Thanks for visiting my blog. Today I want to offer fellow writers a few insights on creating and using video as a promotional tool. It can be an amazing way to reach potential readers, and, thanks to YouTube and Vimeo is available to all.
First off there are two primary types of promotional videos— BOOK TRAILERS, designed to hook potential readers, and PERSONAL VIDEOS designed to endear you to readers. But be warned, trying to fuse these together to create a ‘one size fits all,’ video will backfire… badly.
Just a quick note— I’m not here to promote any video stock footage or photo sites. I just use the ones I know as examples. Please, shop around and explore your options.
Now onto today’s topic.
Trailers are valuable marketing tools, as long as you play to their strengths. First and foremost a trailer is designed to influence the potential reader/customer. Sadly, most people won’t see your trailer and frantically press ‘Buy now.” However, watching it will compel them to click over to Amazon, to read your precisely edited and endlessly proofread promotional copy and explore the customer reviews.
Why is understanding that important? Because it means your trailer should be short, catchy and, above all, to the point. I’m a firm believer in the ‘under a minute’ school of trailer that inspires people to take the next logical step of going to Amazon, or wherever your book is sold.
Your first hurdle is the script.
A three-minute trailer that goes into detail about the plot can fail. Why? Because the potential customer thinks they’ve already heard the whole sales pitch and therefore don’t take the next step. It can also backfire because online attention spans have shrunk like Levis in hot water. Just assume your potential reader is a frantic teen stoked up on Adderall and work accordingly. Hell, if you’re writing YA novels that’s actually your customer base!
How do you get your multi layered story down to its bones and gristle? Start by creating an elevator pitch, narrowing the essential elements that make your story special into about five sentences. Creating an elevator pitch is agonizing. I dread writing a synopsis more than writing a first draft. There are a ton of old sales adages like, ‘sell the sizzle, not the steak,’ that sound like nails on a chalkboard after you’ve spent months preparing your literary filet mignon, but it’s a necessary evil.
Sadly, you, as the author, might not be part of that sizzle—so appearing on camera to talk up your book isn’t always putting your best foot forward. But don’t despair, that element will be a critical part of PERSONAL VIDEOS.
NOTE: I’m talking about fiction here. If your book is a memoir or journalistic account, you’re probably the perfect face and voice.
Once your elevator pitch is refined, try breaking it down to short title-card length statements. In terms of the story, ask yourself, who might die? Who falls in love? Where are they? And why will their story strike a cord with your market? Keep it to the broadest of broad strokes, focusing on what makes your work special and compelling.
Here’s my trailer for Scorpius Rex, where I did exactly that.
It’s pretty good, and seems to be shared a fair amount. I set up the barebones situation, established the exotic locale, presented the threat and displayed the cover—all in about forty-five seconds. It’s catchy enough to entice a potential reader to take the next step. Notice that I opted for zero narration and dialogue, except for some walkie talkie voices I created by calling my cell phone, putting it on speaker with the volume up too high and recording it… technical wizardry!
And that’s our segue to sound.
If title cards are not communicating your idea you might consider narration. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to possess a velvet smooth voice that makes listeners weak in the knees—but all you Barry White’s and Kathleen Turners’ are the exception, not the rule. However, websites like fiverr.com have hundreds of mid to high level voice artists who’ll record something for under $50. This could be a dramatic narration or the first-person voice of your main character.
You just upload the video trailer with your own temporary narration and they send you back a professionally recorded audio file of your choice. If they don’t get the inflection quite right don’t despair—you usually get a free revision. I recommend avoiding ‘sound alike’ people. We all know you didn’t get Sam Elliot to do your narration, so it can be unintentionally funny if you use an imitator. Just find someone who’s tone suits your character.
But don’t bother getting a professional recording done until the video is 100% edited—Until then use your own voice reading the tightly honed script.
And now on to the all-important eye candy—which is step two, after the script.
