Creating a book trailer

I’ve just created my second book trailer, this time for my erotic novella, Ice Hot, and I thought it might be helpful to share some insights into how I did this in case you are looking to do the same. I created this at absolutely zero cost, so whereas it could no doubt have been more sophisticated with some budget behind it, I wanted to see if it was possible to do it all for free, and found that indeed it is.

I’ve seen other authors creating book trailers and thought I’d give it a go. Some are brilliant, others not as much; some are just a few seconds, others go on well over a minute. I kept this one for Ice Hot to under a minute as I think any more than that and interest starts to wane.

I wanted the trailer to give a flavour of what the story was about and use the tone of the music, video and graphics to give a clue as to the mood of the story. I’m not suggesting this is the best trailer in the world, ever, but I’m proud of it for a second attempt, and pleased I’ve found some good, free resources for pics and video.

Editing Software

I have to confess, I was a bit green here having never created a video before. I researched ‘free video editing platforms’ and find a few including Animoto, Canva and Adobe Spark – the one I finally used.

I started on Animoto but if you use the free version the watermark is really obvious on every slide and I didn’t want this. Canva seemed more suited to graphic design rather than moving imagery, although an expert may have a different opinion. I’ve heard great things about Canva but I have no experience in it and it didn’t seem to me to be the easiest option. In the end I went for Adobe Spark as it was free and very easy to use.

It’s worth mentioning that for a fee you can upgrade your account and get rid of the watermark all together. A paid-for account almost certainly will do more whizzy things, but I found that the free version was perfectly suitable for what I needed.

https://spark.adobe.com/

Photos and Imagery

You have to be extremely careful when using photos and videos in your trailer as you’re not allowed to simply find this content online and use it. You can get in big trouble for this and end up with a fine. You’re free to use any photos and videos that belong to you, i.e. that you have taken and that you have the explicit permission of anyone in them to use.

I didn’t have anything of this type that was suitable, so I used photos and videos from a number of different websites which offer royalty-free content. These included:

https://pixabay.com/
https://www.pexels.com/videos/
https://www.videvo.net/

Even on these sites, some of the images/video require a credit. The website makes it clear which videos/images need to be credit and even tells you how to do this. You can see on the final page of my Ice Hot trailer that I’ve included the credits here.

Music

On Adobe Spark you can choose from a library of royalty-free tracks, all categorised by mood, which made the selection extremely easy. Most videos will be viewed through social media and therefore the sound will often be switched off, so it’s important to keep this in mind – your trailer has to be just as effective without music. Having said that, I wrote in the post that it’s best viewed with the sound on as I felt the music really added to the feel of the video.

My final video can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=2573097506108528

Good luck with your trailer, and if you have any pieces of wisdom as to how to create them, please share them in the comments below.

Very exciting announcement

I’m truly delighted to announce that I’ll be writing three novels for fiction publisher, Choc Lit.

The first, The Village of Second Chances, will be out in summer 2020 and is set in and near York – close to where I grew up. Although I live a long way from York these days, I took a trip back there a few weeks ago and took a few snaps of the places I remember that inspired the story.

I can’t wait for the first book’s release, and to start penning the second!

Getting the media interested in your book

Ever seen an article in a local (or even national) magazine, newspaper or online about an author you’ve never before heard of who has a new book out, or tuned into the radio and heard an interview with the same? Ever wondered how they managed it? Here’s how…

Unless you happened to know someone very well who works in the media and can pull a few strings, you will have to contact the media to let them know details about you and your book. The normal way of doing this is to put together a short press release – no more than two pages – which includes a bit about you and your book, and why this is of interest to the journalist you’re writing to.

If you’re with a big publisher, they will undertake some marketing for you, but if you self-publish or are with a smaller publisher, all the marketing will be up to you. The more marketing you do, the more books you will sell.

Normally the ‘hook’, i.e. the bit that gets the media interested, is that you’re local. Alternatively, it could be that the location where your story is set, is the area where the radio station, newspaper, etc. is based. Either way, make the local connection abundantly clear in the press release and your cover letter.

