Walking the Trail(er): Part Two

Walking the Trail(er): Part Two

Marissa Merrill (“Annalise”)
Marissa Merrill (“Annalise”) and Harry Connolly

Let me summarize part one of this post briefly: Authors and/or publishers sometimes make book trailers, which are supposed to look like movie trailers but for, you know, books… and they’re usually awful, largely for lack of time and funds. Some of the best of the no-budgeters are funny which is fine if you’ve written a funny book.

Also, I’m not sure there’s any evidence at all that they actually sell the books they’re meant to promote. I’ve certainly never bought a book because of a trailer.

So why am I making one?

Let me backtrack: the trailer I mentioned in part one that almost sold me on a novel was something I watched over a year ago. (I’d link to it, but I can’t find it again.) It was a slow pan over a ship. It was obviously someplace cold, and the crew had just found something in the ice. There was a Lone Guy, his back to the camera, chipping away at a giant block of ice.

What was in it? The camera didn’t show us but I was intrigued. Was it Captain America? A Deep One? A Deep One dressed as Captain America? I had to know!

So I Googled up the author’s site and discovered it was a vampire. My interest dwindled to nothing; still, the trailer had an effect on me.
How cool would it be to make an effective book trailer for my books?

Jim Freivogel (“Ray Lilly”)
Jim Freivogel (“Ray Lilly”)

I began studying book trailers of all kinds. I watched the music video for “The Manny.” three times. I watched the infuriating NZ Book Council cut paper animation with the terrible sound six or seven times. What worked? What didn’t? What could apply to my own books?

Maybe if I knew an animators or two, I’d have tried some kind of cool animation. Puppet work can also be fun. Me, I know filmmakers, more specifically, three buddies with years of experience in the professional tv/film/dvd world.
Their company is pretty new but their first documentary (an H.P. Lovecraft biopic called Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown) won best documentary at San Diego Comic-Con the year it showed there.

I contacted them, told them how much I was prepared to spend and they were ready to run with it… in a few months, after they wrapped their current documentary.

That delay was actually a blessing. It gave me a lot of time to work and rework the script for the trailer. I contacted Random House to ask if they had any wisdom to offer; you can bet they did. No URLs, was advice number one, or Amazon.com won’t host it. Keep it short; no, shorter than that. No profanity. Consider promoting the series as a whole rather than just the third book, so the trailer won’t feel as dated.


Easy enough! I started in, but wasn’t sure what I could write. I didn’t want to waste time writing something they couldn’t produce. “Write it any way you want, with all the effects you want,” they told me. “It’s our job to figure out what we can and can’t do.” In the end, the only thing they asked me to take out was a shot where Ray throws a lit Molotov cocktail. Done!

“Ray,” by the way, is Ray Lilly, the protagonist of the series. He’s a former car thief and ex-con who has been press-ganged into working for a group of sorcerer vigilantes. They hunt down dangerous supernatural creatures–and the people who summon them to our world–and kill them.
Poor Ray is a criminal, but he’s never been a killer. Until now. And his only weapon is a single spell–a ghost knife–written on a laminated piece of paper.

Here’s a picture of Jim Freivogel as Ray (with the spells drawn on his body and everything) while the director checks the shot with his wireless device.

No flash photography while they’re setting up the shots, people!

The other major character is Ray’s superior, a full-sorcerer and ruthless killer, Annalise, played by Marissa Merrill. Here’s Marissa in her fireman’s jacket, doing something Annalise would never do: smiling.

All these pics are from day 3 of the shoot. You can see days 1&2 on the Wyrd site here, including a green screen shot and other effects. I happened to be there for days one and two; the weekend before Thanksgiving, I flew down to L.A. to be on set (and help out however I could). Did I take pictures? Hell yes.

Warning! previous links may contain photos of the author. While actors are quite pleasant to look at, authors, as a rule, are not. You have been warned.

Okay, that’s a lot of pictures, many of them even in focus. However, many of you might remember I admitted uppost that I’m unconvinced book trailers do the job they’re generally supposed to do: promote and sell books. I certainly don’t expect to make back the money I’m spending on royalties from mass market paperback sales.

So why do it?

To which I say, why do people post Lego animations on YouTube? Why do they post Harry Potter fanfic? Why do they create webcomics? Why do they spend the time to post instructions for this or that task?

And the answer is: Because it’s cool. It’s fun to make and share awesome things. No, I don’t expect the trailer to draw in enough new readers to justify its cost, but I do expect it to be amazing, and when I see frame grabs (not just onset photos) that look like this:

Frame grab--Ray throwing ghost knife

I know that “This is awesome!” is its own justification. (Not that a few extra sales wouldn’t be nice.)

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