Tips for authors: How to create a book trailer

By Midge Raymond,

Creating a book trailer is a tough decision for an author — it’s a project that demands a lot of time, energy, sometimes money, and may or may not help sell books.

I debated whether or not to make a trailer for Forgetting English when the book first came out in 2009. Even as a writer and reader, I must confess that I’ve always found the concept of a book trailer a little strange; while movie trailers for films are an obvious marketing strategy, I think it’s a challenge for most writers (particularly fiction writers) to do justice to their books in a media that isn’t an obvious match with the product, i.e., words and story and the imaginative collaboration they create with the reader. How to translate this into video was a mystery to me. Actually, it still is.

The main problem for fiction writers, I think, is how to portray our stories visually. We write because we love words, after all, and not all of us are also actors or have a great visual sense or have the budget to hire professionals. I’ve also found that attempts to dramatize a novel for the tiny screen can backfire in a huge way if not done just right. That said, I’m not sure what that “right way” is.  Many writers get around this challenge by focusing on something else other than the story itself, such as the author or book’s backstory — a great solution in that it gives readers a little something more than what they already know from the jacket copy or author bio.

Challenges aside, there are definitely a lot of great book trailers out there. One of my all-time favorites is Dennis Cass’s award-winning trailer, Book Launch 2.0 — which is not only hilarious, but it does everything a book trailer needs to do: engage, entertain, and pique interest in the author and the book. The trailer doesn’t actually mention his book, Head Case, which I might have done — but it’s still a great one.

Another favorite is Judy Reeves’s book trailer for A Writer’s Book of Days — the trailer does a wonderful job of showing us what’s at the heart of the book: writing and inspiration, creativity and compassion. Even though the book is nonfiction, it tells a story — one that perfectly fits the book’s themes.

And the fabulous Jane Lynch does not disappoint with her hilarious book trailer for Happy Accidents. I especially like that while she uses her trademark humor here, she’s not relying on celebrity status in this trailer; she is, instead, tapping into every author’s natural, if slightly misguided, instincts to go all out for one’s book.

As Alan Rinzler points out in a blog post on book trailers, research indicates that you’ve got a viewer’s attention for about three minutes — but I’d go even shorter than that. I rarely watch anything for more than a minute or two — “Book Launch 2.0” was an exception because it was so funny, and you’ll note that both Judy’s and Jane’s trailers are almost exactly two minutes long.

Yet even after watching a few good book trailers and more than a few bad ones, I came up with no great ideas for my own book. Promoting a short story collection from a small press has plenty of marketing challenges, and creating a book trailer seemed to be among the bigger ones. So Forgetting English went trailer-less for nearly two years, and in the meantime my husband, John Yunker, published a novel, The Tourist Trail, and he too began to wonder if he should do a trailer. Because he self-published his book and needed all the promotion he could get, we began thinking of ideas, all of them terrible. While we both agreed, naturally, with the reviewer who called John’s book “epic, sprawling, and strikingly cinematic,” we still couldn’t find a way to create a trailer that wasn’t melodramatic and lame.

Then he had a great idea — one that had nothing to do with the subject, content, characters, or themes of his book. But it didn’t need to. And best of all, his idea incorporated my book, too. So we put together a script, picked up John’s iPhone, and did the whole thing over a long weekend. It cost us nothing but time.

And this is one of the important things to consider — how much time and/or money are you willing to invest in a book trailer? For us, the answer was a holiday weekend and zero money — so we had the perfect budget. But authors do have to be aware of the costs involved and to know that it might not be a great investment, especially since no one really knows how well book trailers sell books. Also, once you have a book trailer, the next challenge is to find ways to get people to view your book trailer. We were fortunate that many in the literary community showed it some love, including Poets & Writers, Shelf Awareness, GalleyCat, The Seattle Times, and many generous bloggers, Facebook friends, and tweeters (we thank you all). And we noticed a slight uptick in book sales (we’re thankful for that, too), but nothing overwhelming, which makes us glad we didn’t spend a fortune. Still, it was worth doing in that it got our names and our books out there, and from the feedback we’ve gotten, it’s given people a few moments of fun.

And so, as one last example, I present our book trailer, Love in the Time of Amazon.com, for your viewing pleasure:

 

Happy Halloween – and welcome to the party!

