Monday 30 October 2017

Is it worth making a picture book trailer for your picture book? Why some books might benefit more from them than others (plus a little bit about the how) by Juliet Clare Bell.

I’ve been thinking about picture book trailers a lot recently. And it’s been fun looking at different ones. I love picture books and I love short videos that show you about things (I’m the one who always gets to the cinema early so I can watch all the adverts and all the trailers). So picture book trailers? Sounds perfect. And I love the idea of having trailers for my books, but as my children might say:

What is the actual point of a picture book trailer…?

I was very fortunate to be awarded an Arts Council National Lottery Grant for the creation of Dave Gray’s and my latest picture book, Benny’s Hat. As part of the application, we requested funding to make a trailer for the book. Here’s the trailer:

But why make a trailer?

Making a trailer is really interesting, it’s fun, and it’s exciting to have something that you can show people about your book. But for something that will take time, resources and very often, money, there have got to be really sound reasons to do it. Here were ours:

[1] We wanted people for whom the book is relevant and who might otherwise not know about the book to find out that it exists;

[2] We wanted it to be really clear from the trailer -to people for whom the book is relevant- if this is a book that they (or others they know) would benefit from reading;

[3] We wanted to let people know how to get hold of the book if they wanted it

From looking at lots of picture book trailers, the trailers that work best for me –in making me want to get hold of the book- are the ones where the books themselves have clear themes, issues or concepts, and where these are clearly shown in the trailer. They’re the ones –should I stumble across them- that I might want to use in an educational context, for example, rather than ones that I would love for their story or even their artwork. They are the books that I wouldn’t necessarily go and get hold of unless I liked the way the theme, issue or concept was executed. And a good trailer will make that clear.

Here are a few that I think work really well in making me want to get hold of a copy of the book. There are big differences between the trailers in how simple/complicated, cheap/expensive, quick to make/time-consuming:

After The Fall by Dan Santat

I love pretty much everything about this trailer –I’d never heard of the book until I saw the trailer but I’ll be buying the book as a direct result of having stumbled across it. It’s simple, with no animation at all –using only the pictures from the book (it appears); a simple tune that everyone knows (Humpty Dumpty) and is done really well; some quotes from reviews, and a very clearly spelt out message: Life begins when you get back up. I love the illustrations which help, but–given that I have older children now- I wouldn’t buy the book without there being a theme that I can use in my work with schools.  

Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg

This has been viewed more than 142,000 times, and again, it’s extremely well done as it shows exactly what the book is about and the message is clearly stated: “Hooray for mistakes!” Again, there’s nothing tricky –no animation, just a video of someone interacting with the book, with a song playing. The song has been created from the book’s text and it’s actually not a song that appeals to me at all (and the book isn’t intended to be a song) and yet I think it’s a great trailer –because I can see exactly what the book’s about.

Here’s Michael Hall’s Perfect Square:

This trailer is more complex than the others with some animation and various tricks for what is a very clean, simple book with sparse text and simple pictures. And yet it works really well, with another clear cut message: “… a celebration of imperfection”.

The next one works –for me, at least- because the author/illustrator, Mo Willems, is (or takes on very convincingly) a zany character that matches the fun of the book. It’s been viewed over 62,000 times –which doesn’t necessarily make it effective at encouraging people to read the book, but I suspect that it is…

Mo Willems' The Thank You Book

And here is an added bonus: Thank you Jonathan Emmett for introducing me to this fantastic trailer in the comments, below. Here is How This Book Was Made (or How This 'How This Book Was Made' Was Made. Or something). Brilliant.

How This Book Was Made by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex

And here’s a very different trailer for One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul and Elizabeth Zunon. This is extremely simple, probably using free software and it looks very homemade. No one’s going to watch it for the sake of the video, but again, it’s very clear what the book is about, and it makes me want to read the book, straightaway:

“Let her story inspire you”

There’s a really clear reason for having each of these videos.

