Lights, camera, fiction: Martina Devlin on making video trailers for her books

The book trailer’s function is the same as with a film trailer: to pique people’s curiosity. It should reflect the mood of the work without revealing the entire plot

Martina Devlin: With the About Sisterland trailer my intention is to convey the idea of a beautiful place, but chilly. And then I try to comunicate a sense of unease, to suggest something sinister underpinning the perfection. Photograph: Moya Nolan

Martina Devlin: With the About Sisterland trailer my intention is to convey the idea of a beautiful place, but chilly. And then I try to comunicate a sense of unease, to suggest something sinister underpinning the perfection. Photograph: Moya Nolan

 

I’m trying to write some graffiti on my bathroom mirror with a red Chanel lipstick. The new tube is dwindling at an alarming rate. ‘We Will Not Be Silenced’ is what I’m intending to announce in giant lettering, but the lipstick disintegrates over my fingers. I write faster, wishing I’d chosen a shorter slogan, as melted lipstick wedges beneath my nails.

The lesson has been learned for clip number two in my online book trailer, which I’m making to help promote my new novel, About Sisterland. Next up, I’m spelling out a word in rose petals. I throw away the collapsed lipstick, and shred a bunch of red roses. This time, I’m going to be succinct. ‘No,’ I write. Even that takes a dozen roses.

As you might have guessed, the colour red is a theme here. That’s because it’s a symbol of rebellion in Sisterland, my imaginary dictatorship in the near future ruled by women.

Now, my eye lights on a red babushka doll sitting on the coffee table, picked up on a trip to Moscow. Time for her to earn her keep: I trick around with some shots in which I set her spinning.

Why am I making a book trailer? Good question, and one I asked myself when I continued to find lipstick stains under my fingernails 24 hours later. It’s to help my novel reach the widest possible audience. The book trailer is customised to interest possible readers in an iPhone and tablet age.

Once, print, radio and television were sufficient marketing tools. They are still useful. But in the digital age the number of platforms on which to promote writing has multiplied for an author: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, blog tours (where you guest on another person’s blog), Goodreads, Amazon and the author’s own website, among others. Increasingly, consumers are accessing data through social media, which leads them to mainstream websites. So authors are becoming more social media savvy. Some 60 per cent of people in Ireland are believed to have a Facebook account, and seven in 10 check it every day. About 28 per cent of Irish people have Twitter accounts. Instagram is big as well.

The nature of what an author puts out on social media needs to be lively because surveys show that people are less likely to look at tweets without images, while moving images are proving to be popular. And so book trailers are a way of tapping into a potential readership.

The function is the same as with a film trailer: to pique people’s curiosity. So the trailer should reflect the mood of the contents without revealing the entire plot – it’s a canapé, not the main course. It signals what someone can expect if they open the book.

About Sisterland trailer

Martina Devlin on why she wrote About Sisterland

The House Where It Happened trailer

Martina Devlin discusses The House Where it Happened

A trailer needs to be brief – three minutes is the upper limit, but a minute and a half or two minutes is better. Music can be an effective way of creating the tone.

With the About Sisterland trailer my intention is to convey the idea of a beautiful place, but chilly. And then I try to comunicate a sense of unease, to suggest something sinister underpinning the perfection. So I begin with some shots of Iceland and Niagara Falls – I had visited both places with my husband, and they just happened to be stored on our phone memories. The goal was to use whatever I had to hand to tell the story with the minimum of words.

Moving images are more effective than stills, although stills can also work. The trailer needs to be pacy, though. The urge to flick on to the next tweet, the next post, is strong among digital audiences.

This has been a steep learning curve for me. After all, I’m not a filmmaker, I really just want to write books. But I’m keen for people to read them, too. And I do have a secret weapon: a husband who works in television. David has been worth his weight in gold in terms of explaining about the importance of images rather than words, and helping me to think differently about storytelling.

This is my second trailer – I made one last year for my novel, The House Where It Happened, and used more still images with that. So we’re becoming more adventurous. The House Where It Happened is a ghost story, so I extinguished the lights and used our house as a set. Total expenditure: one candle.

I didn’t have the budget to hire anyone for either film, but my 12-year-old niece, Sophie, helped me to disintegrate those roses. Our cat Chekhov was more of a hindrance than a help, trying to swoop in and make off with a mouthful of petals every time we had the word ‘No’ ready to film.

Both trailers were shot by David on an iPhone using a camera app called FiLMiC Pro which allowed us to shoot in high definition. But people could manage without that.

For the trailer format, we used an app called iMovies with templates ranging from spooky to romance to adventure. The one I chose was called Narrative. The benefit of using iMovies is that you can post directly to YouTube.

By the way, did you spot the Luas? I mention a sleek, light rail system called the Buzz in About Sisterland and, conveniently, the Luas has a futuristic look. So off we drove to the Cherrywood stop, and waited for a Luas train.

As a companion piece to the trailer, we shot a brief interview where I talk about the novel, edited on iMovies. Interview snippets can be useful – as can clips reading from a book – for festivals and libraries to get a taste of what an author is like.

As with everything, the best-laid plans can go astray, so have a Plan B. We had to drop in an image of the book after I’d only spoken a sentence, to cover my alarmed expression when the iPhone(perched on a clothes horse) fell off with a clatter.

It’s a glamorous life. Now to tackle the residual lipstick stains on my bathroom mirror.

About Sisterland by Martina Devlin is published by Ward River Press

www.martinadevlin.com

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