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12 Simple Steps to Design a Killer Trailer for Your Novel

1. Make it Lively

Although video would be ideal, sometimes it’s not possible to provide funding for actors, costumes, and sets. For me, it just wasn’t feasible to outfit actors with medieval attire – nor to set up a bubonic plague street scene. Work with what you have. I used illustrations from the artist who drew my beautiful book cover.

Stills are fine. Just don’t let them become static

2. Pan Images

If you must use images, use the zoom tool. This will draw the eye into a specific area of your image while providing the illusion that your image is moving.

3. Use Only Highest Resolution Images

If a viewer chooses to watch full screen in HD (the ideal outcome) you must make sure that your beautiful video won’t become fuzzy. Verify that your content is prepared to be blown-up by using only high-resolution images.

4. Use Original Images

There’s nothing that says amateur more than Internet clip art or stock photos. They may also be under copyright. Use only images you own the rights to, and chose something that can’t be found anywhere else. You want your video to be memorable.

5. Let the Image Fill the Screen!

The dimensions of your images are probably not the same as that of your video editing software. The software automatically shrinks the image so that it fits on the screen, but now it has a black background around it. This is especially obvious with portrait images, though horizontal images are guilty as well. You don’t want this.* This is what separates a trailer from a slideshow about your book. Crop the image so it fits the dimensions of your video screen. Or, better yet – capture the image to size with your camera in the first place. Either, way get it to size! Even if it takes some fancy editing to do so, it’s worth it.

*The only exception to this is a portrait image of your book at the beginning or end of your video, which – in order to stand out – needs that black background. In this case, you don’t want to fill the screen by zooming in on a section of your book – you want the audience to see the whole book. The automatic black background works well for this. If you can devise something more creative than solid black, be my guest!

6. Limit Words on a Screen

This rule is perhaps the easiest, yet it is far too often forgotten or abused. Let’s face it: no one wants to read a paragraph of text in a trailer. In that case, they could pick up your book at the bookstore and read the back cover synopsis.

They’re here to enjoy a cinematic experience they cannot get anywhere else. Give them something to remember. And please, make it easy on the eyes. Less is more. Five words or fewer is a good rule of thumb. My personal favorite is three.

If you need to say more, get creative. Separate a sentence across several screens. Substitute a phrase or adjective for a sentence. The possibilities are endless.

7. Allow Time to Read the Text

Along the same vein, please give them enough time to read your selectively chosen text. I can’t tell you how often I have to pause a trailer in order to read what it says, and by that point it just gives me cause to walk away. Don’t give readers any reason to abandon your trailer!

8. Don’t Animate the Text. Animate the Background.

Flying or scrolling text may be fun in a slideshow presentation, but those effects are not always ideal in a trailer. Fancy “dancing” text is easily distracting. A simple way to liven up a text screen while still making the text easy to read is to choose a lightly-animated background.

9. Separate Text and Image Screens

Far too often I see [insert any color except black or white here] words squeezed into a tiny square of space because it was the only place the words would be legible over an image that has multi-colored sections. Don’t corner yourself into using an obscure-colored font because any other color would disappear into your image. Neither the background image nor the intent will be retained.

Leave your image alone and instead consider placing the words on either the previous or following screen. The viewer will still get the message that the text and image are related, and the words will stand out much better when they are on a plain background devoted to text.

With this in mind . . .

10. Don’t Make Text Background Too Plain

Solid colors are boring. See #8 on animating the background.

11. Use Instrumental Music

Music with lyrics may distract from your novel. You can capture the mood of your story quite effectively with a simple, corresponding instrumental melody.

12. Use the Music to Your Advantage

Now that you have your music picked out, don’t just arbitrarily throw in the images. Match musical elements in the audio with pivotal images or text. (Here is where you’ll need to get crafty with chronological image arrangement.) This is one of the reasons instrumental is best. This will make your content stand out.


That’s it!

Pull up a chair, grab some popcorn, plug your computer into the TV, and watch your masterpiece come together. Enjoy the full cinematic effect of your book trailer – just like you’re in a movie theatre.

Still confused about how to implement these steps for your novel? Need a visual? Not a problem! View all 12 steps in action in this trailer for The Kiss of Death, my historical fiction struggle for survival amidst a backdrop of deadly plague in medieval London, with a hint of romance.


Purchase your copy of The Kiss of Death through Kellan Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo.

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