Courtney Summers tells us How to Make a Book Trailer

Hi, everyone! Courtney Summers here. I write YA novels and my debut, Cracked Up to Be, came out late last year. When Danette asked me to do a guest-blog about book trailers for Summer Friend, I was thrilled. I've been reading her blog since the beginning and I'm a huge fan of her entries, as well as her charming and extraordinary middle grade debut, Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning. I hope I can do her space on the web justice and offer y'all something helpful and interesting to read at the same time!

So. Let's talk book trailers! I should say right off the bat this guest blog is not going to question their usefulness--it's going to be about how to make one yourself. My personal opinion about book trailers is that they're great and why not? There are worse things to do than, you know, use a new and exciting medium to get word out about your work!

That said, here is the book trailer I made for Cracked Up to Be:

I love book trailers. I love watching them. The unveiling of a new book trailer for an upcoming release is comparable to a cover reveal because, much like a fabulous cover, a well-executed book trailer can get a reader totally amped for a book. That's an exciting experience for author and reader alike! I'm going to take you through the process of making mine and share with you some tips and tricks I learned along the way.

Shortly after Cracked Up to Be sold (September of 2007), I immediately started thinking book trailers. I didn't want my release date to sneak up on me and have nothing to show for it (well, besides the book), so I was teaching myself the in and-outs of Windows Movie Maker (the software that came with my laptop) as early as that October. That's my first tip: don't wait to familiarize yourself with the tools that are freely available to you. Do it as soon as possible. I ended up making A LOT of mock book trailers so I knew how to take full advantage of the program when it was time for me to really start cracking. Playing around on WMM also enabled me to get a sense of how book trailers worked in terms of pacing and structure etc.

After I had the program pretty figured out, I had to decide what I wanted my book trailer to feel like, what kind of tone it would convey. Cracked Up to Be was not a light read, so I wanted to aim for something a little gritty in sound, but "clean" in look (I'm a minimalist at heart and adore white space). A book trailer is a hook; a hint of what's to come. Don't think of it as a literal interpretation of your book--think of it as a teaser, a taste.

In the case of book trailers, I'm a firm believer that shorter is better. You don't have to cram in every bit of information into one. Immediately think of the most concise and compelling way you can get the essentials of your story across. Write the script for your book trailer first. Your script will inspire the other pieces needed to complete the final produce (visuals, sound). So before I started thinking on the visuals and the sounds, I opened up notepad and made up my script.

For Cracked Up to Be's trailer, I took this plot summary from the catalogue copy (written by my wonderful editor):

Perfect Parker Fadley isn’t so perfect anymore. She’s quit the cheerleading squad, she’s dumped her perfect boyfriend, and she’s failing school. Her parents are on a constant suicide watch and her counselors think she’s playing games…but what they don’t know, the real reason for this whole mess, isn’t something she can say out loud. It isn’t even something she can say to herself. A horrible thing has happened and it just might be her fault. If she can just remove herself from everybody--be totally alone--then everything will be okay...The problem is, nobody will let her.

And turned it into this:

Perfect Parker Fadley isn't perfect anymore.
She's quit the cheerleading squad
dumped her perfect boyfriend
her parents are on suicide watch
and she's failing school.
But what no one knows...
the real reason for this whole mess...
isn't something she can say out loud.
A horrible thing has happened
and it just might be her fault.

What's the worst thing you've ever done?

cracked up to be
a novel by courtney summers
coming Janury 2009 from St. Martin's Press

It seems like a lot of text, I know, but I think it translated into a book trailer pretty well. If you'll note, it's broken up into three parts: 1) plot summary 2) the hook ("what's the worst thing you've ever done?") and 3) all the must-have information (title, author, release date, author website). The great thing about scripting your book trailer is it provides you with a HUGE launching pad in terms of figuring out how you're going to do what you're going to do next. How do you want this text to look? What visuals does it inspire? What kind of music would complement it? It will also help you figure out your pacing. Pacing (next to music) is crucial.

In my case, I looked at each line as a beat. I wanted to keep a steady rhythm throughout the book trailer with appropriate pauses for emphasis, building toward the space between "and it just might be her fault" and "what's the worst thing you've ever done?" Having a general idea of what kind of pacing I wanted the book trailer to have, I started to look for music and sounds that would fit it. Music. Is. So. Important. Music will drive your book trailer like nothing else and it will really give your audience an idea of how your book might make them feel to read it.

Getting permission for music or finding free/license free music is crucial--and not as difficult as you might think. In my case, I used a song that fit my end goals (it had a steady rhythm and great beats I could take advantage of) by Brad Sucks. He's a talented, Canadian based musician who encourages people to use his music in their projects for free.

When it comes to finding free/easily licensed music, there are many options out there. Google is your best friend. Look into Creative Commons licensing. Check out The Free Music Archie ("please visit the track page to discover what you can and cannot do with each track"). Is there a talented but little-known band whose music you would LOVE to feature in your book trailer? Don't be afraid to email and ask! You may let you use it under agreeable terms. Cross-promotion is beautiful thing.

And if you play an instrument, perhaps getting the perfect music for your trailer is as simple as sitting down and recording it on your computer. Also, if you're not interested in music for your trailer, think of how you can best use sound. While C.K. Kelly Martin incorporates guitar music in the trailer for her latest release, One Lonely Degree (watch it here), she also uses the sound of someone breathing to great effect.

