Friday 26 July 2013

The Slushpile Silly Season - Into the Groove with Mood Music

by Addy Farmer

This is my starter/root/anchor song for a story about a terrible Summer holiday. I put it on loop and I'm into the sad-summer-takemehomenow-groove. It's also, extremely catchy ... BEWARE

Some people like to write in company, some people like to write in the deep silence of an empty house. Others find that writing in a cafe with somebody serving coffee and cake is tremendously helpful (sounds like madness to me, hem-hem).

Whilst some people like to write to music. Sometimes you can find that song that encapsulates everything you want to say about your story and if you do then you're lucky because that's like finding your voice and it's shortcut back into the groove. More often than not I have to play stuff which reflects the theme of my wip and leave the specific songs to individual scenes. For a general creative lift I might listen to Classic FM or i-player radio 3 . There I can find a shipload of classical toons which help my mood but don't interrupt my tiny brain thoughts.

ALSO, why not try free music streaming from somewhere like Grooveshark. .Here you can make your own collection of music, even play your own radio station. Choose your genre  to fit your work - indie, 60s, 70s, rock, R and B etc etc - and let the music waft over you.

So, what great scenes will you write about? How about LOVE for one. Take this - your teen protagonist goes out on a 1940s themed evening and meets The One.

The Way You Look Tonight by Ella Fitzgerald on Grooveshark

 Oh but then it all goes hideously wrong cos your girl has fallen in love with The Wrong One

So she breaks up :(

But then it's unicorns and meadows again 'cos she's met The Right One and life is sweet. It's like Stevie says, As Long as I Know I have Love I can Make it. Quite right too.

For Once in My Life by Stevie Wonder on Grooveshark

What else?

Well, let's take a fight/battle scene. Try this ...

Friendship ...

Being silly...

Existential crisis ...

Okay, maybe I should stop because things are getting a bit personal. You get the idea anyway. If you want to get serious(er) then there was an interesting discussion sometime ago on Goodreads about this and Teaching Authors blogged some useful ideas.

There must be a few more writers who have opinions about music and writing, silly or otherwise. I promise that the team won't laugh/make assumptions about you, if you spill the beans on your music choices. Go on...

Monday 22 July 2013

The Slushpile Silly Season - What a Difference One Letter Makes

by Addy Farmer

"Twitter just loves wordy hashtag games and the latest is of a literary bent: #bookswithalettermissing has been trending as tweeters gleefully delete one letter from famous titles to conjure up different works altogether. Hence the likes of The Princess Brie, Loud Atlas, Laughterhouse-Five, A Christmas Carl and The Lion, the Itch and the Wardrobe. It's hard to resist coming up with one's own: Madame Ovary, The World According to Gap or A Brief History of Tim, anyone? One tweeter, the mysterious @darth, duly picked up the ball and ran with it, responding to suggestions by designing actual book jackets." The Guardian

Thought our readers might enjoy this piece of inspired madness. It's all here in a piece from The Guardian. Read, look and enjoy...

the brilliance of @darth
I'm sure Dickens would have approved.

more @darth excellence
Not so sure about Dan Brown...

and @darth does it again

Got any others?

Friday 19 July 2013

The Slushpile Silly Season - Who's the Daddy or the Mummy or Anyone Else for that Matter?

by Addy Farmer

The PG Wodehouse society will mark the centenary of the cricket match which saw the writer create the character after watching Percy Jeeves play for Warwickshire. Wodehouse had been thinking of naming his character Jevons before the match but changed his mind when he saw the young cricketer in action. His friend Conan Doyle, is thought to have named as many as 249 characters after cricketers.

That's a lot of cricketers and why not - they've got names like everyone else.

Listening to the Today programme (go to 2:56 and catch it) there was a tiny but fascinating interview with a man with a pipe in his mouth (he really did have) called Norman Murphy, the author of A Wodehouse Handbook. He talked about how Wodehouse named his most famous creations Jeeves and Wooster and it got me thinking about naming characters.

Jeeves and Wooster - how could they be called anything else?

