Tag Archives: My Soul to Take

Your blockbuster book trailer (on a budget)

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.

Coming Sept. 6th

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?

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“THE END”…and the Mourning After

Ask any writer how writing a novel or screenplay can take over your life.

Once, I wrote a research-intensive novel in six months on a publisher’s deadline, start to finish.  The Between, my first novel, took a year.  My Soul to Keep took two.

Writing a novel is more than sitting at a computer to type words on a page:  It’s bringing a world, and the people who populate it, roaring to life.  Since I don’t have a beach house or a wintry mountain cabin retreat, I create soundtracks that help me fall into the world quickly, and that music truly does seem to take me somewhere far away.

When things are really working, it’s very much like Alice’s rabbit hole.

I see the scenes unfold.  I hear the characters talking to me, even when I wish they’d shut up and leave me alone.  I shed tears when I prick pain hidden in the imaginary world of my story.

I love my novels, or I wouldn’t have made the commitment to begin the journey—but there’s always a point when the project fills me with terror.  At any time, especially before the all-important midway point, a long project seems to threaten to disintegrate into nothing but lost months and a failed project.  (Since I’ve been a professional writer, I’ve only started one novel I never finished…100 pages that ended up forgotten in a drawer.  It can happen.  Luckily, it wasn’t under contract!)

Then, one day, the magical day arrives…and you type the words THE END.

It’s an amazing feeling.  A whole section of my brain empties out.  Celebration!

Except….what fills up the hole my project made?

Last week, I sent my editor the fourth installment of my African Immortals series that began with My Soul to Keep—this one entitled My Soul to Take (Fall, 2011).

My Soul to Keep was published in 1997

The summer was a brutal rush.  The last two or three weeks were particularly hard, since I could see the finish line:  To bed late, up early.  Glazed eyes when I talked to my husband and 6-year-old son, since I was nowhere near them.  My soundtrack of operatic climax music blasting in the house all day long, and in my headphones until late at night.

Then…silence.  Waiting.  And a palpable sense of loss.

Now I miss the novel.  Badly.  I’ve been harassing my editor and advance readers, champing at the bit to jump in and start editing so I can visit the world again.  I’ll have a couple more chances to live in the novel before it goes to press…but one day soon, I’ll be cast out for good.  And no editing will replicate the feeling of creating the scenes for the first time.

I’ve been through this cycle again and again, and it never seems to get any easier.  The empty feeling always takes me a little bit by surprise.

I mean, sheesh, it’s not like they’re real people!

But to writers, our characters are absolutely real.  We can touch the worlds we create.  Screenplays are even worse, because so few movies make it to the screen—at least I’ll see my novel in a book store one day!  I could self-publish if I had to….but how many of us will go out and make our own movies?

As days go on, the ghosts in my head will be replaced by daily living concerns.  And I’m lucky to be co-authoring a zombie novel called Devil’s Wake with my husband, STEVEN BARNES, that is well underway…so at least I have a new creative home to move into.  All I need is a soundtrack.

But the only thing as hard as dreaming a world is leaving that world behind.

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