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.”


  1. I’m in awe of what you did, Claudia! I haven’t been brave enough to tackle this, but maybe someday…laying it out like this is really helpful.

  2. There’s a reason Claudia is the best marketer I know. Great advice!


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