Val McDermid, the crime writer, was also part of the interview and she gave her tips for character naming. She researches her character names and then googles them to make sure she's not liabling someone. She advocates:
  • looking in graveyards
  • fitting the name to social class and age  e.g Ethel would not suit your average teen nor Chardonnay your average pensioner
  • looking for local names
She did admit to naming one of her characters after a piece of cathedral architecture; a man called Undercroft which seemed to fit his role as a duty solicitor. To my mind, it also sounds a little Dickensian. Is there a technical term for the names which Dickens gives to his characters in order to denote the kind of character they are?

Scrooge - sounds like screw but worse
There are so many examples; Scrooge, Sweedlepipe, Honeythunder, Bumble, Pumblechook, Podsnap, Gradgrind and Pickwick all sound like the sort of person they are. So clever of Dickens to make them all up or did he ...relatively new work by Ruth Richardson has been reported in The Guardian :
Bill Sikes and Scrooge are among the most well-known characters in English literature but rather than being figments of Charles Dicken's imagination, their names were derived from real people. The thug from Oliver Twist, the miser in A Christmas Carol and the ghost of his deceased partner, Jacob Marley, among others, have been linked to people who lived or worked near Dickens's first London home
So, not so unlike Wodehouse, Conan Doyle and McDiarmid and probably many others. It seems strange but who hasn't come across oddly satisfying names such as Ms De'ath, a registrar for births, marriages and deaths, Constable Lawless, the postman called Mr Stamp, an electrician named Ms Sparkes ... and so on. Turns out you may not have to look as far as you think to find a name which fits your character. Ah, that's what it's called:
aptronym" or "aptonym" (n.) = "A name that matches its owner's occupation or character, often in a humorous or ironic way." Cf. "aptronymic" or "aptonymic" (adj.).
But if you don't want all that faffy leg work, why not try a name generating site like fakenamegenerator or fantasynamegenerator or Peter Halasz' useful resource. The Writers Cheatsheet

So this is randomly generated me signing off ...

Lydia Duncan - a 59 year old sports professional (!) from London - nah or Gwenna Macgregor, a 22 year old dragon-hunter - close or  PHENOMENA FURY - that'll do

Monday 15 July 2013

How to Make a Book Trailer - Part Two: Tools and Tips

<< Read Part One

By Candy Gourlay

So after the inspiration of Part One, it's time to roll up our sleeves.

But first, Cynical Author waves a weary hand. 'I'm already on Facebook and Twitter, why do I have to have a video on YouTube as well?'

The short answer is you don't have to be.

The less hissy response is: guess what the Number Two Search Engine in the world is after the omnipresent Google?

It's YouTube.

If you've published a book, you want to be FOUND wherever people are searching. Studies show that young people are more likely to search YouTube before Google. So if you write for young people, YouTube is a no-brainer. 

In my experience, Twitter/ Facebook engagement for authors is mainly B2B networking (business to business). You find yourself engaging with the people who might distribute your message (teachers, bloggers, booksellers, publishers, agents). But YouTube is B2C (business to consumer) - your book trailer is a way to reach your reader directly.

From the Nailasaurus

And if you still need convincing, read this (scroll down to YouTube in your content strategy) and this. Those who don't need convincing can move on to the rest of this blog post.

Caveat: Am I an expert? No. I'm just another author making do (who also happens to be a YouTube hobbyist of the lo-fi variety). These are just my on-the-job revelations - I just want to share because I'm excited. If you're excited too - do share your own revelations/links/tips in the comments. Speaking of sharing, I found this brilliant list of tips about the substance of a book trailer :
"Your book may be a novel but your trailer should be a poem." How to Make a Book Trailer: 6 Tips by Chuck Sambuchino (Writer's Digest)


This is probably the toughest part - coming up with a Big Idea for the trailer that would fit within the boundaries of your competence (or incompetence) and the limitations of skill and equipment.

Script development

You can write the script in any format you like. I decided to write mine in a format I was taught in a long ago TV class with two fat columns: Audio and Video.

Blurred some bits because  this draft of the script changed as the film evolved.

Separating out what is seen and what is heard gives you clarity about what your production needs. Effectively, each column is a shopping list.


Under the 'Video' column, I made notes about location requirements (exterior, interior, stock footage) and necessary kit (lighting, effects). For example - in my video I needed to isolate my character in darkness. I considered using a black duvet in the background but realized it would show up in the video. So I bought a black background to achieve the effect.

Setting up my black background involved dangling it from the windows of my office. Next to the black sheet is a cheap softbox video light my husband got me for Christmas. In the event, the black background was still really shiny and I had to cover all the windows of my office to achieve the darkness I wanted (see a frame from my soon to be screened trailer below - that dark background was hard to achieve)

Under the 'Audio' column, I compiled another list - the dialogue, yes, but also sound effects, voice talent, music, microphones.

If you watch enough book trailers, you will notice that poor sound recording really flags up the DIYness of a video. Never mind if the camerawork is shakey, or the angles are not brilliant, one can pretend that all these were intentional ... but if you can hear a cat barking in the background or the distant rumble of traffic, then you lose. Go back to start. It's important to source proper voice talent, good sound effects and to figure out how to record a clean sound.

My lovely daughter recording the voice over for Tall Story's book trailer
before she became too cool

If you decide to use my scripting system, you could add another column, 'Miscellaneous' to list anything else you might require during production - eg. make up, special effects, light.

Geeking About Sound

  • Microphones are not very expensive and are a worthwhile investment. I use this cheap lavalier mic for interviews - it cuts out background noise. The downside? Cheap means you might have to replace it sooner than you think
  • Some smartphones are great recorders - I've used my Samsung Galaxy Note to record very nice, clean voice overs. 
  • Be aware that different recorders use different formats.You need to convert your sound to a format that your film editing software can understand, usually mp3. I use Mediaconverter to convert my Samsung's weird soundfiles to mp3s.
  • If you're in the position to acquire a camera, make sure it's got a microphone jack. Having a jack gives you the option to plug in a better quality of mic or isolate the audio by using a lapel mic.
  • Built in camera sound recorders are usually of good quality, but they capture the sound of the camera zooming in and out as well as the clicks when you're changing a setting so plugging in a mic moves the recording away from all these background noises. 

This is a trailer I made for a DIY documentary about reading. I created the soundtrack by just building up loops of royalty free music in Garage Band. When I first put it up, I got a warning from YouTube that someone was claiming that I had stolen their music. It gave me great satisfaction to prove them wrong. Also on this video you can see rolling lines over some of the footage. That was when I got the shutter speed wrong and the film reacted to the fluorescent lighting in the room.

Make up your mind

You've got to make a lot of decisions. Here are some things you might want to consider at this stage.
  • Are you going to film your own footage? Or can you get away with buying royalty free video from stock footage companies?
  • Where can you beg, borrow, steal equipment? Or can you make do with your crappy digital camera that can also shoot HD video? (Do think through your equipment list in fine detail - there's nothing more annoying than taking hours to set up only to discover you need an adaptor for the mic) ... YouTube videos are watched on mobiles and small screens - you don't need too fancy a camera.
  • Who are you going to cast? Consider appropriateness, character, dramatic ability over kinship, emotional pressure and bribery. 
  • Can you outsource the work that is beyond your skillset? 
  • Skill up by putting time into watching How To videos on YouTube (How to use Garage Band, How to use Windows Movie Maker, How to use iMovie etc). It's all there, I promise. You just have to search  
  • How much is this going to cost? What's your budget? Will your publisher contribute to the project (this is the point when you write an email to Marketing wondering if they could pay for some of it). 
  • Involve your publisher. Discuss your film with your publisher's Publicity and Marketing department - they might have clever ideas about  targeting and message. They might even be able to contribute if not cash, perhaps graphic design and access to stuff or people you need.
  • Be honest with yourself NOW BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE: is it really wise to save money by casting your buxom 25 year old daughter as a 12 year old? Is your dull middle aged delivery really good enough for the voice over?

Is it really wise to save money by casting your buxom 25 year old daughter as a 12 year old? 


