Anatomy of a book trailer

Australian author Tristan Bancks has long been a fan of the book trailer. Like movie trailers – which tease audiences with scenes from the movie, giving them a taste of what's to come and leaving them wanting for more – book trailers are meant to intrigue and entice potential readers to buy the book. However, they are still in their infancy, with some book trailers hitting the mark, and others barely resembling a mish-mash of images set against some really bad music.

Along with the release of his new book Two Wolves, Tristan has released his latest book trailer. You can view it here:

What is Two Wolves about?
Tristan explains: “Two Wolves is a crime-mystery novel about two kids, Ben and Olive Silver, who are ‘kidnapped’ by their own parents. They are told that they’re going on a holiday but, after a couple of run-ins with the police, they realise that their parents have done something wrong. They need to become detectives within their own family and work out what their folks have done and what they are going to do about it.”

This is Tristan's 10th book, with his 11th book My Life & Other Stuff That Went Wrong due for release on 1 April 2014.

Do book trailers have an impact on sales?
While Tristan has made book trailers for his previous books, he has been unsure whether they have had an impact on sales. But he says that, this time, it's different. “Up until now I wasn't sure if book trailers encouraged potential readers to buy the book, but the feedback from the Two Wolves trailer is that it makes kids and teens want to read it,” he says.

“I have made five or so trailers before this. Not all have had this effect. In fact, a couple were pretty crummy. I think a mystery element seems to be useful in making readers need to know what happens after your trailer ends, so don't tell them everything.”

What makes a good book trailer?
With a background in film-making (and a former career as an actor), Tristan brings this experience to the production of his book trailers. He says that all book trailers need a strong idea. “You need to capture the tone of your story,” he says. “Make it look professional or, if it looks unprofessional, make sure that the rustic look is a conscious choice! Try to do something different. Perhaps use the trailer to expand the world of your story. Making it original, shareable or remarkable in some way. Most of all, a trailer should make you want to read the book. Show your trailer script to people, cut a rough version, get feedback and if people don't seem genuinely intrigued, keep refining.”

He also advises that your trailer doesn't have to be too long. “Thirty seconds is perfect. A minute isn't bad. If it's two minutes it needs to be really tight and be a piece of entertainment in and of itself, I think.”

Do you need experience in film-making?
While most authors do not have Tristan's film-making background, he emphasises that this shouldn't hold anyone back. “If you have no experience in filmmaking, a book trailer probably isn't a bad place to start. It's a 30-second to two-minute film about a story that you know inside out. It's like a précis or a synopsis or a haiku of your novel.

“The key is in trying to come up with something more innovative than just still pictures with a Ken Burns effect and text that fades up and down saying ‘This summer… One Dog… Two Cats… And a plot to take over the world … etc.' And yes, I have done this kind of trailer before but it was a few years ago and now people expect more!

“Get help from filmy friends, draft and re-draft the script, make it at least as entertaining, funny, gripping, or moving as your book. Or invest your time in other creative marketing exercises. Also watch, lots of other trailers and work out what you like and don't like.”

How much does is cost?
Tristan says that you should aim to make your book trailer for “as little as possible”. He says: “The Two Wolves trailer was free because my sister is the newsreader and Random House kindly did the closing graphics and music. The trailer for My Life & Other Stuff That Went Wrong cost about $150 for an editor to give it the super-8 film look and about $40 in catering and green slime ingredients for the shoot. I had lots of in-kind support from generous people, though.”

You can view the trailer for My Life & Other Stuff That Went Wrong here:

Tristan says: “I recommend not spending thousands of dollars on your trailer. You don't want to spend your whole book advance on a 30-second trailer that may only get a couple of thousand views. Work out the locations, actors, crew and equipment you have around you and bring those people and resources together to make something fresh rather than pouring money into it.”

However, making a trailer is just the beginning. It won't have an impact on book sales if no one sees it. “Upload it to YouTube or Vimeo, share word on it and ask people to like it if they enjoy it. Use it in talks and workshops to break up readings and anecdotes and other chatty elements of your presentation. Kids and teens, in particular, appreciate this.”

Who does book trailers well?
When it comes to good book trailers, Tristan ranks the following as prime examples.

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On which was actually a trailer / clip made before the book was commissioned. It was so good that they were offered a book deal.” View it here:

“The trailers for both Wonder and Chloe and the Lion are simple, original, and capture the tone of the book. They intrigue and make you want to read the books.

“Chloe does a great job of making us like the creators of the book which makes us want to read their work.” Check it out here:

“Wonder, by not revealing the kid's face, leaves a mystery, an unspoken element, a piece of the puzzle that we need to solve. This is a really effective tool in trailer-making.” Here it is:

“I also love It's a Book by Lane Smith which is one of the most shareable trailers I've seen and taps right into contemporary debate and discussion around what constitutes a ‘book'.” View it here:

The future of the book trailer
While book trailers have yet to become de rigeur for authors, Tristan believes that they can be powerful tools. “Like starting a blog or tweeting or doing talks and workshops, a book trailer is definitely worth making if you can enjoy the process or if it's your natural skill set and you can make something that feels authentic.”

Meet Tristan in Sydney at the Australian Writers' Centre meet-up
Tristan Bancks is our wonderful guest speaker at our next Australian Writers' Centre meet-up in Sydney.
Date : Tuesday 1 April 2014
Time: 6.30pm – 8.00pm
Where: The Kirribilli Club, 11 Harbour View Crescent, Lavender Bay NSW 2060
Cost: $10
You can buy tickets here.

You can buy Tristan's latest books here:

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