Anatomy of an Effective Book Trailer

McAdam, Claudia Cangilla croppedBy Claudia Cangilla McAdam

Book authors can benefit greatly from creating (and using!) effective book trailers. Trailers can:

  • Help the author set up book presentations and signings
  • Stir up interest from potential reviewers
  • Generate sales
  • Entice publishers of your future books

For each of my recent picture books, I’ve produced such a trailer. It’s easier for a picture book author, because you have ready-made images to work with. But it’s not difficult to do with a novel, either. I used my own photographs, text, and compelling music for the trailer for my YA novel, Awakening.

Steps to Creating a Book Trailer 

Let’s focus on producing a good book trailer for a picture book. Think about what makes for a gripping movie trailer, and try to duplicate that. Here are the steps I employ:

  • Write the script.
    Summarize the book, but DON’T GIVE AWAY THE ENDING. You might want to take a look at my trailer for Kristoph and the First Christmas Tree to see what I mean. Kristoph cover
  • Choose the images. One of my publishers limited my use to five interior illustrations (plus the title page). This meant I had to get creative So, I chose my five illustrations, but used half of the illustration in one place, and the other half in another.
     The Mermaid's Gift cover In the trailer for The Mermaid’s Gift, I was able to squeeze out eight separate “scenes” using this technique. See if you can figure out which illustrations I cut in two.
  • Find royalty-free music on the web.
  • Find free or inexpensive audio clips on the web.
  • If you want narration, record the track. My local library has a sound studio which was perfect for this purpose.
  • Put the whole thing together using your software of choice. I have used Windows Movie Maker in the past, and even though I’m no techo-whiz, I’ve had good success in creating trailers for The Christmas Tree Cried and A, B, See Colorado. I try to limit the trailer to under two minutes – ninety seconds is ideal.

It’s Time to Come Clean

Now, I’ve got a confession to make. While I have assembled all my earlier book trailers, I had a little help for my two recently-released titles (Kristoph and Mermaid). Well, a lot of help.

My brother Chris is an Emmy-awarding winning television producer living in Chicago. I wrote the scripts for the two trailers, and then we spent an afternoon in the studio laying down the narration (courtesy of his daughter Sydney).

I designed the storyboard for the trailers, plotting out the narration and the corresponding images. I gathered the permissions line the publishers wanted in there, wrote the copyright information, and really served as the director of the projects.

Chris chose the music and sound effects and put the trailers together, for what I think are very pleasing outcomes.

Now, you may think you couldn’t possibly match the work of a professional. But don’t sell yourself short. It IS possible to do on your own, and I find it to be a very creative and rewarding process, but it may take longer doing it by yourself.

Start small, like I did, with just images, text, and music. Those elements make for fine book trailers. If you want to go higher-tech, dive in. Or contact my brother Chris (, since he’s itching to do more trailers, and I don’t have any new books on the docket . . . yet.

Putting the Trailer to Work

Some of the things I do with my trailers are:

  • Include a link to them under my signature on emails. People actually will go and watch them.
  • Put a link to them in the body of an email when I’m trolling for media interviews. Spending just 90 seconds of viewing can get people interested in the book and its author.
  • Potential book sellers and reviewers can get a good overview of your title (and get eyes on picture book illustrations) if you direct them to the book trailers.
  • When I pitch a new book to a publisher, I always discuss my marketing efforts, and linking to a book trailer shows my seriousness in creating promotional materials.

What tips have you found help in creating book trailers? What’s stopping you from producing one, if you never have before? What other ways do you use book trailers?

I look forward to learning about your experiences in creating what I like to think of as “the mini-story that tells the big story.”

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Hearing Voices

Ceil Boyles by Ceil Boyles

Writers of fiction learn early that voice is an extremely important aspect of any story. Writers themselves have a particular voice. That’s why we can often identify a work without first seeing the author’s name. But the voices of characters pose a unique challenge. A writer certainly doesn’t want his/her teen character coming off as a six-year-old or vice versa. And a lady brought up in British royalty would speak quite differently than a homeless girl living in an American ghetto. These extremes are difficult enough to accurately portray, but there are other issues which make voice tricky, as I’m discovering while I write my first time travel novel in which the hero lives in the nineteenth century while the heroine lives in the twenty-first. The majority of the book takes place in nineteenth century Washington DC.

