Part 5 of Polly’s ‘Self Publishing Professionally’ series: Making a Book Trailer

‘When’s the film out?’ ask school kids, when I show them the trailer for my latest novel, Feral Youth.

This is a fair question, as it looks like a film trailer. That’s deliberate. I wanted to bring the book to life in a visual form, which meant thinking like a filmmaker.

I should clarify: You don’t need to make a trailer. It can be a time-consuming project and if you think your time is better spent getting on with writing the next book, then that’s what you should do. But if you think your readers are hanging out on YouTube, it’s worth thinking about. Similarly, if you’re thinking of selling the film rights down the line, the trailer can serve as a calling card. For non-fiction books, trailers work surprisingly well, especially if combined with snippets straight from the expert on the subject (i.e. you).

Thinking like a filmmaker is actually more complex than it sounds. As I say in my video, there are three roles you need to fill: writer, director and producer. You might be fortunate enough to run into someone who actually works in film, who might fill one or more of these roles, but if not, it’s perfectly possible to do all three jobs yourself – just make sure you give yourself time.

05 - Book Trailer pic

The first job is to write the script. Even if your trailer involves no dialogue, it still needs a script to describe the locations and give stage directions to the actors. Check out IMSDB if you’ve never seen a script before. For a 90 second trailer, the script should only be a couple of pages long.

With your script written, you need to get your producer’s hat on. The role of a producer is to sort out the cast, crew, locations, props, release forms, shoot details and er, budget. I spent about £200 on room hire and the cast’s expenses. I sourced my cast and some of my crew from Casting Call Pro, Star Now and a local theatre for my youth roles. There are lots of great actors out there who will work on your project for free if they believe it offers them something compelling for their show-reel.

To choose your lead roles, you should set up auditions. I used a room above a pub for this and I filmed them to see how the actors looked on screen. Make sure you’ve got a challenging audition script. (It doesn’t even have to be a scene from the trailer; I used a different scene from the book.)

Your choice of location will depend on your script, but generally speaking there are plenty of venues willing to offer space at low cost; you might just have to use your imagination when it comes to decorating the place. (I found myself buying and borrowing a large number of peculiar things in the run-up to the shoot: textbooks, hoodies, camping chairs, brown boots, electrical tape, greaseproof paper and chocolate.)

Be organised. On the day of the shoot, you’ll be wearing both your Producer and Director hats (and possibly an Acting one too), so you need to know exactly what’s required for each scene, both logistically and creatively. I recommend having a friend on set as Production Assistant, for the little things like running off to the shop for water, holding down netting and stabilising wobbly tripods. (Thank you, Jo!)

Once the shoot is over, the hard work begins. Editing the footage is a time-consuming business and it helps if you can get someone to do the technical stuff for you. (If you’re doing it yourself, I recommend Sony Movie Studio.) Sound quality is really important and we ended up re-recording some of the voiceover indoors. (Interesting trivia: Most film dialogue is re-recorded in a studio and layered onto the action to replace the fuzzy version recorded on the shoot.)

Stay legal. You can’t just grab any old soundtrack or music from the internet. I commissioned a musician friend to write and record the music for the Feral Youth trailer. You could source it from Soundcloud, but make sure you have the originator’s permission.

It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s also a lot of fun – and you never know where it might lead. As well as the obvious promotional benefits of a book trailer (which, for me, has proved invaluable when touring schools), you might find that the cast and crew play an important role in spreading the word about your book. Off the back of my trailer, the lead actor ended up recording the Feral Youth audiobook and another member of the cast has performed a series of his own original songs based on the book. Most excitingly of all, the film adaptation is now in progress – so you never know.

If you decide that a book trailer isn’t for you, then perhaps my next post on Holding an Epic Book Launch will be more up your street. No matter how small, you need to do something to tell the world your book is coming out. Until next time – good luck!


You can read all 6 parts of Polly’s #DoingItBetter series on Self-Publishing here, or here’s the link to the video playlist only.