Wench Pat recently blogged about the stresses of promo and publicity to help keep a writerly career healthy. In the 20 years I’ve been published, I’ve seen a lot of that. Personally, I think a good part of the appeal of self-promotion is to achieve an illusion of control in our careers. (Where believe me, few of us have a whole lot of control!) So, because we love our books and want to be read, we often do dabble in the perilous waters of promotion.
The first big wave of promo that I recall was bookmarks. Author Brenda Joyce made a huge splash by producing very high quality bookmarks featuring photos of buff, partially naked male bodies. She got lots of publicity, people fought for the bookmarks, and she immediately was Someone in historical romance. And we were off to the races!
Bookmarks alone won’t make a star—the stories have to be ones that make readers want to buy, Soon so many bookmarks were being produced that the marketing impact of them dwindled to near zero. Not that they aren’t useful—I usually have some printed up to show upcoming books. It’s convenient to have a bookmark to hand someone when they express shock at meeting a Real Writer. With the bookmark, a person can go to my website for more info and I don’t have to say much. Very handy.
Have you ever bought a book from a bookmark? I did once. The bookmark quality was abysmal, but it was romantic science fiction, a subgenre I love. I have many prettier bookmarks where I have no interest in seeking out the book because it’s not the sort that interests me. It’s the content of the story that counts.
Which brings us to the new, new thing: book trailers and teasers (the latter being shorter.) As always, those who get in on the ground floor do best with a new type of promotion. I first heard of book trailers from Christine Feehan, who is a marketing genius as well as a prolific and much loved author. I think the trailers helped raise her onto the bestseller lists (though again, you have to have the books to support the promotion!) http://christinefeehan.com/
So now teasers are blossoming everywhere, and they may very soon be so common that they’ll be fairly useless. Since I’m unquenchably curious, I decided to give this a try for the paperback release of The Marriage Spell (out May 29th, buy yours now!). My fingers are crossed that it isn’t already too late for a teaser to have much impact.
Some people have expressed interest in how teasers are done, so I’ll give you a quick rundown here.
1) Decide on a budget. These can be made for almost nothing with the right software (that combines sound and images) and sufficient talent, but most of us don’t have the skills or the time. There are production companies that specialize in these, such as COS Productions, a pioneer in this area. ( http://cosproductions.com/ ) The more acting and movement are involved, the more expensive the productions. (Here is COS’s page with costs for different types of teasers: http://cosproductions.com/services.htm ) A production company will help not only in the making, but in the distribution, so there are advantages to going that way.
And for the clever and bold, here is an example of a very witty cheap alternative: http://noonebelongsheremorethanyou.com/ Not being that clever, I worked with a publicist and COS. There was collaboration between me, the publicist, and the producer at every stage. (It’s been said that a writer needs only a pen, an artist needs only a brush, but a moviemaker needs an army. This is true even with a one minute book teaser!)
2) The foundation of a good teaser is –surprise! –a good script. What are the salient points of the story and characters? What words will express what is intriguing and different about this particular story, and say why someone should go out and buy the book? This is HARD—the shorter a piece of writing is, the more difficult.
My 51 second teaser had a script of about 76 words. Alternating between voice over and written phrases is one way to convey more information in a point/counterpoint way. In those 51 seconds, the teaser needed to convey the setting, the essence of the characters, their conflict, and maybe a hint of the resolution. I think it came out okay—if you go to my website ( www.maryjoputney.com ) the teaser is partway down the home page and will play automatically after it loads.
3) Just as the script is the foundation, images are the fabric of the teaser. Finding the right ones isn’t easy, though. If you’re doing an expensive movie trailer with live action, you can hire actors (or strong arm friends and relatives) and rent costumes. Otherwise, you’re stuck with stock photo sites, and it’s hard to find historical images in such places.
For the hero of my teaser, that problem was solved easily: Jack Langdon is basically naked. <g> But the model’s coloring and build were right, he had short brown hair that fit with Jack’s life as a military officer, and he had a pensive expression that worked for me. (And yes, he was gorgeous. That didn’t hurt. )
The producer located most of the images and made good choices, but I didn’t like the original image for Abby, my healer/wizard heroine. As written, Abby is tall and full figured, pleasant looking but not a raving beauty. The producer did her best, but the image she found didn’t work for me—I thought the woman looked dull and unappealing. The producer had done her best to find a female who fit the period, but I found the image unacceptable. A pity we can’t use images from Regency movies, but because of licensing and permissions, that just isn’t practical. (Though I can put one here safely enough, blogs being ephemeral. )
So I went hunting myself. There are a ton of stock photo sites, but finding the right picture is difficult because you have to figure out search parameters that will bring you the kind of images you want. I don’t envy the people who work at these sites—coming up with multiple search terms for every photo has to be monstrously difficult. (I had help from two sister Wenches on this, fortunately!)
After much whining and snarling, I eventually found an image I liked. The young woman was wearing a rather odd Jacobean page costume and holding a book and a glass of wine, but she also appeared pleasant and compassionate and sort of historical. She’s looking to her right, as if she might have just learned that a dying army officer have been brought into her dining room. That suited the story, so we went with her.
4) Then we picked the music, using this site: http://shockwave-sound.com/ You decide on a style, then listen to clips. Each clip comes in different lengths to suit different applications. The site plays the music with enough voice over to make them unusable unless you pay the license fee. (The photo sites also mark the pictures in some way so you can’t just use them without paying. Which is only fair.) I got lucky when I went to the music site: I picked Celtic, and liked the very first clip I listened to, a lilting Celtic harp tune.
5) Based on my summary of the story and the approved script, the producer put together a draft teaser which we all reviewed. After corrections and changing pacing and finding the new image of Abby, the teaser was approved and posted on a number of sites. (This is another place where a production company earns its fee.) There are a number of free sites where you can post these, including YouTube and MySpace and, of course, your own website. The more places it’s posted, the better.
Ideally, a teaser will reflect the nature of the book. Pat Rice was doing a teaser at the same time I was, but even though we both had paranormal historicals, the feel is very different. You can see hers at www.patriciarice.com As with mine, the teaser is on the home page and will open automatically. At COS’s site, you can see a ton of other teasers with lots of different flavors.
Has it been worth the hassle? Hard to say yet. I’ve gotten one email from someone who loved the teaser, said it really made her want to buy the book, and she then loved the book. Score one in the plus column!
In another bit of cross-promotion, this Monday, June 18th, I’m blogging over at http://plotmonkeys.com/ The Plot Monkeys are Leslie Kelly, Carly Phillips, Julie Elizabeth Leto, and Janelle Denison, and they’ve asked me some fun questions! Maybe I’ll you there—