Booktrailers – Be Careful

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A book trailer can be a valuable tool in promoting a literary work, but it must be used carefully. Moreover, a cinematic book trailer, where the trailer mirrors many of the elements used in movie trailers, including utilizing actors, locations, dramatic pacing with editing and music, etc., must be used even more carefully, as the objective is to garner interest in the work, not detach potential readers from interest in the material.

 For example, in The Silent Partner’s cinematic book trailer, I utilized actors and dialogue from the actual novel, but I was careful to illustrate conflict within the visual promotional “tease” of the book, while not telling much of the story. In fact, many people gave me similar feedback: “It looks very interesting, but I don’t know exactly what the book’s about.” This was the exact reaction I had hoped for. (The Silent Partner‘s book trailer is available on YouTube HERE.)

You know when you go to the movie theatre and see a three-minute trailer, only to be turned off from seeing the actual film and muttering to your friend, “Ahhh, I’ll skip that one”? I used my own real-life experience to avoid doing this exact thing, so the viewer doesn’t believe they’ve seen the best that the source material has to offer. The objective is to leave them wanting more.

Most book trailers are not dynamic and, in my experience, fail to bring about a feeling of any kind by the viewer. Why bore people to death? They can love the humor, dislike a character, or be frustrated by something happening to a character, but they have to care. Protect your visual promotion of your storytelling by ensuring that the viewer is more interested in your story after seeing the trailer, not less.

A book trailer may or may not significantly add to your book sales. My utilization of the trailer did help me get a couple specific interviews, including one with a FOX TV affiliate in San Diego, but it’s hard to tell exactly how many books have been sold due to the trailer. Rather, the trailer provided additional interest in the overall process of self publishing, and that in itself has in some cases been more interesting to some than the content of the source material. The trailer helped build the profile of the book and build my Twitter following, as well as gain interest from some in the novel. Truly, though, it’s hard to tell of specific ROI impact.

A simple checklist for producing your very own book trailer:

  1. Like with your book, draft out key points to showcase your story. Think of elements you can tell or enhance with visuals, and stay away from spoilers. Have a plan.
  2. Put together a crew. You can’t do it yourself. Get different people with skill sets in different areas, and find ways to compensate them. If not with money, use food, furniture you would have gotten rid of anyway, etc.
  3. It will take more work than you’re prepared for, so don’t set any promotional dates until after it’s completely done. Completely.
  4. Be nimble and prepared for actors or crew members to drop the ball. It’s your responsibility to pick up the pieces, so when something goes wrong, look at the situation as an opportunity to improve your work. There’s no reason to accept defeat.
  5. Try to be less than 3 minutes in length. It can be hard, especially for a 300-plus page novel. It was difficult for me.
  6. If someone is more talented than you in some way in putting the trailer together, hear their voice and utilize their talent, but don’t compromise your overall theme or feel of the original work.
  7. Use the ecosystem you’ve built with your blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., to publish access to your promotion.

Good luck in bringing your writing to life!

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The Search for Free Publicity

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It may be a noble pursuit to seek out free publicity for your self-published book. After all, great work deserves to be shared and talked about, right? The problem is, there is a tremendous amount of great work that doesn’t get promoted by media outlets merely because the work exists. Sadly, great work’s existence means little to the world without some sort of relevance or meaning to specific “influentials” who can share your voice, who likely believe that your work may help a sector of the world look at itself differently, understand itself, or be thoroughly entertained. It’s up to us as writers to find these reasons in our work, share them, and get our work in the hands of those someones who can champion it.

When I wrote The Silent Partner, I was conscious of my professional standing working in advertising here in San Diego, and utilized relationships for part of the promotion of my first novel in getting a little bit of local press. (For this, I was very fortunate.) Of course, I used Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube (for the book trailer), my blog, and my website to promote my work . . . and still do. But to expand beyond my own little ecosystem of what I hope others don’t consider self-importance, I continue to aspire to connect with other writers’ blogs and book-reading communities. A GREAT place to start, with readers hungry for material they want to love.

By contrast, I’ve twice paid a publicist to also assist with press releases, and have gotten interest in my novel’s subject matter more than a few times by media outlets. Publicists’ work is not underrated, either. It’s not cheap . . . that is for sure. But in the end, once you’re on track to become a master of your type of work, and you’ve promoted yourself beyond what you can by yourself, I very much recommend getting a publicist. Even a 4-week campaign can be a shot of adrenaline into the marketing of your book. You’ll get it into hands of people you otherwise would not have. And then, whether something “big” happens with your book or not, you’ll experience growth as a marketer of yourself, you’ll become smoother at your presentation of yourself and your work, you’ll make some new contacts, make new friends, sell a few books, and you can spend more of your energy starting your next project.

