I am far from being an expert on the subject but, having just gone through the excruciating process of creating my first book trailer, I am sure any advice I pass along could be valuable.
There are a number of reasons why making a book trailer can be beneficial to your writing, even if you never post it on the net. One benefit is that it forces you to focus on the key elements of your writing. My trailer is for a fiction novel.
When I finished my novel and then had to write a query letter, I ran into all sorts of problems. I had to condense the plot of an 88,000-word novel into a single page of less than 250 words. It took me eight weeks and about that many emails to my mentor to get it to the point where I considered it acceptable. I was lucky to have a great mentor and he kept rejecting it until I was forced to get it right. In fact, after the first month and four tries I was so angry and frustrated that I gave it a rest for about six weeks. Then my mentor and I started the arguments again. The second round I was finally on the right track and the last three revisions were just fine tuning.
I thought this post was about constructing the book trailer? It is. I found out that the book trailer is pretty much like the query letter but even more condensed. In fact, it gives even less away. In a query letter, you don’t give away the whole plot, just enough essentials to make the agent or publisher curious enough to ask for some or all of the manuscript.
It’s the same thing with the book trailer. How many times have you sat in the theatre and watched movie previews that gave away everything? So many times I’ve sat there and thought to myself that I didn’t need to see the movie now that I had seen the trailer.
I’d also venture to say that a picture is worth a thousand implied words. A quick count of the words in the trailer reveals that I used only 58 words, 66 if you include the title and my by line. So from 88,000 to 275 to 58. Quite a distillation.
Here is how I made it. From the query letter I picked out what images I would need to highlight the main points of the plot. In my case, it involved farm scenes of plowed fields, corn and hay. So I drove the three hours to the farm area where I grew up and filmed lots of field images. By luck, some people and objects (I don’t want to spoil the trailer, unless you want to view it first and then come back to this discussion) wandered into view and I was able to capture them on film. I drove to the actual setting of the book and got some real specific images.
After a review of what was usable, I located some background music. This beta version of the trailer on my website will not be used in the final or in the YouTube version. I will use a very simple piano part that I own the rights to. Find a friend and get them to tinkle on the keyboards, hook Audacity up to your recorder, iPhone, and video camera, whatever and download it so it’s digitized. I then moved the images around to match the music.
I wrote all the word slides which are basically parts of the query letter that I wanted to feature. I moved them around with the pictures until they made sense and used fades and overlays.
After my family watched the trailer several times I used their feedback to rearrange some of the images and change some of the timing and punctuation of the word slides. Something was missing and we figured out that there were no people in the movie. Because of another spoiler alert, I can’t tell you exactly what it was but we found out a particular event would be taking place in our town in three days, and that event would supply all the people images we would need. I immediately sent emails to the two organizations asking permission to film them. I told them exactly what we were doing and how the images were going to be used. That’s real important – to be open and honest with them. They gave me much more access than I dreamed possible.
Then I added those images to the third try of the trailer and that is what I put up on the book website. Three tries and about eight weeks of fiddling and the beta was good enough to put on the website. I still need a little bit of music tweaking and maybe a small change or two (depending on what my writer friends tell me will improve it) and I’ll put it on YouTube and Facebook and put links on Twitter.
Making the trailer was not easy but it’s not impossible. I am amazed, looking back, how much making it forced me to focus on the essence of the story. I now think that if you can’t think of actual real life images that match your novel, than you cannot expect readers to imagine your plot. This could be the ultimate “show, don’t tell.”
I am doing research for a novel that I plan to start writing sometime in September. I decided to take some advice that I heard over and over but didn’t heed because I didn’t understand it: write the query letter first, and then write the novel. I did write the query and now I have a clear direction where I need to do my research and what to focus on.
You don’t need to be a slave to the plot in the query letter. Why not revise the query as you go along? Then make a movie. Nobody ever said you had to show it to anyone. It might be too hard to make the trailer first but what a focusing tool that would be!
The trailer for my novel, The Fastnacht League, can be easily found on my book website www.AmishandBaseball.com . Any constructive feedback is very welcome and feel free to ask any questions. By the way, until you make one, you have no idea how much fun making a movie can be!
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