Action-Based Book Videos

Will They Help Sell Your Books?

by Susan Forest

The rise of independent publishing has spurred an explosion in innovative book promotions. YouTube provides a channel for creative people to reach audiences visually, so in the past few years, authors and publishers have experimented with book videos. Many of these show static photos of the cover or stock footage with narration, captions, or a few words from the author. Not highly engaging. So–looking for a way to make a small press novel stand out from the crowd–is it possible to create an entertaining promotional video, without breaking the bank?

As my publisher, Laksa Media Groups, is a small press, their budget for producing videos was virtually non-existent, but they were willing to support a series of action-adventure pieces by providing enthusiasm, research, and critique. In addition, they commissioned a song from a local song writer for the sound track. Armed with this, I called for help from family and friends. As of this writing, Laksa Media and I have produced three action-adventure videos and one Artist Response video, with a second Artist Response video planned for later in 2020.

We kept the videos short (2-2.5 minutes), not intending to capture the entire plot of my novel, like a movie trailer. Instead, they are in the style of music videos. Each video was story boarded with attention to actors, location, camera angles, and plot, to illustrate a narrative arc: sparking incident, complication, crisis, climax, and resolution. Of course, we took advantage of improvised moments as they occurred while shooting, as well.

As my novels are secondary-world fantasy, I needed primitive, wild, and castle-like settings. I planned three principal a shoots. My sister is a horsewoman, so we filmed on her acreage; a good friend let my use her stunning home for the palace scenes; and Calgary’s Edworthy Park has accessible cliffs.

Each video shoot needed several different set-ups (barn, garden, balcony, entryway). The actors could improvise their lines based on the idea of the scene, as there was no dialogue: all sound was stripped from the film, and the visuals put to music. We took a master shot of all the action first, followed by medium and close-up shots from different angles. It was amazing how we could capture the actors’ best moments (we had excellent amateur actors).

Using two cameras cut down on filming time but it was essential to take time to review footage after each take, as we had no way to assemble all elements again at a later date for re-takes. Each set-up took about 45 minutes to capture several minutes of usable film, which, once edited, was only seconds-long on screen.

The biggest challenge was the editing, but that was almost more inspiring than the filming, because of the creativity involved. Selecting certain cuts, altering elements of music, adjusting colour, and other techniques could strongly alter the final effect of the film. My daughter, who holds a BFA in Media Arts, has professional editing software which was user-friendly (drag-and-drop). Coordinating the action to the music meant cutting clips or stretching them to synchronize with the beat of the music. We rotated a horizontal shot, cropped clips to draw focus, made some clips partly transparent, and used special effects, such as rain. Titles and credits were easy to superimpose on the footage, and my daughter created the branding assets (brief animated logos) for the publisher and me.

Technically, the budget was $0. The publisher took care of the music and the musician. I bought two secure digital SD cards, material such as fabric, and lunch for the cast, bringing the “official” total to about $250. However, there was gas mileage for driving to my sister’s acreage, and I paid my daughter an honorarium, as the editing was time-consuming. We did not pay for costumes (donated), actors’ talent, location, cameras, or professional software.

Was it worth it? The actors, my daughter, and I enjoyed the process, particularly the discoveries inherent in the creative process. I learned much about filming videos so I’m confident I can create the next ones more efficiently. For example, I discovered it’s important to use a tripod, as shaky footage isn’t useable (though we did use a few follow-shots in the current video). As a director, I was busy with so many elements, I had to have confidence in the actors to jump in with little rehearsal or direction when the camera was rolling. When working with the larger cast, it was important to have someone serve as a gofer–gluing costumes and ensuring everyone had water.

Yes, it was worth it. I enjoyed creating work I’m proud of and sharing it, and I’ve enjoyed the positive feedback I’ve received on them. Did the videos sell books? Probably not. But they’re part of a larger promotional plan, (including my 2020 launch of Flights of Marigold, Book 2 of my Addicted to Heaven Series–quite a challenge during COVID) to build a brand over time by providing content to readers, even when a book is not pending. If people see one video, they might watch others, share them with friends, and watch for the next one coming out. Over time, I hope to build a following.

Interested in viewing the videos? Check them out (youtube.com/user/susanforest).”Like”and share generously!