Writing a Novel Like a Movie

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When I wrote The Silent PartnerI wrote it with visual stimulations of storytelling that I hoped would resonate with readers. Sure, there had to be great mechanics, grammar, structure, character, story construction, and prose. But to make emotion resonate throughout the story visually, the reader had to see and feel the story unfold. 

I often get frustrated reading stories that have too much description (and adverbs) or not enough of it. (Straight dialogue does get right to it, doesn’t it? To me, this can be even more like a screenplay, but–personal taste–I desire to read stories that allow me to sink into the story.) 

Of course, I had no idea if I was going the right direction with The Silent Partner, but after winning two Eric Hoffer Awards, including 1st Place in Commercial Fiction, now I really hope I’m onto something. I’m not proclaiming this process is revolutionary. It’s simple: connect with readers swiftly and powerfully. I wrote the novel this way, and will do this with the next one as well.

Simple tactics I employed:

  • Details matter, but too many of them distract the reader and slow the narrative drive.
  • Use the details that mean something. Use symbolism when appropriate, and don’t use clichéd ones.
  • Stay away from adverbs whenever possible. It forces you to show the reader something a different way. Some readers think adverbs are lazy. I normally just don’t like the way they look on the page. (The occasional adverb is also more powerful then, too.)
  • I was willing to get rid of “well-written passages” that didn’t move the story along aforementioned: swiftly and powerfully.
  • I stayed away from melodrama but embraced drama. It connects.
  • Stories are made great by fascinating characters. I spent a lot of time on building and complicating them. And they change with well-thought-out reasons.
  • I allowed the story to have waves, or levels. Strong dialogue sections separate from action sequences. Exposition was simply written, and I worked hard to use the right language to get the ideas out quickly. With as few words possible. Then the story moved along more quickly, too.
  • Find ways to say things without dialogue.
  • Create scenes that have visually stunning–and relevant–actions. Then, they become memorable.
  • The audience is smarter than we sometimes give them credit for. Don’t forget this. We don’t always need to spell everything out. 

Here’s to more great storytelling.

Good luck.

My First Book – What Was I Thinking???

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When I first had the gumption to write my first novel, I never thought there would be so much work in the process of getting it off the ground. First, my arrogance that I could write a book. At all. Carrying around a healthy dose of self-confidence (ask anyone) is one thing, but the magnitude of sheer belief I had in embarking on the project was, looking back, quite astounding. Who did I think I was? And incidentally, now, with a couple book signings on the docket, who the hell do I think I am?

Writing The Silent Partner and getting it ready for public consumption has been the hardest task of my life, sans trying to get a re-fi loan for my last house. Truly, getting my bachelor’s degree was a cinch by comparison to writing this book, and that’s not a dig on the Cal State University system. (BTW, a shout out to my old writing professor, Alexis Krasilovsky. I still remember how you wouldn’t take a draft of mine because I was late turning it in . . . and how you said I’d never qualify for an “A” because of it. Oh, the memories.)

The amount of preparation it took me to write this book compared to what I surmise other writers have done–and haven’t needed to do–humbles me. It also calls into question my genetic deficiencies, as this is the first place I look upon such a revelation.

Writing courses, several writers conferences, multiple editors, hundreds of drafts . . . (“Oh, God, if they still hate it after all of this work, I should reconsider the next book’s desire to exist.”) Sleepless nights, lonely nights, overused playlists, an ill-practiced habit of daily designer-coffee, and the prices that go along with it . . . all adds up. (“You mean in the last 5 years I could have gotten not one, but two master’s degrees?”) Well, that’s just GREAT. Seriously, what was I thinking?

That moment I got my first book in the mail from the publisher. That crack of opening the cover for the first time, the chemicals and the paper and the ink and the glue . . . that smell of newness that I whiffed like when I first opened my first Motley Crue cassette (that’s right) in 1983 . . . and the story and characters that I created and evolved and improved and reshaped and reinvented . . . all is there. Every page.

That’s why.

I know, I know. You can’t smell it on the Kindle.

