Posted in Writing, Writing craft

5 tips for writers to make better use of their blogs

You have a blog, don’t you? If you don’t, you might consider starting one―but probably not for the reasons you think.

I can’t remember what I was thinking when I started this writing blog in 2011―ten years ago. My writing life was at a different point then, and the objectives I had at the time no longer make sense. Yet, I continue to write. I took a hiatus for a while when my career and life didn’t give me much extra time, but I always come back to it. I use it for lots of things, although lately, I seem to be focusing on giving writing advice. This focus is merely an evolution reflecting both me and my career.

My first blog post was called A book’s backstory…or a writer’s backstory? And this is, of course, the reason why this blog is called Backstory. In that post, I considered whether I’d focus on my own backstory (a slice of the writer’s life kind of thing) or my books’ backstories (my process and plans). In the end, I didn’t have to make a decision. It simply evolved. And you don’t have to make a decision either. You just need to blog.

There’s a tendency for writers to feel one of two ways about a blog. Either they think a blog is simply a tool for selling books, or they think it’s a waste of time. I believe that it is neither and that there are good reasons for you to consider blogging.  Chief among them is that a blog is a space where you can build your reputation as a writer while connecting with readers through a feedback loop. Lots of great ideas come from readers, you know.

Consider spending five minutes watching the video linked below for my details on the tips.

  1. I suggest that you begin with an objective or two. Even if you’ve been blogging for a while, are you really sure why you’re doing it? Are you sure about what you’re trying to accomplish? This is where you begin. Then it can evolve.
  2. Consider using your blog for writing practice. We all need to practice our writing, and not all our writing belongs in long-form material.
  3. Use your blog to write about interesting finds from your research that didn’t make it into a book or article. You might even find, through writing, this becomes the basis for a new piece.
  4. Conduct an annual review of your blog. This is something I should have done from the beginning. I do it now. I answer a couple of questions: Am I still focused on my objectives, or have I steered off into another territory? Is that where I really want to be?
  5. Do not turn your blog into a selling tool. Like your website in general, avoid, at all costs, the temptation to use your blog to bludgeon readers with a sales pitch for your books. Of course, you can mention your books. After all, that’s why many of your blog readers are following you. But don’t’ short-change them by promoting your books in every blog post.

Obviously, there’s a downside to blogging: it takes time. However, I think this is time well spent if your blog is focused and stays on point. You need to write something every day, and it doesn’t have to be on a major project. Perhaps your blog is a way for you to get in that writing, even between projects. Keep in mind that a blog can also be a good way to grow your audience, but it will be time better spent if you focus on what it can do for your writing rather than your sales.

Oh, and make sure it’s well-written and looks professional.

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 marketing, Book trailers, Fortune

Book Trailers: For fun or profit?

Clapper BoardIt happens every time I finish a book-length project. I begin to think about marketing the book to readers who might like/love/need/enjoy it. Of course if it’s a non-fiction book, I’ve given it a lot of thought up front because publishers these days want a fairly well-fleshed-out marketing plan from an author as part of the book proposal long before the book is even completed. If it’s a piece of fiction, I write what I write then think about marketing it after it’s published. I can’t help it; I’m a writer not a content creator! But, what about that marketing?

Well, it’s like this. There are lots of places these days that will purport to be the best places to get your book in front of readers; however, on closer inspection, the members are usually other wannabe writers trying to get their books in front of readers. It’s a bit of a vicious circle. But, if you have a book that takes off, good for you. The elements of a well-constructed book marketing plan may or may not be part of it. But, what precisely is included in that plan?

One of the elements often touted these days is the inclusion of a book trailer. What is a book trailer, you say? Glad you asked, because I love developing them – whether or not they are really useful marketing tools (more about that as we proceed).

I’ve written about book trailers before – almost every time I have a new one I can hardly wait to write about them – not because they are so wonderful, but because I think they are fun. Yes, that’s it – I think they’re fun.

As I defined them in a long-ago blog post, “…a book trailer is a short video clip that presents a small sample of a book in a similar format to that of a movie.” When I wrote that original post (Book trailers Part 1) and its follow-up (Book Trailers: What’s the Point?) way back in 2011, book trailers were very new. There was very little information on the impact they may or may not have on books sales, but what I did perceive at the time was this: quite apart from the unknown of whether or not someone would actually be inclined to buy a book based on seeing a trailer, how that trailer made its way onto someone’s computer screen would be paramount in finding out if it could be be an effective sales tool.

Fast-forward five years, and here we are still discussing the same issue. Again, I’ve been searching for data on the impact of book trailers.

There is little doubt that in the past five years online video in general has seen an incredible upsurge. That by itself, however, doesn’t bolster any data supporting the usefulness of the book trailer. According to one video trailer producer, “Readers are 64% more likely to purchase your book if they see a book trailer that effectively promotes your book. (Source: ComScore)” and “Visitors to your author website stay an average of 2 minutes longer than on author sites that do not use video. (Source: ComScore)”.[1] FYI: according to their web site ComScore is “a leading cross-platform measurement company that precisely measure audiences, brands and consumer behavior…”[2] Of course, MacLain reiterates the notion that distribution is key. You can have the most fantastic, well-planned and well-executed video but if no one knows it exists, its going to be for your eyes only.

Of course there are reasons you might want to skip the book trailer production all together. Marisol Dahl, writing on The Write Life Blog suggests that a bad book trailer is worse than no trailer at all, and further reiterates that it can be difficult to determine return on investment (and the investment can be massive).[3]

The truth is that most of those touting the value of book trailers are usually individuals and companies who actually produce trailers. Unless they have hard data, their promotion of book trailers as a sales tool is pretty self-serving. Book trailers certainly should be useful marketing tools if we just had a way to track their success after wide distribution.

I personally love planning and writing scripts for book trailers then giving that script to my trusty video developer (my husband) and letting him loose on the material. I keep them brief (certainly under two minutes, generally under a minute-and-a-half), and share them as widely as I can. So, if you’ve considered a book trailer I can give you several caveats as a writer for their production.

You probably want a book trailers if:

  1. You think it’s fun to have one;
  2. You can write a brief, tight script;
  3. You can give the potential reader a glimpse of the material without giving it all away;
  4. You can afford to produce one;
  5. You have somewhere to post it; and
  6. You have no illusions about how many sales it might garner.

If you can’t fulfil all of these, you might want to step away.

Anyway, I think they’re fun. If you a minute, here’s my latest trailer for my new medical thriller The Body Traders.

 

 

[1] Jerome MacLain as quoted in “Book Trailers And Using Video For Book Marketing” by Joanna Penn (March 2, 2015). http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2015/03/02/book-trailers/

[2] https://www.comscore.com/About-comScore

[3] Marison Dahl November 5, 2015. “Are Book Trailers a Marketing Must-Have?” http://thewritelife.com/are-book-trailers-a-marketing-must-have/