Generally, all correspondence with media these days is done over email, so you will need to find their email address and make sure you’re addressing your mail to the correct person. You can do this by researching online – most of this information is freely available if you search for it – but this can take time.

You can try to call the news desk, or forward planning for radio, but journalists answer their phones very infrequently, if at all. However, you may have more luck with a phone approach with radio, so it’s definitely worth a go.

If relevant, you could tie your press release in with a particular awareness day, e.g. if your main character is living with breast cancer, you may want to try approaching the media on the run-up to October – breast cancer awareness month. Be aware though – national and glossy regional magazines can have up to a 4 month lead time! Radio works day-by-day and weekly newspapers work two weeks in advance. Online is pretty instant.

Visual media (magazines, online, newspapers) will most likely request an image if they decide to use your story. This could be an image of you and/or your book. Make sure you have both available in high resolution (min. 300dpi). If your image is not high res, printed media will not use it as it will come out pixelated. For online, the resolution can be lower.

Radio stations are a good shout if you’re trying to raise awareness through media. I suggest trying your local BBC station. Commercial radio stations (such as Heart) are extremely unlikely to touch your story as they survive on advertising revenue – something you won’t be offering unless you have several thousands of pounds to part with.

If the BBC station is interested in your story, they may invite you to be interviewed. Snatch this opportunity with both hands as they don’t come along very often! They will not ask you to pay for this and you will not be paid. Chances are, they’ll want you in the studio, as this will give them a better quality of sound. The interview may well be live, so it can be scary, but it’s well worth doing for the publicity opportunity it affords you.

Like anything else, media is a long game. Don’t expect to get one press cutting or do one radio interview and to be propelled into the limelight or sell hundreds of copies of your book. This is extremely unlikely to happen. However, appearing in the media is excellent for your profile as an author and is good experience for when you do reach that best-seller status!

Good luck with generating that all-important media attention. Go get ’em, tiger!

How to read – actively

I’d never considered the concept of ‘active reading’ until I received my latest copy of Writing Magazine (I recommend subscribing if you’re a writer, btw). On the letters to the editor page is a letter from a lady who, as an aspiring writer, knows that reading is a great way to learn how to write (Absolutely!). What she questions is how to read ‘actively’. That is, how to read in a way that you notice whether the book is written in first or third person, what tense it’s in, and so on.

Of course, if you’re not trying to be a writer, the best way to read is probably, well, just to read, without being consciously aware of tenses, point of view, etc. However, if you are looking for trends, tendencies in genre, and the like, then active reading is definitely worth a go.

Here’s how.

  1. Enjoy. First and foremost, reading should be for enjoyment. So, rather than becoming obsessed with technicalities, read the book with your active reader button switched off. If you liked the book, switch the button on and read it a second time (you can skim this time) and try to answer the following questions…
  2. Tense. Is it present tense?
    e.g. I slap his face so hard my hand stings, then turn and run away.

    Or past tense?
    e.g. I slapped his face so hard it made my hand sting, then turned and ran away.

    What affect on the story does the tense have? How does it make you, as a reader, feel? Why do you think the author chose to work in that tense? In what way would the story be different if the author had chosen the other tense?
  3. Person. Is the book written in the first (I), second (you – this is very rare, especially in full-length novels) or third (she) person?

    How does the person choice affect the reader’s relationship with the characters? Would the story feel different if it were written in a different person?
  4. Dialogue. Approximately what percentage of the book is written in dialogue (where the characters are speaking)?

    Dialogue increases pace. Would you have appreciate more or less dialogue? Which parts of the book did you enjoy most – the sections with dialogue in, or the sections with narrative (story-telling) in? Take a look at the sections mainly made up of narrative. Why do you think the author chose to use narrative in these sections? Could they have used dialogue instead and, if so, how would this have impacted the story?
  5. Dialogue tags. Dialogue tags are the bits that come after the closing speech mark.

    E.g. “I love you,” he said
    “You love me?”
    “Yes, that’s what I said,” he muttered into his collar.
    “I see.”
    “Is that all you have to say on the matter?”
    “What did you want me to say?”
    He shook his head and sighed. “Never mind. Don’t worry about it.”

