Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Final Thoughts on Book Videos

Last one, I promise:

So, how effective are these things, anyway? I honestly don’t know. I personally can’t imagine buying a book simply on the basis of a book video, but I have seen some that were so boring I’ve thought, “Jeez, if the author bores me this badly in two minute, I’d be in tears after fifty pages.” (Which is probably unfair, because writing a book and creating a video advertisement are two very different talents.) So I suspect the first rule of book video production should be, Try not to bore your reader.

How? KEEP IT SHORT! The ones I just did are 40 seconds and probably would have been better at 30 seconds. Book videos are inherently boring, and it’s important to remember that we live in the MTV/Sesame Street Age. The most you can hope for is to convey to your viewer/potential book buyer a feeling for what your book is about. And I use the word “feeling” deliberately; you want to capture the overriding emotional impact of your story. Forget trying to cram in all of your characters’ motivations and problems. Forget showcasing all your clever plot twists and turns. Give me a taste, tease me, and then get out.

And even if you have all the money in the world, think twice about getting actors—even very, very good ones—to dramatize a scene from your book. Almost all the ones I’ve watched came off as just plain silly. Think about movie trailers: they don’t show us an entire scene. Hollywood tempts us with choice snippets—great visuals, clever lines—taken here and there from the movie, all presented in a fast format. I’ve seen authors who made dramatized book videos gush about how wonderful it was to see a scene from their book brought to life by actors. Great for the author, maybe; a bit of a yawn for everyone else. (The only exception to this I’ve seen is the book video for Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, which—since the title cues you in to expect something—is funny. But I personally would have cut it more; until the final payoff, it gets boring.)

If you don’t feel up to doing your own (although believe me, at this level it’s easy), there are companies that do book videos, probably the best-known being Circle of Seven Productions. They jumped into the business early and actually managed to trademark the term “book trailer.” I kicked around their website before sitting down to write this and I must say their videos are much better than they were when I looked at them three years ago. You can get an el cheapo version similar to my Sebastian videos for $350, which isn’t bad since it also includes limited distribution. Prices escalate rapidly from there, with actors flown in from LA, a production crew coming to your house to interview you, etc. et$$$. They also will distribute author-made videos for a price starting at something like $150, with their highest distribution package at $850 (this highest level is even an extra $800 for their own clients).

If you do your own, remember to respect copyright. When I sent my trailers to NAL, they sent me a legal release form. Obviously they’ve had trouble with authors including copyrighted photos or music in their book videos. No one sues faster than the music industry.

So what do you do with your video once it’s made? Mine are up on Facebook, on my website (eventually), here on my blog, on my publishers’ websites, and I’ll be sending them to any online sites that interview me (one coming soon). I notice that CSP sends their book trailers to libraries via “Overdrive”, whatever that is. One could undoubtedly be more aggressive in distributing them, but I have a book to write! Which as far as I’m concerned is the major problem with all this self-promotion crap: it takes authors away from what they do best. Writing.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Book Trailers, Part II

The book video for The Babylonian Codex:

Some thoughts on the making of this trailer: This one was much easier to do than the two historical mystery trailers and turned out much more effective, I believe. The main reason it's more interesting and striking is because, since it's a contemporary, I could incorporate photographs. All of these shots are my own photos from a couple of recent trips (that's my daughter, in Fez, staring at the camera in that one shot; it has a strange, haunting quality, doesn't it?). The winged cherub is a picture I took in St. Louis cathedral last fall, never dreaming I would use it this way. The nice part about relying on my own photos is that I didn't need to worry about copyright violations.

But what really makes this trailer dramatic is the great score. Where did the music come from? Again, the need to respect copyright makes things difficult. But a composer and musician named Kevin MacLeod has a wonderful site up on the Web with all different sorts of music, all categorized, which is free to anyone who wants to use it. All he asks is a donation and credit, which I was more than happy to give him. He has some great stuff, and I would highly recommend him to anyone.

I did all three of these trailers in a day and a night. Many of those hours were spent relearning the program. I also devoted a lot of time to looking for music (even after I found MacLeod, I needed to listen to a lot of clips to find ones that were just right). And I tried out different photos and some variations in the text before I settled on what I liked best.

Will I make another one? Yes; it was fun. But for my next historical mystery trailer, I plan to take the time to search out photos that I can use to make it more like the Codex trailer.

Next up: the Shadows trailer, and some thoughts on just how effective are these things, anyway?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Book Trailers Revistied

I've heard from more than one source that the overriding message coming out of Thrillerfest last week was that publishers expect authors to do ever more self-promotion. We hear this all the time, but the voices of the publishers are becoming strident. So in response, I decided to make a book trailer for the upcoming trade paperback release of What Remains of Heaven.

