Today, please welcome guest blogger and fellow 12 x 12 in 2012 participant Carter Higgins.  Because we’ve all heard so much about book trailers lately, I asked Carter, who creates them, to come on the blog to give us the quick and dirty on what makes a good one.  She’s also generously giving away a free book trailer. Welcome Carter!

I love the odd raised eyebrow I get when I tell folks I went from elementary school librarian to motion graphics designer. Sometimes the confusion is as simple as what the heck is motion graphics? {Answer: animated graphic design} Sometimes it’s more along the lines of an incredulous, “you used to put books in the hands of kids and now you animate useless content for TV, movies, or iWhatevers?” Well, kinda.

Teaching was rewarding and so very special. Creating something from nothing is also extremely satisfying. Sure, designing film titles for an Emmy-winning designer is a huge accomplishment. And of course there is a bubble of pride in my gut each time I see one of my commercials broadcast nationwide.

But. I still had this gnawing question in my gut…how in the world can I smoosh my love of kidlit with my love of motion graphics?

The answer: book trailers.

Just to set the mood, may I show you a couple of favorites?

My latest, for Dianne de Las Casas’  Dinosaur Mardi Gras, illustrated by Marita Gentry:

Julian Hector created this one for C.R. Mudgeon, which he illustrated for Leslie Muir.

I think the best book trailers function in a similar manner to title sequences of movies. Title sequences should set the mood for what’s to come and prepare room in your heart for the story. A horror movie will never have a cutesy, cartoony title sequence, and a rip-roaring comedy won’t have a dramatic, serious tone to its opener.

Your story is what is most important. Your trailer should be intentional and support that story. You have worked tirelessly to assemble the most perfect words to write your snappy picture book. You have slaved over your illustrations, paying attention to the direction in which her hair curls to help us get to know her better. Your physical book has been designed with extreme attention to the page turn, the typeface, and even to the shape and size of your book.

It is a masterpiece.

Because of that, treat your trailer as an extension of your masterpiece. Your story should drive your trailer. Don’t do anything at the expense of your art and your words. Be intentional.

For Dinosaur Mardi Gras, I wanted to bring that jazzy parade to life. The illustrations are so vibrant, free, and easy, and the story is one giant celebration. I wanted to mimic the excitement of that parade, and plunge the reader right into the action.

When I saw Julian’s C.R. Mudgeon trailer, I think I watched it nine times in a row. He establishes the tension between a ho-hum hedgehog and a sparkly squirrel just brilliantly. And the music! Such life! Julian didn’t stick to the style of his book illustrations for the trailer, and it won’t matter one bit once I finally get my claws on it. I already dearly love C.R. Mudgeon and Paprika. I’m hooked. I asked Julian for some thoughts on book trailers and he said, “Picture book trailers allow for the main character(s) to be brought to life, and ignoring that seems like a wasted opportunity.” Truth, right?

But now here’s where I get slightly emphatic. If the only available option for you is to do a simple slideshow, then certainly it has value. Having your book searchable on YouTube will reach people. Just be intentional. Keep it to a minute or less. Do you always have the attention span for a three-minute long video? I sure don’t. Will your kid reader? Probably not. You told your story in 500 words or less; you can certainly stick to 60 seconds. Choose music that supports your story and sets the pace for your readers’ experience. Don’t compromise your art and your words. You worked way too hard for
that. And your reader, though young, is sly and will find where there is heart and where there is none.

Here’s one more that gets this quick format absolutely right:

We all have different skills, interests, and abilities, but we all have the same goal: to nurture readers and give them amazing stories. This community is supportive and encouraging to a degree that is almost unreal! To honor that and to be a part of that, I would LOVE to create a book trailer for you, for free. Whether you are a pre-pubbed 12x-er or have picture books on the shelves already, this offer is for you. Just leave a comment on the book trailer page on my blog before February 20th at midnight PST. I’ll randomly draw a winner and whenever you are ready….next month or next decade, IOU a book trailer.

When she is not creating motion graphics or writing picture books, Carter teaches design courses in color, layout, and composition, as well as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and After Effects. All of these interests combine in her blog at, or you can find her on Twitter at

Do you have questions for Carter about book trailers?  Leave them in the comments and she’ll answer as many as she can.

Categories: 12 x 12 in 2012, Books, Children's Books, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,



  1. Masterpiece indeed.
    Congratulations…This is awesome.

  2. Excellent post, and so full of yummy eye candy! Thanks for hosting, Julie. And Carter, I share your passion for picture book design, so I’ll be coming around. LOVE your website!

