So, you’re an indie writer. You might be self-published, or you might be a small-press author. Either way, a lot if not all of the marketing for your new book is going to fall on you.
We all know that social media is the way forward for this, but it’s often difficult to judge that fine line between actively promoting your work and being, well, a bit of a pest. Nobody wants to be That Author - you know, the one who Tweets a variation of ‘buy my book! Please RT!’ 25 times a day. People start to blank it out. It’s just words - which is fine in a book, but what I’ve realised increasingly is that the internet is a very visual medium and people tend to respond a LOT better to images and video.
So we come to the subject of the book trailer.
Apparently, we’re all supposed to have one nowadays, although it seems to me to again be a very fine line between something that will generate interest and something that will put people off in a dramatic way. But here’s the secret: making good book trailers is easy. Even for me, and I’m not John Carpenter.
1. Watch and learn. Watch all the book trailers you can find. Most of them will be terrible. This should give you quite a bit of confidence that you can produce something better, even if you’ve never opened ‘Windows Movie Maker’ in your life. At the very least it’ll give you a feel for what you like and don’t like. I firmly believe that, as your writing is part of you, you should go with your gut on marketing and not pay TOO much heed to all the ‘target your audience, make a cover exactly like everything else in your genre’ stuff. Make something original. That’s why you’re indie: you have the luxury of being able to stand out from the mainstream crowd.
2. Brevity is the soul etc. Whatever you make, for pity’s sake make it short. Think of it as the video equivalent of a Taser blast to your readers’ attention spans. Once you’ve sat through just the one nine minute slide show of stock images of flames complete with peel-back transitions and drama music, you will see the wisdom of sticking to the ‘nothing over two minutes, unless you have hired professionals’ rule. My initial teaser trailer for Spirit Houses took about 30 minutes to film, about an hour to edit and runs for 30 seconds - but it does the job OK.
3. Prepare your tools. Don’t you need to have actual camera skills and, well, a camera, to shoot a video? I shot all three of my book trailers on an ancient Canon Digital Ixus 60, which was handy for the time limit factor because it can only hold two minutes of footage (I could probably get a bigger memory card? The fact I’m not sure about this shows just how technically minded you DON’T have to be to make a trailer). You can shoot a trailer on anything that films (I’m dying to try it on Lomokino next time Sarah Grant is up my way). Good ideas and fresh approach matter more than technical expertise, and as writers, ideas are our business, right? I’m sure that if you’re already adept at filming you could come up with something much more spectacular, but the fact is, you don’t have to. It’s unlikely to be shown on a cinema screen so anything that views OK on the low res required for Youtube is just dandy. You can download simple, free editing software online. I used Windows Live Movie Maker for all of my trailers but there are plenty of others such as AVS or VSDC - just do a search online.
4. Be original. Because we have limited (and by ‘limited’ I mean ‘no’) budget, the idea, as I’ve mentioned, is far more important than the execution. Papyrus font text-cerpts slapped over public domain images of the Pyramids might well give an accurate flavour of your Ancient Egyptian Curse story, but it’s also boring and half-arsed and will probably do you more damage than good. Think of the one core theme or image of your story. What’s the driving force, what’s the atmosphere? Stick with one simple thread and think how you can convey that in a way that will make people take notice, become curious and want to check your book out. I guess including readings or bits of text from your book does have its merits but personally I think it gives too much away. It’s like all advertising - you’re more likely to investigate a product if the advert leaves you thinking ‘that looks awesome - what the hell is it?!’ One of my favourite ever book trailers is this one for Machine Man by Max Barry DIY, cheap, imaginative, memorable and relevant to his book.
5. People power. People are key to your trailer. Not only the ones who are going to watch it and hopefully spread it about the internet like the common cold for you, not only your mates who you’re going to rope in to help you film it (thanks, Mark, Claudia, Justin, B and Katie!) but also the ones who’ll feature in it. ‘Hold up’, you say, ‘nobody said anything about a starring role’. And it’s true - it’s a bit of a tricky one and a lot to do with personal taste again. If you have bad acting in your trailer (unless it’s bad on purpose like in my Spirit Houses 'recruitment' trailer) then it can have the opposite to the desired effect. I’ve also heard that it’s bad to ‘show’ your characters, as readers prefer to visualise them themselves. But in my experience, people respond to people and the most interest I’ve had so far has been for images and videos that show actual humans. (Even if it’s just so that your mates can point and laugh.)
6. Special effects. OK, maybe not special effects - if you’re thinking about whizzy transitions, inverted colours, flashing images, stop right there. Don’t. It looks cheap (sorry, it just does!) Until you’re an expert (or at least practised) at something, simple is almost always better. That said, there’s some extra stuff you’ll want to use to make your trailer pop. The main thing that springs to mind is music. Because your trailer is simple and hopefully doesn’t involve too much dialogue, a suitable soundtrack is a really good way to set the mood of your book. You can use commercial music on Youtube if you include a sales link so people can download the song. Even better, make sure any music is free-to-use and always include where you got it from (because, share the love and promote the musician, of course!) Or, if you’re really lucky like me, you might have a talented friend who’ll compose you some trailer music like in my ‘horror’ Spirit Houses trailer.
7. Promoting. Once you have your brand spanking new awesome book trailer and have uploaded it to Youtube (again, I’m not a pro - this is the easiest and most widely-accessed video site on the net), how do you get people to find it? Obviously you’re going to want to promote it on your web site (but not too much) and whatever social media you use (but not too much) and to get all of your friends to link to it from their websites and social media (but not too much!) But don’t underestimate the power of hash-tags to generate some excellent traffic too. Make sure you tag for not only your name and book title but also anything that is applicable to your trailer: #horror #indieauthor #steampunk #reanimation It might get a bit lost within the more popular tags, and the less popular or more specific tags might not get so many views (although conversely it IS easier to get noticed in them) but every single view adds up, right?
I think the most important thing though, is to have fun. Write what you want. Make the video you want. Enjoy your story. That’s what it’s all about.
Spirit Houses by Die Booth, a supernatural steampunk tale of peril, betrayal and excellent Scotch is available now from the following outlets: