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  • [Reality Check] - How to Make a Trailer to Promote Your Writing by Soniah Kamal
This blog was featured on 09/03/2016
[Reality Check] - How to Make a Trailer to Promote Your Writing by Soniah Kamal
Written by
Zetta Brown
March 2015
Written by
Zetta Brown
March 2015

We get so used to promoting with the written word. We're writers, after all. But it's nice to change things up with something more visual and dynamic.

Enter the book trailer.

A good book trailer is like going to the theater and seeing a movie trailer that leaves you counting the days until the movie comes out. But a trailer doesn't have to be just for books or movies.

Award-winning author and She Writer Soniah Kamal is my guest this week. She provides a step-by-step primer with helpful hints on how to make a trailer.

While her example chronicles how she made a trailer to promote an online magazine, you can follow her lead to help promote your writing.


How To Make a Trailer for a Novel/Short Story/Journal Issue
By Soniah Kamal


I recently curated and guest edited a special issue for an online journal (Sugar Mule issue #43, No Place Like Home: Borders, Boundaries and Identity in South Asian and Diaspora). Loving the concept of the novel trailer, I thought a journal issue trailer would also be a valuable means to interest readers in the issue’s contents. My issue featured memoir, poetry, and fiction from 47 writers and, since the focus was on South Asia, the contributors were from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.

Although the issue had a common theme—identity/borders—the pieces I chose were eclectic, with interpretations veering from sexuality to refugees to language to religion. My challenge was twofold. One: How in the world do I showcase all this material in a video without it being all over the place? Two: How do I go about it?

I managed to conquer my fear of first-time-trailer-maker by pretending I was guiding kids in a school project, and below is how I went about tackling the concept and material for the trailer.

[Watch the trailer on Vimeo here - https://vimeo.com/64165416]

Guiding Aim

To make a compelling video trailer to intrigue a potential reader to click through to the special journal issue.

1. Concept, or “What Am I Trying To Do”

In a novel there is an obvious plot, conflict, and story. My issue has three sections: memoir, poetry, and short stories. Although all are linked thematically, there is no one conflict or central plot. In fact, there is a story about a housewife and her emerging sexuality, another about a guy who really wants to be a father, memoir pieces about filming a documentary under less-than-tense civil war conditions, another about learning to live with big breasts, and finally poetry that ran the gamut from urban to pastoral.

However, I DID have the four countries I could focus on: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka—as well as thematic consistency between all the pieces. So I decided to thread everything together with the main question: What Are You Looking For? And answers such as: Acceptance? Love? Money? Peace?

Tip: Find the common thread i.e. the unifying principle. What is the one word or phrase than can summarize your entire project? In my case: War and Peace.

2.  Narrative, or “The Captions with Each Picture”

I was very stressed about what to write, and after one too many stressed nights, I sat down and penned the narrative you see accompanying each picture in the trailer. It took under three minutes. I know because I looked at the time on my laptop. I guess all those sleepless nights of thinking, thinking, thinking paid off! After some quick feedback, everything remained the same except for a few words deleted and added.

Tip 1: Find your “tension” and then tell a story through single words. I used short, snappy sound bites and questions.

Tip 2: Questions guarantee viewer participation and turn your trailer from a monologue into an interactive dialogue.

3. Photos, or “Arresting Images that Tell a Story”

I put a call out to all the contributors to send in photographs (to avoid copyright issues) that would go with the overall theme and their stories. Eventually, I pooled theirs and mine. Then I began the arduous process of matching the best possible photos with the narration. I did this via a PowerPoint presentation because the format seemed easier for me to view photos side by side. I also figured PowerPoint would be a convenient way to show my videographer friend who was ultimately going to put all these elements together for the video what I was thinking of.

I wanted to give my friend a choice of two photos with each word/sound bite. My friend suggested not going with obvious matches (e.g., if the narration says “key,” do not show a key). Choosing and matching photos to captions was not easy, especially since I felt such an obligation to showcase, in the best possible fashion, the work of all of the brilliant contributors in the issue. This did not mean I should kill myself. So, long walks helped, cups of tea helped, and finally I sent off my PowerPoint presentation.

Tip: Find your photos and match them to your narration (on screen or voice over) in as interesting and thought-provoking a way as possible.

4. Music, or “The Heartbeat”

My friend suggested I choose few soundtracks/snippets which he would thread together as he saw fit. Again, because of copyright issues, I decided to stick to old songs and instrumental tracks from the 1950s. After I wasted half a day trying to find long pieces of music without any lyrics, my partner came to my rescue. “Karaoke?” the man said. We then spent another three hours or so deciding on instrumentals and, once we did, we downloaded them. 

