The Hook

I gravitate toward the long form. When people ask me where I’m from, I ask them if they want the short story (I was born in California) or the long story (I didn’t grow up there). I find the long story to be much more informative and entertaining. I stink at short stories and am amazed at the skill of those who can pull them off.

Gypsy Spy is an epic espionage thriller composed of three novel-sized acts. I didn’t set out chasing a word length, I simply wanted to tell the story. When it was done, I was left with a work that was destined for independent publishing as the traditional market wouldn’t touch my word count with a ten-foot pole. It could certainly be cut back a bit—after all, what work couldn’t use a little more editing—but to get it to traditional length would require as substantial loss of story or the breaking apart of the acts. Neither option was attractive to me.

I recently attended a prominent writer’s conference. One of the greatest opportunities offered at serious writer’s conferences is the chance to actually pitch your work to agents and editors. Traditionally published and independent authors both have to pitch and market their work if they have any hope of ever selling a book. The difference between them is that the independent doesn’t have to go through the entire process of putting a proposal together, sending out query letters, and having a one-sheet. Frankly, until I was preparing for the conference, I had never heard about a one-sheet.

Think of the one-sheet as the resume for yourself and the work you are presenting, the short story version of who you are and what you wrote. As if boiling down your life and art to a one page synopsis wasn’t daunting enough, experts suggest that it is essential for your one-sheet (and for your marketing efforts in general) to write a hook for your novel.

The hook for a novel is analogous to the tagline for a movie. It is meant to encapsulate the theme and essence of the story while at the same time drawing the reader in. Tagline’s are great, a bit of marketing genius that challenges even Twitter’s brevity. As brilliant as Alfred Hitchcock was, his star doesn’t outshine the cleverness of the ad men.

Psycho “Check in. Relax. Take a shower.”

The Birds “… the next scream you hear may be your own.”

Ridley Scott’s team took a riff from The Birds tagline to promote perhaps the most intense science fiction horror film of all time, Alien. “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

Taglines run the gambit from straight promotional (“greatest film ever”) to funny. The tagline for Shrek was “The greatest fairy tale never told.” A funny tagline for a hilarious movie. The movie The Men Who Stare at Goats was also funny, but in a different way. And unlike Shrek, it had a basis in actual government research programs. Even so, its tagline is classic humor: “No goats, no glory.”

Dramatic films have their taglines as well. The tagline for the film Momento is effective because of its intrinsic contradiction: “Some memories are best forgotten.” The tagline for The Prestige encapsulates the entire essence of the film: “Are you watching closely?” If you haven’t written a hook for your novel, I trust these examples from the movie industry have given you some good ideas.

When I was composing my one sheet, I had just come off an intense, near 12-hour shift at the day job to finalize my preparations for the conference—not the best circumstances for creativity. Writing a hook seemed an impossible task. How was I to take a 280,000 word novel and boil it down to a sentence? It took some doing, but by the grace of God I was able to get it done in six words.

“One orphaned Gypsy against two Superpowers.”

If you have a favorite tagline or have a hook for your novel, please share it in the comments.

How to Build a Book Trailer Indie Style

Writers write. That is our wheelhouse. If you are a writer, you know the burden of story. An idea grows into a narrative that drives the imagination and begs to be written down. We sit before the blank slate and pour out words to frame the sequence we’ve dreamed—or so we hope. The angst of the writing process is proverbial.

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” George Orwell[1]

“Writing is easy. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” Walter Smith[2]

Wordsmiths to the bone, these men aptly described the labor pains of birthing a brain child. I was with my wife when she delivered all seven of our children. Orwell’s observation comes close to the experience.[3] Like new parents, writers become authors only to find that their work has just begun. This is especially true for indie authors who must directly tackle multiple aspects of the publishing industry.

Marketing—that dark art of separating people from their hard-earned cash—has to be mastered if we have any hope of the world appreciating our beautiful child. Enter the flood of ad copy designs, book blurbs, e-commerce considerations, social media manipulations, and SEO coding. It can be daunting, but take heart. The creative marketing tools may not be in the top tray of the writer’s toolbox, but they most certainly can be found in the deeper bottom well.  The familiar framing tools all reside there giving weight to the crafter’s panoply: vision, narrative, story arc, intrigue. All these are essential in producing your book trailer. You had all these when you wrote your story. Let’s think through how to bring people to it.

Decide what type of trailer you want to produce.

Trailers come in all flavors, from coming-soon announcements to vignettes. Think about what you want to present. Do you want to tell people how the idea came to you? Then do it. Check out indie author Aiden L. Bailey’s trailer “What Is the Benevolent Deception.” Aiden used a decent camera with a good microphone and tools housed on most PCs: MS PowerPoint and MS MovieMaker. I did my Coming Soon video using a GoPro camera and GoPro native software. Start with what you have.

