From Words to Pictures

It is in the nature of authors to take the pictures that they see in their heads and transform them into words. But with cinematic artists it is usually the opposite. And yet there is often some cross-pollination going on in this area where the writer may find his work traveling backwards into pictures and vice versa for those involved in crafting a film.

Case in point are book trailers. They have become a fairly common feature in the marketing efforts of authors and publishers in recent days such that every other writer seems to have one for their book. Whether they have much effect in the sale of books is doubtful, but I, like many of my fellow others, decided early on that I wanted to create one for Into the Vast.

Perhaps many authors would cringe at the idea of making their own trailer, but it just so happens that I have dabbled in video work and even some 3D animation. And so, while I am certainly no Steven Spielberg, I took it upon myself to come up with my own trailer. Since I had the cover already done at that point, I chose the background for that as my starting place. (The cover, by the way, was made with a combination of the free Blender 3D software and Photoshop, which you can get for a 30-day free trial).

desert storm from Into the Vast - science fiction novel

Even though I had the cover, it was just a static image. I needed it to come alive. I wasn’t satisfied with a Ken Burns pan across the screen. I wanted the viewers to feel like that wall of sand and debris was coming towards them and that they were not safe where they were standing. In fact, if you’ve read the book, you may very well recognize the scene I had in mind.

And so I stumbled upon Adobe After Effects (which may also be downloaded for a 30-day free trial). After going through some great tutorials over on Video Co-pilot I had learned enough to make the flying sand and how to swirl the clouds. I don’t think I achieved nearly the harrowing effect I was going for, but it seemed to work well enough and so I then turned my attention to what I wanted to say.

A trailer is really a small screenplay

I will confess that the “script” for the trailer was thrown together rather hastily and I got very little feedback on it. In fact, most of it is actually just a quote from one of the characters in the novel. I may have shown it to a few people before it went live, but not with an eye toward improving or editing it. It went out pretty much as I had fashioned it in my first draft and this is one of the things I would probably do differently next time and get more input before I put it out on the internet.

A little aside her to talk about trailer length. I’ve seen some really long trailers for books out there and I can’t emphasize enough the brevity is your friend. If it’s over two minutes, it’s probably too long. If it’s a minute and a half it’s probably too long, actually. Try to keep it to just over a minute. I think mine ended up coming in at around 1:15.

The music was the finishing touch. I initially contacted a record company about using some licensed music but they took so long in getting back to me that I started looking elsewhere. I eventually found some very wonderful, royalty free music for the trailer online. I think the music and the wind blowing in the background went a long way to establishing the mood I was going for. I would recommend instrumental music if you’re choosing your own. Lyrics will distract from the story you are trying to tell.

I thought that it was done at that point but the more I watched it, I started to feel like the desert scene itself was not long enough to give sufficient information about what sort of conflict was taking place in the story. So I added the first scene with the black screen and the vanishing letters. I used Final Cut Pro X for this part (also available for a free 30 day trial) as well as Motion (no free trial for that one I’m afraid but I probably could have done something similar in After Effects).

Around this same time, I was also watching other author’s trailers online for inspiration and saw one with a 3D version of their book and so I added that to the ending as well. I was almost there.

Flinging it out to the public

The final step was the easiest of all. All I had to do was head over to Youtube where putting it online was a trivial matter despite having never used their service before. I initially thought I’d put it on Vimeo as well, but, alas, they do not allow for commercial video unless you have a pro account. So maybe some day, but for now, Youtube will have to do.

A few days after it went up, I began to question whether or not I had presented enough information or whether what was there was the right information, but once you publish it to Youtube, there’s no way to change it and so I just had to live with it as it was.

After my book had been our for a few weeks, however, I decided to change the cover. And since I had featured the old cover on my original trailer, I eventually had no choice but to publish a new trailer with the new cover. I made a few other minor changes as well. If you’d like to take a look at the finished product, here it is:

So there you have it, a little “behind the scenes” look at my trailer. With a budget of pretty much zero, I’d say it turned out alright. I would love to have had more time to embellish it further, but in the end, I’m a writer and not a videographer and I have to be disciplined about how I spend my time.

If hope you found this little article helpful. If you did, or if you have any comments or questions, I’d love to hear from you. Drop me a note in the comments below.

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