I haven’t forgotten about this blog. Honest. Here’s the deal. Through a chain of circumstances I still don’t fully understand, I ended up on a judging panel for the Hugo Awards. As a lifelong science fiction fan, I’m pretty thrilled. The Hugos are among the most prestigious international awards for science fiction. They’re a bit controversial this year. Since I’m on the judging panel, I better not say anything about the controversy. Just Google it. Trust me, there’s a shitload of reading about it to be found on the Internet.
Speaking of a shitload of reading, that’s the main reason I haven’t posted in a while. I came into this kind of late in the process, and am now reading all of the Hugo nominees to catch up. Aside from my job, just about everything else in my life has gone on the back burner. My workout schedule. Basic hygiene. This blog.
More stuff will be posted soon. In the meantime, here’s a wonderful interview with Keith Strunk: actor, producer, writer, Renaissance man. It ran in the most recent issue of the quarterly newsletter for the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, which I edit, and it concerns book trailers.
It’s geared toward writers. But if you’re involved in anything that could benefit from some online promotion — which describes pretty much every field of human endeavor these days — you should get something out of it. Enjoy.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and your involvement in the production of book trailers?
A: I’m the product of the professional training program in acting at Rutgers University. My son was born the day the thesis for my MFA was due and I found that I was an actor that had to find paying work quickly! I had a friend doing production work on commercials in New York and he got me on set as a production assistant and my parallel career in production had begun. I’ve done a great deal of work as a director, editor, and scriptwriter in the years since. My partner Laura has had a similar evolution career-wise with the addition of being a graphic artist as well. All of this combined with my own experience as a writer and author has led us to producing book trailers.
Q: What are book trailers meant to accomplish, and how important are they?
A: A book trailer should create interest that moves a viewer to action. In this case, to buy the book. It can excite, seduce, entice, enthrall, and even incite a viewer with just enough of the story to make them want more. At the end of the book trailer, your viewer should be saying, “I’ve got to know what happens in that book!”
If you look at the trailer as an integral part of the overall marketing plan for your book, it’s very important. It’s an opportunity to imprint a potential reader using images, music, sound, and words both printed and spoken. If done well, it all happens in a minute or less and reinforces the themes that drive all of your marketing materials to create a cohesive message about your book. The important thing here is that a book trailer is one component of your larger marketing strategy and not a strategy in of itself.
Q: What characteristics should a good book trailer have?
A: It should engage the viewer right out of the gate, compel them to watch it to the end, and leave them wanting more. In the case of book trailers, Shakespeare’s observation that “brevity is the soul of wit” couldn’t be more apt (that he chooses to have Polonius, who is the least witty and most verbose character in Hamlet say the line is grist for another discussion).
Simply put, you should work to keep a book trailer’s running time, including credits and cover quotes, to no more than one minute. Don’t succumb to the urge to stretch it to two minutes because you have to get components into the trailer that are “too important to leave out.” The exercise of staying within the one minute mark will yield a far better trailer than the more artistically indulgent three minute opus that has “all of the important stuff” in it. By working to keep the trailer at one minute, even if your trailer ends up running a bit over a minute, there’s a very good chance that it will be a tightly structured, effective video.
Never lose track that the objective of a book trailer is to sell books. It’s a marketing piece. That said, there are marketing pieces, some notable TV commercials for example, that have an artistic flair and in fact become a bit of art unto themselves. Even in these cases, the art form is subservient to the marketing objective to sell. And while it may not be art, a good trailer evokes a compelling emotional response in the viewer.
Simple components well executed are far better than poorly done attempts at more complex techniques. The exception is if you’re going for a camp or cheesy style (think Ed Wood flying saucers on strings) although, it’s actually harder to make this work than it looks. The best homework you can do before setting out to do your book trailer is to watch a lot of book trailers so you start to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t work so well.
These are three examples of book trailers that use simple components to create effective book trailers. Images, movement, music, animation, text, and voice over are used in some part in these trailers. The text for Kathryn Craft and Donna Galanti’s trailers were written specifically for the trailer while Tori Eldridge chose to use the text directly from her short story. Watch each trailer with an eye towards understanding how individual components in each trailer make them effective.
“Joshua and the Lightning Road” by Donna Galanti
“Call Me Dumpling” by Tori Eldridge
“The Far End of Happy” by Kathryn Craft
Q: How does a writer go about getting a book trailer produced, and about how much should the writer expect to pay?
A: Watch as many book trailers as you can. Note the ones that appeal to you in style and production values and find out the company that produced them. Network with other writers to find out who they recommend. You’ll find that there are a number of authors that have skills in video production or performance that have produced or contributed to the production of their own trailers. Obviously, this is a way to cut costs if you have skills in these areas.
It’s difficult to pin down the cost of producing a trailer as there are so many different factors that impact it. A simple trailer with music, images, and scrolling text will be far less expensive to produce than one that uses voice over, complex effects, or live action. Find out from the production company how the process for producing your trailer will work and what you will get for the money you spend.
It’s very important to understand what you can afford and adjust the concept of your trailer to fit your budget. Without a solid budget in place, you run the risk of adding components in the creative heat of the moment that will drive your costs up very quickly. In short, the budget drives the concept. Letting it work the other way around can be a costly mistake that will run in the thousands of dollars.
Q: Are there any special considerations for writers of science fiction, horror, fantasy or other genres?
A: Genres like science fiction, horror, and fantasy with otherworldly settings, characters, and situations have to be particularly aware of the parameters of a lower budget trailer and find creative ways to bring their worlds to life. Good costuming, makeup, special effects, and animation requires a great deal of skill to execute effectively in a video. That skill comes with a cost that has to be factored into your budget if your concept demands those components. If you can’t afford them, then change your concept and find other creative ways to get your message out in a trailer that is perhaps simpler in concept but well produced and effective.
Q: Any advice for ways to incorporate the book trailer into your overall marketing strategy?
A: Be sure to insert the link for your trailer everywhere your book is seen online. We are naturally drawn to videos and if presented with a link to watch a “movie,” we’ll almost always click it. And if it’s compelling and effective, we’ll share it.
Another thought is to coordinate your efforts with your publisher if you’re traditionally published. They most probably have a long list of distribution points for your trailer and if you’ve allowed them to be a part of the process of creating your trailer, they’ll be inclined to push it out there to be seen.
On the indie publishing side, I think networking with other writers to find distribution points is imperative. For example, there are three trailer linked in this interview which is a result of a conversation I had with Tom Joyce at the Liars Club Writer’s Coffeehouse.
Keith Strunk is an actor, author, and partner in Interlude Group LLC with Laura Swanson and a member of the Philly Liars Club.