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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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.

Finding Your Voice as a Writer

Surprisingly, there’s not a lot of great material out there detailing how to find your writer’s voice. That distinguishable and authentic thing that makes your writing you. In cases of superb writing, a distinguishable voice can likely catapult or sink a writer. A material’s genre (especially in fiction), structure, quality, and appeal matter immensely, and some may even argue that these factors are more important than the “stamp” of a writer’s voice in finding writing success (which is defined differently by virtually all writers). Writing, though, is an art, not just a business of selling. The marketability of a piece of work is one thing; the uniqueness and individuality of that work is what helps it stand out among its peers. In many cases, a writer’s voice is what builds fans or followers.

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A. Alvarez’s book The Writer’s Voice has some great little gems in it, illustrating how voice can help writers–and authors–find and define their audience. He breaks out the difference between “voice” and “style,” helping the reader–and writer–understand the differences with clarity. I also stumbled upon a great blog by Cori Padgett, where she talks a little about the purpose of writing and pointing out the importance of utilizing your quirks as a writer.

Here are some simple things that worked for me while writing my first novel, The Silent Partner. I’m sure that I’ll continue to refine my voice through future work. If you have tactics that have worked for you, please share!

  • Write and therefore rewrite. Find out what works for you, in style and substance. Challenge yourself, but if you write often about something you love, you’ll develop a unique presence on the page.
  • Structure your story before you write it, so you can clear your head of concerns of structure as you plow forward. (There are many theories on story structure. In a previous blog, I spoke of my favorite, John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story.) In this way, your individuality can come through without any “rules” binding you down.
  • Be your interesting self. Write about what matters to you. If something pivotal is missing, it will come up with rewrites and editing. And editors! When you can dig into yourself and find those moments that mattered to you or someone else, and you can channel them into a character or story (the writer version of what actors do, I suppose), great moments can happen on the page. And those moments are all you. (Great time to cue The Greatest Love of All.)

If you’ve found other ways to enhance your writing voice, please let me know about them! And good luck, my friends.

Um . . . You’re the Crazy Ones

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God bless my friends and family who’ve said I should proud of the accomplishment of completing and publishing The Silent PartnerTragically, they have no idea what they’re talking about.

“You should reflect and be proud of yourself.” “It’s such an accomplishment, you should rest awhile.” “You should be so proud of that review!” “Bask in the glory and be proud.” Glory? . . . REST?? . . . Pride? . . . Are you friggin’ kidding me? I’m behind! I’ve got to promote the novel somehow while I conceive my next work! There are more rules to learn, more writers to meet, more stories to tell . . . all while the clock ticks and the publishing world continues to evolve into a new universe while the economy doesn’t get off its ass. It’s madness!

Of course, I’m surrounded by good intentions with spirits around me that are pragmatic, thoughtful, and grounded. In some cases, very loving. However I, like many artists, can be creative, emotionally charged, searching, and inspired. I try to manifest all the aforementioned characteristics, well, most of them . . . and while I don’t know how I’m always doing with this bombardment of conflicts, paradoxes, and mixed emotions, I know when I’m focused on something, it will happen.

I knew once I started the book, I’d finish it. I knew I’d publish it. No matter what. To me, this isn’t amazing at all. I said, “This is what I’m going to do,” and I did it.

You’re already working on your next book? What’s wrong with you?” Some people think that a writer who submerges his or herself into a writing project for YEARS has a serious problem with reality. I think skydiving or racing a car from zero to 60 in 5 seconds is crazy. Coming from a family with 4 siblings, having that many children is crazy.

I’m fortunate to have an amazing array of wonderful people in my life. They’re just the ones who’ve lost their minds. Clearly.

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.

Fighting for Your Writing Focus

If your personal relationships and obligations aren’t obstacles to your storytelling mojo, and you’re still having problems focusing on your writing, it’s possible that extreme levels of media stimuli are the culprit. From experience, I’ve been the happy, intended victim of over-stimulation of all media–that is, music, film and TV, sporting events, news in any form, social media, books (Gasp! Yes, this can happen.), and advertising all around us–all of which can hamper the coveted discovery of fresh, purposeful prose. And, sans the advertising plate that has glared at me from the urinal (the front sports page is much more pleasurable), I’ve been content and accommodating in absorbing it all, as it got in my way.

No doubt, sometimes various media have contributed to or downright inspired compositions from many of us writers. A song ever inspire you? A news story? A bad movie? (“Oh, done right, this story could have rocked it!”) A great one? Social media helps us connect–and sometimes promote, the news informs, and other stories around us may provide us springboards for our inspiration to tell our own tales. So how do we turn it all off so we can focus? Aren’t reading books supposed to help us with our own writing? (Absolutely they do.) So with the bombardment of inspiration and distraction, how do you determine which media to embrace and which to turn off?

What’s worked for me: Simply, if there’s a story that demands to be told, and it needs you to tell it, and you’re on a roll, stick with reading books and news headlines, watch the relevant games only, and embrace the music that fuels your fire. Doing this for two years or more of a writing project is impossible for most of us, but for those days or weeks when you’re in the zone (when our best work emerges almost magically), managing your focus in storytelling is simply keeping new, emerging stories in your head from vying for your attention. Keep a clear head the best you can.

You can also avoid public restrooms. If appropriate.

Promoting a Book That Doesn’t Exist


Nowadays, aspiring novelists must contend with the promotion (and possible stigma) of an unpublished book. We may have other published works, sure, but a long-term writing project like a novel-in-progress can frustrate even the most patient storyteller and wordsmith. A working novel’s manuscript–unfortunately–isn’t a book until it looks like one, feels like one, is bound (usually), is available digitally (especially if it isn’t bound), and probably has an ISBN code so it can be sold. The opportunity to self-promote via the Internet means a number of us now are pre-promoting work prior to its release, which is exciting, educational, time-consuming, somewhat social (admittedly stretched rationalization) and–for me–rewarding. It’s self-induced pressure to the max . . . heralded only by those of us doing it, because we understand and appreciate it.

The pre-promotion of a forthcoming book for a first-time novelist is necessary. Growing readership of our work shouldn’t focus merely on agency representation or publication itself, but getting our work out there to an eager audience that’s waiting to discover it. The largest audience possible, yes, but we shouldn’t seek to merely get signed to a specific agent or publisher. Instead, we need to define what route makes most sense for us to protect our integrity as writers and get our work read by the most people possible . . . those searching for our kind of work. If a literary agency or publisher has faith in the commerce behind the art, we’ve hit gold. No doubt, readership can grow immensely with that support.

For those of us seeking such representation, a burgeoning fanbase clearly illustrates a writer’s marketability . . . and reduces the risk of anyone investing time and energy into them. This would go for any artist. Case and point: A couple days ago, a rock band I’ve followed for a couple years finally got signed to a label. I discovered Imagine Dragons performing in Las Vegas and have followed them since, have seen them here in San Diego, and–after a few years of recording, performing, and promoting–they’ve hit a grand slam by signing with Interscope Records. Dedication to their craft is not in question, nor is the magnitude of their growing fanbase. It took a couple years, though, of looming in on a targeted objective. Dan Reynolds, the frontman for the band, said to Las Vegas Weekly, “The goal of a band should never be to sign with a major label. It should be to make good music and get it out to as many people as possible.”

We need conviction in our work and dedication to cultivating our talent. And tireless self-promotion, so that our work does indeed exist . . . in the form of a book.