By Midge Raymond,

Today we are thrilled to be celebrating the official book launch of Out of Breath, and to celebrate we’re hosting a day-long, virtual Halloween bash right here, on this blog.

The nice thing about an online party is that it begins when you show up, and it goes all day — and all evening. To join us, simply scroll down to the comment box and leave your comment, recipe, question, etc. 

We will, however, end our giveaways at midnight Pacific time — so if you’re interested in winning a copy of Out of Breath (we’re giving away both print and e-editions today), stay tuned for the myriad ways you’ll be able to enter. And for all you Kindle users out there: Out of Breath will be $2.99 for one last day, i.e., today.

Throughout the day, we’ll also be posting new reviews, recipes for Halloween treats, and Blair Richmond’s answers to your questions about Out of Breath as well as the sequel, THE GHOST RUNNER, which she is working on right now.

This psychotically happy pumpkin reflects how I feel about Halloween: I love it. And first I’d like to chat about one of the most fun aspects of Halloween: candy. (When it comes to eating candy, I must admit that for me, every day is Halloween.) And as we go about celebrating all the joys of a good sugar high, why not celebrate it in a cruelty-free way?

Here’s a list I’ve compiled, from various sources, of vegan candy:

  • Airheads taffy
  • Chick-o-Sticks
  • Cracker Jack
  • Dots
  • DumDums
  • Hubba Bubba bubblegum
  • Jolly Ranchers (lollipops and hard candy)
  • Jujubees & Jujyfruits
  • Lemonheads, Mambas
  • Mike and Ike
  • Newman’s Own Licorice Twists
  • Now and Later
  • Pez
  • Sour Patch Kids
  • Swedish Fish
  • Sweet Tarts
  • Twizzlers
  • Zotz

And let’s not forget about the chocolate! Two chocolate makers that I love both pride themselves on sustainable practices, fair trade, and giving back to the communities that provide their ingredients.

Theo Chocolate makes a few delicious vegan varieties (and I can add with authority that they are divine), including: Cherry & Almond, Mint, Dark Chocolate, Toasted Coconut, and Peppermint Stick.

Endangered Species also makes delicious vegan chocolate — and better yet, the company donates 10% of net profits to fund species and habitat conservation efforts. Among my favorites: All-Natural Dark Chocolate with Mint, All-Natural Extreme Dark Chocolate, All-Natural Dark Chocolate with Cranberries and Almonds, and All-Natural Supreme Dark Chocolate.

And if you’re anywhere near a Trader Joe’s, try one of their vegan chocolates: the 70% and 72% dark chocolate bars, and the 73% Belgian dark chocolate non-pareils. Yum.

Okay, now that you’re armed with all the candy you’ll need, we look forward to your questions, your recipes — and we’ll soon be posting info on the first giveaway!

UPDATE: For our first giveaway (for a paperback copy of Out of Breath), here’s all you need to do: Tweet about the virtual book launch party using the hashtags #Halloween and #OOB_party. You’ll be automatically entered in the giveaway, and a winner will be randomly selected sometime after midnight.

UPDATE: Many thanks to Alex at Electrifying Reviews, who is generously giving away an advance review copy of Out of Breath — and this giveaway lasts another two weeks! Enter now at Electrifying Reviews. 

UPDATE: Wondering what you’ll do with all those pumpkin seeds once the carving’s done? The Vegan Version has just stopped by with a few amazing recipes for savory and sweet pumpkin seeds! (See comment below.) And a recipe for cute and delicious mummies, too.

UPDATE: Q&A with Blair Richmond:

Q: What inspired you to write about vampires, and how did you come up with the idea of a vegan vampire?

A: Living in the Northwest, hiking in the fog and ancient forests, it’s hard to not have creepy thoughts from time to time. After all, there are still Bigfoot sightings in these parts from time to time! I’ve always loved Bram Stoker’s novel and I’ve followed the evolution of vampires through the eyes of contemporary writers. But when I saw the vampires in Twilight referred to as “vegetarian” because they “only” killed animals, I felt inspired to help vampires evolve a bit further. So I decided to come up with a green version. I’m a bit of a birder, and we have a bird here called a “sapsucker,” which lives symbiotically off the trees, and that’s what first gave me the idea.

 Q: What has been the feedback from more mainstream young people? Are they receptive to the healthy lifestyle (i.e. running, veganism/vegetarianism)?

A: People love that it’s set in a place where nature is a big part of life. And I’ve been happily surprised that mainstream readers are curious and supportive about the veggie themes of the book. This is great, because I wanted to have a heroine who’s healthy and vibrant to show that veganism is compatible with an athletic lifestyle. I was unhappily surprised to get some negative reviews from vegan bloggers, which was interesting. I think there’s a perception with some people that if you love animals you have to be a perfect vegan. I love animals and don’t eat them, but I’m not a perfect vegan. I’m like Kat, in the book – I do my best but I still eat dairy on occasion. I don’t think we should apologize for it because we’re still doing a lot of good by not eating animals. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t aim to be 100 percent vegan – that is always my goal – but it means we should forgive ourselves and each other for not being perfect. No human is. I wanted to write a character that is imperfect because she is more real that way. Most readers seem to focus on the romance and the running and the mystery of Kat’s past, and so the fact that Kat and some of the vampires are vegan isn’t really a huge part of the story, just one aspect of it.

UPDATE: …another Q, another A:

Q: I would like to know what running means to Blair, assuming she is a runner: Is it an escape? Is it an endorphin rush? And is it difficult (or, perhaps, easier) to be a vegan runner as opposed to a meat-eating, flexitarian, or vegetarian one?

A: Running, for me, is both an escape and an adventure. Kat is clearly a much better runner than I’ll ever be and many of my runs often end up as hikes. But I love to get out of the house and escape into the woods. I don’t wear a watch. I don’t worry about my time. And I don’t particularly care for marathons or any of those types of races that Kat likes. I just like to be alone with the trees and my thoughts. Much of Out of Breath came from my time meandering through the forests. And as for diet, I haven’t really noticed any change of energy level since I gave up meat. I think I’m actually healthier, though I have a policy against weighing myself!

UPDATE, November 1: Thanks to all who joined us to celebrate Halloween here yesterday! Special thanks to those who sent questions and brought recipes! And congratulations to Carol, who won a copy of Out of Breath — and don’t forget that Electrifying Reviews is hosting a giveaway that ends on November 14, so you’ve still got a couple weeks to enter.

Tips for authors: How to do a “virtual book tour”

By Midge Raymond,

With Out of Breath‘s virtual book launch party taking place on Monday (you’re invited!), I wanted to offer a few tips for all authors on how to create a virtual book tour.

So, what is a “virtual book tour”? It’s simply another way to get out there and do what authors do — talk about your book, connect with readers, answer questions — only this way, you’re doing it all virtually instead of live and in person. The nice thing about this is that, unlike with a live book tour, on a virtual tour you can wear yoga pants the whole time (unless, of course, you go onto Skype or do any video chats). A virtual book tour is perfect for authors who can’t travel — and it’s also a great way to supplement an in-person tour.

Here are a few ways you can promote your book virtually:

– Host (or ask your publisher or a friend to host) a book launch party (join us on Halloween to see what it’s all about!)

– Be a guest blogger on several writer/reader blogs, offering insider news and info about your book and/or its topic

– Schedule interviews and/or Q&As on reader/writer blogs

– Offer book giveaways on your own blog and other blogs, as well as on such sites as Goodreads

– Look for opportunities to do taped readings, interviews, and/or podcasts (visit Writers Out Loud, Blog Talk Radio, and Lively Words for examples).

The nice thing about the virtual tour is that the possibilities are seemingly endless: You can go anywhere. The fact that you can do this also makes it a bit overwhelming. A few things to keep in mind…

Just because you can do everything doesn’t mean you must do everything. At least not all at once. Launching a book into the world is a big deal, and it’s tempting to want to do every single thing you can. However, you’ll probably go a little insane if you try this. I suggest a schedule that includes daily events the first week, then tapering it down a bit to 2-3 events per week over the following weeks. This will give you good buzz in the beginning, then allow you to breathe again. And remember that while book promotion is most important in the first few months, promoting your book is a long-term endeavor. Always keep an eye out for new opportunities to share your book with the world.