    You may notice in the passage above the lack of tags as well as the inclusion of them. When reading your book actively, ask yourself why the author might have chosen to use tags when she/he did, and why they might have chosen to leave them out.

    Would more tags have helped – are there any parts of dialogue where it is unclear which character is speaking? Or, do the tags sometimes get in the way; is there too much ‘he said / she said’?
  6. Description. By this I mean descriptions of people and places. Highlight the areas where the description is most intense. In your opinion, do these add to the story in a positive way, or is reading these bits more of a struggle?

    Why do you think the author chose to spend longer describing these people/places? If they hadn’t, would the lack of description have impacted the story for the better or the worse?
  7. Character idiosyncrasies. Choose a character in the book (not the main one) and flick through for where that character features. Read those sections carefully. Do you notice any speech patterns or gestures common to that character, which the author chooses to repeat?

    E.g. Perhaps a character calls everyone ‘duck’ or has a hair-flicking habit. Whatever it is, why do you think the reader has chosen those traits and reminds the reader of them? Does it help you understand or get to know that character better, or do you find it annoying?

There are many other elements of writing you can actively read for and ask yourself what motivated the author to make their choices, and how they impact you as a reader. Things to look out for include:

  • Humour – does the author use it?
  • The use of adjectives, or – more importantly – lack of them (remember show don’t tell). E.g. He strode purposefully, she laughed gleefully.
  • Senses. How often does the author mention smells and sounds?
  • Which are your favourite passages and why?

Finally, when you’ve repeated this exercise with several books, see if you can see commonalities within and across genres. Do thrillers tend to be in the first person, present tense, whereas romances are in the third person, past tense, for example?

Once you’ve tried actively reading several books and answering the questions above, plus any others you may wish to pose yourself, you should feel more confident in giving your own writing a try.

Remember – just because someone else uses a particular style, that doesn’t mean you have to, but ase a practised active reader, you will be all the more aware of how your choices affect your readers’ relationships with your story and your characters.

Want to write – get a change of scenery

Trying to find time to write anything that could be considered remotely good quality is extremely difficult when you’re trying to balance everyday life. Work, the dreaded ‘life admin’, juggling a family and chores make up a full-time job. How is it possible to do all this and write?

I’ve read interviews with writers before where they’ve said things like ‘even if you only have five minutes, you can still write a few paragraphs’. Hmm. I’m cynical of this. It takes five minutes for me to warm up my computer and remind myself what happened in the story the last time I wrote. Advice such as ‘when you’re waiting in your car to pick-up your kids, whip out your notebook…’ leaves me cold. Great if it works for you, but it sure doesn’t work for me.

Plus, you need time to get into ‘the zone’ – or ‘flow’, whatever you like to call this. Getting into the flow is amazing. It’s when you experience the ‘magic’; words fly onto your screen, ideas shoot into your head like never before and time zooms past, to the point that when you finally stop for a break, hours have past and you haven’t even realised. You can’t get this during five minutes on the school run.

Bliss for me is the extremely rare occasion when I have a full day to myself to write and, critically, I get away from my house. Even if it’s just escaping down to the local cafe, I find I get so much more done when I have a change of scenery.

Although going down to the local cafe for a coffee and a teacake someone else has made, is luxurious enough, what’s even better, if you can manage the time and the cost, is to go away for a weekend or a week and spend a substantial amount of that time on your latest project.

I’ve been on day, weekend and week creative writing courses in the UK and Tuscany (okay, Tuscany once many years ago) and find that pretty scenery, a tranquil environment and new people who share your passion, are highly inspirational for writing.

When you have a family and are limited to annual leave from work, then retreats are a rarity, but even a family holiday can offer the space you need to work on your writing – just the increased head space alone is so valuable. When you’re at home, doing your jobs and looking after the family and home, there is very little time to ponder about your plot and your characters, but being away offers a completely different approach.

If you’re struggling to find time and/or inspiration to write, then think about a week or weekend away if finances and time allow. If not, a couple of hours in your local coffee shop could work wonders!

