Ballads of Book Trailers, Part 5

So, two things that really caught me up pretty bad were file compression and legibility.  I feel like a fool for allowing two critical elements like that slip through the cracks, but my mistake shouldn’t have to be yours.  (Really, I didn’t know Youtube doesn’t support .swf format.  If it had, neither would have been a problem. Also, you can’t post anything that advertises a product on Vimeo!)

1.  File types of .AVI and .MPEG are probably your best bet.  Most streaming video sites accept these formats.  Avoid compressing your sound or video if you’re converting; I tried my damndest and still got somewhat pixelated quality.  (It also took me a full day to upload to Youtube.)   Windows Media player automatically publishes or outputs in these file types.  Flash can output in .AVI, but you obviously run a risk there.  MPEG is preferred, from what I read online, but I took what I could get.

2. Legibility is kinda important.  I uploaded a very compressed version of my perfectly crisp Flash file to Youtube, only to discover my words were blurs.  Not just hard to read, but out and out blurs.  Cue cursing and redoing all my text, deleting the crappy video, and waiting a full day for the non-compressed .AVI to load.  Be sure to check your legibility in the raw file before you upload.  It will save you heartbreak.  I suppose the great thing about technology is that I can always try again.  Try a different file compressor or converter and mayhaps get a cleaner file and upload it again.  Considering I would have probably settled for a paper dolphin pasted to a popsicle stick at this point, I’m pleased enough with the results. We’ll see. (Of course, any tech tips are appreciated.)

For now, I have one last round of rewrites before I start formatting for an ebook.  I also need to contact some book reviewers.  Which one comes first depends, so we’ll see.

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Highsong Trailer

The completed trailer.  Turns out I will have another round of “Ballads of Book Trailers” wisdom to dispense, so stay tuned.

If you like the cover of the book (and the website banner), check out my friend Erika’s Baird’s website.

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Ballads of Book Trailers, Part 4

Sorry for the gap between updates; I slipped into the seventh circle of hell trying to put my book trailer together.  Something I should mention is that however long you think your book trailer will take to make, multiply it by 1.5.  But without further ado!

Sound should play a very pivotal role in your book trailer.

The straight up truth is that sound equals believability.  And not just music, but sound effects as well.  (That’s why there are people dedicated solely to sound effects in movies.)  If your book trailer involves someone walking down a hall, and we hear no footsteps, the effects is considerably lessened.  Since my book trailer involved dolphins and aliens, and I got some high quality sound effects for free, I don’t want to hear anyone complaining that they can’t find any sound effects (or have sound effects that are too random or unique.  DOLPHINS and ALIENS, people!)

1. Avoid stock sounds. I found my sound effects and music through a simple Google search “free dolphin sounds.”,, and all offer a wide variety of sounds for free.  And that’s just for starters; seriously, just Google with “free” somewhere and you’ll find all you need.  It takes some time, but it’s a worthwhile investment.  Naturally, when I was shopping around for some dolphin sounds, I came across that stock chatter noise that everyone has heard in a movie at some point.  Since I was definitely attempting to evoke the majesty of dolphins, not their idiot-cutesey side, I knew before I even heard it that I would veto it.  Considering the huge library of free stuff out there, you really have no excuse for using stock sound.  It will mark you as lazy, just as lazy as someone who uses cliche’s in storytelling.  (And you don’t want people thinking that about your book based on its trailer, do you?)

2. You know what good music sounds like. So use it.  I’m not saying use copywritten music, since that can land you in all sorts of trouble.  As cool as it would be to use that X-Ray Dog track for your trailer music, unless you’ve paid for the rights, you should avoid it.  On the moral principle, first and foremost (we’re all artists trying to make it), but while its true that legal recourse probably won’t happen for a piddly ebook, if J.K. Rowling had used copywritten music without permission for her nobody-book-trailer, I can assure you she’d have been sued by now. Sound effects are easy to find; good music less so.  Not impossible, but less so.  Definitely use music that invokes the mood of your story (I don’t associate urban techno with high fantasy, but prove me wrong).  Get a second opinion on the track you’re using.  And, of course, there’s always the option that you could pay a professional musician to make your music for you, particularly game musicians.

This ends my tips on making book trailers, unless folks ask questions worth another post.  My own trailer will be up soon.

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Play of A Preview

Just thought folks would like to see a sneak peak of my book trailer.  Everything’s been put together; now I just need to animate.

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Ballads of Book Trailers, Part 3

Ah, scripts.

For the most part, a script for your book trailer should be an expansion on your pitch line and/or summary.  Preferably with a little more emotional hook thrown in.  The great thing about book trailers is that pictures really are worth a thousand words.  Working in a visual media means you don’t have to worry about how many words it takes to describe your hero or the world he inhabits: your visuals should do that for you.  Music can also provide a lot of dramatic mood.  For example, let’s say you’ve got a short horror story about a haunted mansion.  Imagine a panning shot of a mansion in the dark woods while creepy music plays.  And maybe you animate a little fog while the main character provides a voice-over (or writes in their diary and the text appears across the screen.)

