GenreCon, recently held in Brisbane, was fantastic in so many ways but one session that fascinated me was Rule of Knowledge author Scott Baker’s workshop on book trailers.
I must admit, I’m very much a sceptic when it comes to book trailers. Most I’ve seen are shockers and, really, who looks at these things besides curious authors? But Scott’s workshop left me a little bit swayed.
Not because I’ll ever be able to produce anything like his Rule of Knowledge Trailer, which is pretty gobsmacking (much like the book itself which I’ve just finished):
But because I might now be able to produce, in a humble way, something like this Jackie Collins effort:
Or, perhaps with time and a lot of swearing, even a teaser like this from thriller author James Rollins:
TYPES OF TRAILERS
Not every trailer needs to be cinematic. Trailers can come in all sorts of forms and lengths. Teasers, for example, are short, 15 to 30 seconds maximum with high visual impact, and typically pose a question that captures the reader’s attention. They keep to one key message and end with the important stuff like the book’s title, author, cover, release date and website.
Check out Scott’s Rule of Knowledge teaser for a demonstration or watch this one for The Thirteenth Tale author Diane Setterfield’s new release Bellman & Black (The Thirteenth Tale was brilliant, by the way. Very excited about reading Bellman & Black.)
Can be short and impactful like the Jackie Collins one above, or longer and more involved, like this seriously slick one from Iain McCalman, author of The Reef: A Passionate History.
Or this one from Kate Morton, promoting her excellent book The Forgotten Garden.
Scott says the main criteria with these trailers is to get the fundamentals right, and that means the high quality sound and steady hand on the camera. Keep it short. Know when to stop. And always be aware that personality is key. If an author comes across like a complete prat, no one’s going get enthused about his or her book, no matter how good.
Ooh, there are a lot of these about and most of them aren’t great. Why? Because the images were bought on the cheap or don’t suit, the text isn’t readable or not written in a way that hooks, the music doesn’t match or the sound is poor, or the whole thing just screams amateur production.
And, as Scott pointed out in his workshop, an amateurish trailer can do more harm than good. It’s harsh, but if you see a dodgy trailer then there’s a good chance you’re not going to have positive feelings toward the book.
So what’s a good photo/text trailer? Scott showed several, ranging from awful to good, like this one for Water For Elephants.
But check out this one for Pantheon by Sam Bourne.
Great, isn’t it?
The whole idea is to create a hook, like cinema trailers do, and back it up with great visuals that resonate with the viewer and tell more about the story than an author talk or short trailer can. How? By using cinematic language. In other words, colour and sound and all those other communication tools that have a greater psychological impact than straight text or talk. Consider things like what colour your genre is. What feeling do you want to convey? Romance? Crime? Fantasy? Then make the visuals reflect that. A black and white background with flashed images of blood red claw marks or yellow crime scene stickers reveals more in a split second than any words could.
Remember the film The Holiday, where Cameron Diaz’s character keeps constructing movie trailer voiceovers in her head but about her own life? That’s what you’re aiming for, but told with text and using only a few words instead of a voiceover, and using photos to show a bigger story in a short timeframe.
To demonstrate, Scott gave us an exercise. We had to break our story down into five elements…
1/. The world
…and turn that into a tight, hooky blurb.
Then we were to imagine 5 photos or images to match those elements that could be used to communicate all the other aspects of the book.
From there it’s a matter of looking at all the other stuff, like which font would best represent the book, what colours would clarify genre, what music would give the most psychological impact, and so on. Thinking on these things before you start mucking around on the computer will not only help you make a better trailer but save you a lot of time because you’ll have key words to plug into searches.
Thinking about these 5 elements made me recall Alexandra Sokoloff’s excellent book, Screenwriting Tricks For Authors. It has a section on creating high concept premises/tags which might also be useful here. She reaches the same end but does so by posing slightly different questions. I find these work really well for me when I’m working on premises. Check Alexandra’s blog for an article on developing premises (and lots of other handy stuff), but I think the book, which is very reasonably priced, is worth the money.
These trailers use moving photoshop layers and other technical type stuff that makes my brain melt. But they can rock, bigtime when done well. Don’t believe me? Check out Chuck Wendig’s trailer for Blackbirds, Mockingbird. Awesome.
Or this teaser for Kristie Clements’s upcoming release Tongue In Chic.
Okay, I know people can and have produced film-style trailers for their books that have turned out great, but the way I see it these are for clever-trousers like Scott, or authors and publishers with the funbucks to finance it. Either way we’re talking a lot of expense or expertise, and that’s not your average author. It’s certainly not me!
Cinema-style trailers can be cool though. Like really cool, and Scott says they’re a great way to get a producer to “see” your book as a film. Plus do it right and your trailer could go viral, reaching into places you never imagined and being picked up by mainstream media outlets.
Here are another couple of trailers that I just love. Mo Hayder’s Gone, which is amazing and never loses its impact no matter how many times I watch it.
And this one for Australian author Honey Brown’s Dark Horse (brilliant book!)
Still keen to create your own trailer? There are loads of resources out there. Google and ye shall find, but I came across a really cool You Tube channel run by James Wedmore which has a great range of how-to videos. Think topics like How to Add Text To Your Videos, Royalty Free Music and Video Editing (For Non-Editors). Perfect for techno-numpties like me.
Joanna Penn has a handy post called How To Create A Book Trailer, with loads of resources links, on her The Creative Penn site.
If you prefer to pay someone to do all the hard work then there are plenty of places to choose from. But it’s also worth visiting these business sites and checking out their samples to see how great a trailer can look when done professionally. Awesomebooktrailers.com, for example, have some fab examples of their work.
And here’s one for your diaries. Scott Baker will be conducting a session on book trailers at the Sydney Writers Festival in May. Yes, your chance to learn from the guru in person. Not to be missed!
WILL YOU SEE ME JUMPING ON THE BOOK TRAILER BANDWAGON?
I’m a terrible sucker for things like this. Marketing and all its related subjects was my favourite topic when I was studying business management. I can get completely absorbed in reading blog posts, listening to podcasts or watching videos on the subject because I find it so fascinating. Alas, like my golf game, I’m a keen student but not so good at implementation.
I remember spending hours creating a book trailer for the first book I had published (under a pen name and not a rural romance, and, no, I’m not telling you any more about it), and it was frustrating, fun and satisfying all at the same time. Did it sell more books? I doubt it. Would I have been better off channelling my energies into writing? You bet, but I did have fun and it added a nice bit of content to my alter-ego’s website.
But… book trailers are a time suck. A really big time suck, especially for someone like me with limited computer skills, and I have to ask myself whether it’s worth it. Surely all my readers really care about is the next book? Far more important to write, hmm?
If I was going to do anything it would most likely be an interview style trailer, like the Jackie Collins one embedded above. I reckon I could manage that. My phone seems to take surprisingly high quality video and I’ve even figured out how to download the files (a small victory!), plus I really like the idea of being able to talk to readers personally and tell them about my book(s). And thanks to Scott’s GenreCon workshop I have at least an inkling of what I need to concentrate on, and what not to do.
So perhaps one day when I’m not editing or plotting or writing, I’ll make a video. Then again, I might just leave book trailers to the wouldn’t-it-be-nice pile, concentrate on writing a bazillion copy selling book and then my publisher will make the trailer for me.
Ha! Now that’s what I call a plan…