Are book clubs too snobby?

Book clubs are popping up in pockets up and down the country. They’re a great reason for avid readers to get together over a glass of wine (or three) and discuss the latest novel on the agenda.

I realise in some book clubs, it’s less about the book and more about the social aspect, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Whereas in others, the literary discussions are taken more seriously – and there’s nothing wrong with that either. Whatever floats the members’ boats seems to me to be the best way.

I do have an incy wincy bit of an issue with book clubs in general though, and that is there doesn’t often seem to be an appetite to read and discuss books that aren’t considered on the ‘literary’ side, or ‘upmarket’, as some might say.

I’m sure there are some clubs, who do choose books that are considered more accessible – the ‘holiday’ type read if you will, modern romance, erotica. But, as a whole, whenever I ask a friend what their club is reading, it’s almost always one that’s rather highbrow. Their showing me the book is often accompanied with an eye roll or a lip curl (from them, not me), and even a vocal complaint that they’d rather read something more cheerful / easier-to-read / less serious, etc. 

So, um, why don’t they give it a try?

I realise it’s good to read a bit of everything; that sometimes you cannot and should not judge a book by its cover; that the best reads aren’t necessarily the easiest or most light-hearted. I also realise that there’s nothing at all wrong with literary fiction or highbrow books. However, there does, I’m afraid, appear to be a level of snobbishness surrounding many book clubs that means genres such as romance or chicklit rarely appear on their reading lists. 

People I meet often ask me what my latest book’s about and say it could be something they put forward to their book club. When I tell them it’s a romance or an erotic romance, every single one so far has said something along the lines of “Oh, I don’t think that would be suitable for the book club.” This is often followed by “Of course, I’d love for us to read something like that, but the other members would probably throw me out!”

Surely, if they’d love to read ‘something like that’, then there are other members who would too.

Isn’t it a shame that we feel we can’t introduce a romance or erotic romance to the book club because the genre isn’t considered intelligent enough? Romance / erotica  is the highest grossing genre. At $1.44 billion, it brings in twice the income of the next best-selling, which is crime. And yet, many book club members are too embarrassed to suggest reading such a novel in fear of their peers thinking them stupid, common or tasteless.

Come on, book-clubbers – isn’t it time to mix it up a bit? Or maybe you’re part of a book club that does embrace all sorts of genres or are dedicated to romance, holiday reads, cosy mysteries or whatever it may be. Knowing that would make me feel warmer about the world.

How to market your book – and actually sell some

If you’re self-published, or your book is published with a small, independent publisher, you’ll need to market your book yourself. The realistic result of doing no marketing is that your book highly unlikely to sell.

I’ve both self-published and been published independently, and work in marketing, so have compiled these tips designed to help you sell more of your books with effective – and affordable – marketing you can do yourself.

These days, small publishers will want to see that you have an active profile online before they’ll consider publishing you. Smaller publishers do not have the budgets of the bigger boys, and therefore rely on the authors to promote their own works and make sales.

Many authors have unfortunately failed to sell their books, or have given up writing all together, because they hate self-promotion. It’s not my favourite thing in the world either, although I entirely understand the need for it. Promoting someone else is always easier than promoting yourself, so if you have a spare few grand, you could always hire a marketing company to work on your behalf. Let’s face it though, that’s unlikely, so for the rest of us, here goes:

  • Social media – “Eurgh!” I hear your cry. Love it or hate it, social media can mean the difference between fail or succeed when it comes to marketing your books. Rather than doing it all, I’d advise choosing two platforms you’re most comfortable and familiar with. It’s essential to update your followers regularly – absolutely at least once a week but daily if you can manage it – otherwise they might think you’ve disappeared off the face of the earth.

    Rather than sticking with boring posts all the time, mix it up with video (your smartphone will take a really high quality video) and photos. You don’t have to tell everyone what you had for breakfast; but it is about showcasing, not just your work, but your personality too. Be careful not to hard sell – it’s called ‘social’ media, after all. Talk about your books of course, but also talk about where you’ve been to get inspiration. Taken a walk on a crisp autumn morning? Show a few pics from your walk, for example. Going on a writing course – make a post about that. Think creatively and watch your audience grow.
  • Talk to your local media. Here I’m referring to you local newspaper, radio station, TV station if you have one, and local bloggers / websites.

