Do video book trailers work, and how do you make one?

I have been questioning the impact of video trailers on book sales for some time. I’ve seen some very good trailers – usually with specially shot video – and some very poor ones where scrolling text describes the whole story for seemingly endless minutes.

I played around a bit with some utility apps that I had on my Mac (and I do love messing around with software), but I really didn’t know where to start. I checked out Animoto – a free app – but although it was quick and easy I didn’t really like the fact that I had no control at all, and with little more than the cover of my book to work with, it just didn’t seem to deliver – so I temporarily gave up.

However, I was impressed with the impact that a good trailer could have when I went to one of S J Bolton’s Amazon pages and saw a video taster for one of her books. Once I’d got over the fact that the actor chosen for her leading man was nowhere near as sexy as he seems in the book, I watched the video and I was hooked. I’d gone there to purchase the book, as it happens – but if I had stumbled across that page by accident, I would still have bought it. The video worked.

I knew that I couldn’t produce anything as professional because S J Bolton’s video was made with specially shot footage, but I thought I might be able to put something together that gave a flavour of my book.

First of all I explored Adobe After Effects. I have a subscription to Adobe Creative Suite and I thought that my knowledge of Photoshop would help. It didn’t. I spent a whole day trying to get to grips with After Effects, and while I am certain that it’s a fantastic piece of software in the hands of the right person – that person isn’t me!

I then discovered an app called iMovie on my Mac. There were no clues about how to work with stills – but I thought I would just have a go. It’s not super-sophisticated, but it did exactly what I wanted it to do. (I understand there is an equivalent for the PC.)

Check out the video here so that the following might make more sense.

These were the steps I took:

  • I found a piece of music that was 30 seconds long – the length that I thought would work best as I only had two images! I had to pay for this soundtrack, and I bought it from iStockPhoto.
  • Using Photoshop and the original PSD file for my cover, I extracted various layers. If you’ve never used Photoshop or equivalent software, images are created using different layers – a background layer, then layers that hold different parts of the final image – in my case the girl, the headlights and the text. The Back Road cover has over 70 layers!
  • I selected the same section of each relevant layer so that I could ‘build’ the images on the screen as the action developed – when you look at the video, this should make sense: the empty road, the road with the girl, the road with the headlights, the road with the headlights AND the girl
  • I played around with colour a bit.

Manipulating images in iMovie

The first thing I did was to add all the images that I wanted to use. Each of these is nominally given an on-screen duration of 4 seconds, but that’s a long time to look at a still image. Fortunately in iMovie there is an option to set the time to fractions of a second. There is also a great feature that allows you to select an area of the still image shown at the start of the shot, and the area at the end. The software creates a moving image of the still by zooming in or out accordingly. The selections don’t have to be centred – you can start in the bottom left corner and end in the top right, if you want to. This adds movement to your still images without resorting to effects. In the example below, I chose to start wide, and end where the red rectangle is. This happens over a period of 4.9 seconds

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 18.20.48

Transitions

There are a number of different transitions between images to choose from. They are a bit limited but you can wipe screens, spin things in and out, fade, dissolve etc. Most of these transitions weren’t really relevant to the type of story I was trying to tell.

Titles

After all of the transitions are in place, you may want to add some words, and iMovie offers several title options, from ‘sideways drift’ to ‘boogie lights’. In general I wanted them to be quite simple in my trailer – I didn’t want loads of flashy stuff to take away from the message. What I did find, though, was a lens flare option. This normally flares around the title words, but I’ve used it a couple of times without any words at all. This tied in nicely to the car headlights which feature in the movie.

Music

Finally, the music track can be selected from wherever it is stored on your computer. I downloaded mine into iTunes. When the track is added, you can start tweaking so that the dramatic moments in the music are matched by changes to screen images. This can be achieved by shortening clips, playing with transition times, increasing the duration of titles, etc. Some people would probably choose to put the music track down first, and then match the images to the track – but I had a clear idea of the structure of the images, and then I tweaked until I was happy. You can see where the peaks are in the music, so that you can match up transitions.

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 18.24.31

You can apply different video effects too – such as changing to a sepia effect, a negative, etc. I didn’t use any of these – but they’re there if needed.

So there we have it. One video, which – if I hadn’t faffed around playing with tools that were far too sophisticated for me – I could have done in about three hours. An expert would do it in about 20 minutes.

I have now been bitten by the bug. I would like to use moving footage next time, but I’m not good enough to shoot it so I will have to buy some clips. I reckon that to create a 30 second video using the clips I have found will cost me around £80 (including the music that I’ve already bought).

So we have to ask – is it worth it?

If the video is just going on YouTube, I doubt it’s worth it at all. If you have a website, and it’s getting a decent amount of traffic, it’s certainly worth considering. You can also add it to a Goodreads page and your Amazon Author page.

My video is on my book page on Amazon. An author can’t upload video in this way as far as I’m aware, but this was organised between my agent and Amazon as part of the Amazon White Glove programme.

I don’t think the video has driven more people to my product page, but I do think that it may well have converted more page visitors into purchasers.

V6 smallWhat do you think? I know the video is far from professional – but I would love to know if this would be more or less likely to persuade you to buy the book.

Click the book cover to go to the book page and see the video.

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