Tip: Find karaoke instrumentals. In a trailer without a voice over (or even with) the music is crucial for cuing the reader’s emotions. Find a sad piece, a joyous piece, a slow piece, a fast heartbeat of a piece, so that together the pieces joined will evoke and highlight your tension/story.

5. Assembly, or “The Technical Part”

I was lucky enough to be able to send the music and PowerPoint to a friend who chose the best photos and stream of music and effects to put together a kickass video.

Tip: Find someone who knows what they are doing and ask them to help you out. If you want to try putting everything together yourself, then easy-to-use software is available on the Internet.   

Conclusion, or “Happily Ever After”

After seeing the final video, all the tears and sweat and blood and brainstorming were worth it. I love this issue trailer.

Good luck! And Happy Trailer Making!

Soniah Kamal’s debut novel An Isolated Incident is about a girl who knows too much and a boy who knows too little. A finalist for the KLF French Fiction Prize, An Isolated Incident is available at uread.com  Find Soniah on twitter, pinterest, facebook, and at www.soniahkamal.com


Got a [REALITY CHECK] about the publishing life to share? If you would like to be a guest on my blog, please friend me on She Writes with a message! :)

If you like this post, then stop by Zetta’s Desk for editing tips and follow “Zetta’s Reference Desk” where she features a writing reference book every week. Don’t miss this week’s featured reference!

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  • Dora Gonzalez

    Love making book trailers. Thanks for all the wonderful tips. :)

  • Loraine Van Tuyl

    I thoroughly enjoyed being actively involved with the design and creation of my book trailer by talented NY based visual artist Nicole Van Straatum. She happened to be in Suriname near the Amazon rainforest (where I grew up) and had the time and interest to shoot my pilgrimage to the indigenous and Marion villages that inspired me as an adult along my quest , captured in my memoir Amazon Wisdom Keeper. I blogged a bit about the exciting video shooting process, the voice over and other aspects in the making of this trailer - and am currently waiting to hear back from Brooke to move forward with She Writes Press - who I choose as my publisher.


  • Patricia Robertson

    Thanks for the helpful info! I haven't done any trailers yet - will have  to put on my to do list.

  • Soniah Kamal

    Am so enjoying all these trailers posted and the links. It does seem like a daunting task, but it's just like cooking in a way, a matter of gathering the right ingredients and then layering them. A many layer dip! Thanks again Zetta for the opportunity. 

  • Melanie Bishop

    C.L. Kay, if you want contact info on the young woman (now 18) who did my book trailer, let me know. That trailer also won a best book trailer contest in Australia.

  • Niki Smart

    The "Hell Camp" book trailer won a Gold eLit Award for Best Book Trailer. Snappy editing, disturbing images, and music that builds to a frenzy help kick this trailer into high gear :)

  • Good CL Kay and please let us know how you make out, what you find, what works for you. I really had a blast making my own trailer!

  • C. L. Kay

    Charlene, thank you for clarifying! I will definitely check it out.

  • C L Kay...that's what I meant by contacting Rich Helm's great site Booktrailer101. He doesn't make the trailer, you do! But he has dissected by viewing thousands of trailers and talking to some authors such as Chuck Wendig, stages of building the trailer from writing the all important words to choosing the images and adding the music. I created my trailer, was the first in the class to do so, (blush blush) and still feel very confident about it. The words took me a longer time than the images and to my surprise, the music came first. Rich has a complete file of music sources (such as Kevin McLeod's site, cited at the end of my trailer. All the music McLeod has on his site is free to use as long as you cite his site as the source). Helm's also offers a really wide range of sites where images are free, very cheap, easily available. His insight into the working of trailers is powerful And he has begun a study on Viral Videos, what makes a video go viral. Check out his site for sure. 

  • Melanie Bishop

    Book trailers are such a great promotional tool. My book is a young adult novel and I hired a very talented and skilled 16 yr. old to make the trailer for me. She was the same age as my protagonist and she understood the book in the way of the target readership and made a short trailer that reflected that. Highly recommend her. Super smart and talented. Here's the trailer: https://vimeo.com/77838889

  • C. L. Kay

    Can anyone recommend a good site or program for an indie like me to make a trailer myself? 

  • I had a great deal of fun creating my trailer for my novel The Stain. It's on Youtube at 


    This link works if you copy and paste it. Takes you to the trailer. The best news is Rich Helm's Video Trailer Course is on line here at Booktrailer101 Contact Rich and ask for a complete on line course. Very inexpensive and great fun. 

  • Zetta Brown

    Thanks, Soniah, for taking what can be a daunting project and breaking it down into manageable pieces. One of our authors did a book trailer for their science fiction book about infectious amnesia, and it came out great.