You've made your decisions, you've got your script. Now you need to make it real. Here's a checklist:

  • Scouting locations. Where are you going to shoot? Consider permission, access, timing, light and noise.
  • Scouting a voice talent for voice overs. You could do it yourself I suppose, but consider approaching drama schools or even hiring a voice talent from the internet ... You can listen to VO talent on websites like 
  • Get proper written permissions for both your actors and your locations. The permissions make sure the talent knows what you're going to do with their appearance - for example, they have to understand that you might use stills from the movie for promotion. You can download location and actor release forms from the internet and rewrite them according to your particular production and requirements. If you're featuring children, have a parent or legal guardian sign a Minor Appearance Release. For locations, you need to get permission from the owner / landlord as well as the current occupier. You can wing it - but do think ahead about consequences. These release forms are a good example.
  • Royalty Free Music. At this point, you can trawl royalty free music websites like my favourite, - Download "preview music" to test out if the music works with your visuals. 'Preview music' is protected with an overdubbed voice-over until you purchase it.
  • Consider using loops instead of full pieces. Loops are short lengths of music that you can assemble to suit the action in your movie. To do this, use a music editor like Audacity (free for Windows) or Garage Band. Garage Band (which is preloaded into every Mac computer) comes with plenty of music clips, loops and sound effects.
  • You don't have to film every bit of footage and take every photograph ... or heaven forbid, PAY for anything  - there are lots of places to source FREE stuff (see box below)
  • Credits. Remember to note the origins of music/video/images - you might need to credit and link to them according to the terms of the free download.

Sources of Free

I had a lot of fun with free B Movie footage making this book trailer for the audiobook of Tall Story (although I totally didn't notice the bottle of hand cream on the shelf in the background). And there's another tip - if you've got an audiobook, get permission from your publisher to use the audio as the soundtrack of your book trailer!


Production is whatever you do to get your raw footage, if you're using live action. Here are some things I learned from making my book trailer:

  • Mind the eyes. Make sure the eyes are in focus ... and watch where the eyes are looking. The camera magnifies everything and an actor looking weirdly off camera is just wrong.
  • Mind the hands. People standing around do weird things to their hands.
  • Continuity. It's not just clothes and props but the hair! Hair always seems to wind up in the wrong place after a break in shooting.
  • Keep the camera running before and after a scene. I got some gorgeous footage of my actress when she was unaware the camera was running. (see how I used such footage in my video below of Teri Terry talking about her book Slated
  • Start filming earlier and end later than the prescribed scene. This gives you cutting space when you're editing. An extra second here or there can make a difference to your pacing.  
  • When framing a shot, take in more of the surround than you need to. This gives you room to recompose a shot using editing software - you can give the impression of having a multi-camera setup by cutting from a wide shot to a tight close up - using the same footage.
  • If you or your actor needs to say lines you might want to use a DIY teleprompter. All you need is a laptop and teleprompter websites like Cueprompter or you can use Powerpoint to create a scrolling teleprompter on a computer screen.
  • Keep checking that sound is recording. One nightmare scenario is to finish a day of shooting only to discover that the microphone was turned off.
  • Make sure your horizons are level. There's nothing more discomfiting than a diagonal horizon line in the background.
  • I often use the webcam on my mac to make videos of myself talking to camera. The quality is good enough for YouTube. I treat the computer as if it were a camera, propping it up on books to achieve the best angle at which to hide my double chin.
    The cool thing about filming yourself with a webcam is you can see the result. The downside is the screen reflects in your eyeglasses and the resolution is not good enough for the video to be watched on larger screens.
  • Use a surge-protected extension outlet for plugging in any lights or camera equipment. You don't want any of your stuff blowing up from dodgy electrics (it happened to me)
  • If you're using a DSLR, mind that some shutter speeds in some lights create rolling lines on the film.
  • Batteries! Expect to run out so do get back up batteries - you can buy cheap versions of branded battery packs for most cameras these days.
  • If you're hiding a lapel mic under your subject's jacket, use gaffer tape to fix the wire on his or her clothes. A jiggling wire might create static.

For the intro of this video, I used some footage of author Teri Terry when she thought the camera wasn't running ... and pssst ... there's a lapel mic hidden under her blouse (with no tape)!


Now I can't really give you specific tips about the business of assembling the thing - you'll all be using different bits of software and you'll all have different levels of ability. But I can suggest ways to take your video editing to another level. Sometimes you just need to know the correct words to look up tutorials on Google (search with the item plus the name of your video editing programme eg. "Detach Audio iMovie". You might have to specify the programme version eg. "Final Cut Pro X" is not the same as "Final Cut Pro 7".

