One of the pleasures of promoting my novel, Amorous Woman, has been the opportunity to meet other novelists with similar experiences. Enjoyable as it is to share our stories, however, it’s not long before one of us confesses: “Book promoting is really hard, isn’t it? Much harder than I thought.” The other nods, face clouded with memories the rejections, the humiliating encounters with bookstore owners, the sheer exhaustion of it. There’s no question that promoting your book will test you in ways you never dreamed.
I got to thinking about why we writers—most of whom are used to slaving away over words for little critical or monetary reward—would still believe that once you’ve published a book, it would somehow be a cinch to sell it. Perhaps we all cherish the fantasy that somewhere along the way it must get easier. I’ve yet to travel that part of the trail, but I suppose the reason I’m writing this column is to share the good news: some stretches of the journey of writerly self-promotion can be surprisingly fun and rewarding.
Speaking of trails, last month marked the one-year anniversary of the debut of my book trailer, “An Erotic Trip to Japan,” on YouTube. In the past year it’s gotten over 6000 views (far more than I expected for a video with not a shred of celebrity affiliation), not to mention it did great things for my marriage. I suspect it even sold a book, quite possibly two. To top it all off, it gave me an easy answer for all of those well-meaning folks who ask me if my book will be made into a movie. “It already has been,” I tell them, “I made it myself!”
In fact, these days, a book trailer seem to be as indispensable as a website or blog for book promotion, and many authors are producing them for their latest books, from icons in our genre like Susie Bright’s “A Day in the Life of an Erotica Editor” and Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Do Not Disturb” to first-time self-published authors. There’s no question a catchy trailer gets your name, your title and your message to more eyeballs than traditional print publicity. The trailer functions as visually enriched version of your elevator pitch and can certainly take its place in your arsenal along with bookmarks, postcards and other book-themed extras.
Although I usually don’t carry around a laptop to entertain would-be readers in elevators, I have a link to my YouTube trailer post in my email signature and feature the link on my blog and website as well. Dozens of people have mentioned they enjoyed it, although clearly many of these people did not read my book. So while the jury is still out on whether my trailer made a significant difference in my sales, I already know I personally benefited from the experience of making and sharing it. There are also websites such as Kim McDougall‘s Blazing Trailers that include a “buy now” link with the trailer, a promo-friendly feature that YouTube does not provide. Again I have no way of tracking sales through this route, but as the book trailer “genre” grows, no doubt this extra feature will be available in many places.
How much does a trailer cost to make? That depends on your resources. There are many professionals willing to help with your project at varying prices from hundreds to thousands of dollars. This month on the ERWA blog, I interview professional photographer, prolific author and book trailer producer Kim McDougall about her recommendations for book promotion in general and book trailers in particular [“Shamless” Tips on Book Trailers with Kim McDougall]. Her suggestions are extremely helpful—and I only wish I could have had access to her wisdom before I made my trailer!
In my case, the expenditure was minimal—$30 for Japanese folk music from ProductionTrax and the use of iMovie and a Mac which were already in-house. Most importantly, I had access to a valuable resource in my computer-savvy husband who agreed to be my technical advisor for our standard barter agreement of home-baked cookies and sex. He warned me that this offer cannot be extended to outside clients, but he did agree to share some of the things he learned in making our trailer for the sake of furthering the cause of erotica. Incidentally, if you do plan to take the do-it-yourself route, my technical advisor estimates it took him about 20 hours to do his part of the project, including scanning in my old photographs.
But first, I’ll weigh in with the parts of the production process that involved my decisions and planning. The following account might sound more straightforward than it actually was because each step involved more instinct than experience. Professional producers will certain have this part of the project streamlined for you. On the other hand, I’ll admit that producing my trailer really was the most creative and enjoyable part of any promotional activity I did for Amorous Woman, so if you have even a minimal facility with programs like iMovie ’06, I’d encourage you to go for it!
Clueless as I was, I approached the project with a vague understanding that the purpose of a trailer is to seduce potential readers into wanting to read the book. As I mentioned, it’s like an illustrated pitch, but it’s also a creative work in itself that hopefully captures the spirit, mood and appeal of the book. So I started with the concept that I chose for my pitch and my sell sheet—that Amorous Woman takes my viewer on an erotic trip to Japan.
I also saw potential to play with the blend of fiction and autobiography in my novel. I love reading my own work, so I decided I wanted a voice-over, which is somewhat unusual for amateur book trailers. However, I liked the way a voice-over blurred the lines between me and my protagonist in the trailer, just as our relationship is ambiguous in real life. I wrote a script, using the highlights of my prologue, which was specifically written to tease and pique interest, with an additional brief summary of some of the more provocative scenes in the book. I decided to end the trailer with an invitation to the viewer to hop a flight to Kyoto to play out the “erotic trip” theme.
