Thursday, September 27, 2012

Writer Conference Workshop Notes: Book Trailers - Putting the 'Tease' in Teaser

In August 2012, I attended the SCBWI annual summer conference. My first blog post recapping the conference covered a workshop called Digital Landscape (hosted by agent Rubin Pfeffer), and can be found HERE AT THIS LINK.

Today I'm sharing what I learned at another workshop, hosted by Young Adult author, Sara Wilson Etienne (Harbinger, Penguin Putnam). The workshop was called Book Trailers: Storyboards, Scripts, Lookbooks, and Everything That Puts The 'Tease' in Teaser.

Book trailers were a mystery to me before this. I didn't know how people went about making them, but I do love watching them, so I thought this workshop would be a great place to start figuring things out.

Here are the bullet points:
  • Having no book trailer is better than having a bad book trailer.
  •  When planning, create "A", "B", and "C" scenarios:
    • What is the absolute MINIMUM you are willing to accept out of your book trailer? For example, good music? A voice-over? The minimum is your "C" scenario.
    • What is your DREAM book trailer like? That is your "A" scenario.
    • Beginning with your "C" scenario, what elements from your "A" scenario seem possible, given your resources? This creates your "B" scenario. Strive for this goal, but if you hit the main points of your "C" scenario, you have still succeeded!
  •  Things to consider:
    • Your target audience, including age and gender.
    • Your novel's tone. Stick with it!
  • Less is more: length. Thirty seconds to two minutes is enough.
  • Less is more: content. Remember to TEASE, not reveal. Your book trailer should give a feel for what your novel is about. It should not show much about what happens in your book, but leave readers eagerly wondering what possible things might happen.
  •  Create a storyboard:
    • Basically, this is a visual outline of what you will include in your book trailer.
    • If you are using a voice-over, write the script. Decide which images will go with which parts of your script.
  • If you are doing a photo collage book trailer, be sure to use your own photos, or purchase the commercial rights to images from places like Dreamstime or iStockphoto. Never lift anything from the internet without permission.
  • If you are adding music, be sure to purchase the commercial rights from somewhere such as Digital Juice, or find music for free or with a donation (usually with a credit given at the end of your trailer) from somewhere such as DanoSongs.
  • For the well-resourced: 
    • If you are planning on using live-action video, making a professional book trailer is like making a short film.
    • Use the best possible camera you can, and be prepared to spend hours shooting even the shortest of book trailers. 
    • Depending on your resources, consider contacting acting and film schools to see if student actors and camera operators would be willing to work free to build their portfolios.
    • Using video will make your project a lot more intensive. Sara Wilson Etienne used student actors and a film crew, and it took a year and a half of planning, auditioning, editing--not to mention the days of shooting. Read about how she did it, HERE ON HER BLOG.
  • You can either hire a freelancer to help you, or if you have video editing software, create your own book trailer using your photos and music. 
    • Hiring a Freelancer - A friend of mine (Trisha Leigh, featured below) hired an exceptional book trailer freelancer, Jeff Somers. Check out HIS SITE HERE for other examples of his work.
  •  Once your book trailer is finished, create a splash! 
    • If your book is not released yet, aim for one month prior to publication to launch your book trailer. 
    • If your book HAS been released, let your fans know that you are creating a book trailer once you are close to finishing. 
    • In BOTH cases, choose a release date, and enlist the help of as many bloggers, Tweeters, and Facebook friends to air the book trailer on their sites and link back to yours!
Now, I will share TWO examples! First, Sara Wilson Etienne's book trailer for Harbinger. But PLEASE NOTE! Sara Wilson Etienne's book trailer is an exceptional example, and much more than what the average author will be able to create without investing a LOT of time and money.

Book trailer for Harbinger, by Sara Wilson Etienne

Wow. Epic, right?

Like I said, this project was a year and a half in the making. Sara Wilson Etienne said that after the planning and auditioning, this phenom of a trailer took several days to shoot, and months of editing to finish. She let us know in her workshop that she lives in Los Angeles (so had easy access to acting schools for auditioning the roles), and that she is married to a movie person (I forget what sort, a director or something) and so he had many connections for getting a camera crew together, a script writer, video editor, and all sorts of other movie businessy-type people to make this happen.  Again, the average author will not have access to this level of awesome, but it's a good idea to see how well the trailer works on a conceptual level, i.e. tone, teasing, and leaving more questions than answers.