1. Don’t write blocks of text. I came here for a book trailer, not to read a book.  This might be hard for writers to grasp, but it bears repeating: you’re working in a visual media. Take advantage of the shiny.  Make things dramatic, fast, slick, and fun.  A little text is fine, especially if you’re not a voice actor and don’t have access to a quality microphone.  It’s just that if you think pasting your query letter into a Youtube video and flashing the book cover at the end is going to work, you’re totally missing the point. Remember to keep your dynamics rule in mind, too: if text must appear, make it interesting.  For example, if your story is high fantasy, why not have your text appear like it was being written by a goosefeather pen?  Or if its a noir tale involving a gritty reporter, let the words type out, with even some typewriter sound effects?  This leads us to our next point.

2. Approach the script as though the trailer was part of the book’s world. For about two seconds when I was brainstorming for my trailer, I almost went the exposition route; i.e. “In setting place of epic sci-fantasy, main character must do this arbitrary thing …”  Then I realized my story had pretty interesting elements on its own, and that I should try and attract readers with the psychic dolphin aspect of it.  Your trailer should provide a snapshot of the characters and their world, in addition to their emotional stakes/the stakes of the story.  You’re better off taking a scene from the book and turning it into the book trailer than trying to summarize everything.  Since most books are A+B=C (Character Wants+Obstacles=Conflict/Story), three beats is not that hard to get in a minute.  (Which about the length you should shoot for, although some trailers can go longer.)

I want to dedicate a blog to exploring sound for your book trailer, so stay tuned.

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Ballads of Book Trailers, Part 2

So, you’ve done your research, and you at least have an idea for your book trailer.  Now is the time to refine it.  How so?  One, by writing a script, and two, by storyboarding.  You can do either one first; both influence each other.  I storyboarded first, so that’s what I’m going to talk about.

1. Storyboarding should act as a list of assets. As in, what are you going to need visually?  What sounds will you need?  Animations? My book trailer is not live-action, so please don’t feel like you have to do that.  (And if you do, make sure you get some actors and a director who really, really know what they’re doing.) It’s an ebook, not anything backed by a major publisher.  Even if you’re stuck with some text and a book cover image, do your damndest to make it as interesting as you can.  One way is dynamics.  Things are always more interesting when they’re moving.  Fade in is always better than the image and text just appearing.  Try looking at your book cover and see if you can cut it into pieces for a panning shot of of the title or the elements on the cover.  That is more exciting set to a voice over than just a full minute of nothing but the book cover.

To give you an example of how informal your storyboarding need be, here’s mine:


And yes, I know this is hard to believe, but I seriously have a background in professional art.

2. Storyboards have to work as storyboards. If your crit partner can’t understand what’s going on in the storyboard, even with all your notes, you need to rethink it.  (Notice I said crit partner, not the blogosphere.)  Massive problems with the script and action are not going to be solved by Flash tricks or dazzle.  Your audience will probably be entertained, but confused.  Remember that your competence as an author needs to be reflected in the book trailer, because if the book trailer is a sucky, confusing mess, how is your book going to be any better?  Do not have eye-bleedingly bad colors and enough flickering to cause a seizure; do not have trite, cliche’ dialogue or an expository setup.  Storyboards also let you know what kind of sounds you’ll need, music and effects and so on.  We’ll get into that later.

Next, we’ll talk scripts.

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Ballads of Book Trailers, Part 1

Book trailers are all the rage lately, and given our highly visual culture, there are worse things you can do to put one out there.  If you don’t know what a book trailer is, I suspect you have a lot of research to do about marketing yourself period.  It’s a movie trailer.  For books.

Flash is probably your best bet for putting together a book trailer (it’s what I’m using), but really any media editor that lets you import sound and pictures to a timeline is fine.  (Adobe Aftereffects and Windows Media would be my second and third recommendations.)  If any and all of this stuff is over your head, good news: you can hire an artist to put your book trailer together if you can’t.  But for the most part, these programs are pretty accessible and intuitive for learning yourself; book trailers aren’t particularly complicated things.  If you’re making a major investment in writing, you might want to make an investment in a marketing skill as well.

So, what to do?

1. Do your research. Watch a whole bunch of book trailers.  Like books, there are a lot of bad ones out there.  But you need to gauge what’s bad and good in order to get an idea of what you want to do (and don’t want.)

For example: good book trailer:

Baaaaaaaaaad book trailer:

Really bad.

And please note that the live-action element has nothing to do with the effectiveness of a book trailer.  You have to hit your marks of hooking the audience, making them care, and creating mood, whether its with actors, or just pictures and dialogue.  (All of which we’ll get into later.)

2.  Write it down. It all starts here.  What do you want your book trailer to be like?  I would recommend that you don’t start with stuff like “In an untamed land, Hero A must do this thing … Enter a world of Adventure!”  Think outside the box.  The Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter trailer puts us directly into a scene from the book.  (Graceling, on the other hand, is pretty expository.)  A snippet of dialogue, a character conflict, or situation is much better to depict than rattling off your story’s pitch line and so on.  You’ve already done your work for that in the appropriate areas.  Pitch lines are meant for agents and literary-inclined; your book trailer is a chance to grab the attention of the rest.  You’re strictly in the idea stage at this point, so anything goes.  Try out a few ideas.  Come on, it’s your chance to imagine your book as a movie!

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