But I wonder whether there’s a point in trailers for all picture books?

When I looked up Julia Donaldson trailers on YouTube, I came across this one for What The Ladybird Heard Next (illustrated by Lydia Monks)

Given how many books she sells, the number of views for the trailer seem very small (just shy of 16000 views). My guess is that when you’re as big a name as Julia Donaldson and your books are guaranteed plenty of space in bookshops and are always in the Amazon best-selling lists, a trailer isn’t going to make much impact on whether people choose to go out and get hold of a copy of your book. And people may not be looking to 'try before they buy' as they're already confident about their choice.

But for us, we knew that we wouldn’t get space in bookshops without going in and arranging it in person as we’ve published the book ourselves –albeit with the financial backing of the Arts Council. And we wouldn’t have a major publisher backing us and promoting us –although we have bereavement charities who are championing the book. And we did have a very clear theme of the book –bereavement in general, and sibling bereavement in particular.

If we could make a short video that we could target effectively at the people who might benefit from reading the book, then it would be worthwhile.

Who is the trailer for?

We had to think properly about who we were really aiming the trailer at –and I learned a lot from the process of making the trailer (with Dave Gray and Steve Holdsworth). I had written the script for the trailer, keeping it at around 100 words long (as suggested by the film-makers), and the first part (voiced over by a young girl, speaking as Friz) was kept as I had written it. But when Steve (who put the trailer together) got me to read the second part out loud, he pointed out that it didn’t seem to be aimed clearly at a specific audience. So we had to work out who was this trailer really for? Obviously it would be nice if lots of people within the general public liked the book and chose to read a book about bereavement, possibly increasing their empathy with bereaved families. But they aren’t the target audience. So we thought about the target audience: bereaved families and organisations where bereaved families might seek help –so bereavement organisations, hospitals, schools, counselling practices, children’s hospices, etc. And then we thought about who the trailer would be more useful for, which was the bereaved families. We can target bereavement groups through articles in relevant journals and publications and organisations, but we felt that we wanted something aimed at families who may not be accessing official help with their grief but who may be looking for relevant materials on the internet. So the final part of the voiceover spoke directly to families (and we hope that it will not discourage practitioners and the general public).

Candy Gourlay has written two extremely useful blogposts on How to Make A Book Trailer (part 1 and part 2), and she gives lots of useful tips on what to include (part 1) and how (part 2). As picture book writers, we have a massive advantage for our trailers over those who are making trailers for novels in that the visuals are already there for us. In our case, it was simpler again because the book uses the first person throughout so we could use parts of the actual text for the voiceover and just make sure to use a young enough girl for the voiceover (my middle daughter, Esther, who loves acting).

So is it worth making a trailer for your next picture book?

You could ask yourself some questions (which I’ll be asking myself for all of my books in the future):

Is your picture book one
that may not be widely distributed in physical bookshops/supermarkets?
that has a clear theme or concept that people who are looking for books or resources might try and look up online?

And if the answer is yes, then it might be extremely valuable to have a trailer. Remember that for picture books, the people who would need to see the trailer and be interested enough to want to go out and get hold of it –on behalf of the child reader- are likely to be the parents (in stark contrast to book trailers for older children/teens/young adults).

If your book is going to be in lots of bookshops and supermarkets and you have big backing from a publisher, then you might choose to spend your time promoting the book in different ways –unless, of course, you love making trailers that are a work of art in themselves, like Sam Zuppardi’s The Nowhere Box:

or you know you’d have lots of fun making a free one:

7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar and Ross MacDonald   

I love that Tara Lazar has made free trailers using the movie trailer part of iMovies for one of her recent books, where you simply choose a trailer template, drop in a few of your own pictures, choose some simple effects and add in some captions.