There are much simpler, less intensive, and less costly ways to go about making a book trailer that still does your story justice, and ultimately, garners interest in your novel. Here is a great example of a simple book trailer that really gets it right, in my opinion:

Book trailer for Whispers of Autumn by Trisha Leigh

Trisha Leigh, much like myself, didn't know the ins and outs of creating a book trailer. She hired a the freelancer I mentioned above, Jeff Somers (linked here again, for your convenience), and he did an outstanding job. Just like the Harbinger book trailer, this one sets the tone, and entices potential readers to find out more.

Much like the back cover blurb of a book, the story's overall theme is highlighted and you get to wonder what the book is about--and hopefully, you feel the urge to buy a copy and see for yourself.

A successful book trailer reaches people who might not have otherwise known what a fantastic book you've written. Trailers are more about capturing interest than anything else. Remember, your goal is to create a short piece of visual imagery to lure in a curious reader. Hopefully, you will make an impression that lingers on in the viewers mind.

I'm still on the fence about creating a book trailer for Timespell. I would love to have one, but the task seems daunting! My target audience is teenage readers, and I know how visual that age group is. Plus, it seems that the more media there is about a book, the better. I can't help but wonder, wouldn't my book benefit?

What are your thoughts on book trailers? When you watch a good one, does it make an impression on you, enough to look into buying the book later? Do you think it's worth the time and effort to create one for your own novel?

Final resources:
  • Book Trailers For All - Lists sources for music and images, and also gives advice on how to create and edit your trailer.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bright Smiles, Big Hugs: Flash Non-Fiction

I punch a code into a keypad and hear a faint click. A moment later I’m walking through a cheerful hallway. The walls are painted with flowers and butterflies. I enter a room with artwork decorating the walls. Careful coloring that stays within the lines—mostly.

My gaze scans the room. A few bright smiles beam up at me. I wave and smile back and their eyes light up.

“You’re here!”

I turn and see the beautiful face I’d been looking for. She holds out her arms and I give her a big hug. Someone else wanders up and wants a hug, too. Her eager smile tugs at my heart, and I give her a big hug of her own. Across the room, a woman with an I.D. badge locks gazes with me. The woman smiles.

The small arms hold me close. “Have you seen Trisha?” she asks, looking up at me.

“I haven’t,” I say, releasing our hug. She hangs on to my arm, and I give her hand a reassuring squeeze. “Maybe she’ll come another day.”

“She said she was coming.” Her eyes are hopeful. “Did she come with you?”

The woman with the I.D. badge approaches. She shakes her head. “Poor thing. Trisha is her daughter. But, she hasn’t had a visitor in four years.”

My heart constricts as the worker guides her away with a promise of juice and cookies. My grandma takes my hand. I hold it, tight.

“It’s pretty here,” my grandma says as we sit beneath the shade of a large, willowy tree. “You are very pretty, too.” 

She touches my cheek and I smile for her. “Do you like it here?” I ask.

“Yes. The food is fantastic.” She still has my hand. I don’t let go. My grandma's eyes become puzzled. “What is your name?” she asks.

“I’m Diana.” I say this cheerfully, but I hold my breath.

“Of course! She laughs. Diana. You are my granddaughter. I was only joking. My Alzheimer's isn't that bad, yet.”

I smile. She is having a good day. We talk about things and walk around. She shows me off and I give many more hugs.

You will visit me again, won’t you? she asks as I prepare to leave.

“Of course, I say.I love you, and I love seeing you.”

She doesn’t let go of my hand. 

The worker steps up with a smile. “There you are! I saved some juice for you. I think there are a few cookies left, too.”

I exhale as my grandma lets go. She waves at me through the window in the door. Trisha's mother is there too. I wave back at the both of them.

The next day I punch a code into a keypad and hear a faint click. A moment later I’m walking through a cheerful hallway. The walls are painted with flowers and butterflies. I enter a room with artwork decorating the walls. Careful coloring that stays within the lines—mostly.

My gaze scans the room. A few bright smiles beam up at me. I wave and smile back and their eyes light up.

“You’re here!”

I turn and see the beautiful face I’d been looking for. “Hi buddy,” I say, as my four-year-old son holds out his arms and I give him a big hug. “Let’s go visit great-grandma today.”

~ ~ ~

Trisha's name is a changed name

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Writer Conference Workshop Notes: The Digital Landscape

With Scholastic launching the new Storia line of children’s ebooks and book-related apps, could e-readers for children become viable, even at the elementary school age? How insistent will I be on paper children’s books, then? Would it be such a bad thing if my seven-year-old asked for a kid-friendly e-reader, instead of the latest handheld gaming device?
~ ~ ~

In August, I attended the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators annual summer conference in Los Angeles, along with over 1200 attendees. This was not my first time going, and for good reason. I learn a LOT from the workshops and keynotes, and I have a great time socializing with other writers.
Today, in a refined and non-silly voice, I will share with you some of the knowledge I gleaned from one of the workshops I went to, initially called The Digital Landscape.