How to Avoid a Self-Pub Nightmare

When you’re self-publishing, all typos, errors, ineffective use of color on your book cover, any mistakes of any kind . . . are YOUR FAULT. With fiction, there are more choppy waters to navigate through and avoid, like superfluous characters, one-dimensional storytelling, and undeveloped or forgotten story arcs, among other common hazards for new writers. (Though it’s probably more common than we’d like to discover these mishaps with celebrated authors, with novels coming from big publishing houses. Here is someone taking issue with the number of errors in Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.) As any fiction writer knows, there are many more writing hazards. Self-published fiction hazards can be brutal. Here are some ways I’ve discovered to avoid them:

  1. Use one, maybe two, professional editors. Your first editor will discover errors you missed and problems you never thought of, and will help you with the fundamentals. The second editor can help you with nuances, because you’ve (hopefully) remedied the problems caught by the first editor. You may think your untrained but critical eye is good enough. It’s not. And once your work is out there, it’s open for critique. Employing a professional editor is like insurance, you just get the immediate results and answers, before mayhem strikes. (Actual mayhem, not the Mayhem guy in those Allstate commercials) Many self-publishing houses provide an editor (or editing team) to you during the self-publishing process. I’d recommend using a professional editor first. By the time you’re submitting your work for print, it should be polished, not go through the first round of professional editing.
  2. Friends and family are awesome. And friends who care enough to read your work and provide insight and help you in any way are priceless. But, read number 1 again.
  3. Book cover: Do something simple, and try to stand out. You can be poetic or ironic, but few will catch this or even care. Review other book covers and find something that suits your taste or your genre. You don’t have to duplicate, but be aware of what’s out there that others have determined to be marketable, and make it your own.
  4. Take the book cover text seriously, including and particularly the book summary on the back cover (or front book jacket for a hardcover). I had used a summary for literary agent submissions as a place to start, and still found improvements that “sell” the story better.
  5. When working with your self-publishing house, review your and their work carefully. No one will (or should) care more about your work than you, and once you sign off on your book going to print, it’s done. Blind faith can be unforgiving.

Of course, you can try to blame your publisher for your errors. Probably won’t work.

When Writing Must Go: Hello, World!

There’s no one right way to publish a book. Everyone I’ve talked to––including literary agents, editors, and writers––has shared different tactics for the aspiring writer seeking to get published. It can be tough for some writers to endure stories of great work being self-published into obscurity while mediocre work is often mass-published for the discriminating book shoppers at Walmarts and Targets. While the latter may incense book snobs and writers alike, the most important thing is that scribe talents get their work read, regardless of how it arrives into the world.

For The Silent Partner, I’ve chosen to self-publish review copies for bloggers and reviewers before I have formal representation or ever try to sell the book. After all, I didn’t start to write nor continue to for the money. This may be considered both honorable and ridiculous (or just naive) by some, but money was never the motivator. Additionally, the unpublished novel stands on its own free of the stressful shackles of commerce. (Who said there’s no silver lining without a book deal?) The next step is to allow the work leave its maker, so commerce has to come into play eventually. The final touches are currently being made to the interior and exterior of the book so the work is represented in its most polished state, in preparation for the somewhat-noble desire of sharing a story, followed by the optimistic, non-altruistic pursuit of capitalism.

The book must soon leave the isolated comfort of the laptop and fly into the world and be exposed to the world’s dangers of book reviewers and particular readers. It must leave the nest.

 

The Pursuit of Editing Perfection

“I write, therefore I re-write.” This is a common position among writers, as we know that whatever brilliance we think we may have at one time put upon the page, that, now, we can do better. For me, it’s like looking at myself in pictures from the 90s and thinking, How did I think stone-washed jeans looked cool then?  My fashion sense has vastly improved.

We may tinker and toy with our work ad nauseam. We can over-think it, and sometimes destroy inspired work in the pursuit of editing perfection, which–I’ve realized–is impossible. Not impossible in paragraphs or pages. Not impossible with character, witty dialogue, or story structure. But in totality, probably, yes. Like “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, the pursuit of the goal is preached, celebrated, and declared as all-important. Sadly, it’s not often achieved. Even the best writers and their agents or publishers employ editors, sometimes multiple ones, in an effort to improve the work beyond its absolute capacity for perfection. (A flawlessly edited book can still be a bore to read, too, which is a whole other Oprah.)

Facing perpetual editing is an awful burden. Relentless writers who seek perfection through editing, so to provide specific, intended impact to the reader, are tortured heroes. The editing process is an important one, where prose is sharpened, plot and character inconsistencies are remedied, and stories evolve for the better. Readers benefit greatly from it.

Eventually, though, there comes a time when the writer must be comfortable walking away from the work, so to let new juices emerge. It’s how we flourish as writers. I’m currently doing my last run-through edit of The Silent Partner–this time, approving changes by the publisher’s line-editing team, so it can be published and I can get started on the next project.

As long as The Silent Partner is perfectly edited, that is.