May 16, 2022

Book Trailers: Placing the Cart Before the Horse by Anthony Bidulka

Book Trailers: Placing the Cart Before the Horse by Anthony Bidulka

Successful book trailers are slick, smart, fast-paced, a bit edgy, attention-grabbing, accurately reflective of the book’s content and vibe, and their creation is best left to professionals. So, of course, on the strength of years of producing countless hours of home movies (yup, the kind that make your friends groan when you suggest showing them “just a few minutes”) I booted up my favourite video-making software (Adobe Premiere Elements) and set out to create a book trailer for my new book, Going to Beautiful.

To begin, I undertook extensive research, spending six, maybe even seven minutes diligently studying other book trailers to figure out what I liked, what I thought worked and what didn’t, then went to work.

Have you ever heard that saying: garbage in, garbage out? Yup, it’s true.

By the time I realized I shouldn’t be making this trailer, I was in too deep. Oddly enough, I was having fun and finding the learning process challenging but interesting. It was around that time when a wee bit of smarts started to kick in. I went back to the drawing board, extending my study of the book trailer landscape. I debated over which aspects of Gong to Beautiful were vital for inclusion in the trailer. I knew I needed to tell a story, but it needed to be quick, interesting, entertaining, and truthful to the book. I wanted a specific mood, a vibe that matched the story I was telling. I wanted watchers/readers to feel like they were being taken on a fantastic journey…in 90 seconds.

Oh oh.

For someone who typically falls on the more-is-better side of things (I don’t even write short stories), this was going to be a problem.

At my core as a writer, what I love most about my career as a teller of tales, is developing characters and creating compelling settings. A study of my body of work, particularly the Russell Quant series, would likely prove that to be true, and most certainly (maybe more than ever) with Going to Beautiful. Character and setting are the heartbeat of this book, and they became the focus of the trailer’s conceptualization.

(Although much of what I’m going to talk about now happens VERY early in the novel, this next bit is a small SPOILER so if you don’t like those, avert your eyes) In part, Going to Beautiful is about what happens when the fairy tale comes crashing down around you. To make the crash louder and more emotional (‘cuz we writers like to do that sort of thing), I wanted to begin the trailer by inviting watchers to get to know the two princes at the centre of our fairy tale, Jake Hardy and Eddie Kravets. It’s never been to my taste to use faces that depict characters on book covers or promotional material—I prefer the reader conjure up the faces they want to see—so, in order to introduce these two men I had to come up with something else. I went with their careers.

Back in research mode, I found and purchased the rights to various images and videos which I could manipulate to fit my needs. Jake is a celebrity chef who rose to fame based on the popularity of a series of “Jake Hardy Does…” cookbooks. To evoke his rise to stardom, I created a series of cookbook and magazine covers.  

Eddie, a renowned fashion designer, first came to the world’s attention as the winner of a reality competition show called Needle & Thread.

Having established Jake and Eddie based on their professions, I needed to move on to something more personal, them as a couple (here’s where the emotion starts to creep in). In the book we learn that their life together is near idyllic, successful careers, great apartment, lots of friends, cute dog, beloved son. Pictorially I leaned into strong, familiar, relatable images of a happily married couple.

Babies and puppies, how can at least one of the two not make you smile? But don’t forget (1) this is also a crime novel, and (2) the crashing down part I mentioned earlier. Death, anguish and sorrow are difficult things to tackle, in life, in books, and in a trailer. You are dealing with cold hard facts versus soft, squishy, tear-moistened reality. I didn’t want to ruin the party, but I could not in good conscience, leave it out. What happens to Jake and Eddie is a key aspect of the book and the bridge that takes our characters, and the book’s readers, to what the book is really about: overcoming grief, burgeoning hope, and discovering beauty where you least expected to.

Phew. Sob. Sniffle. Ugly cry. Now what…

Then it was time for Going to Beautiful. Is it a place? Is it a feeling? Is it a concept? Whatever it is, the final images of the trailer are meant to take you there, albeit in a be somewhat vague, promising, hopeful way. Many of the images I used are near and dear to my heart, photos taken around my current home, the farm where I grew up, of gatherings from when I was a child, where every Sunday the house was full of singing and laughing, eating and drinking.

Of course, a book trailer is nothing without music pulling at those heart strings, guiding your feelings, encouraging a smile or frown. Well, I got none of that for you here (the trailer has some awesome tunes). I suppose if a blog had music and video it would be, well, a book trailer or tik tok or Instagram reel. But, I hope you get the idea.

After many hours of editing, during which I yet again understood why professionals get paid what they do to make one of these things, I was done. The first completed product was about three minutes long. Not good. No one other than my mother and husband were going to hang around long enough to see the end of that opus. Cutting and gutting. That was tough. (I wonder if I should release a deleted scenes version?).

Down to 90 seconds I was ready to show my new baby to the world. Traditional wisdom when it comes to a trailer is that you hitch it to the back and pull it along after you. Did that mean I shouldn’t release the trailer until after Going to Beautiful was released?

No. Way.

I’d worked too hard to keep this Spielberg/Scorsese quality bit of filmmaking under wraps that long. Movie trailers always come out in advance of the film to whet viewer’s appetites, so I decided to put the cart before the horse, so to speak, and see what happened. Further, I decided that instead of releasing the trailer all at once, I’d release teaser trailers every two weeks leading up to the book’s May 1 release date. I like nothing better than a good tease. I divided the trailer into five segments, each one revealing a part of the story, inviting viewers to join the journey, and crossed my fingers.

The way I figured it, if I’d done a bad job, I’d know it after the first teaser was released and then I could casually “forget” to release the rest of it. Thereafter I’d hightail it to the nearest book trailer specialist and tearfully beg them to FIX IT!

It was a risk. Why did I do it? I did it because it was yet another creative outlet, different from the one I am known for, and I was willing to fail just to have the experience of trying it, to see if I could do it, to stretch my creative muscles in a way they’d not been stretched before. I wonder if other creatives—writers, artists, musicians, CPAs—would agree with me about that? When I think about it, that’s exactly how I started my career as a writer. It was a risk. There was high likelihood I would fail. But I wanted, needed, a creative outlet. Fortunately, it worked out for me. And I think the trailer did too. Well, at least my publicist, publisher, mother and husband say so (without averting their eyes) and people I don’t know seem to like it, so yeah, I’m going with that.