The heroine is eighteen years old, a year out of high school. Would she still talk like a high schooler? In the past year and a half, she’s lost both parents and is responsible for the care of two siblings, and a grandmother whose memory is fading. Would she begin to sound more mature? The hero is twenty-three, a college graduate, and is caught up in the American Industrial Revolution though his overall goal is to become a congressman someday. So his voice would be more adult and at least somewhat educated.

Now for another big challenge. Of course, my heroine would use modern day speech which abounds with contractions. But what about my hero? Did they even use contractions in the nineteenth century? I found conflicting opinions on this in the research. Some articles suggested that contractions were seldom used before the latter nineteenth and early twentieth century. Others suggested they were probably spoken sooner but not used in written works. As pointed out, T’is and t’was are both contractions. I’ve read several recent books set in the 1880’s in which contractions such as she’d and I’ll are used, though less frequently than in stories set in modern time, and others where the author has chosen to simply use modern language throughout. Some suggest that using contractions makes for an easier read for the modern reader. This practice appears to be more common when the setting is in the United States rather than in Britain. In fact, some research suggests that not only speech but certain practices such as the use of chaperones remained rigid in England even as they began to relax a little in the U.S., especially as women joined the work force.

For my own story, I want to keep the voices of the two time periods very separate, so I’m attempting to reduce the use of contractions to almost zero for my nineteenth century characters, but I’ve been struck by how hard that is to do, at least, for me. Modern speech comes out so naturally when writing dialogue, and I have a tendency to read right past the contractions as if I’m blind to them when I’m reviewing it. Thank goodness for my critique group!

Voice is a fascinating element of writing and in my opinion can make or break a novel. It’s something I have to continually work on and admire those incredible authors who pull it off so beautifully.

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5 comments to Hearing Voices

  • Interesting thoughts about voice, Ceil. I agree with Hilari that these are hard choices. I love this quote from writer David Mitchell: “To a degree, the historical novelist must create a sort of dialect—I call it “Bygonese”—which is inaccurate but plausible.” Not original with me, but I like this thought too: “Write the past, but write for today.” Wish I could remember who said it!

    • Ceil

      Pam, I like your term “Bygonese.” I think it partly consists of using contractions for only a few terms such as it’s and she’s, and using them sparingly. I think one of the keys to writing in an earlier century is the choice of words and phrasing such as “aspire” instead of “want,” “escort you” instead of “take you,” and many others. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

  • You’re right about historical voices being tricky. In fact, just leaving the contractions out makes a character’s voice sound “old-fashioned”…and a bit stiff? Very tricky choices.

  • You’re right about voice being tricky, particularly historical voice. And in fact, just leaving out most of the contractions makes characters sound “old-fashioned”…and also a bit stiff. Hard choices.

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Writers’ Holiday Survival Tips

Photo of Cheryl Reifsnyder



By Cheryl Reifsnyder

Anyone Else Have a Love-Hate Relationship With the Holidays?

I have a confession: I used to have a love-hate relationship with the holidays.

It’s not that I disliked family and presents and celebration and holiday cheer, but it seemed like the season always created so much stress and pressure that I had a hard time enjoying it.

The holidays can be challenging for anyone. If you lost a loved one, you may face painful reminders of that person’s absence. If you’re spending time with extended family, you may have to deal with long-entrenched family dyamics and patterns of interaction that, at their best, create stress, and at their worst, bring out the worst of your immature & dis-empowered younger self. Holiday shopping, holiday travel, holiday schedules all get thrown into the stew pot with winter weather, flu season, and fewer hours of daylight, where they can easily simmer into a toxic mixture of stress and overwhelm.

Add in some of the characteristics shared by many creative writers–introvert, time-strapped, overworked, and underpaid–and it’s easy to see why some of us have a hard time dealing with even the most joyous of invasions of our structured lives!

Does any of this sound familiar?

So What’s a Writer to Do?

