My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Vanessa Blakeslee, author of the debut novel, Juventud, now out from Curbside Splendor. Vanessa’s story collection, Train Shots, won the 2014 IPPY Gold Medal in Short Fiction. The book was also long-listed for the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and has been optioned for a feature film by writer/director Hannah Beth King. Vanessa’s writing has appeared in The Southern Review, Green Mountains Review, The Paris Review Daily, The Globe and Mail, and Kenyon Review Online, among many others. She has also been awarded grants and residencies from Yaddo, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Banff Centre, Ledig House, and the Ragdale Foundation. Vanessa earned her MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Born and raised in northeastern Pennsylvania, she is a longtime resident of Maitland, Florida.
My First Book Trailer
We live in a visual age, like it or not. While some literary connoisseurs may snub their noses at book trailers—the publishing industry’s equivalent of the Hollywood preview—I’m here to argue that such a project need not be anathema to the author, who has spent so much time crafting his or her book precisely because the story cannot be summed up in a minute-long trailer. Much of the promotional ick factor falls away once you come to see making the trailer as a fun, creative side project that captures the essence of the book.
The skeptics have their due, for there’s no proof that book trailers, even snazzy, tightly-shot ones, lead to increased book sales. Thus, I do not advocate that authors spend one cent on this promotional tool.
Here’s how I came to make a captivating book trailer, and how I promoted it.
1. If your multimedia skills aren’t up to the task, ask around. Contact local colleges, universities and tech schools with multimedia and film programs, and find out if a student intern might be interested in the opportunity. I sought help from a fellow writing program alumnus who is far more adept at multimedia than I am.
2. Give your publisher the head’s up that you’ve got a book trailer in the works. This will give them the opportunity to reach out and partner with other literary sites for an official launch. They may want to run a pre-pub giveaway of ARCs to reward the first viewers who share the trailer on social media, or invite you to write a blog essay to accompany the launch.
3. Research book trailers. Note which ones are effective and which are not. The best ones will be clean, simple, feature a few key blurbs, and music that fits the book’s tone. Voice-over narration can be tricky; I chose to avoid it altogether.
4. The public domain is your friend. For Juventud, I drafted a list of key images from the book. We set about finding these images in Flickr and searching for footage on YouTube. We collected more than we needed, about five minutes worth, and then went through the “draft”—choosing some shots over others, cutting out the repetitive for the striking and particular.
5. Remember that music will be key to capturing the mood of your book, but that the music will have to be public domain or given with permission of the artist, or else get flagged by YouTube, Facebook, etc., for copyright infringement, and possibly taken down.
6. We had two options: to use a track from a musician friend who was willing to grant permission, or to use an older track that we knew without a doubt wouldn’t get flagged. I chose the 19th century piece, deciding that I could take up my friend’s generous offer for another project.
7. Music chosen, we sat down and revised another “draft,” this time fine-tuning the sequence of images, the pace, the text and font size, and length of screen shots. The final cut ended up just under two minutes.
8. We ran the trailer by the publishing team for feedback, making sure we had details correct such as the name of the distributor and links we wanted to include at the end.
9. Once the official book trailer was launched courtesy of The Rumpus, I shared far and wide and added the trailer to my Amazon and Goodreads pages, website, as well as my Indiegogo book tour crowd funding page.
10. On my novel’s publication date, I uploaded the book trailer video file directly to my Facebook page with my “happy book birthday” announcement. Social media sites like Facebook favor direct uploads; from that single share, the trailer gathered over five hundred views and multiple shares.
So while I’m not sure how much of this activity has resulted in direct sales, what I can be sure of is that the trailer has made an impression on more potential readers than had I not created one. More than one person commented, “I’ve got to get that novel.” With no cost but our own time and effort, we achieved our vision of capturing the spirit of Juventud. The creative spin-off proved an enjoyable endeavor, one that will also serve as a time capsule to the novel’s birth.