Backstory Blog

Posted in Book marketing, Book promotion

Five Tips for Better Book Trailers

I don’t know about you, but I love a good book trailer. And by “good,” I don’t mean expensive. By “good,” I mean a book trailer that concisely captures my imagination for fiction or beckons me to learn more when it comes to nonfiction. In both cases, it has to be tight and visually stimulating.

Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that book trailers can accomplish a few things, despite the lack of hard evidence that they increase book sales in any significant way. But a great book trailer can be your book’s calling card to book bloggers, reviewers, agents and yes, even to some readers. But it has to be good.

Here are my five tips for better book trailers:

  1. Make sure you set out a specific goal for your book trailer. Trailers without purpose are not focused. Your goal should say what you want to realistically accomplish with these marketing tools and precisely who you want to reach. What and who are essential drivers for what you will put in that book trailer. See tip #2.
  2. Write a script. I cannot tell you how soul-sucking it is to see a book trailer that is clearly unscripted. These pieces of crap are meandering commercials that appear to have been crafted by children. (Scratch that: children these days can generally do better with an iPhone and iMovie.)
  3. Plan the visuals. You know what a script like this ought to look like, don’t you? Your script should resemble a documentary script more closely than a script for a movie. This kind of script layout means that you have two columns: the voice-over (if you’re using one―which I recommend) on one side and a column for visuals opposite it. The visuals should be carefully connected to the voice-over or on-screen titles or the script’s visual direction.
  4. Avoid anything campy or kitschy unless that’s what your book is. Too many writers (and their book trailer makers) seem to think that the more gimmicks they put in, the better. Not so. It can be very off-putting to viewers or even misleading if that approach doesn’t represent the book’s genre, story, voice and message.
  5. Keep it the right length. So, how long should a book trailer be? There are no hard and fast rules about this, but in my experience, I’ve found a kind of sweet spot. A 20-second trailer isn’t a trailer―it’s a teaser. A 4-minute trailer is bordering on a movie.

I suppose the cardinal rule for book trailers is the same as the cardinal rule for writing: never bore your readers (or, in this case, your viewers).

If you’re no expert in video production and editing, find someone who is. The final edit is what we’ll see and what we’ll use to judge your book― and you. Make a good first impression!

For some samples…

Posted in Book launches, Publishing, Writing

My new book launches today: Is it historical fiction? Not so much

Historical fiction seems to be a trendy genre these days. I’ve written my share of historical fiction (Grace Note comes immediately to mind―I mean, if a book set in the twelfth century isn’t historical fiction, I’m not sure what is!).I’m launching my newest book today―Kat’s Kosmic Blues―and I’m wondering if it’s historical fiction to some people. The question is: when does a story qualify as historical fiction?

It seems clear that if a story takes place in the past and is fictional, it must, by definition, be “historical fiction.” But it seems that it’s not that clear at all.

The blurb on Masterclass that leads into Margaret Atwood’s class on creative writing says the following:

Historical fiction transports readers to another time and place, either real or imagined. Writing historical fiction requires a balance of research and creativity, and while it often includes real people and events, the genre offers a fiction writer many opportunities to tell a wholly unique story.[1]

So, any novel that transports the reader to another time and place is historical―except when it isn’t. There seems to be a notion decreed by some parts of the online community that anything set 50 years ago or earlier is historical fiction. But really? If you’re sixty-five years old and lived through the period in question, then, for you, it’s not historical fiction at all. It may not be contemporary, but a story set fifty years ago won’t feel like it is in any way in the same category as, for example, The Girl with the Pearl Earring or The Thornbirds (to mention two of my favourites).

It seems then that what is historical fiction is a bit subjective. And what about a story that starts fifty-five years ago (1965) and sweeps you all the way to 1989? Historical fiction? Probably not. And that’s what I’m launching today.

Kat’s Kosmic Blues, the prequel to The Year I Made 12 Dresses, is really a contemporary book.

In these days of COVID restrictions, we really do have to find creative ways to launch books! Please join me here…


[1] https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-historical-fiction-definition-of-the-historical-fiction-genre-and-tips-for-writing-your-historical-novel#quiz-0

Posted in Writing, Writing craft

Writers (like everyone else) need common sense: Five times they don’t show any

Years ago, one of my students returned from a semester abroad in Australia and brought me a little gift for helping her. It is a coffee coaster, and it has sat on my desk for years. It says, “Common sense is not common at all!” I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but I think it warrants some further consideration.

French writer Christiane Collange once said, “Common sense is perhaps the most equally divided, but surely the most underemployed, talent in the world.” And when it comes to so many people’s writing aspirations, it seems to be so under-employed as to be practically non-existent. Let me explain.

Newbie writers can be intense. They follow the social media feeds of many other wannabe writers and writers who have garnered some success. They take part ins discussions on Facebook sites where everyone else is just as inexperienced and gullible as they are. They hang on every word of encouragement posted by every other writer and wannabe writer, and they seem, so often, to lose their sense of perspective―their common sense. Here are five times when I think writers need to get real and cultivate some common sense.

  1. Sending manuscripts to publishers and agents who don’t publish or represent your genre. Often, not only do they not represent or publish your kind of writing, they actually loathe it. Why would any aspiring writer do this? It shows a significant lack of common sense. And don’t have the audacity to think that your brilliant piece of work will sway them. Not going to happen. Remember, publishers and agents take on only a tiny fraction of the work they’re sent that they do like.
  2. Interacting only with other “writers” on social media to sell books. This makes no sense at all. If you’re trying to connect with readers, connecting solely with other writers isn’t going to get you there. Everyone on those SM sites wants what you want: they want you to read their book, but they’re not likely to read yours.
  3. Interacting on social media writers’ sites to get advice on your writing. If you’re interacting in the hope of improving your writing, unless you know the strengths and credentials of those on the site, you might as well ask you brother for his writing advice (this would demonstrate common sense only if your brother happens to be a well-established writer or writing teacher!). The best writing advice comes from successful, well-established writers not from barely literate members of Facebook groups for beginning writers. Use some common sense!
  4. Not spending every minute you can when not writing or working on whatever else you do reading. If you’re spending more time watching Netflix than reading, you are not demonstrating common sense. We learn to write by reading widely―which means not just in you own genre. Open your mind. If you don’t read, you’re going to be a shitty writer. End of discussion.
  5. Thinking that writing just comes naturally. In what world does it make any sense that you don’t’ have to learn your craft? There is such a thing as talent, but talent is not enough. Talent needs to be cultivated and supported. Many talented writers never get anywhere because they fail to see that there is still a lot they have to learn. There was a learning curve in learning to drive a car, knit, bake cookies, ride a horse. Writing isn’t any different.

“Common sense” is generally defined along the lines of sound judgment applied to practical matters. Apart from the actual writing effort itself, much of what we do as writers is of a practical nature―editing, marketing, searching for agents and publishers, making publishing decisions etc. Don’t you think it’s a good idea to apply sound judgment?