I know, I know: reading about all this stress is enough to make you want to bury your head under your blankets and refuse to emerge until spring. The bad news? Although scurrying back into our hidey-holes for a few more weeks of solitude seems to work out for Puxatawney Phil, it’s not such a useful approach for humans.

The truth is, though, that deep down you probably don’t want to miss the holiday season as a whole–only the stress and bother that it brings. These steps have helped me to rediscover joy in the crazy-busy months when family descends, gifts must be purchased, and writing time seems to disappear. I hope they’ll help relieve a bit of your holiday-related stress, too!

Step 1. Identify What You DO Appreciate About the Season

At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark commercial, the truth is that it’s easy to get so caught up in the stress of the season that we forget what we actually love and enjoy about it. Identifying what you love, like, enjoy, or appreciate about the next two months can help you prioritize those things.

Here are some of the “joys of the season” you might add to your list:

  • Time with family
  • Time spent in activities you might not normally fit into your schedule–such as going to concerts and plays, playing board games, reading picture books to your younger relatives, playing football in the snow, short sheeting your brother’s bed, baking (and eating!) decadent desserts, making a sticky mess with lots of laughter, lazing about after a meal with loved ones.
  • The opportunity to see people you don’t see very often
  • The opportunity to show love and appreciation to those you love and appreciate
  • Visiting places filled with memories
  • Getting to know young relatives before they’ve grown up
  • Showing off your amazing baking skills–or simply having an excuse to bake and knowing that you won’t be responsible for eating most of the results

Step 2. Identify the Stressors

If the holiday season triggers even a smidgen of dread in your bosom, make sure you figure out why. What do you dread, dislike, or simply wish you could avoid about the holidays?

For me, stresses tend to fall in these three categories:


  • Lack of time to recharge
  • Lack of writing time
  • Lack of time in general
  • The feeling that I’m losing momentum on the treasured writing project
  • Self-care (healthy diet, meditation, exercise)
  • Down time


  • Holiday baking
  • Hosting
  • Parties to attend
  • Potlucks to participate in
  • School concerts & performances
  • End-of-year deadlines, such as final exams; projects that have to be finished before vacation; budgets that have to be used up before the year’s end
  • Extra shopping
  • Travel preparations


  • Extra social events and interactions (especially draining if you’re an introvert!)
  • Weather challenges
  • Decreased daylight hours
  • Ramped-up sickness
  • Strained (or even great-but-still-stressful) family interactions
  • House guests
  • Entertaining
  • Reminders of a lost loved ones

Step 3. Optimize Your Plans

Patch_500pxGot your lists of what you like and what you don’t? Your next step is one of those that’s easy-to-say, but often difficult to implement: as much as possible, tweak your days to include more of the things you love and fewer of those that cause stress.

Sounds simple, right? The good news is that even small adjustments can make a big difference.

Even if you can’t change your commitments for the next several weeks, you can put on your detective hat to identify what is and isn’t working for you. Best of all, the act of looking for what you love amidst the holiday chaos will help you to savor and enjoy those things most important to you.

Step 4. Create Your Recharging Cheat Sheet

IMG_4636_500pxAssuming you’re human, even the best-planned holiday season will ambush you with occasional moments of stress and overwhelm. This last step is to create your secret weapon to combat stress, overwhelm, and fatigue: your personalized “Recharging Cheat Sheet.”

What recharges you and energizes you? Make a list! No, really: write down a list of the things that will help refresh your mind, body, and spirit, because the times when you most need refreshing are the times when you’ll have the most trouble thinking of those things that restore your energy! I keep a condensed list on my iPhone and in the front of my writing notebook…and then I promise to try at least one when I feel the urge to crawl back in bed and pull the covers over my head.

Here are a few ideas to get you started…

  • Read your “gratitude list”–things you’re grateful for this holiday season
  • Listen to your pick for the year’s most inspirational song
  • Take a hot bath
  • Get outside
  • Do 10 minutes of yoga or stretching
  • Meditate
  • Cuddle something furry
  • Hug someone
  • Hold a pencil in your mouth–in a way that makes your lips curve up
  • Get out of the house
  • Or by yourself
  • Swing
  • Photograph something lovely
  • Color a mandala
  • Write a haiku
  • Journal
  • Write a quick note of appreciation
  • Pare down your to-do list to 3 items
  • Give yourself a gift
  • Sing a happy song
  • Savor a piece of chocolate
  • Dance wildly
  • Spend an afternoon browsing new titles at the bookstore
  • Take an hour to people-watch
  • Savor a fragrance
  • Take a library break
  • Play a silly game
  • Indulge your creative side–make a craft, create a piece of digital art, or modify a photo

What’s on your recharging cheat sheet? I’d love to hear!


