The Anatomy of a Book Trailer – Part 2

many pics

Where do we find the building blocks for a trailer?

Think about your goal.

Think about your message.

Think about your intended audience.


  1. Use individual artistic talent. Among the most notable examples of this are the trailers of Maggie Stiefvater. This is one such trailer, the result of hours and hours of painstaking work and stop action photography.
  2. Make your own video using family and friends as characters. The trailer for “The Uncertainty Principle” by Maria Elizabeth McVoy in the S & H anthology, Short & Happy (or not) is a fantastic example.
  3. Use an online program such as that relies more on the narration than video. This will work well with humorous commentary, as in this very simple trailer by Richard Bunning. A slightly more sophisticated use of online program is that Dwight Okita used for his speculative fiction book, The Prospect of my Arrival. Watch here. He animated a series of still pictures using the program to produce a very appealing trailer.
  4. Use purchased images. Making a trailer with a series of still images is very easy to do using PowerPoint, MovieMaker, iMovie, or another free software program.
    1. Use public domain images (remember to give credit). The image in this blog is an example (copyright 2012 martinak15, Flickr via Wylio) More about this later.
    2. Buy images from websites that sell “royalty-free” images. Remember royalty-free does not mean free. It means you can use the same image over and over without paying per use. Some of these are free, some are very inexpensive, and some aren’t. There are many such sites: iStock, canstockphoto, iClipart, and many more.
    3. Buy videos and overlay your own text. iStock, Pond5, and Videoblocks are sites to investigate.
    4. Last but far from least is to use your own still photos. Lenora Rain-Lee Good went on a road trip tracing the steps of Madame Dorion as she researched the background of her book, Madame Dorion: Her Journey to the Oregon Country (published by S & H Publishing, Inc.) She used some of the many photos she took to produce this video designed to be played in a continuous loop during book signings.

The Anatomy of a Book Trailer – Part 1

Before the advent of the ebook, a book trailer might have been the only way to take enough books along on your summer vacation. However, we now have all manner of portable devices that can not only put dozens of books inside your pocket, but can give you animated versions of the book blurb.

YouTube has been named the world’s second largest search engine. Authors and publishers are always looking for ways to get their books noticed, and the book trailer is just one more way to generate interest.

Think of a trailer as an online book jacket.

A trailer has three basic elements: images, words and music. These must be used to evoke an emotion and create a message in as short a time as possible. You have only a few seconds to capture the viewer’s attention.

Begin with the feeling you want to convey. Stopwatch

  • Humor
  • Suspense
  • Curiosity
  • Fear
  • Anticipation
  • Sadness
  • Joy
  • Anger
  • Peace

Trailers serve many different purposes. The most common one is to gain the attention of a new reader who knows nothing about the book. Attention spans are short. Aim for a 30 to 90 second range for maximum effect.

Every author should have an “elevator pitch” ready for his or her novel. An elevator pitch is what you can say to a casual stranger who asks about your book. It has to be a hook that will grab the listener’s attention before the elevator doors open and the opportunity is lost.

Start with a good cover image, the feeling you want to express, and a hook using as few words as possible.

The following trailer was made to generate interest before the launch of a new crime novel set in Maine.

Next time: The Storyboard

Where to Look for Answers


Before you commit your novel to a publisher, do your homework. Make sure you are a good fit. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all. How do you do this? Where do you look for answers?

  1. The first stop is to look at the website. If you like it, write down some of the titles they publish.
  2. Go to Amazon and look at the books. Use the Search Inside feature and read some of the book. Is this a book you would be happy to have sitting next to yours? Look at the cover, the formatting, and particularly at the writing. The reviews are also important. It’s not so much a matter of how many reviews as what they say. Do any of the reviews mention the writing or the plot or the characters?
  3. Preditors and Editors is a website ( with an extensive database of writing related information. The Book Publisher and Distributor Listings are alphabetized. Some are recommended, others not. If your publisher does NOT appear on these pages, go on to there sites. But, if you publisher is “not recommended” proceed with caution
  4. Poets & Writers ( also has a listing of small presses. Since a lot of their readers are poets, they concentrate on publishers who offer to publish poetry. Again, lack of a listing is not a black mark.
  5. Writers Beware ( is sponsored by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, but the website is a valuable resource for any writer, regardless of genre. There section on small presses begins with section that includes Issues to Consider before Submitting, followed by a section on Evaluating a Small Press–both well worth reading.
  6. Last and probably the least reliable is Google. You can type in the name of the publisher and add the word Reviews. This can warn of some egregious practices, but it can also bring up rants by rejected authors.