  3. I commented on her blog. My three year old loved the trailers! 🙂

  4. Thanks for sharing, Carter! Looks like a fun job. It was great getting to know you more from this post.

  5. What great skill. Wonderful post, thank you, Carter.

  6. This is amazing! I am filled with admiration for people who can do clever things like this! I’m full of ideas, but don’t have the skills to carry them through. Carter, could you do other animation projects that aren’t book trailers precisely? I have this idea… 🙂 Julie, thanks so much for having Carter – this is so interesting!

  7. Carter — Great post! I didn’t know that you were once a school librarian. Very cool, that you were able to mesh two of your passions together! I wish you continued success!

  8. Great post & great guest, Julie! So glad I found your blog. Love Carter’s work!

  9. Thanks so much for this post. My third book is out this autumn and I’d love to do a trailer for it -useful advice, and really fun trailers. Thank you, Clare.

  10. Carter is such a talented individual. I look forward hearing much more about the things that she is working on. Carter – keep us in touch!

  11. Carter, I am so excited that you are the guest today! I have been impressed with your talent since I “met” you online via PiBoIdMo.It was then I learned that you created the trailer for Picture Book Month, which I absolutely loved. Thanks for sharing with us today. Love your work and your blog.

  12. You can tell Carter loves what she does. What a fun job, thanks for sharing.

  13. I’ll post my same question here. Has anyone tried using a book trailer for pre published work and referenced it in a query?

    • Oh good question! I’d never even thought of that!

    • Hi Kirsten! I answered (or rather, spilled my thoughts with no clear answer) your question over at my blog, but here’s a copy of those thoughts just in case you see this first:

      Hi Kirsten!
      That’s a really great question, one I haven’t thought about before! I think the best thing would be to pause on the trailer until you have a complete and perfect book. The agent/editor you query might make some tweaks to your story, and I don’t think you would want your readers to have an earlier version of the story in their minds once they see the final version. I’m not one, so I don’t want to put words in their mouths, but I would assume an agent/editor reading your query won’t want to see a link to extra work, unless it’s your illustrator portfolio perhaps.
      So…that’s a lot of words to say that I would wait until your story is ready for the world before you think about having a trailer. A book will ultimately be a huge team effort, and the trailer will benefit from pausing until all parties involved have contributed. (Unless of course, you are self-pubbing, and then you can go for it whenever you are ready!)

  14. What an exciting post. Julie, thank you for inviting Carter. I will definitely go check out the post over at her place.

    Carter, you say the story should drive the trailer. I am assuming the art used in the book is used in the trailer. But a prepubbed gal like me. How will I get the pictures right? Meaning, I don’t illustrate. Is this idea out for me then? Until I have a publishing deal and an illustrator?

    Thanks for taking the time to help us. Love the contest. *waving*

    • Hi Robyn!
      This is such an interesting question, and I *wish* I had a clearer answer. I am not published either, so I certainly don’t know the benefits to having a trailer before the book is published. I would imagine you wouldn’t want a full-blown trailer until you do have completed art, but there might be something interesting about a text-only trailer. Makes me think of something like this:

      Although your words may change once you have an editor on board, so it would be hard to not get attached. Personally, I would wait and not present your story to the world until it is complete and perfect. 🙂

  15. Very interesting. Carter, I’m impressed by how creative some people are, and you’ve found a wonderful blend of your interests and talents. Thanks for this post.
    Offering a free book trailer is so generous and exciting.
    Julie, you are doing a great job with 12×12. 🙂

  16. Oh, Carter. You have this stuff so figured out. Seriously, you’ve managed to combine the kidlit know-how of a librarian with the visual acumen of a designer. Talk about being the right place at the right time. Go ahead, talk about it. I’ll wait.

    I will now comment on your blog in the hopes that you will do my trailer, whenever the time comes.

  17. Wha a wonderful way to combine your loves! Thank you Carter, for sharing this with us. Looks like 12×12 is going great, Julie! 🙂

  18. I have a few of questions Carter.

    With picture books, is the audience for the trailers primarily parents? Is there any data on whether trailers help sell more books? And lastly, assuming you have *cough cough* ZERO design skills, what is the range one might expect to pay for a good book trailer?

    • Hi Julie!
      Fun to be here today!
      I think there’s a unique marketing angle to trailers in that the same piece can appeal to both kids and parents. I know the amazing Mr. Schu ( uses trailers to discuss books with his students and matches the perfect book to the right kid. But simultaneously, parents can view it to quickly gauge how to spend their hard earned money! Kids aren’t going to be researching starred reviews, and adults might not always plop down on the floor of a library or bookstore, but a trailer will reach both audiences. As far as pricing, it would depend on the style you are going for, so this might not be the most helpful comment, but anywhere from $200-up to $700. Hollywood would charge you way more than that, and unfortunately design is sometimes costly, but I would do whatever it takes to work with an author/illustrator budget!