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3 comments to Writers’ Holiday Survival Tips

  • blitz2225

    All of these things seem to apply to me, Cheryl. Thanks for making me feel normal in these crazy times.

  • I’m certainly taking in my share! 😉

  • I don’t know how the above reply got attached to this tip–it was supposed to attach to Anne’s comment…mysterious are the ways of WordPress.

    I was just looking at the Holidays and saying, “OMG I don’t have time!”

    So this is particularly useful for me. One thing I’m looking forward to this T-day is the people who are coming–a number of very fun friends, hopefully including a couple we haven’t seen for quite a while.

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Whiney and the Oxford Comma

Whiney Writer


by Whiney Writer

I went to a presentation on copy editing last weekend. You’d think that a two hour talk on things like whether to put the single apostrophe of an interior quote inside or outside the exclamation point would be really boring—but it wasn’t!

If a publisher brings out your book they have their own copy editor go over your manuscript. When you publish your own book, like I did with my SciFi/zombie/romance/mystery/thriller, you’re supposed to hire a copy editor yourself—but once I found out how much they charge I decided not to. Now I’m wondering if that was a mistake, because copy editors know a lot about grammar and layout rules I didn’t even know existed.

The copy editor, Anne Marie of Month9Books, talked about “feral commas,” which are commas that turn up in places commas have no business being. My heart positively bled for those poor little wild commas, trying to hide in the text with ruthless copy editors hunting them down. I wanted to adopt them all, and give them homes in my writing where they’d be safe.

And besides, how else are you supposed to tell readers to “pause here in the sentence and take a breath.” Even I know that putting in a comma is a lot less obtrusive than putting in (pause here and take a breath). You have to add the parenthesis, or the reader will think it’s part of the sentence and be confused. But I bet a reader would get tired of seeing those parenthesis pretty quickly. Putting a comma where you want those pauses takes care of it (pause here and take a breath) without the reader even noticing!

But there’s another kind of comma the editor talked about, and I didn’t feel any sympathy for it. We have fine universities in America, so I don’t see why it had to go to Oxford. Even if it couldn’t afford Harvard or Yale, there are plenty of good state universities right here at home. And if it was adopted by Oxford university (maybe because it was feral?) then it’s got a whole university to look after it, so I don’t have to.

The Oxford comma is the one that comes after the second item and before the “and” in a list of three items, and Anne had a great example of why it makes a difference. If your sentence reads: The party was attended by two strippers, JFK, and Stalin. Then four people went to the party—two of them are strippers, one is JFK, and one is Stalin. If you sentence reads: The party was attended by two strippers, JFK and Stalin. then two strippers named JFK and Stalin were the only ones at the party. (Which made me wonder who they were stripping for, but she didn’t go into that.)

But this discussion made me wonder if that snooty Oxford comma was the reason my critique group suggested I might want to revise the last sentence of the time travel/western version of my zombie/romance. It reads: Bruce Manly galloped into the sunset with his heart’s treasure, Sue Ellen and his horse. Since his heart’s treasure is the magical gem that keeps his heart beating (he’s not quite a zombie, just close) I don’t think anyone would think that his heart’s treasure is Sue Ellen. Or his horse. Though I can kind of see how the sentence might be read that way.

But if I’m going to adopt a university comma, it’s going to be from an American university. What if I change it to: Bruce Manly galloped off into the sunset with his horse, Sue Ellen and his heart’s treasure. Hmm. Does that imply that his horse is named Sue Ellen? This is trickier than it looks.

Oh wait! I’ve got it! Bruce Manly galloped off into the sunset with Sue Ellen, his heart’s treasure and his horse.

Take that, snooty Oxford comma.

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