If you have looked at all of the above and still believe your chosen publisher might be “the one,” it is time to contact someone and ask a few questions. Here is an example, but you will have many of your own to add.

  • What do choicesyou do for me as an author?
  • What do you expect from me?
  • How do you publicize your books?
  • How much will it cost me?
  • Do you have a succession plan?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, you are entrusting this company with your baby–the one you spent months or years writing. Make sure you have a good fit. Divorcing a publisher can be more difficult than divorcing a spouse.


editing 1

The Ugly

Stephen Pierzchala, Flickr via Wylio

Stephen Pierzchala, Flickr via Wylio

The Ugly Publisher not only treats authors badly, but does so with malice aforethought. The Granddaddy of ugly publishers is Author Solutions. Our August post Beware the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, made it clear that discovering the underlying publisher is not always easy. Author Solutions has a gazillion imprints, and many of them are associated with otherwise legitimate publishers.

Dr Judith Briles, in her excellent blog The Book Shepherd, says the following: “Author Solutions has gotten into bed with Hay House (Balboa Press), Thomas Nelson (Westbow Press), Simon & Schuster (Archway Publishing packages start at $1599 and can go up to $24,999), Guide Post/Writers Digest (Abbott Press) and others. With Penguin recently acquiring Author Solutions, who knows what Penguin will turn over from their slush/pass piles to Author House to ‘follow up’ on.” 

According to Publishers Weekly, the class action suit filed against Author Solutions in spring of 2013, “alleges that Author Solutions misrepresents itself as an independent publisher, luring authors in with claims of ‘greater speed, higher royalties, and more control for its authors,’ and then profits from ‘fraudulent’ practices, including ‘delaying publication, publishing manuscripts with errors to generate correction fees, and selling worthless services, or services that fail to accomplish what they promise.’

In the initial complaint, three named plaintiffs (Kelvin James, Jodi Foster, and Terry Hardy) detail their experiences of paying thousands of dollars, and being upsold into ‘developmental’ packages for editing and marketing services which either “did not materialize, or provided subpar service, while generating fees for Author Solutions.’”

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, called Author Solutions one of the companies that put the “V” in vanity. Author Solutions earn 2/3 or more of their income selling services and books to authors, not selling authors’ books to readers. For anyone not familiar with Smashwords, Bowker named Smashwords the largest publisher for indie e-books in its latest report “Self-Publishing in the United States, 2007-2012,” after publishing about 90,000 e-books in 2012.

In conclusion: DO YOUR HOMEWORK before you choose a publisher.



Small Publishers: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Part 2)

© 2009 Travis Balinas, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

© 2009 Travis Balinas, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

It is the beginning of a new year and time to take another look at small publishers. This month we will discuss the BAD and leave the Ugly for the shortest month. Don’t want to look at them too long.


What is meant by a “bad” small publisher? Probably every person who reads this blog will be able to give a definition of a “bad” publisher, and there are good odds that no two of those definitions will be the same. To our mind, a bad publisher is one who treats the author badly. What does this mean? Here’s where things get relative and we are reminded of the old adage that one man’s meat is another man’s poison.

Before you can define “bad,” you must be clear in your own mind what you want from a publisher. If all you want is an imprint on the copyright page and bragging rights of having a publisher as you wave your book in front of (possibly) envious friends and relatives, then you don’t need to read any more. Read Part 3 next month for the straightest and easiest path to get there.

If you are serious about writing, or even serious about the one book you have finished, you need to dig deeper. Joe Konrath wrote a full page bulleted list of what it means to treat an author badly in his blog Do Legacy Publishers Treat Authors Badly? Yes, legacy publishers treat authors badly, but so do many small publishers. After all, they aspire to be big boys one day.