When it came to choosing visuals, I decided to play up the author/protagonist link by alternating between my own photographs—taken in Japan during the 1980s and on a more recent trip in 2008—and classic Japanese erotic art that expressed themes or settings from the book. Rights issues are important when making a trailer. A professional will take care of that for you, but for a do-it-yourself producer, I chose visuals that I own rights to—my personal photos—or images in the public domain as are the two-hundred-year-old erotic prints. You can also purchase stock images from suppliers like istockphoto.com.
After I collected all the photos and prints I wanted to use, I arranged them in a rough order to illustrate my script.
My next step was to record the voice-over. This requires some equipment, including an audio editor like Amadeus Pro. At four minutes, my trailer is considered too long by most standards, but I think the narration and the dynamic pacing of the images offset the length. Fortunately, none of the people who’ve given feedback (granted these are people who claim to have enjoyed it) complained that it lost their attention. However, if I had to do it over, I’d make my trailer closer to 2 minutes as some sites have time limits for the trailers they post.
I also knew I wanted some Japanese music in the background, so my husband and I searched the internet and discovered a site called ProductionTrax that included Japanese folk music that fit my mood perfectly. However, if you compose music yourself, doing your own soundtrack is another great way to express your creativity.
And now, a few words from my technical advisor (this will make a lot more sense if you’ve watched the trailer).
First, regarding software, unfortunately, iMovie ’08 removed many of the features that we used to make our trailer. Some of these have been added back to iMovie ’09, but you may need to invest in Final Cut Pro Express for $200, or for the more serious, Adobe Premiere Pro which runs about $800, in order to get the trailer to match your vision.
We chose to go with a series of pictures rather than actual video, because we had access to many more stills than video clips, and trying to produce a full video trailer was beyond my skills. But, if you have some good ideas for a video and can produce it at home or pay for the pros, by all means go for it! Our specific advice is aimed at the rest of you, who are aiming for a still picture trailer.
Once your artist has selected pictures and drafted the voice-over script, lay out a story-board, to match up which pictures will go with which part of the script. You may find that you need to go back and find other images at this point, or maybe even edit the script. You can do this later as well, but it is less work the sooner you hone in on the actual sequence of images. While doing this, you can think about other effects, but my main advice here is don’t overdo it. The point is to subtly enhance the story, not show off how many video-editing tricks you can pack in.
Pull in the audio track as the starting point. It is easiest to work from start to finish, in particular if your editor shifts all the later time points when you shorten or lengthen a clip. Listen to the voice over to determine the first transition point, and set the time of your first clip to extend to this. Most editors let you do this by dragging the clip in a timeline. Then, add in the next clip, and any transitions between clips. We favored fading from one to another, and I recommend finding a transition that works, and using this consistently, rather than startling the viewer with different transitions for each clip.
If you are adding an effect to a clip, you should do this as you add the clip, so the effect can be picked up by the transitions as well. While laying down the clips, check the result on a frequent basis, so if something doesn’t quite click, you can fix it then rather than trying to deal with a change in the middle of your project. For the audio, we had three main tracks: the voice over, the music, and a few sound effects. Fading in and out on the music at the beginning and end of the trailer gives a nice touch. We had to play with the levels a bit to make sure the music was audible, but clearly in the background.
For “An Erotic Trip to Japan,” other than the “Ken Burns” effect “—in which the camera seems to pan or zoom in and out—I added visual effects on three pictures: fog (as steam) in a hot spring, fog to make one of Donna’s pictures more mysterious, and rain for the mountain hermitage. In addition to the sound track, I added the sound of rain to match the visual, and a jet plane in the final panel. We often used the “Ken Burns” effect because static images quickly bore the viewer. The time of the clip was set by the audio, but we wanted to use the motion of the image to accentuate the voice-over story. In some cases this was zooming in, for example to a close up of Donna’s face, while in others it would zoom out and pan, to go from a single person to reveal the entire scene.
Our final advice is to remember this is a brag sheet as well, so make sure to put in some great testimonials about your work at the end, and include information about where viewers can buy your book.
Thank you, very much, technical advisor!
I will add in conclusion that collaborating on this project was also a very creative way to spend time together and share the “burden” of promoting—significant others are inevitably part of the process, if only to provide essential emotional support. But intellectual support is good, too, and bouncing ideas off of each other definitely made the result much stronger. I’d say our book trailer stands as proof that a liberal arts major and an engineer really can have a very productive relationship indeed.
We hope this inspires you to have fun producing your own trailer. Happy promoting and happy trail(er)s!
Shameless Self-Promotion Points for October
ONE: Consider doing a book trailer either on your own or by employing the services of a professional.
TWO: Brainstorm creative ways to promote your book through other media such as a making a podcast of an excerpt from your novel to post on your website.
Donna George Storey
“Shameless Self-Promotion” © 2009 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written.