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How to Turn Your Book into a Trailer

March 13th, 2009 5 comments

John B. Rosenman

***Please view the book trailer on my web site at www.johnrosenman.com. Just scroll down beneath the top blog or visit “Trailers And Movie Clips” on the menu to the left.***

Recently I decided to turn my novel, Dax Rigby, War Correspondent into a trailer. After all, many authors I knew online were doing it, and supposedly trailers helped with promotion. So I thought I’d try it, too. Though I’m only a beginner on the subject, I hope the following account is helpful to authors who might consider converting their books—especially novels—into short, dramatic movies of two minutes or less.

A fellow writer gave me the name of a good, moderate-budget designer of book trailers. I contacted her, and filled out two forms. The first was an e-contract and I chose the deluxe, $300 package (some trailers cost much more) which included stills and video segments, music and a voiceover. The contract also specified that I could have up to three revisions with my input. (Eventually I would use more.)

The other form requested a blurb, synopsis, pic of my book cover, all of which I sent, and it asked questions about the “turning points” and “black point” in the novel, the resolution, major conflict, setting, exciting scenes, pictures and types of music to be used. It also stipulated that a script would be provided with suggested pictures.

I e-signed the thing, sent it back, and used PayPal to send her half the payment.

As promised she sent me a script with accompanying pictures. I was surprised by how short and “bare bones” the script was, only about eighty words. Also, it omitted a lot of the plot. But as Kim McDougall, another designer of trailers points out, she hasn’t liked “trailers that tried to tell a story. That, after all, is the purpose of the book. Instead,” she prefers “trailers that offer up a mood, a feeling for the style of the book and only basic plot teasers.” Geoff Nelder, an author, describes it similarly. To him a trailer “is an extension of the imaginative artistic creation. The trailer is not a two-minute synopsis but an insight into the pull of the story. A writer has to hook the reader early in their novel, but the trailer is a multimedia hook taking the art into another dimension.”

At any rate, I looked at the provided script and requested some word changes and one or two new lines. The stock pictures she sent me were a more difficult matter. They didn’t look enough like the people and events in the novel. The hero and heroine were especially difficult. Fortunately, the designer was patient. Over a period of weeks, she sent me more stock photos. Eventually, I made my choices—not perfect, but acceptable.

The designer then sent me an url with recorded music. I went to the site, listened to the two clips she mentioned, and chose the one she recommended. It’s rousing and dramatic, in my opinion just right for Dax Rigby, which is an action-adventure SF novel.

The real problem came with the voiceover. Though I’m new to this game, it seemed too laid back and passive for my novel, which features warring aliens, fights to the death, and hot, passionate sex, not to mention a hero who tries to save two alien species and five billion lives back on Earth. To me, the voice needed to be as rousing as the music, and stir you in your seat.

I informed the Trailer Maker of my sentiments, and we hit a hiatus that lasted about a week. Perhaps, she said, she needed a new sound card. Eventually we decided to nix the voiceover and she cut $50 off the cost.

Next, came more fine-tuning of the video. A few words in the script were changed, and a couple of misspellings corrected. I asked that the publisher’s url be slowed down at the end so that potential purchasers would know where to go.

Finally, after six or seven weeks, we were ready for Show Time! I had proved a demanding, difficult-to-please customer but was pleased with the result (and since then the trailer has received much praise.) I sent her the second payment, and as contracted, she put the trailer on several sites, including YouTube and Blazing Trailers. I, in turn, installed it on my web site, MySpace, Photobucket, Break.com, etc.

Fellow Beginners, be advised. There are many formats out there, and some sites are fussy. In my case, they don’t accommodate Flash Video. Thus, you can’t upload it without converting it. In the modern, rapidly-changing world of the Internet, one size does NOT fit all.

Finally, do trailers, which Kim McDougall calls “the newest fad in book promotion,” actually work? Like her, I don’t know. She points out that “The book trailer phenomenon is still relatively new.” Plus, there are lots of books competing for fewer customer bucks during a deteriorating economy. Since some sites my trailer’s posted on lack counters, I can only guess that in the two weeks it’s been posted, 500 people have watched it. That’s not many, considering that trailers about celebrities’ antics and misbehaving animals regularly attract hundreds of thousands of hits. However, I’m finding new ways to “sell” the video, starting with PROMOS in seven or eight Yahoo Writer and Reader groups. In addition, one trailer site has given it featured billing, and I used Photobucket to send a link to fifty folks that not only connected them to the trailer, but to seven of my books. So far, several friends have responded favorably.

There are, of course, various ways to gauge the effectiveness of trailers, such as your Amazon stats and the number of visitors to your web site. But guys and gals, nothing’s perfect.

At the time I contracted for my first trailer, my assessment was that I would probably not break even, let alone turn a profit. Still, it seemed a good thing to get my name and book viewed by as many people as possible. Also, I felt that if I used a variety of other promotional methods, there would overall, be a positive effect.

One can always hope.

As for the future, I’ve already arranged for my next trailer, which will be done at Norfolk State University with two talented students under the guidance of a Mass Communications professor. This time I wrote the tentative script myself, reducing 116,000 words of A Senseless Act of Beauty to 110. One of the students will be using Photoshop, which I understand will animate the trailer’s scenes. Perhaps we’ll use voiceover.

Finally, since I am a newcomer in this area, I invite comments and corrections. There may be many of the latter, but they should benefit us all. Until my next blog, then . . . See you at the movies!