  19. Wish I had such talent and skill. Enjoyed Carter’s work. I really think that book trailers are really helpful in promoting books — I know I use them. If done well, people will want to buy a book. Great post!

  20. Wow, this is so great! Thanks for all the insight, Carter. I would love to win a book trailer. Thank you Julie and Carter for taking the time to give us all this helpful information. We appreciate you both!

  21. It’s so fun to be here today! Thanks for the WARM welcome and lovely comments!

  22. Cool. Thanks! I don’t know much about book trailers so this was a nice introduction. Now I want to buy all three books!

  23. Julie, I’m so impressed with the guest posts you’ve had here. This was especially helpful for me as I consider doing a trailer for my third dinobook coming out this June. It’s a dinothrillogy! Thanks for all you do to support writers.

  24. That Dinosaur Mardi Gras trailer is AWESOME . . . laissez les bon mots FLOW!

  25. Carter, it’s so great to see you here! You know I love you, and love your work. Everyone can learn a lot from your talent–and energy!

    Great selection, Julie!

  26. I am surprised how much my kids and I love book trailers. We gravitate toward those that arrive in the monthly email newsletters from the Big Six. We often go look for a particular book simply because the trailer was so interesting!

    I can anticipate a future day when a parent can use a smartphone to scan the QR code on a book cover, watch the trailer on their phone, and decide whether or not to purchase the book.

    Great post!!

    • How cool would that be!? I love that’s your response as a parent! I think it’s awesome that people seem to be embracing the doesn’t lessen in ANY WAY the value and enjoyment of the printed word, but acts as an additional way to pair the right book with the right kid.

  27. This is great! I recently published a book on uTales and have been thinking about how to market it. So far, the only ones who have purchased it are family members–I don’t think that they really count in sales statistics 🙂 In any case, I would love to learn more about making book trailers. Is this something that anyone can do, or do you really need someone who is experienced in making them?

    • Hi Sandi!
      Congrats on the book with uTales! They seem very cool. I definitely think anyone can make them…I just have the extra benefit of doing graphics work professionally, and have been making short animations for years, trailers, titles, and whatnots. While I think I am more aware of what makes good animation, and good graphic design, and have some tricks up my sleeve, anyone can put together something! My biggest advice would be to keep your story first and foremost and don’t get too swayed by cool transitions and effects, but whatever tools get you there…iMovie, MovieMaker or something generated online…go for it!

      And family ALWAYS counts:)

  28. Thanks Julie and Carter. Very illuminating! <3

  29. These are very cool! My biggest question is, where does the music come from? Do you design it yourself, have someone else do it, or find it? Thanks for the post!

  30. Hi Rachel!
    Good question. There are lots of places that offer free royalty free music, though sometimes the pickins’ are kinda slim. {Think cheesy or just NOT right!} Of course, free is awesome, but I prefer a few sites that charge a bit for the rights to the music. is my favorite, and most of the stock photo sites now have a music library. I’ve never paid more than about $20 for a song, and generally find royalty free sound fx. If it’s going to amp up the produciton value, I think it’s a sound (haha) investment. That, and I sometimes don’t have the patience to search through the free sites, although I’m sure there are buried gems!

  31. Carter…these are great! Never considered the use of a trailer, since I have not been published yet, but, what a perfect way to promote a book…thanks for enlightening me!

  32. Really fabulous! What an artist you are. Thanks for sharing. Julie, thanks for having Carter talk about this exciting way of supporting and promoting books.

  33. Wonderful post! I can’t watch the trailers right now in the library I’ll look later for sure. I can’t think of a better background for kidlit than having those two jobs on your CV. Great stuff!

  34. Thank you so much, Julie, for providing such a great guest poster…so much valuable and pertinent info for all of us!

    Carter…this was an awesome post…I already left a comment on your blog in hopes of winning the giveaway trailer…and also because I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your generous sharing of your expertise. The tips you gave here are simple and clear. You addressed the money issue and the music/photo royalty vs. free question…important considerations that sometimes writers may not be focused on. Thank you. 🙂

  35. I’m having as much fun reading the comments & replies as I did the post. I love when people bring together different careers and make a new exciting one. Interesting blog post. Thanks, Carter (and Julie) for sharing all this info.
    (and I commented on Carter’s site– gotta be in it to win)

  36. Thanks Julie and Carter for a wonderful post! Carter, I love this trailer – so cute and it made me giggle. Great tips and lots of useful information. Thanks so much!

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