Long-time readers will recall that I did one for Why Mermaids Sing three years ago. At the time, I didn't actually expect it to have much of an impact on sales. My real motive was to make my publisher happy at a time when they were very unhappy about the state of my hometown post-Katrina. But I stumbled across that trailer the other day and was stunned to see that nearly 4,000 people had watched the video in the last few years. Now, I suspect most of those who watched it were already readers, or maybe they clicked on it by mistake, but what the heck. If it makes my publishers happy...

Of course, in the intervening three years I had totally forgotten how to make the dang things, so the learning curve was steep. By the time I finished it (many bleary-eyed hours and much muttering later) I decided to charge ahead and make a couple of more while I still knew what I was doing. So I also made trailers for Where Shadows Dance and The Babylonian Codex.

The Babylonian Codex turned out by far the best, in my opinion, largely I suspect because I had photos I could use for it. The historical mysteries' results were less satisfactory because I could only use the cover. I tried interspersing prints of old London but somehow they weren't right, so I fell back on the cover. And my editor couldn't send me the cover art minus the title, etc, because I'm told it's illegal to use it that way, so I was restricted to the actual cover with all that pesky writing, which made it even more difficult.

More to follow!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Own Private Idaho

I spent a significant chunk of my formative years in the mountains of Oregon and Idaho. The whisper of the wind moving through a stand of pines, the glint of sunlight off a deep blue glacial lake, the roar of a snow-fed mountain stream…all these are a part of who I am. But I last saw Idaho some nineteen long years ago, when I flew back from Australia to bury my father on a shady hillside overlooking the university town of Moscow. This summer, I journeyed back in the company of my daughters and my sister to bury my mother’s ashes there, too.

I expected the sight of my father’s grave to be wrenching, and it was. Yet I also found an unanticipated but nonetheless real peace in knowing that my mother was, finally, where she wanted to be—beside the man with whom she had shared so many incredible years of her life. That sad task complete, my sister and I then took some time to reacquaint ourselves with Idaho—and to share it with my girls.

I’d forgotten just how clear the lakes and rivers of Idaho are; how breathtakingly magnificent the mountains, how gloriously clean and fresh and oxygen-saturated the air. We drove up the St. Joe River, meandered around Coeur d’Alene and Pond Oreille lakes, even spent a couple of days down in McCall. It was more than a trip down memory lane. It was a reconnection with a time and a place that was dearer to me than I’d remembered.

Of course, much has changed in the last twenty or thirty years. Some cities like Coeur d’Alene and Boise have grown in ways one might regret. Yet Moscow has turned into a charmingly pleasant town, with gourmet restaurants, cute little coffee houses, exquisite bakeries, and a jazz band that played beside the square’s fountain during Saturday’s farmers’ market. And the land—the endless miles of forest-covered mountains and wide-open spaces—is much the same as it always has been, still hauntingly empty, still heart-stoppingly beautiful.

All of which made for a painful yet ultimately soothing and uplifting trip.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Gotta Love Kirkus

I spent a big chunk of the weekend cleaning up files on my computer and organizing material for updates to my websites. In the process I ran across a Kirkus review of What Remains of Heaven that I'd never seen before. It's vintage Kirdus at their snarkyest best, and it made me laugh out loud. Here it is, for your pleasure:

What Remains of Heaven, by C.S. Harris
Review by Kirkus Book Review
"Who killed the cleric in the crypt? When the 1812 renovations to St. Margaret's, Tanfield Hill, accidentally bash a hole through the sealed entry to its crypt, there are two ghastly surprises. The dead body of Bishop Prescott, staunch abolitionist and leading contender for the soon-to-be-vacated post of Archbishop of Canterbury, lies sprawled across yet another dead body, this one partially mummified with a jeweled, Italianate dagger in its back. Bow Street, recognizing a matter too delicate for its own clumsy hands, calls upon Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin (Where Serpents Sleep, 2008, etc.). Within the compass of a few short weeks the aristocratic sleuth is shot at, horsewhipped, attacked with a meat cleaver, half-drowned and forced to kill three men himself. Undeterred, he accepts the responsibilities of fatherhood that have been impending ever since his reckless night with stubborn feminist Hero Jarvis, whose father had good reason to want Prescott dead; uncovers enough illegitimacies to keep the Town atwitter for generations; suspects both his father and Hero's of treason in aid of the colonies; and finds time to visit a prescient nanny-turned-witch who has secrets to impart about his own parentage. The mystery includes a smattering of political and church intrigue among a welter of family ties so intricate that a scorecard might have helped."

