Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Anatomy of a Book Trailer by Jeri Westerson

Noir and hard-boiled fiction seem to be in Jeri Westerson’s blood. She was born and bred on the mean streets of Los Angeles, inhaling smog and enduring earthquakes. Newspaper reporter, would-be actress, graphic artist; these are the things she spent her time on before becoming a novelist. She took all that gritty edginess and plunked it into the Middle Ages, creating the newest hard-boiled detective, Crispin Guest; disgraced knight turned PI, solving crimes on the mean streets of fourteenth century London in her “Medieval Noir” novels. Jeri’s debut, VEIL OF LIES, garnered nominations from the Mystery Reader’s Journal Macavity Award for Best Historical Mystery and the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel, the first medieval mystery to be so honored.

The Boston Globe called her detective, “A medieval Sam Spade, a tough guy who operates according to his own moral compass and observes with detached humor…this book is pure fun.” Booklist said, “…this authentically detailed medieval mystery has an intriguingly dark edge.” Library Journal gave it a starred review: “…Westerson’s mystery debut is a brilliant tale of survival in a hostile environment, where anything can lead to death…Highly recommended.” Historical Novel Society Review made it an Editor’s Choice title: “…To say Veil of Lies is a remarkable novel doesn’t do the book justice. Just when the plot seems set on a fixed course, the author deftly arranges another neat surprise and keeps the pages turning…”

The second in the series, SERPENT IN THE THORNS, was a finalist for the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award and is a finalist for this year’s Macavity. Kirkus Review said, “Crispin’s derring-do is distinctly entertaining,” while Library Journal said, “Readers who can’t get enough of medieval historicals will snap this one up.”

The third in the series, THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, will be released October 12, 2010. Library Journal gave it a starred review and said, “Westerson skillfully lulls her sleuth and the reader into a sense of ‘I know what is going on,’ then zings them with the truth. Absolutely first-class; highly recommended for fans of medieval mysteries,” while Publishers Weekly called it The best yet in the series!”  

Westerson is on the board of directors and newsletter editor for the southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America, is president for the Orange County chapter of Sisters in Crime, a member of the Los Angeles Chapter, is a member of Private Eye Writers of America, and the Historical Novel Society. She is married to a commercial photographer, has a son in college, and herds two cats, a tortoise, and the occasional tarantula at her home in southern California.

Jeri writes the movies she sees in her head of her continuing medieval mystery series. The latest, THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT, can be found on her website. Read the first chapter! 

The Anatomy of a Book Trailer
By Jeri Westerson

More often than not when I mention it, people ask me, “What is a book trailer?” The simple answer is that it’s like a movie trailer only for a book. And then the blank stare. “You know,” I say, “it something that helps to advertise the book.” But then again, if people don’t even know that book trailers exist, how does it advertise the book?

Well, I guess the answer is “sometimes.” If readers are directed to my site through all the ways I contrive to get them there—like this post—then they will stumble upon it. Or if people are YouTube savvy, they might also stumble upon it. Or if they are regular readers of mystery writer posts, they might go to it. Or if they are a bookseller and look at the catalog of books provided by St. Martin’s they will find it listed there.

I’d love more people to see it because I did debate with myself the cost effectiveness of getting a book trailer produced. For what I wanted, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it myself. I wanted something high quality and as close to a movie trailer as possible, partly because I think that high quality and the content would make potential readers into buyers and partly because I wanted it to be an advertisement to Hollywood types to entice them to consider it as movie fodder.

Will that pay off? Only time will tell. It’s difficult to quantify something like this in terms of sales; how many clicks per purchase, for instance. I don’t know if anyone can really collect that data as there is no direct correlation between someone watching the video—which you will see below—and buying a book at their preferred retail outlet. Or going to the library and checking out the book and then perhaps /later/ buying it.

As of this post, there have been 2,450 views of the trailer. With this post, I hope that number will rise.

But how did this whole thing come about?

It’s Laurie King’s fault.

I’ve been on a couple of panels with Laurie King and she started sending me her newsletter. In it, she told of this media group who approached her, wanting to make a book trailer for her. When I saw Laurie’s, I knew it was just the thing I had been looking for. But there were two things I was pretty sure of. One, at over three minutes, it was too long, and two, I knew I‘d never be able to afford it. Nevertheless, I contacted Two Rock Media, congratulated them on a fine video, that I was looking for the same sort of movie trailer style, but for no more than a minute running time as I felt that anything longer than that will lose the viewer. She agreed and then we talked turkey. No, I definitely couldn’t afford what Laurie paid for hers. My budget (that I had been thinking about for a week or so) was considerably less. And then, of course, she said she could do it for the amount I had budgeted. Yikes! I was suddenly committed to doing a book trailer!

I told her I wanted a series trailer rather than for one book so that it would have relevance for far longer and we also talked about the fee for adding new books as they were released (which would mean adding the cover photo and the title in the end credits). That cost was minimal so we went ahead. I told her I wanted to capture the mood of “Medieval Noir,” my series subgenre. And most important of all, I wanted my protagonist, Crispin Guest, my ex-knight turned detective, to be the voice over, and that meant a particular British voice.

This was all very exciting as we delved into it. I supplied her with word docs of the first two books and she read them in order to write the script for the voice over. I described my character and my sense of the mood and feel of the piece. She supplied me with a timetable of how and when everything should go down.

When a script was ready, she submitted it to me for corrections or suggestions. I made very few. And then it was time to audition the voice of Crispin. She sent me six samples of British actors reading the script and it was a truly interesting exercise listening for just the right pitch and tone. Some actors sounded too old (one sounded like Gandalf to me), one had an accent that wasn’t posh enough, one was sort of too high pitched. And then I heard the current voice, Christopher Kent. His had it all (I found out later that he is also the voice of British Airways. Crispin in the sky!) Naturally, he was also the most expensive. But he was the one, and so Two Rock started putting the pieces together. Amazingly, all the images, both video and stills were all stock. As was the music! Nothing new was created for the video. All the images of Crispin were supplied to me by St. Martin’s from the book covers.

I got to look at a raw runthrough, corrections were made, and finally it was up and ready to go. This last year we added the third book, which meant that we had two videos out there, the old and the updated. It helps us keep a record of how many views we’ve had.

Altogether, I’m pleased with the outcome. I know it’s sold a few books. How many I don’t think I’ll ever know. For now, it’s out there, waiting for its viral marketing. Waiting to be passed from one email to another and perhaps landing on the computer of a movie producer who would like to take it all the way.

In the meantime, enjoy!


Patty said...

Nice trailer. I've read the first, still need to get the second read, especially since the third is on the way!

Peg Brantley said...

I've seen your trailer before and love two things (well, three, if you count the actor):

1. Your foresight to want a trailer for a series rather than an individual book;

2. Your commitment to creating a polished, professional experience.

You've set a very nice bar.

Jeri Westerson said...

Thanks Patty and Peg. The idea is to sell books. So let's hope others are as inspired as you two.

Suzanne said...

Jeri, your trailer is versatile and polished. If anyone asks me about good trailers I've seen, I point them to yours. There's no point in spending money on a trailer if it doesn't engage potential readers. Yours does that.

Suzanne Adair

Jeri Westerson said...

Thanks Suzanne. I think a bad or amateurish trailer is worse than none at all. Desiging one's own book covers and creating booktrailers are just some things one should leave to the professionals so that you look professional.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Jeri - Thanks for being here. I love the trailer! and I agree; I like the idea of doing it for the entire series rather than just the book. Brilliant!