I edited all of my audio in Audacity, which is a free digital audio editor, and one I found to be very easy to use (but I didn't wait until the last minute to learn how to use it! I played around with it a great deal of time before as well.).

Your script will also give you a great idea of what kind of visual cues to use. I could have picked very literal visual interpretations of each line of my script (perhaps pictures of pom-poms, a couple walking away from each other, a bottle of pills etc), but in the end, I decided to hand draw and scan images, which I felt helped support the kind of gritty feel I wanted to achieve. This approach worked for the first half of the trailer. For the second half, I knew I wanted to incorporate some photographs as well. If you have an eye and a digital camera, getting the perfect images for your book trailer could be as simple as taking them yourself.

While I dabble in photography, my general style wasn't really appealing to me for my trailer (although I did ultimately use one of my photos--the girl in the bathroom). Luckily, I'm blessed to know some very talented photographers and my friends, Kim Hutt (the photo of the girl holding her hair belongs to her) and Veronique Moisan (the party photos belong to her), graciously gave me permission to use their work.

When looking for images yourself, again, check out those that have Creative Commons licensing (but make sure to pay close attention to the type of license! Just because it says cc doesn't mean you can use it freely for every purpose). In fact, Flickr enables you to search specifically for cc works on its search page. Do you have friends who are into photography? Maybe they'd love to be involved in that part of your book trailer.

Once you have the script, the visuals and the sounds you need, it's time to put them all together in the movie making program that comes with your computer! And that should be reasonably easy enough because you've been practicing on it for fun all this time... right?

Happy book trailer making!

All this said, there are many fantastic people out there who will make a rockin' book trailer for you, for a fee. Circle of Seven Productions leads the pack when it comes to making book trailers and I am a great admirer of their work. But if you are unable to hire someone to do it for you, as I was, don't be afraid to DIY! The total cost of Cracked Up to Be trailer was my time. The end result is a trailer that I am incredibly happy with and that has been--thankfully--received very positively.

Hope this was a helpful read!

Thank you, Courtney! It was a very helpful read. Please visit Courtney's website and check out Cracked Up to Be.


Danette Haworth said...

OMG, Courtney--thank you for such a great post!

Shana Norris said...

Thanks so much for such a great post! I've been thinking of making a book trailer for my next book, but trying to get started felt a bit overwhelming. Thanks so much for laying out the steps and the tips on where to get music and photos!

Kim Kasch said...

Ohhhhh I have to go to work but like Arnold Schwartznagger, "I'll be back." Probably tonight to give this some more time.

But I'm going to pop over to Verla's and post this link. I think people will love this.

Jessica Burkhart said...

Sooo great! Thank you, C! :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Book trailers definitely seem the wave of the future, at least the near future. This is a great post about them. I'm such a luddite, I actually don't typically watch book trailers. I'm not a fan of movies and I suppose it seems a movie type thing to do. I could see how a well done one might separate a book from the pack though.

kai said...

Great post! Thanks Courtney for sharing your knowledge, Danette for hosting and Kim for cross posting. I love our writerly world!

Sandy Nawrot said...

That trailer is awesome. How could you watch it, and not read that book? (I'm a little nervous about what this girl is up to, and for sure would not let my daughter read it before me!) It is the perfectly executed hook.

Danette Haworth said...

If Courtney wasn't a writer, I'd say she had another career waiting for her! The book trailer is awesome indeed and captures the essence of the book. It's definitely YA, as you can tell, and gritty, as Courtney said, and worth five stars--check out the reviews on Amazon!

C.K. said...

Courtney's trailer for Cracked Up to Be remains one of the best I've ever seen and this is a fantastic guide to making your own trailer. I totally agree on the second career as a book trailer creator!

Angela said...

What a great, great post! I've always said that Courtney's trailer is one of the best out there, because it teases you with the right things, making you ask questions without dumping a ton of info on the reader. Plus, she has kick ass music to go with it, which ramps up at just the right times. A lot can be learned by this post--thank you so much for sharing the process!

Catherine J Gardner said...

Fantastic post. Thanks, Courtney.

Rena said...

What a great post! I've enjoyed the few book trailers I've seen, mostly from BBers. Makes me wish I wrote novels and not PBs. Maybe someday -- :)

courtney said...

Ah! Thank you so much everyone for all your kind words--I'm glad you found it helpful. And thank YOU, Danette. I appreciate being given the opportunity to blog for a day at Summer Friend!!!

Little Willow said...

Go, Courtney, Parker, Danette, and Violet!

Anonymous said...

Awesome post, Courtney. Thanks for all the great info! I hope to need it one fine day. ;)

Danette, great idea. Thanks for hosting Courtney for this guest post.

Rebecca said...

Great post! I can't wait to sell my book and make a trailer for it myself. I've gotten to know my program by making mvoies for fun, so I am READY!

Mary Witzl said...

Very helpful. I'm a technophobe, so the more advice I can get about things like this, the better.

Here's hoping that someday I'll be able to use the advice..

Susan Sandmore said...

I love Courtney. And I love you, Danette. And I love that every time I come to your blog I get to look at Bono.

Rachat de credit said...

Thanks it has been a very good guide, now to make a book trailer is definitely very easy utilizing your recommendation. Thank you