For any book that comes out in the future, I will make a trailer (having learned lots about it from this current one, and having now done a wonderful course on making your own videos which I’m looking forward to putting into practise soon: –if there is a clear theme or concept and it’s something that people might find from googling that theme or concept. If it’s a straightforward fictional picture book that is likely to be found mostly by friends and family and fellow writers, because it’s not so clearly an issue book (as my last few have been) then I might try an iMovie one –just for fun.

It might be hard to evaluate whether a trailer has done enough of a good job to have warranted the time, resources and money spent on it. I think in our case, because it’s not on general release in bookshops and because it may at some point end up being found if people type in ‘children’s books about bereavement’, and because it was written absolutely to be found by people who might need it and we were funded for that on the understanding that it would reach as many people for whom it might be beneficial as possible, then I think it’s definitely been very much worthwhile.

Have you ever made a trailer for one of your picture books, and if so, has it been worth it? And could you share any picture book trailers that you think are particularly good? Please leave a comment in the comments section, below.

My latest picture book, Benny's Hat (illustrated by Dave Gray) is out now and available from, Amazon, and selected bookshops.

Monday 23 October 2017

Playing with Poetry • Lynne Garner

I'm not only a writer but I also teach on a part time basis. Thankfully my employer is forward thinking when it comes to CPD (Continued Professional Development) and they provide us with a small budget to spend on learning something new. So, this year I decided I'd do a poetry course. I have no plans to write a picture book that rhymes (if you do then read this fab post that appeared on the Picture Book Den in 2012 - How *not* to write a rhyming picture book story). However, I've always believed if you can write poetry well and understand the process this will help your picture book writing skills.
Granddad looking very dapper

Also I feel I have a family tradition to keep up. You see my granddad used to write poetry and so does my mum. Here's a sample of their work.

The first written by my granddad (who sadly died many years ago). Written after I demanded he write me something, I was very young. As far as I know it's untitled.

To write a rhyme is sometimes hazy,
In fact, it almost drives one crazy!
But sitting here you start to think
is it me, or the drain that stinks!
Then you give up, in complete despair
and decide not to write it,


Here's a poem written by my mum entitled 'An Ode to Our Dad'

Yep, that's how I remember my dad! 

I’ve got a brand new cistern
so wouldn’t it be great
If you should get a sudden urge
to start to decorate,
a strip or two of paper
a ceiling shining bright.
I’m only just a ‘wee’ room
no need to quake in fright.
In just a few short hours
I could be bright and new.
No need to wait and worry
should someone say to you,
‘Please may I use your toilet,
 I really cannot wait.’
Only to be confronted
with me in this sorry state.
So come on now get cracking
don’t sit here and dream
really make me sparkly
above all MAKE ME CLEAN!

I recently completed the first assignment and I'm now working on my second. For this I have to write twelves lines of blank verse and twelve lines of rhyme. Now, I don't normally do this, share a work in progress. But time is not on my side so I'm sharing this first draft (so do be kind). Working title is 'Balls.' 

Tasha with her collection of found balls!

Golf, volley, squash ball and hockey
Rugby, tennis, golf ball and cricket
She'll jump into ditches, ponds and streams
Weave through grass, nettles and thicket

She can spot them in tall grass.
Spy one hidden under a bush.
She'll pick up one with ease,
But will manage two, at a push.

Balls of all descriptions are fair game.
She emerges to be congratulated
For rescuing the once round ball
Which is now very deflated.

In the ditch, knee deep in mud.
"No, no!" She ignores my call.
"How did you spot that?"
"Great, another dirty football."

I realise this stands at 16 lines and not the 12 set in my assignment. But as I polish this first draft I'll decide which four lines have to go (something picture book writers often have to do, cut lines) and hone my writing skills as I work. Which, with fingers crossed will make me a better picture book writer.


P.S. If any poets are out there can explain 'metre' to me I'd be very grateful.

To check out my books please simply click here.
My latest collection of short stories 'Ten Tales of Brer Rabbit' is available in paperback (£4.45) and as an ebook (just 99p).