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Keeping the Truth Buried.
THUS TO INNOCENCE is a novel I’ve written about a young man who hides the body of a fellow college student. In the seemingly never-ending process of finding representation and a publisher in hopes of getting the book out to the world, I decided to give myself an extra tool for promotion.
I decided to produce a trailer. For the book.
Yup, you heard me right.
A BOOK…TRAILER? WHAT? HUH?
Most people look at me cross-eyed when I say I’ve created a book trailer. What is it for? Why? People tell me they want to read a book, not watch it. They don’t even know what to think of the idea. “So, it’s a movie trailer…for a book?” It doesn’t make sense.
But it does.
Most online readers want to watch videos rather than read all those pesky words. Even if they’re shopping for a book. Somewhere between 60-80% of people on the web watch video before reading a single word of text. Why not harness that power?
I wanted to create something that would not only tell people about my book, but show them. Something that would elicit a visceral reaction, pull them into the story, let them know they will feel something when they read it. Because ultimately that’s why we, as audience members, seek out entertainment. Books, movies, tv shows, music, poetry, and art of all kinds appeal to our emotions. And if you think of it like that, then the idea of a book trailer makes sense.
It’s not as hard as you might think, so I put my directing/producing skills to the test, called up some industry friends, and shot a book trailer for THUS TO INNOCENCE. For zero budget. It took me two weeks to write out the one-page script and refine it until I wasn’t too embarrassed to show someone. From there, I planned out a shoot day and even drew up a storyboard so I knew exactly what I wanted to see. I then called a few friends, a few acquaintances, and a few total strangers that I found on the internet to help me shoot the trailer. These folks included Lew from Fraga Studios [www.fragastudios.com], actors Matthew Scott and Amy Whitmer, and a great crew.
I only used professionals for the shoot, and I recommend everyone do the same. Having pros support you makes a HUGE difference in the quality of your projects.
We gathered at a construction site I was able to secure for the evening, as that was where I imagined the trailer should take place. It’s surprisingly hard to find a pile of mud with a hose nearby, and it took me several weeks to get this one. Once we arrived, we watched the sun sink below the trees, positioned the lights, and cranked up the generator.
I used my experience as a director to lead the shoot, and found a camera operator and a lighting crew who I knew were good. Despite this, like any shoot, we had our stumbling blocks. For starters, the landowners cut the water we were using off after only 10 minutes—and it was a six hour shoot. We had to re-shoot certain shots on another day to make up the slack, and ended up using my parents’ backyard to double as the construction site. I bet you can’t even tell the difference.
[On the left is the construction site. On the right is the recreated scene in the backyard. We did this all with only three lights and a hose.]
I then turned to editing. I cut the thing up, edited, re-edited, and mixed the footage and music until I finally got a chill watching it. Although I’m a multi-platform editor (that means I use Premiere, FCP, and Avid), I chose Final Cut Pro X for this project because of its simplicity and speed with which I could cut it together.
[NOTE: I did very little coloring or other touch-ups. When the book is released I’ll update the trailer and do some color grading, graphics, and other techie things to improve it.]
Typically when I reach the point where I can watch my work again and again without cringing, I know it’s ready. It’s just like writing in a way—you don’t know what it will take to get it right, but when you do get it right, you can feel it.
The idea of making a book trailer seems both daunting and deceptively easy at the same time, much like writing a book. But just like my novel, I created my trailer one page at a time until I had something to show off.
USES FOR A BOOK TRAILER
Typically I would recommend using a book trailer to promote a book that has already been published. Trailers help with SEO, brand recognition, reaching new readers, marketing, and many, many other aspects of selling a book, especially if you’re e-publishing or self-publishing. To any internet-savvy half-wit, the advantages should be fairly easy to figure out. But I wanted to do something different here. My novel has not yet been published nor released to the e-world. I wanted a vehicle to help pitch my novel.
I’m still learning the advantages and disadvantages of having a video before the book is published, but so far, so good. I’ve found that a book trailer is a great addition to my query arsenal because it shows viewers that I know what’s important about my book. It shows that I can write something short, strong, and interesting.
The trailer is by no means a substitute to a query letter, but it is yet another way to show off my mad writing skillz. If I can create something engaging with a two-minute video, chances are I can write a pretty good story. That’s the theory, anyway.
Another advantage of my book trailer: it doubles as an uncanny ice-breaker. Seriously. I’m pretty terrible at networking events and writers’ conferences, so I wanted something to mask my total lack of an endearing personality. It works, too. I showed the trailer to an agent at a recent conference and her mouth fell open. “I…I’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said. And this opened a door that eventually led to her requesting the manuscript. I stood out from the crowd in a memorable way, and that was the goal. Otherwise I’d just have to rely on my good looks and charm—in which case I would be hosed.
At the time of this writing the idea of a book trailer is still relatively new, and I haven’t yet seen the full downstream effects of using one. I probably won’t know how powerful a tool it has been for some time, but that wasn’t ever really my goal. My goal was to create a way to get people invested in my story, in my characters, and to capture the attention of audiences that may want to read my book. I believe I have done so, and with my limited resources I was able to create something I am proud of.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
Tom McCabe can feel the guilt hollowing him out. He knows the manhunt is useless. He also knows the recent string of executions across campus is his fault.
Tom and two friends accidentally killed Nico Ruiz, a fellow college student. It’s a clear case of self-defense, except Nico was running drugs for the region’s largest gang, the Black Thorns. Rather than take their chances with small town police and risk evisceration at the hands of the gang, they bury Nico’s body, destroy the drugs, and let the rain wash away the evidence. For all intents and purposes, Nico has completely disappeared.
And that’s a problem.
THUS TO INNOCENCE is about shame, revenge, and what it means to be innocent: Donna Tart’s “The Secret History” with a dark twist.
To learn more, check it out on the writing page.
This is just a brief description of my process. If you want to know more about getting your own book trailer, have something to add or a question to ask, I encourage you to leave something here in the comments or contact me. Don’t be shy. I have so much more to say that I could write an entire book on the subject. Actually…I am writing one.
A special thanks to the excellent folks who helped me. Along with Shooting Richard, I also used Lew from Fraga Studios, actors Matthew Scott and Amy Whitmer, and a great crew, most of whom would like to stay anonymous, except for our excellent PA, Joel.