Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How to Make a Book Trailer

Song of the Vikings now has a book trailer, thanks to Mrs. Tasha Squires, head of the Learning Resource Center (I want to call it the library) at O’Neill Middle School in Downers Grove, IL.

I’ve never met Mrs. Squires, but I’d like to nominate her for Middle School Teacher of the Year, if there is such a thing, because in about 30 minutes last week she not only taught me how to make a book trailer, but convinced me I could do it.

Here’s the tale: On Tuesday of last week, Elisabeth, my very energetic marketing assistant at Palgrave Macmillan, sent me a message that set fireworks off in my head. The official publication date of Song of the Vikings is October 30, and we had been working hard to get the word out.

“One opportunity that we can take advantage of,” Elisabeth wrote (due to a situation that will soon be revealed but which I can’t mention yet), “is uploading an author video or book tie-in video”—a book trailer—to the Indiebound independent bookstore site. Elisabeth continued, “I don’t know if you have the means to or are even interested in creating such a video in the next couple of weeks, but I wanted to bring the opportunity to your attention in case you think it’s something you would like to do.”

Now, if you’ve seen a book trailer (and there are lots on YouTube), you probably wondered, as I had, who made them. Back in May, when the final editing was being done on Song of the Vikings, I thought how fun it would be to go to Iceland in the summer and make a video for a book trailer. I wanted to ask my friend Stan Hirson along—he’s a fabulous videographer; you can see samples of his work from Iceland on his websites and Life with Horses—and I was sure we could put together something memorable like his video “Longufjörur, the Long Beach,” which is one of my favorites.

But summer sped past, Stan and I never even discussed the idea, and suddenly I have a “couple of weeks” to make a book trailer.

Odyssey Through Literature logo
Me, myself, alone. I’m a writer, not a videographer. True, I once worked in radio and used to produce a radio interview program called “Odyssey Through Literature.” (As you can see from the poster image by my friend Jeff Mathison, I was already in love with Vikings.)

But that was in the 1970s and ‘80s. We used magnetic tape on big 10-inch reels, razor blades, and splicing tape. There was a cool little tray attached to the reel-to-reel deck that flipped down. You listened to the tape, rocking it back and forth until you found exactly the words you wanted to edit out. You made two marks on the tape with a grease pencil, slid the tape into the tray, slit it twice with your razor blade, picked out the “out-take,” let those cast-off words fall to the cutting room floor, and joined the ends together with splicing tape. Then you listened to those few inches of recording several times at different speeds to make sure you couldn’t hear your own edit. I learned a lot about people’s speaking patterns—and what you could make someone say with a deft hand and a razor blade—working on that program.

But I’d never worked in film or video. I’d never done anything like it on a computer. I told Elisabeth a book trailer was a great idea, but it wasn’t going to happen in a “couple of weeks.”

Then I couldn’t sleep. A script popped out of my head the next morning. Much too long, of course, but it was something. I thought maybe Stan had some video in the can that would work. But how would he send it to me? How would I edit it or do the voice-over? A friend of mine who works at Apple had already informed me I could shoot a video using Photo Booth, an application I had on my MacBook and hadn’t ever opened. He insisted I could figure it out. I opened it. I closed it. I dithered.

I couldn’t sleep that night either. I kept seeing my photos of Iceland playing like a film in my head.

The next morning, I googled “How to Make a Book Trailer.” Up came Mrs. Squires’ video, iMovie Instructions for Book Trailer Video.” I had iMovie on my computer, I discovered. I watched Mrs. Squires’ video. It was 12 minutes and 35 seconds long—and taught me everything I needed to know, including that I needed to watch her earlier video, Garage Band Instructions for Book Trailer Video,” to learn how to record the voice-over. Yes, I had Garage Band on my computer too.

Step by simple step, Mrs. Squires taught me how to start a project in iMovie and how to drop in my still photos and make them look like video. She taught me how to record my voice-over in Garage Band and how to import it into iMovie. She taught me how to add titles, even background music (and where to find free jingles). 