Start developing relationships early. You don’t want to be rushing to get events lined up at the last minute, and you also don’t want to be demanding of your fellow bloggers. Ideally, you’ll have a good writers’ network in place — if not, start networking well before your pub date. And, most important of all, ask not only what your fellow writers can do for you but what you can do for them: Offer them guest spots on your own blog; ask them how you can help them out, too.

Have FUN! Don’t make book promotion a chore, or you’ll grow to hate it. Doing a great deal of writing and talking in a short period of time can get exhausting, so you’ll have to find your own balance to avoid burning out. And while many people will tell you that you have to base all your events around the book launch date, I’m more of the mindset that “every week is book-launch week” in that, for one, book promotion never really ends; and two, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t fit it all into one week, or even one month. Rather attempt to cram everything into a short period of time, you’ll be better off in the long run if you think about ways to promote your book all year, and all the time.

We look forward to seeing you (virtually) on Halloween! Meanwhile, I hope you’ll join us on Twitter and Facebook, too.

Blogging tips for authors

By Midge Raymond,

The first bit of advice most writers get about book promotion is usually: “Write a blog.” And it’s great advice. Yet writers often think, “Wait…I’ve just spent six years on this novel, and now I have to write more?”

Well, yes.

Of course, some published writers are published solely because of their blogs (there are too many success stories to name, but you’ve probably heard of Sh*t My Dad Says and Julie & Julia, to name just a couple). So if you’re writing nonfiction, you’re at an advantage; whether it’s cooking or travel or advice for moms, nonfiction lends itself well to blogging. If you’re enough of an expert in something to write a book about it, you probably already have a blog, which means you’ve got a platform and you’ve got great stuff to take to editors.

But if you’re a fiction writer or poet, you may not have considered writing a blog. You may be far more interested in writing drafts of stories and poems than in trying to create content for blog posts and worrying about building an audience. I feel your pain; I put off blogging as long as I could, until I finally gave in back in 2006. And it has turned out to be a lot more fun than I thought.

When I began my blog, I was juggling a zillion things and barely had time to write as it was — and naturally I wondered why I should write a blog when I could be writing stories. But I’m glad I did. The same way teaching helps me practice what I preach in terms of good writing, blogging is helpful in so many ways, from helping me stay on top of publishing news to getting me thinking about new writing rituals to connecting with other readers and writers. And now, I write three blogs (this one, Remembering English, and The Writer’s Block), and in addition to these enhancing my own work, they’re also really fun.

So here are a few tips for the beginning blogger:

Start now. As in, right this second. Even if your book isn’t due out for another year (or even if you haven’t written it yet) you’ll want to get started on your blog right away. You need to build content, attract readers, and develop its voice and style.

Write what you know. Nothing fits this adage better than blogging. This is why people blog, after all — to offer their expertise to others. And it’s the same reason people read blogs — to learn about things they want or need to know, whether it’s how to write dialogue or how to cook vegetarian. Again, if you’re writing nonfiction, you likely have a lot of knowledge to share — but even if you’re writing fiction, you can keep a blog about your writing life and process, as Shary Hover does on her lovely blog. And check out Patti Marxsen’s blog Manuscriptorium, in which she writes about the process of writing her novel.

Post as often as you can — without making it too much of a chore. Posting frequently is great, but even more important is that the content is good and useful (see the next tip, below). If you treat blogging as a chore, your readers will probably notice that your heart’s not in it. Blogging can be a lot of work, as any blogger will tell you. I admire and envy those who blog 3-5 times a week, like the amazing and prolific Erika Dreifus. But you don’t have to post that often to have a successful blog — being interesting and relevant is more important than being frequent. That said, you’ll want to blog often enough that readers know your blog is active. Try to post from one to five times a week — but even if you can only post once or twice a month, that’s something. Keep in mind that short posts are okay — and probably much more likely to be read than longer ones.

– As mentioned above, be interesting and relevant. You’ll want your blog to have a solid focus, but one that also allows for some breathing room. For example, if you’ll look at the Categories listed on the left, you’ll see several, but you’ll also notice that they’re all somehow related to what we’re about, from new books to Ashland news to nature. You can have a broad range of topics, as long as they’re relevant to your work and your readers.