Me, Stacey Lee (@stacey_heather), and Evelyn Ehrlich (@EvelynEhrlich)
Sidenote: People, you will be so proud. At conference, I didn’t just gab with my neighbor—I took notes! Unfortunately, I left those notes in my new friend Evelyn Ehrlich’s hotel room (find her HERE ON HER WEBSITE and also on twitter @EvelynEhrlich because she is all kinds of awesome). But LUCKY ME! Evelyn turns out to be a superb human being on top of being funny and a total sweetheart, and she mailed me my notes! THANK YOU EVELYN!!

Now then, where was I? ~checks notes~ RIGHT. Today’s sharing will be from Big Time Literary Agent Rubin Pfeffer, from East West Literary Agency (here is a LINK to his literary agency), and his workshop called The Digital Landscape—though he promptly retitled it Digital You. 

Mr. Pfeffer is a cut-to-the-chase kind of speaker, and I liked his upfront tone. Here are the bullet points:

  • Readers now have the ability to buy books the moment they think about it. We carry around "bookstores in our pockets", Mr. Pfeffer states. Buying power has never mattered so much before. Impulse buys are no longer restricted to supermarket checkout lines, or even leaving the house. How can authors and publishers capitalize on this?
  • The digitalization of literature has happened; get used to it. The beautiful piece of art you look at on a screen is still beautiful. You can still appreciate it. Embrace technology, and embrace your readers in any way you can reach them. 

  • Self-publishing is happening, and agents are beginning to capitalize on this. Not just small agencies, but established, well-known agencies are assisting some of their clients in self-publishing their work. His power point listed agencies such as Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Dystel & Goderich Literary Managements, Liza Dawson Associates, among a long list of others.

    • There were a LOT of questions from attendees. Mr. Pfeffer was uncertain about how conflict-of-interest was handled in an agent-author partnership under such circumstances. He didn’t anticipate beginning down this road himself, as he mentioned feeling the idea was still too new for him to feel comfortable with it.

  • On self-publishing: because there is no gatekeeper, authors would do well to be even more careful of their work than traditionally published authors. Cover art and edits should be beyond reproof. If the product is on par with what New York publishing houses produce, will a reader think to check the front cover and see who published it? Will they read it and love it and tell others to do the same?

  • “Just because it’s a product, doesn’t mean it’s going to be found.” Whether you are self-published, small press published, Big Six published, be aware that you are in a sea of millions. How will readers find you? The potential to reach readers via digital and social media has never been more important.
Mr. Pfeffer’s candor felt like a breath of fresh air. Sometimes it seems like some editors and agents prefer to avoid discussing the digital elephant in the room. An editor on a panel at SCBWI jokingly said that she was glad that she would be gone from the industry before digital changes really took hold, and she was just fine letting her successor take on the digital issues that seemed overwhelming to her.

In the children’s book market, I can see how it’s not as vital to worry about how electronic media impacts sales. Speaking as a mom, picture books and chapter books are still in paper format in my house. That’s what I see at my friend’s and family’s houses too, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. 

But my daughter is already admiring my Nook. She’s nearly eleven. If she’s going to want to be plugged into something, I’d just as soon it be an ereader than anything else. And this makes me think…

With Scholastic launching the new Storia line of children’s ebooks and book-related apps, could e-readers for children become viable, even at the elementary school age? How insistent will I be on paper children’s books, then? Would it be such a bad thing if my seven-year-old asked for a kid-friendly e-reader, instead of the latest handheld gaming device?

I had that at the top of the blog post because, it really does boggle my mind to think about. Families will spend hundreds of dollars on portable gaming devices and the games that come with them. I’ve seen this at my son’s preschool. I love video games, and my kids love them too. But when Rubin Pfeffer mentioned the potential for handheld readers designed for kids, more than a few of the attendees mumbled things like, Oh who would give something as expensive as an ereader to a kid?


Now for some NUMBERS. These are sales percentages, which might be an indicator of whether kids are reading things electronically at all, and if so, how much. A Young Adult editor on the previously mentioned panel stated that more than half of all the YA sales at her imprint were in ebook format. And SCBWI’s market survey shows ebook sales up 374%. Hard cover sales are up 14.7%. Paperback sales are down a bit, by around three percent. 

The bottom line is, ebooks are a huge force. The numbers are kind of massive, and I don’t think anyone knows if the dust has settled, yet. 

What are your thoughts? How can writers harness the power of the "bookstore in our pockets" Mr. Pfeffer talked about? How can any of us stand out in a sea of millions? Is writing the best possible book we can, and leaving the rest to readers, enough?