Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How to Make a Book Trailer

Well, you could get lucky and pitch the concept to a brilliant director, have her like it so much she's willing to get all her friends to work at cost, have a social network that allows you to land a great location in NYC, and then front the $2k budget to make a for-realz live-action trailer like this:

But not everyone can do this.
(Even I couldn't do it more than once.)

It's time and money intensive to make a trailer like that, so when I considered making a trailer for Debt Collector, I knew it had to be low-budget. Even though the Mindjack trailer was high production value all the way, my greatest take away from the experience was that Concept is King. The trailer was great because the script was good (i.e. it showed the concept of the story well), and the actors/director were brilliant in bringing that concept to life.

Think about it: I can imagine a hundred different ways that a 2 minute trailer about mindreaders could be AWFUL. 

So, the key to a good trailer isn't cameras and dollies, but story and execution. It has to WOW on an emotional level, and the only thing that turns those gears is a story well told.

(This should sound familiar; these are the things that make a good blurb, a good cover, a good movie, and a good book.)

For Debt Collector, I knew the story concept was strong, and I already had powerful visual media through the stunning black and white photos I had been collecting for the DC covers. The kicker - the thing that convinced me that I could make a trailer that would be worth the time and effort - was landing the talented (and deliciously Lirium-like) narrator Max Miller for the Debt Collector audiobook. 

And what better way to promote the audiobook than a sample of the narration? (i.e. a trailer)

When Max agreed to narrate the trailer, the concept for the script suddenly fell into place: Lirium, speaking to us in first person, telling us the world he lives in, the angst he feels, and the trauma that upends his world. 

NOTE: all this work was done before I even looked into the nuts-and-bolts of trailer-making. And I highly suggest you spend a significant amount of time on concept, script, appeal - all the things that will make your trailer stand out and be share-worthy.  

Once I had my concept, it was time to script and storyboard. First, I watched the Looper and Blade Runner trailers (again) to study their narrative and storytelling style. I didn't have live-action video, but both these future-noir movies had voice-over as well. SCORE. I wrote a script, rewrote it about ten times, read it out loud to my mother, and finally decided it was good enough for a rough draft.

Gathering the Images
I had already been trolling stockart sites for months looking at cover images, so I had a lot of samples. I subscribed for a month to, so I would have as many images as I needed (cost $70). 

iMovie on the Mac
I used book proceeds to buy a Mac last year so I could upload my books directly to Apple - and figured Mighty Mite, my budding director, would enjoy using iMovie. Little did I know that he and I would be learning how to create trailers together! (His are for minecraft videos.) iMovie really is an amazing piece of software - powerful and flexible, yet easy to use. Plus there are a million video tutorials on YouTube that will show you how to use it, for everything from audio editing to special effects.

Here's mile-long list of royalty-free music sites (some free, some paid). I ended up finding just what I needed on Amazon, by searching "royalty free music." Of course, the track that I downloaded wasn't an exact fit for my trailer, so some editing was required. I used a free trial of Wavepad, which was shockingly easy to use (even if the audio editing itself was challenging).

Voice Over
Max narrated the script and sent me the file, which I imported into iMovie (via iTunes; pictures are imported via iPhoto). I had basically three tracks: still photos overlaid with effects and titles, the music track, and the voice over. Fortunately, Max didn't have to time everything exactly right: I could trim and move around his voice-over snippets, timing it with the music and photos to tell the story in a way that was emotionally resonant, not just a straight narration.

The Art of Movie Making
If you're making a trailer, you're making a movie - this was what I learned from my experience with the Mindjack Trailer. And using the visual/audio art form requires different storytelling skills than just words on a page. You give information with images, text, and voice-over. You create mood, build tension, provide release with music. The beats of the trailer have to fit the rhythm of story, just as a novel or short story would. I think of the trailer as a visual blurb: it sets the setting, introduces the characters, lines up the stakes and then POWs the reader/viewer with a moral choice. If you've done your job, the viewer/reader will not only want to know the rest of the story, they will feel moved, even in just that minute of time while you held their attention.

A good blurb or trailer whispers to the reader/viewer: see how I made you feel with just those few words? In just a minute of pictures and story and music? Think what I can do if you give me your attention for longer...

It's a promise to the reader, one that, hopefully, your story will pay off.

But don't take my word for it! Check it out for yourself: first by watching the Debt Collector trailer, then by downloading the first episode for free. Then you tell me: did I intrigue you? Did the story pay off the setup in the trailer? 

Those are the keys to everything in this business.


  1. Just WOW! I really want to be you when I grow up! So much talent stuffed and jammed into one person. At least I get to rub elbows with you in Emblazoners.

  2. I hope you don't mind, but I just had to share the "Debt Collector" and how you inspired me on my blog. Here's the link:


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