The 5 Shalts and Shalt Nots of Book Trailers

Five years ago it was unheard of to use a book trailer to attract readers.  Today, it seems like new books are required to have one just to keep up with the market.  To me, using a video to sell the written word feels wrong.  The whole appeal of reading a book is to create it’s reality in the mind’s eye.  Seeing someone else’s interpretation of a book, even in a short video, robs the reader of the full experience.

Regardless of how I feel, book trailers are here to stay.  I’ve seen them online, as commercials on TV, even at the local movie theater.  I’ve seen them done with live actors, slide shows, cartoons, and even in legos.  There are book trailers out there so enticing and vibrant that I can’t wait to find out more.

And then there’s the rest.

Sadly, most trailers tend to give me reasons to avoid reading the book.  Usually it has nothing to do with the content either, it’s a general feeling of being coerced or manipulated.  I don’t respond well to having people tell me what to feel, think, or do.  Anytime an advertisement crosses that line it stirs up a negative reaction.

If you are in the market to make a book trailer, here’s a handy list of things to consider:

The 5 Shalts

  1. Thou shalt always include the title, release date, and names of retailers.
  2. Thou shalt use the best equipment possible for clear video and good sound.
  3. Thou shalt use a tripod.
  4. Thou shalt have the concept and script reviewed by at least four intelligent people.
  5. Thou shalt find a way to emotionally connect to the viewer, without manipulating.

The 5 Shalt Nots

  1. Thou shalt not exceed a minute and a half.
  2. Thou shalt not roll credits.
  3. Thou shalt not use live actors if there are other options available.
  4. Thou shalt not be vague.
  5. Thou shalt not use corny or distracting music.

This list isn’t a magic ticket to book trailer success.  Just like a query letter, a book trailer must make the viewer want to know more based on the merits of the story.  And just like a commercial on TV it must do so in an interesting and compelling way.

Have you seen a book trailer recently? If so, what did you think?


About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
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12 Responses to The 5 Shalts and Shalt Nots of Book Trailers

  1. Angela Scott says:

    Amen, sister!

    I agree. I find the idea of trailers interesting (never heard of them until just a few months ago and now they’re everywhere). I’ve seen some well done ones and others that tell me the entire story so I feel I have no need to buy the book. Some look like cheesy daytime soap opera ads. I don’t know.

    I like to use to imagination. When I am shown a picture of what the MCs look like and told the plot design, it doesn’t sit well with me.

    On the flip side, I’ve seen some that are awesome and I want to know more (get my hands on the book). So, trailers can work if done well.

    I guess that’s where the market is heading in terms of advertising. I better jump on board.

    • tsuchigari says:

      It scares me to death that so much now rides on something no one had to use a few years ago. I’m all for a no holds barred marketing plan, but knowing that the chances of creating a successful book trailer are not great, is not encouraging. Still, knowing the preferences of the reading public and what they prefer in their trailers puts us all one step ahead of the game.

  2. krisseev says:

    I LOVE Sherilyn Kenyon’s book traiers. Very well put together and they give me a perfect flavor for the book she’s pimping. Good stuff.

  3. Jodi
    You touch on some important points, one of the most important–I think–is that like it or not, they’re now used as a part of the author’s platform in order to drum up a market for a book.
    I agree that they need to be top-flight, and would suggest that most writers, no matter how creative, are not also professional videographers, and should probably get professional help.
    Angela Scott (no relation, grin) also nails a big one for me. Don’t force your vision of the main character on me. Allow me to see that person for myself, and perhaps even better identify with him.

    • tsuchigari says:

      The more trailers I see the more I am convinced that effective trailers do just that – they don’t try to create the look of the main character, but instead use more abstract images and text to gain the interest of the audience. Maybe I’m set in what I like, but it seems that many others agree that they prefer something similar.

  4. Eleven Eleven says:

    I can’t agree more on avoiding the use of live actors. I have yet to see one with live actors that appealed to me. Oh, except Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters. That was greatness (probably because most of us have seen a movie version of Austen’s work; the live actor aspect already exists in our heads)

    I think book trailers entice me most when they use images and music to set mood, and use overlaying text to communicate the hook. I don’t like being handed the visual interpretation of the story any more than I like seeing a movie before I read the book. You are right, it kills my chance to do the imagining.

    • tsuchigari says:

      They made a trailer for S, S, & Seamonsters? Wow, I’m going to have to go check that one out!

      As for the live actors thing – you’re right I haven’t seen a good one either. Hopefully one day I will be proved wrong and someone will find a way to make using live actors work.

  5. I hate book trailers. I don’t pay attention to them. If I buy a book, it’s because I went into a bookshop, picked up the actual book, read the back of it, and bought because of that. No trailer, no matter how good would make me buy a book.

    • tsuchigari says:

      I find I use that approach far more often than anything I see in advertising. More effective than that is if a trusted fellow reader recommends something to me- that’s worth it’s weight in gold!

  6. Well, shows how far behind the times I am. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a book trailer. I’d better check some out. Do you happen to have any links?

    • tsuchigari says:

      I have yet to find a site that is a great resource for trailers, most I find are through friends who post them to Facebook or twitter. Your best bet is running a search for a recent release.

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