She did not tell me how to add the video I eventually did shoot in Photo Booth (I will not reveal the number of takes it took). But she gave me the confidence to try to do it, because she told me exactly what I needed to know, in the order in which I needed to know it, and she didn’t tell me anything else. That is the mark of a true teacher. Her videos were clear, simple, and fun.

She didn’t elaborate on all the fancy things iMovie and Garage Band can do. She didn’t try to wow me. She just walked me through the steps to make a book trailer. She even showed me how to fix a mistake—by making one herself. Her “Oops, I made a mistake!” sequence is the part of her video that clinched it: I really could make a book trailer. The fact that Mrs. Squires was explaining a classroom assignment to Middle School students helped. It is so comforting to be allowed to go back to Middle School when we need to.  

I’m not sure Mrs. Squires will give my book trailer an “A+.” I can hear my edits. But I hope she’ll give me points for trying.

Learn more at


  1. Hæ Nancy,

    Frábært. You did a great job without me! I admire how you got the synch right with the images and the spoken text and like the whole straightforward concept of talking directly to the audience. It is honest and true. As well as personal about why you got interested in the Edda.

    It is so great that there is free software to do this, but greater still that you had the willingness to go ahead and do it and experiment.

    And thanks for the acknowledgement. It was very generous.


  2. Nancy! First of all, thanks so much for the wonderful complements about my videos and for sending me an email letting me know you found them! I will have to point you toward one I did that talks about editing your videos (you can actually record right from iMovie too, without even using iPhoto!) but I don't want to blow you away. I'd be happy make you a quick video showing you how to do that.

    I'm very impressed with your book trailer, and I learned a ton from it! I will for sure get the book for my library - and I prefer to call it that myself - but the name LRC came with the job! :)

    Just wanted to let you know you made my day. I had no idea my little videos were going beyond our students. So very glad I was able to help you out.

    Good luck with getting your book out there - I know that is really one of the hardest parts of writing (my mom is children's author and I wrote a professional book myself) so I know a bit of the road ahead, but it looks like this isn't your first one so you understand.

    Thanks again for sending me the email and letting me read your blog. I enjoyed every minute of it AND your book trailer!

    Tasha Squuires ( or Mrs. Squires to you!)

  3. Opps, I meant to type Photo Booth, not iPhoto. :)


  4. Hi!

    My daughter comes from a long line of teachers, and although she's been a public librarian and is now a middle school librarian, that teacher gene comes in handy.

    I've never watched Tasha's video, and I'm sure I would not be as successful as Nancy or the middle school kids in using it to make a book trailer. So I did the next best thing. I asked the teacher to make one for me, based on some of my ideas. She did a beautiful job!

    Thanks, Nancy! Your trailer (and book) look great. And thanks, Tasha.

    Sheila Kelly Welch

  5. Wow, Sheila, that just upped the ante significantly! Look what a pro can do. Thrilled too to learn you're a namelos author. Stephen Roxburgh is one of my favorite editors and teachers.

    For those of you who don't know namelos, visit


  6. I suppose we might as well make this a family affair. I'm Tasha's dad and Sheila's husband. I'm a retired college library director who now just sits around and reads all day, so I was intrigued by your books and bought a couple (with instant gratification) for my Kindle and started with your first book, A Good Horse has no Color. Even though I am just a chapter in, I am thoroughly charmed by your love of Iceland, the sagas, and such wonderfully evocative writing. I will post a review on Goodreads (I sent you a friend request)as soon as I'm done.

    BTW, Tasha is quite the rider who showed her horse when we had a bunch now more than a decade ago so I will certainly recommend this book to both Sheila and Tasha.

  7. Thanks Eric, nice to meet the whole family. Soon you'll be buying Icelandic horses and joining the club.

  8. Or part of it anyway. There are 6 others, plus 7 grandchildren, and now 1 great-grandchild. At one time we had 7 horses but lost our last one last summer. Tasha and Sheila have their heart set on getting a couple of mustangs but I'm not keen about rebuilding all the fences so now our ten acres are reverting back to the wild. I was really intrigued to watch the videos of the Tolt and your description of sitting it, the downside being chaffing as opposed to being bounced.

  9. Hmm… I read blogs on a similar topic, but i never visited your blog. I added it to favorites and i’ll be your constant reader.