Adding to all the unkind ways legacy publishers treat authors, small publishers have a few more bullet points, chief among them being taking the author’s money to publish his or her book. Small publishers of an entirely new breed are multiplying–fee based publishing. Granted that small publishers have small budgets (otherwise they’d be big publishers), there is some justification for that. It is the individual author who must decide what is reasonable and what is unreasonable. Unfortunately, all too often the author gets the crumbs from the royalty table–and pays for the privilege.

When looking into small publishers, consider which points you consider bad treatment, and search the publisher’s website to see how they treat their authors. Contact one of their authors and ask about their opinion of the publisher. Does the publisher treat the author as a colleague or a product? Ask questions. Do your homework.

For more insight on publishers treating authors badly,

Roz Morris, author of Nail Your Novel, wrote: Why do authors get treated so badly?

Jane Friedman’s blog: Climbing the walls


Stephen Pierzchala, Flickr via Wylio

2005 Stephen Pierzchala, Flickr via Wylio



© 2005 Erica Cherup, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

© 2005 Erica Cherup, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

This is the time of year for happiness and good cheer, so today will only cover THE GOOD, leaving THE BAD and THE UGLY for another day.


A good partnership is one in which both partners collaborate to produce a quality product. In publishing, as in any other business, both partners need to contribute.

Contributing does not always mean contributing money! The author has already contributed a great deal of time and work to produce a quality manuscript. The best of the small publishers consider themselves to be the venture capitalist of the partnership. Although, there are good small cost-splitting publishers, authors should be careful before taking that route.

BOTH partners collaborate to edit the manuscript to make it the best it can be. With traditional publishers, the editor gives the author very little (if any) say in how the book is edited. Small publishers are almost always approachable. There is a real person at the other end of the telephone or email, and that person is interested in each and every book he or she publishes.

BOTH partners collaborate to find a cover image and design that suits the book. Even thought this is within the purview of the publisher, the author should always be able to voice his or her opinion and discuss any points of difference between them. However, the publisher usually has ties to graphic designers with experience in cover design that most authors lack,

BOTH partners should collaborate on the release date. Why? because both need to work very hard to make that date as visible as possible, and both the publisher and the author have other things happening in their lives and need to schedule accordingly.

BOTH partners need to work on marketing and promotion of the book. This is true of all publishers–large or small. Of course, small publishers have small budgets, but they also give more personal attention to each campaign and each book.

BOTH partners need to continue to search for new and innovative ways to publicize the book. The number of books being published annually has never been higher, and all of them are jostling for attention.


Next time: What about the BAD Small Publishers?

© 2009 Travis Balinas, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

© 2009 Travis Balinas, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

Commercial Publishing: How brief the joy!

How long does it take an author to write a book? The answer varies from author to author. Some authors can take years to research the facts behind their stories. Others take years to write and polish their books.
After the book is as close to perfection as possible, it can take another year or longer to find an agent, and even more time for the agent to find the right publisher.


© 2014 R. Lex-M, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

At last, a contract with a Big Publisher! Time to celebrate!
Bring out the fireworks!What happens then? It can take 12 to 16 months to get on the shelves of

a bookstore.
W. Terry Whalin says in an article “What Happens Inside a Publisher, After I Sign the Contract?” ( Our last post told a little of what goes on in the interim between contract and the appearance of the book in bookstores.

So the clock ticks away the seconds, minutes, hours, and months until the book is ready. And then…heart palpitations and sweaty palms… the release date is here! It has taken years of work, possibly more years of rejection slips and disappointments, but it was all worth it. Now, at last, the masterpiece is hitting the shelves of brick and mortar stores all across the country. No, let’s amend that…all around the world. Dreams appear of a whirlwind book tour, exhilerating book talks, maybe even television appearances.  All that’s left is the walk to the bank with the well-deserved royalty checks.

Fast forward two or three months…


If your book hasn’t made the New York Times  best seller list and is taking up valuable shelf space in the bookstore, it soon gets relegated to the dreaded $5 and under racks to make room for New Arrivals.

Look closely at the books inIMG_20140814_170513 these pictures: Clive Cussler, Michael Crichton, Steig Larsson… Yes, even those famous authors get reduced to the $5 and under racks.

Next: The final chapter.