    This might put the fear of God in you, but ask yourself – what have you got to lose? If you get nothing from it, at least you’ve tried.

    Journalists will likely ask for a press release. This is an article about you and your book – not longer than 1-2 sides text, along with a picture (vital!). Remember to put your contact details on the bottom of it in case they want further information or would like to interview you.

    In your press release include a ‘hook’ – what is it about your story that’s different and interesting? First, you’re a local author, which on a basic level should be of interest. But on a deeper level, is your book somehow relevant to the local area? Was it inspired by a local personality? Put your thinking cap on and I’m sure you’ll think of something.

    I could write a whole article on how to write a press release, as I’ve written thousands of them in my day job, but the most important things are to write in the third person and avoid any hyperbole. Your book might be the best thing since sliced bread, but clearly you would think that. Offer it out for review and let them make up your own minds.
  • Start a website or blog. If a potential reader is interested in your book, the first place they’ll usually go to find out more or to make a purchase, is your website. A website needn’t be expensive. If you don’t want to pay a professional, then you could try to find a student from the local college who’ll do it for a lower amount, or you could even do it yourself with one of the many template options available online.

    Instead of a website (or as well as) you could consider a blog – like this one! A website can get away with being more static, but if you opt for a blog you will have to keep it regularly updated (at least once a month) with new content. This can be more time consuming, but it should help you build an audience. Remember, every time you create a new blog article, you can link to it from your social media sites to help drive traffic.

That’s just a trio of marketing ideas to get you started. There are many more where they came from. Keep posted for future articles, such as:

  • How to write a press release about your book
  • Which social media site is best to promote my book?
  • Hosting a book launch event

Find the confidence to submit your writing

I was on a writers’ facebook page yesterday and was surprised to see several posts from different writers, all saying they’d finally worked up the courage to send an entry into a competition. I was surprised, not because they’d entered, but because they’d all had an attack of self doubt before thankfully overcoming it and pressing ‘send’.

Great that these people got over their fears and did it anyway, but imagine how many people didn’t. Then it struck me that there must be hundreds, if not thousands, of really great writers out there whose work will never win a competition, be published, or even be read, because a lack of confidence is holding them back.

And I’m sure it’s not just writers. There are people with all sorts of talents who’ll never be discovered because of crippling fear. What is this a fear of? I’ve felt uncertainty myself in connection with my writing, and in my case it’s always a fear of being judged, mainly by people I know, who might think my books are too erotic, not literary enough, and even based on them!

And I was right – to some degree all three of those fears have come true.

But what I’ve discovered is it really doesn’t matter. What I’ve got out of writing far outweighs anything I’ve been scared of. In fact, most feedback about my books has been complimentary and positive.

It isn’t all positive, however. I’ve had criticisms about my books that I hadn’t been expecting, and surprised myself to find I wasn’t at all offended – genuinely.

You see, you can’t please everyone, and you never will. Trying to please everyone is a fruitless pursuit that will never work, and therefore is a waste of time and energy. Instead, write something you enjoy writing – that you’d like to read, and you’ll find you won’t be the only one who gets pleasure out of it.

This is a picture of me in November last year, proud as punch at having my first short story published in a mainstream magazine. My colleague kindly took the photo. I didn’t ask her to. Actually, I cringed a bit inside when she suggested it, but bit back my fear and thought ‘just get on with it and be brave’. I thought if I put it on social media it would look showy-offy. It was actually one of my most popular posts.

People are generally kind and like to celebrate the success of others. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of an achievement – especially one you have worked hard for. Everyone can relate to this, and far from it having an eye-roll effect, it tends to lift the mood.

Submitting a piece of writing is like giving up a part of your soul. It’s going out there for the world to see. This is big. No wonder we get scared. That’s normal.

Here are some common fears. Ring a bell with you?

