Honestly, this post began as an exploration into book trailers. With Graffiti Creek due out August 8th, I have been pining for the ability to create a badass book trailer. Sadly, I don't believe I have the bandwidth to pull it off in a way I would be proud to share. However, on May 17th, my publisher, Pandamoon, opened itself for submissions using #PitDark as a kick-off. The juxtaposition of my research into trailers (research is a word used loosely here to mean lying in bed watching movie trailers) with this Twitter pitch event, got me wondering what we can learn from the best movie trailers about pitching our novels.
I think the best pitches have a focus, meaning the writer knows the draw of the book. And as a disclaimer, I will add that I am no expert. Pitching is incredibly difficult for me. I think I'm pretty bad at it. BUT DON'T STOP READING. My hope is that we can learn together.
With Graffiti Creek, I can now look back on it and see my focus should be on characterization. It was, at its core, an exercise in empathy, and those deep character dives should be my pitch. Whereas with my first book, Juggling Kittens, hindsight and reviews tell me the sense of place and time really sold the book. When we look at the best trailers, we can see the laser focus on the element of strength in the work.
PLOT WITH A TOUCH OF CHARACTER
PURE CHARACTER - SINGLE
PURE CHARACTER - MULTIPLE
TIME AND PLACE
Stories draw us in with magic. The best trailers capture the magic of a story with a moment, a line, an image, a song ... something. But whatever it is, it gives you chills. Those chills trigger something in our mind which makes us feel the magic of the moment. This is all difficult with a book. But I propose the following theory: our magic is in our theme. Even in the most genre-driven book, some central theme drives every character, every choice, every sentence in some way. As evidence, I present three trailers. What I would draw your attention to is how each captures thematic elements and a sense of magic. And, important to note, they all three play on things already familiar to us. These are universal themes of human existence. Without that important connection, nothing in our brain would send those electric charges down our spine. In the first two, notice the choice of song, the feeling of the pace, the choice of font. Everything drives us to a familiar place where we feel the wonderment of childhood or the overbearing need to feel noticed. Forget the last minute and a half of each. We get chills at the first glimpse of the monster silhouette or the slight embarrassment of the beautiful sound of children singing Radiohead layered over the familiar clicks of modern day friendship. And the third I included because I want to draw attention to the use of stock footage. There is almost zero footage from the movie itself. The monologue sets the theme against images we can all connect with.
This falls into the category of "much easier said than done ... key to everything." So, yeah, if I could master it or tell anyone how to master it, this blog post would probably cost you money. But I can point to it when it is mastered. The key to a pitch is to give away enough to tease without opening what J.J. Abrams talks about as the "mystery box." In most genres, we all need to be working to create a mystery box. And with our pitches, we need to be working to crack open the mystery box just enough to hear a sound or catch a glimpse of something which makes a reader want to rip into it. So one example is quite obviously from Abrams himself. But the other three are every bit as good. And these are arguably four different genres. Granted, two are monster movies, sort of. But one is a disaster movie and the other a horror movie. With each, there is just enough information presented to make the viewer want to find out more.
All in all, I really just like watching movie trailers and wanted an excuse to watch a lot of them. But, in writing this, I did learn a few things about my own efforts to pitch my novels. And pitching goes on even after you have a publisher. I am constantly trying to find the best way to pitch to potential readers. And attention spans are shrinking all the time. We have to work at being quicker to the punch. Hopefully, this helped a little.