For years, writers have been using book trailers to bring attention to their work, hoping to create the coveted “viral” YouTube video…or at least make a few readers curious enough to check out their next book. Several companies offer services to produce trailers for authors, and some of them do good work.
My husband, Steven Barnes, and I were thrilled in 2010 when our partner Blair Underwood directed and produced The Best Book Trailer Ever Made (in our opinion) as part of the Vook (video ebook) for our mystery collaboration From Cape Town with Love, which I have written about on this blog. But Blair had a $5,000 promotional budget from our publisher to produce several video vignettes that were woven together into a trailer…and most of us won’t have that kind of money to invest.
Fresh from my experience on From Cape Town with Love, I decided to shoot a short promotional video for my upcoming novel. And I wanted to do it with no budget, no cast and (virtually) no film experience. Years ago, I remember watching what I thought was one of the scariest movie promos I’d ever seen–a trailer for the movie Se7en that was brilliant in its simplicity: If I’m remembering right, director David Fincher simply stared into a camera and talked about how he’d just made the scariest movie of his career. He was so convincing that I had goosebumps by the time he finished, and I couldn’t wait to see his film.
My upcoming novel is a supernatural thriller, My Soul to Take, to be published Sept. 6th. It’s part of a series I launched in 1997 with the novel My Soul to Keep, about a woman who discovers that her husband, Dawit, is a 500-year-old immortal. The Living Blood that created his immortality has sustained three other novels, and is the core of a fictitious underground drug called Glow that can heal any ailment. I decided against the Fincher staring-into-the-camera idea because my first take didn’t work for me. Not enough mood. Ultimately, my own face bored me.
So I decided to do what countless other horror filmmakers have done when they want to produce cheap movies: I went the mock documentary route. All I would need was a video camera, a dark room and a premise. The premise was easy: I’d already established an illegal network to transport the Glow in my previous novel, so I decided to shoot a video tutorial for “conductors” on the Underground Railroad. (I’d similarly posted “rules” for conductors on the Facebook fan page for my fictitious character Fana-Glow Healer.) All I needed was images and my voice, and I’d find a fun way to promote the book directly at the end.
Of course, equipment was a limitation, since my favorite video camera is on my iPhone. I knew it would look cheap, so I used the effects from a $1.99 iPhone app called 8mm Vintage Camera to make the video quality look even worse. (“That’s right, folks–I meant for it to look like this!”) And by doing it all in one take–actually three takes, since my flashlight didn’t work once and I flubbed lines in another try–I didn’t even have to learn video editing. Heck, I didn’t even insert credits. It’s all on the screen.
And it’s all in the script. Try to use cleverness to compensate for your lack of cash. To me, that’s the real lesson of this experience: If you can bite off a tiny chunk of your novel’s premise and find a way to bring it to life, there’s no need to spend a lot of money. A book trailer can be a series of quick video footage from man-on-the-street style interviews with people who love your work–or will pretend they do. A book trailer can take any shape or form you can dream up…no matter how small.
I’m not saying this trailer will win any Oscars, or get a million hits. But it was fun to shoot, and my readers got a glimpse of a world they love.
CLICK HERE to see what you think. What are your ideas for making a book trailer on a budget?