the viewer the essence of the writing while using the emotional moment as the vehicle to deliver that content. Trailers are not simply fancy announcements of your upcoming book. If viewers can emotionally connect, they will buy your book. Remind viewers of their humanity. Grab them by the heart strings.

Entertainment – make ‘em laugh; then make ‘em cry

Here is where I am amazed that writers seem to forget the basics of, well…writing. You start a novel with some interest. You don’t tell the reader, you show them. The same holds true for book trailers.

Is there an interesting piece of dialogue you can lift from your book? A moment when things seem really charged? Where is your book entertaining? Grab a piece of that pie and serve it up.

Your name and reputation is on the line and if the trailer is not done well with a certain standard of sound, images and final product, don’t bother putting it on the web. Poorly done book trailers can hinder sales and ruin reputations. Instead, a great book trailer serves as the place where a potential reader flips open the book and randomly reads a page. Why not make it choose a juicy and entertaining page?

lisagottfriedLisa Gottfried runs her own book trailer, digital video, and website business, She brings over fifteen years of experience to the video and web marketing field and specializes in children’s book author promotion. Lisa is available for speaking engagements around the San Francisco Bay Area and around the nation.

7 responses to “book trailer criteria”

  1. excellent article. good tips.
    I’ll be posting the link to this article on twitter all day through @LatinoBookNews Usually I let you know but I can’t find a twitter name for you and haven’t been able to do that for you.

  2. Thoughtful and constructive guest blog. I was very flattered to see my trailer included. I’ve posted a link to this to my FB page, and recommended on my site that any writer working on revision get Darcy’s awesome book on novel revision. I keep her book right next to my computer!