Visually you can use footage or photos, depending on your budget and personal tastes. Photos can be just as effective as video, often at a fraction of the cost. I recommend hitting the stock sites for either. This process doesn’t have to break your bank. Are you telling a war story set in the Middle East? Bottled Video has endless hours of actual combat footage that could tell your tale in a realistic ‘you are there’ way… and they only charge $10 a clip. Videohive has a huge collection of… virtually everything, often for about $15 a clip.
But how do you even begin to wade through thousands of hours of stock footage and almost a million photos? Here’s a tip.
There’s a great scene in the movie Ed Wood, where Johnny Depp visits an old film editor who’s going through library footage destined to be filed away and forgotten. Depp proclaims, “Why I could make an entire movie out of this stock footage!” and improvises the tale of a monster octopus that’s scaring all the buffalo. It sounds funny, but it’s not a terrible approach.
I suggest that, while writing your trailer, you cruise through Videohive or Shutterstock using appropriate keywords to search for inspiration. Perhaps you’ll find a few video clips or photos that are already in synch with your vision. Now reverse engineer the process by tailoring your presentation around the visuals you already know exist—it’s a much shorter, easier road than building something in your mind that will ultimately elude you. And remember that you can download watermarked samples of video and photos to tinker with at no cost.
You may find a photo of a model on Shutterstock who is a perfect visualization of your heroine, but she’s standing in a totally inappropriate background. If you’re proficient in Photoshop you can remove your femme fatale from that background. Or, you can go through the horrendous experience of learning to do that. But, is that really the best use of your time? Probably not. As an alternative you can purchase and download that perfect face from the stock photo site, then go on Fiverr.com and pay somebody about $10 to do all that removal work and deliver it back perfectly—sometimes the next day! Be sure to get back a TIFF or PNG with a transparent background. Now you can super your beautiful Nellie’s face over the fog shrouded grounds of Wuthering Heights and even add those long ‘Ken Burns’ zoom ins.
Also, and I shouldn’t have to say this, please don’t steal. Even if you find great footage in a movie, or the perfect song on a soundtrack, don’t ‘borrow’ them. First off it will get flagged on YouTube, but more importantly you’re trying to sell your creative vision, so don’t invite the negative karmic implications of stealing someone else’s creative vision.
And mentioning copyright segues us to music.
I was lucky in that I produced a bunch of television shows and had access to a music library. But I still asked the composer for his permission. So, how can you get cool music without violating copyright?
No sweat, Envato Market has a service called Audio Jungle, where you can license music, often for about $10. It’s all broken down by genre, and can be heard online or downloaded and previewed. Some of it is actually quite good and often reminiscent of Hollywood music. You can even enter search terms like Elfman, and locate music styled after that composer. There are many of these sites, so feel free to shop around.
And how do you edit together all this wonderful stuff? I won’t say it’s easy, but it is accessible.
I’m a long time Final Cut Pro user, which was the broadcast precursor to the more consumer focused Final Cut X. Final Cut X and Premiere are pricy, but there are cheaper options like Movavi Video Editor. After years of working in Final Cut Pro the scaled down Movavi drove me nuts, but for you it may be just fine. I think it runs around $75, so it won’t break the bank. Also, if you have no video editing experience consider working out your visuals in Power Point. Once you’ve got it all refined then you can move on to the painful learning curve of editing video.
In closing, I recommend adhering to the KISS principal—meaning ‘Keep it Simple Stupid.’ That adage was coined by the lead engineer at Lockheed, and isn’t meant as an insult—but rather a reminder to always play to your strengths. A tight script, well-chosen backgrounds, with a few smooth zoom ins, all cut to the music’s tempo can yield effective results.
Nobody understands your book the way you do, so by following some simple advice you might shock yourself by creating something great. And if that fails, just ask anyone between the ages of nine and sixteen for advice—those kids know everything.
Let’s go out on a little bit of buyer beware. First, some stock services offer ‘all in’ subscriptions supposedly giving all access to everything. But, not all footage or photography on the site is included in the package, so check around to make sure the visuals you love are actually part of any package you buy.
Next time we’ll explore PERSONAL VIDEOS, where you, as the author, connect with readers. They’re just as important as trailers.
Thanks, and I hope you found a few kernels of valuable information buried in this word jumble.