  • You imagine the agent at Simon & Schuster / Mills&Boon / DHH / etc, etc is having a good old laugh at my submission. In fact, it’s so crap and hilarious, they read it out over the tannoy so the whole office block can enjoy a moment of laughter therapy.
  • You want to enter a competition, but what if a bitter employee of the firm leaks out the worst entries and publishes them online under the title of ‘And they thought they could write…?’
  • By some miracle, your work might get published (perhaps the intern was choosing that day). You’re happy as Larry until the following year when your child comes home with an English lit textbook containing samples of ‘how not to write’. You’re horrified to discover your work is a case study!
  • Your book is published, all your friends, family and work colleagues read it. Due to the explicit sex scenes / dark humour / gory descriptions your mother-in-law won’t speak to you, your friends think you’re going through a psychotic episode and you get sacked because your boss thinks you’re a deranged pervert.

I’ve had all these thoughts at some point, but have managed to overcome them with a ‘Oh, sod it!’ and pressed send before thinking about it too hard. I highly recommend this as a way of overcoming fear.

So what if your work makes an agent spit out their coffee – at least they’ll remember you for next time. So what if your teenager reads it one day and thinks you’re a complete lunatic – they’re teenagers, they’ll think that whether you write a book or not. So what if your colleagues think you’re more sex obsessed than Michael Douglas on Viagra – better that than being known as the one who steals the toilet rolls.

None of it matters. What matters is you, your writing and the fact that if you don’t get it out there, the world won’t know how great it is. And that’s doing the world an injustice.

Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Is it fair that celebrities have fiction books published?

More and more celebrities are bringing out works of fiction. From TV presenter Holly Willoughby and actress Ruth Jones, to gardener of the small screen, Alan Titchmarsh and journalist Fearne Britton – a whole lot of celebrities are writing books and having them published.

Our nation’s obsession for celebrity means that a well-known name sells. And in the cut-throat world of fiction-writing, publishers, unsurprisingly, love a guaranteed seller.

I can understand perfectly why many excellent writers find this terribly frustrating. Their work, which is every bit as good as anything created by a celebrity author, may never get noticed—or even published—whereas if they were famous, well, it would likely be a very different story.

Celebrities, especially those who write children’s books, when approached with this objection, will often cite that anything that gets children reading is a positive. Hmm, maybe. But if their work wasn’t published, then someone else’s would be. Awesome kids books would still be published and children would still read.

Celebrities’ books will often get pride of place on bookshops’ shelves. They will almost always be supported with a huge marketing budget, and the celebrities often have copious opportunity to promote their books through media appearances as broadcasters are receptive to having these stars appear on their shows.

The same cannot be said for most authors, or wannabe authors, who don’t possess the privilege of the celebrity status.

From this blog, I think it’s pretty clear I’m not a fan of a celebrity author who has been published purely on the basis of their popularity in an area other than writing. Of course, if a celebrity is a brilliant writer, and there are no doubt many who are, then they should have every chance of being published, just like everyone else—but wouldn’t it be nice if that’s what it was; a ‘chance’ rather than a certainty? What if everyone had to submit their manuscripts anonymously, so they were judged on merit rather than on the popularity of the writer?

Working in PR, I realise this is an idealistic viewpoint, which will never be realised. Because celebrity rules. Because money rules. This means talent often takes a poor second place, and it means celebrities have a huge advantage over the average writer.

For these reasons, I would rarely opt to read a book penned by a celebrity. I prefer the idea of making a celebrity of a previously unknown writer because their work is awesome!

Having said that, my son, who ‘quite likes’ reading, enjoys David Walliams’ books. And I have to say, so do I! We’ve just returned from the theatre—the third David Walliams’ show we’ve seen based on his kids’ books. Billionaire Boy, just like Gangsta Granny and The Midnight Gang, was a good story, great fun and contained lots of colourful characters.

So, some celebrities do create fantastic books, no doubt. I just wish this didn’t have to mean there’s less room for the unknown author who, due to the already rich and famous celebrity bringing out a book or few, might sadly always remain unknown.