Dream through your visuals.

Authors work in the world of the thousand words that build a picture’s worth. Have this picture in mind when you go mining for your graphics, still frames, and footage. There are a host of royalty free content sites offering stock sound effects, audio, pictures, and footage. Two of my favorites are 123rf and Pond5. Aside from selection and ease of use, their terms are straightforward. Subscriptions aren’t required. You can buy in bulk or by piece. Pond5 even allows you to dial in your price range in your searches as well as the length of music and footage.

Drop the elements into your work environment.

Outlining and storyboarding are very helpful at this point. Regardless of your production software, having a roadmap for your trailer on paper will save you loads of time in assembly. Whether you are working out your transitions in MS PowerPoint or Adobe Premier Pro, having most of the sequence worked out will lend to better production flow. Knowing where I was going kept me motivated when I ran in to my inevitable ignorance obstacles. YouTube is your friend here. For great cinematography tips and Premier Pro technique tutorials, I relied heavily on Peter McKinnon, Surfaced Studio, and chinfat. You can click on their names to check out their YouTube channels.

Audio plays a critical role at this point, particularly if you’ve decided to add voiceover. I recorded a rough track (and I do mean rough as I had a nasty cold when I did it) read through of the Prologue to Gypsy Spy as a timing guide for the needed length of visuals and the transition placements. Once the sequence was set (and my voice was better), I recorded the read through again using my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 Studio USB audio interface. The interface with microphone and headphones came packaged with Cubase Elements 6 software, which is what I use for the primary sound editing. I used this set up because it is what I had. You can probably get what you need with a decent iPhone at half the hassle cost.

If you shoot the footage using a GoPro camera, GoPro Studio (the app is free and fun to use) offers some great video editing features and includes a selection of free music you can use. I built most of Gypsy Spy Trackdown using this app.

Edit, Export, and Upload

Editing is as important for your trailer as it is for your writing. But don’t get stuck in a perfectionist trap. In our world of Facebook Live, Periscope, Snapchat, Skype, and YouTube people are consuming amateur videos by the millions. A little effort and a slight polish can go a long way here. If you use titles, captions, or graphics make sure they are error free. Have several people watch it before you upload it to ensure that the sound is clear and the sequence works.

Once you are satisfied with your editing efforts, export the video into a format usable on YouTube. MP4 works well here. Watch the video several times once it has been exported before you upload it. Sometimes things get lost in translation and what might have looked great in your video editor previewer may appear less than good in its final MP4 version.

Though there are other video sharing sites, not uploading your trailer to YouTube would be like not listing your book on Amazon. Setting up a channel is fairly painless and worth the effort. Once your video is uploaded, you can share the link on your web site, blog, Facebook page, etc.

Enjoy the Payoff

Though I’ve encountered anecdotal evidence from other authors on how book trailers have helped them increase sales, I have no empirical data to share on this score. Regardless, I see no downside. Even if the trailers didn’t help me sell books (which they have), I would do them anyway because they stretch and exercise my creative muscles. And above my considerations and concerns about their marketing use and value, I build them as a gift of gratitude for those who have willingly invested their time to live in my fictional world for a while. A hearty thanks to all those who have traveled with the Gypsy Spy!

[1] http://orwell.ru/library/essays/wiw/english/e_wiw, accessed on July 30, 2017.
[2] Often incorrectly attributed to Ernest Hemingway, the phrase is best ascribed to sports writer Walter Smith. See http://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/09/14/writing-bleed/, accessed on July 30, 2017.
[3] I say “close” because neither my wife nor I ever considered the process horrible.

I am well into the research phase of Book II of the Gypsy Spy saga. Serious writing will begin on it as soon as my current project, Wind, Water, and Fire, is published. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying a bit of fun in Photoshop. Stay creative, people!

Gypsy Spy: The Cold War Files is now a Kindle Unlimited title. Click here to check it out!

I received word of a public sighting of Carlos de Leon in Virginia Beach, Virginia. I’m on the case!

A Meme with no President

I’ve been reading Robert Baer’s musings on his hunt for Hajj Radwan in his book The Perfect Kill: 21 Laws for Assassins. When I developed Carlos de Leon, I thought the idea of an assassin/spy that hid among the impoverished and outcasts a novel idea. It appears that Radwan, perhaps the most lethal Middle Eastern assassin in history, did just that.

You won’t find Carlos de Leon in a Monte Carlo casino or cruising down the lane in an Aston Martin. License? What license?

Find him on Amazon and check out the trailer on YouTube.

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