Kirkus almost disappeared late last year, but was rescued at the last hour. Most writers hate Kirkus, but they've given me some great reviews in the past and the fact that they're known to be parsimonious with their praise makes it all the more valuable when it comes.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Title Suggestions

A huge Thank You to everyone for the enthusiastic response to my previous post.

I’ve compiled the suggested titles, leaving out only those with words that have already appeared in previous titles, such as die, sleep, sing, fear, and shadows. I’ve also changed a few suggestions that used “where” or “what” to “when” or “why.” I hope I’ve listed them all, but I just made it home after a brutal 24-hr flight from hell, so I’m a little the worse for wear. If anyone has any more suggestions, please feel free to jump in with them.

Here they are. So now tell me, what strikes your fancy?

When Legends Fall
When Legends Rise/Arise
Why Legends Arise
When Legends Wake
When Legends Lie
When Legends Hide
When Legends Weep
When Legends Curse/Are Cursed
Who Legends Chase
When Legends Speak
When Legends Meet
When Legends Breathe
When Legends Collide
When Legends Revile
When Legends Are Lies
When Legends Reign
When Legends Forget
When Legends Cry
When Legends End
When Legends Live
When Legends Dwell/Roam
When Legends Kneel
When Legends Veil
When Legends Echo
When Legends Weave
When Legends Drift/Float
When Legends Speak
Why Legends Rage
When/What Legends Mourn
When Legends Fade

Why Fables Survive

Why Maidens Weep/Cry
When Maidens Rage
When Lily Maidens Lie
Whom Maidens Lament
When Maidens Dream
Whom Maidens Spurn

When a Lady Lies Dead
When Death Lies Hidden
Why/When Morning Never Comes
When Dawn Never Comes

When Knights Weep
When Knights Descend
Why Knights Regret

Why Camelot Wept

When Sirens Call
When Sirens Rise
When Sirens Dwell
Who Speaks for Arthur

Who Speaks For Camelot

When Mirrors Curse
When/Why Mirrors Deceive/Live
When/Why Mirrors Crack

When/Why Whispers Curse

Who Defends the Web
Who Weaves the Web
Who Delights in Webs

When Kings Fall
When Kings Reign

Why Blind the Night
When Ravens Mock

Thoughts, anyone?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Title Quest

Titling books is always tricky. I was pleased with the titles of my first three Sebastian books--What Angels Fear, When Gods Die, and Why Mermaids Sing. Then I ran into a snag with my fourth book. I don't recall the exact original title, but it had the word Virgin in it and that scared the Powers That Be. I called the fifth book What Hell Marks; the word "hell" was also too scary, so after much to-ing and fro-ing, they changed it to What Remains of Heaven. More drama ensued over the title of Book Number Six; Where Shadows Dance was actually the title I had envisioned for my seventh book. Which means I find myself stumped for a title for the manuscript I am now starting. Since I like to have a title on a book while I'm writing it, I thought I'd throw the process open to suggestions.

Without giving too much away, the murder victim--a beautiful but troubled young woman--is found in a boat floating at Camelot Moat, a real place just north of London. Since the victim--we'll call her Gabrielle, for now--is a scholar of the Arthurian legend, the tales of King Arthur play a significant role in the mystery, with a hat tip to Tennyson's Lady of Shallot. The book takes place when little Alfred is three years old, and the murder victim is his aunt.

This needs to be a "When" or a "Why" title, or a "Who", although those are tricky (a title I'd love to use for a future book is, Who Bells the Kat?) I'm considering using the word "legend", as in, When Legends BLANK,but I'm open to anything.

Suggestions, anyone?

Friday, July 02, 2010

New Contract!


The revisions for Where Shadows Dance landed in my editor’s inbox on Tuesday evening at 6:35pm New York time. The next day, I received a call from my agent saying, “They’re offering us a contract for two more books.”

At which point, I went, “Huh? But… But… I haven’t sent them a proposal yet!”

I’ve been in this business a while—when Babylon and Shadows come out I will have published sixteen books—but this is the first time anyone has offered me a contract without seeing at least a couple of chapters and a synopsis. Considering how close this series came to ending at Number Five, it's pretty amazing. In case you can’t tell, I’m just a tad excited about it.

At any rate, I can now announce that there will definitely be a Book Seven and a Book Eight in the Sebastian St. Cyr series.