Kelly Kautz

The blog of Kelly Kautz, a copywriter and content strategist based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

How to Make a Book Trailer That Doesn't Suck

I've been doing a lot of research on book trailers lately. I work at a video production company. I write scripts in my sleep. So when my editor suggested I make a book trailer to support my book proposal, I thought: "Piece of cake."

Now I'm eating my words.

What are Book Trailers, and Why Do So Many People Hate Them?

Book trailers are videos meant to spark interest in a new book. They're often modeled after movie trailers. And they're often maligned, even by authors who use them well.

Case in point:

I responded to Chuck Wendig's tweet by asking what book trailers he actually liked. He didn't answer. Presumably he's too busy writing more books and cashing royalty checks. (To be fair, he did write a blog post on the topic back in 2012.)

But here's the thing: Wendig's book trailer for his Miriam Black series is really good. It showcases everything that's delightful about Miriam Black (unforgettable characters, a great narrative voice) without any fluff.

Book Trailers: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

I've watched at least a dozen book trailers since then. Everything from big-budget numbers to simple stop motion and author interviews.

Here's what I learned: there's no formula for a good book trailer. Is the book funny? The book trailer should make viewers laugh. Is it dramatic? The trailer should take people's breath away. Is it lyrical? The trailer should have a lovely, lyrical script.

Above all else, a book trailer should leave viewers eager to read the actual book. It should give them just enough information to know what it's about, then leave them wanting more.

Here's a book trailer that does just that:

This video has high production values, but author Tim Ferriss documents the entire process—complete with storyboard sketches and video treatment.

I've been working on my own book trailer this month. And while I don't have Tim Ferriss's budget, I hope to share my own video-making process with you, and ultimately create a successful book trailer. 

Will I succeed? I have no idea. But every step of the way, I'm going to be asking: Does this make viewers want to read the book? And if the answer is no, I'm going back to the drawing board. Er, storyboard.

Here's my current book trailer script, just in case you're curious:

Let me know what you think!

In Praise of Pausing

I've been working on a memoir for about two years now, with lots of starts and stops. I've thrown out hundreds of pages.


Ramping Up, Then Slowing Down

This year I worked with a mentor, Wendy Dale, to finally get the right structure in place. I read Save the Cat! by screenwriter Blake Snyder. I outlined the dramatic arc of every book I read and studied its strengths and weaknesses. I began to understand what makes a story come together. 

In spring I finished a chapter-by-chapter outline of my memoir. Then I got pregnant and completely shut down. Between the constant morning sickness and the mental fog, I couldn't imagine writing anything. I played computer games. I watched TV. I steeped in boredom. 

My Second Wind

About a month ago, I got a second wind. I decided to finish the rough draft of the new outline before the baby comes in late January. Since then I've been writing a thousand words a day and a chapter a week. I've never been more productive. 

I realize now that I needed that break between the writing and intensive study to let all the new knowledge sink in. They way compost needs time to break down so it can support new growth. 

Stopping vs. Pausing

In addition to writing, I'm also taking an online essay-writing class taught by Amy Paturel. Each Wednesday she sends out a quote to discuss. This week she sent one from Stephen King's book, On Writing

“Stopping a piece of work just because it’s hard, emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea. Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.”

I've always had mixed feelings about stopping. I feel guilty whenever I miss a day of writing. I worry that I'll die in a car crash and never get to accomplish my dream, because I was too busy watching "Teen Mom" and playing Minecraft. But I also believe in honoring life's ebbs and flows.

Cheryl Strayed wrote something in her advice column, "Dear Sugar," that has always resonated with me: 

"When I was done writing it, I understood that things happened just as they were meant to. That I couldn't have written my book before I did. I simply wasn't capable of doing so, either as a writer or a person. ... I had to write a lot of sentences that never miraculously formed a novel. I had to read voraciously and compose exhaustive entries in my journals. I had to waste time and grieve my mother and come to terms with my childhood .... and grow up." 

When should you take Stephen King's advice, and when should you look to Cheryl Strayed for permission to let the work progress as it will? 

I think it comes down to self-knowledge. Are you stopping out of fear and avoidance? If so, examine that and then get back to work. You feel bad now, but you'll feel better when you've broken through and returned to the page. 

Or do you need a pause, because you're tired and depleted and you need time to reflect and refill the well? 

Sometimes it's hard for me to tell the difference between stopping and pausing. But this time, I know I made the right decision. I'm glad I paused. Because the wind in my hair has never felt better. 

Richard Wright on Telling the Truth

“I have found that to tell the truth is the hardest thing on earth. Harder than fighting in a war, harder than taking part in a revolution.
“If you try it, you will find that at times sweat will break upon you. You will find that even if you succeed in discounting the attitudes of others to you and your life, you must wrestle with yourself most of all. Fight with yourself. Because there will surge up in you a strong desire to alter facts, to dress up your feelings.
“You’ll find that there are many things you don’t want to admit about yourself and others.
“As your record shapes itself, an awed wonder haunts you. And yet there is no more exciting an adventure than trying to be honest in this way. The clean, strong feeling that sweeps you when you’ve done it makes you know that.”