Have daily/weekly themes, or ongoing topics. For example, we have an occasional Ask the Editor column, which gives us a chance to answer writerly questions that come our way for the benefit of all. On my other two blogs I offer a Weekly Writing column with a new writing exercise every Monday as a jump-start to the week. My friend Kelli Russell Agodon has a wonderful blog on which she posts Confession Tuesday, in which she confesses her “sins,” none of which are sinful but all of which we can relate to as humans and as writers; and Thankful Thursday, in which she writes an appreciation of someone or something she admires.

Be yourself. Let your voice come through on your blog. You may not want to be quite as colloquial or as open as you are when chatting with your best friends (depending on what you talk about), but don’t be shy about showing your personality. That said, keep in mind that everyone from your editor to your in-laws to your next prospective employer may be reading your blog at any given time — so be yourself, but with enough restraint to keep you out of trouble.

Be generous. Kelli’s Thankful Thursday blog is a perfect example of this: By highlighting others, you not only have material to write about but you’re paying it forward. Link to other relevant blogs often; share the love. Offer to do a guest blog for another writer’s blog, or invite a writer to be a guest on yours. It’s a great way to discover new blogs and to help others discover them as well. I’ve cross-posted my Weekly Writing blog here so that writers and readers alike have a chance to discover the works of some of my favorite writers as well as to highlight their new works in print.

Be pretty. Make sure your blog is neat and organized, that your background colors and images are easy on the eyes, and use a normal sized, serif font. Use images and video when you can, and keep paragraphs short. Bullets and lists are handy and make for easy reading, too — remember, no one wants to get bogged down in long paragraphs of text on a computer screen. A quick note on images: Don’t go too crazy (use them only if they’re relevant), and make sure you have taken the photos yourself or have permission to use them. It may not seem like a big deal to snag a photo from somewhere else, but I know of writers who have done this and have had to pay damages (and this is not cheap) for using photos without permission.

Invite comments — and reply to them. For the first year of my blog, I didn’t open it to comments; I was worried I’d get a lot of spam, that freaky people would make creepy comments, or that I would get so few comments that my blog would look really sad and pathetic. But after hearing nonstop that there’s no point to blogging without welcoming comments, I finally caved.  And yes, all of the above did happen and still does. But I’ve found that it’s worth it — inviting feedback and creating dialogue has fostered connections and helped build an audience.

Think of keywords and how you can use them to draw traffic to your blog — again, only if they’re relevant (if you lure readers to your site with false promises, they won’t come back). And keep headlines as simple and user-friendly as possible — like “Blogging tips for authors,” for example.

Let people know you’re there. I usually tweet each new post, offering a newsy kernel so people will click through if they’re interested. I mention posts on Facebook as well. And we hope to gather a bunch of readers together for the upcoming Virtual Book Launch Party for Out of Breath on Halloween. We’re offering book giveaways (another good way to get people to visit your blog, by the way), and everyone is welcome (hope you’ll join us!).

Share the love. All bloggers like comments; we like to know people are reading our blogs, and this is the best indicator. So reach out and comment on blogs that you like; this is good karma, and it’s fun. Also, keep a blogroll (we have a list going on the left), in which you link to blogs you like, and they’ll probably be glad to list you on theirs as well.

Happy blogging!

Discovering Tree House Books

By Midge Raymond,

Tree House Books in Ashland, Oregon, is one of the town’s many treasures.  I first visited this sweet little children’s bookstore last year, around the holidays, while shopping for the little readers in my life. And I’m glad I did — it’s one of the most charming bookstores I’ve ever seen, and it’s fun to wander around inside even if you are a grown-up. There really is something for everyone here.

Tree House Books has been on the Plaza in Ashland since 1978 but has relatively new owners who curate a hand-picked selection of books for infants to young adults, as well as a small selection of their favorite books for grown-ups as well. The space is welcoming and inviting, and in addition to books there’s a wonderful selection of gifts, toys, and seasonal items that makes it worthwhile to stop in for a look whenever you’re walking by.

Tree House also has a book club for kids age 11 and older (if there’s anything better than a book club, it’s a book club for young readers) as well as many other events, including local author appearances. And be sure to check out Tree House’s October calendar, coming soon, for upcoming Halloweeny events.