  • "Detach Audio". Most movie editors have a facility to detach the audio from the video so that you can say, insert a cutaway to a book cover without interrupting the flow of the sound. I  wish I knew this search term when I started making movies because not being to put a video over a soundtrack was the bane of my life when I was just starting out. I couldn't find it on the web because I was not using the correct search string. 
  • "Ken Burns". Ken Burns is a panning and zooming effect available on most editors
  • "Color Grading". Color grading is the process of enhancing the color of your video. 
  • Search "Edit to the beat" + "name of your video editor" to learn how to make your visuals groove with your sound
  • If you're really geeking out on video-editing, you might want to check out this list of cool post-production video editing sites.
  • If you want to automate changing the levels of your soundtrack to dip under other audio, use the search string "Ducking Audio"
  • Don't go mad on fonts. There's nothing more amateur than a video that uses four different fonts just because you can.
  • Ditto transitions. Transitions should not call attention to themselves. So using a dissolve, wipe, spin and turn one after the other is not only amateur looking but sick-making.
  • Know that this thing takes time. And lots of repetition. But you've got to get it right because once it's up, it's what people will find when they search for you. What do you want them to think when they find it?


Well that was a long post. I'm tired now so I think I'll stop abruptly here. Well, maybe two last links:

How to upload a video to YouTube

How to embed a YouTube video

How to embed YouTube videos without the annoying related videos that appear at after the video has played.


Read Part One - How to Make a Book Trailer - Inspiration

You might also be interested in reading Lori Mortensen's My Book Trailer Education

And here's how Joanna Penn made hers.

Laura Bowers talks about how she made her brilliant book trailer using Animoto.

Barry Hutchison makes a very scary DIY trailer ... then follows it up with another DIY trailer but this time liberally sourcing a voice talent, swooshing clouds and a flaming title from So wonderful I'm embedding it here:

Friday 12 July 2013

How to Make a Book Trailer - Part One: Inspiration

Out 5 September 2013. Yes, really!
By Candy Gourlay

Note: I added more stuff after I posted this and added the actual video I made it was officially launched.

Hello, stranger ... long time no see!

I know, I know, for a group blog, we are highly irregular bloggers - but our policy on Notes from the Slushpile is: Books Come First. Blogging and the rest of it? We'll get there eventually.

So this is eventually.

I've just finished making a book trailer for my forthcoming teen novel Shine (gratuitous cover image on the right).

Like many authors I'm not expecting my publisher to shell out for a blockbuster book trailer directed by Sam Mendes and scripted by Richard Curtis. Yup, it's the DIY route for me - terrifying for some but very exciting if like me, you're a lo-fi YouTuber!

Before I got to work on my video though, I had a trawl through YouTube scoping book trailers for inspiration.

The thing about book trailers is ... they just can't compete with movie trailers. And yet so many DIY book trailer makers try to copy the format of actors doing dialogue and proper scenes. Unless you've got a proper budget and real actors and a real director and cinematographer, there's a danger that this full-on approach will make for inadvertent comedy.

But with a budget and a  half, the movie approach does work. Here's the cinematic trailer for Jacqueline Wilson's Lily Alone. Never mind the book, when can I watch the film?

Cinematic trailers are effective in making potential readers want to get to know the characters better. But beware, DIYers: if you cast wooden amateurs you might alienate them.

Added the next video after super talented illustrator Heather Kilgour posted this stunning animation for Going West by Maurice Gee in the comments - definitely not a DIY job. But we DIYERs can learn from the way it blends sound and image in a way that raises the tension to a climax. Author reality check: Unfortunately, author-made trailers tend to be wordy because yeah, Words R Us. We authors love words. But a video is a medium where sound and image count just as much as the words. Write out the script, then see how you can use evocative images and sound effects to throw your punches.

My all time favourite has to be the trailer for The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. To achieve something like this, you'll need an illustrator, an animator and of course, Neil Gaiman to do the voice over. Note that the whole thing is constructed as a set up for the brilliant final line.

One can try recruiting thrusting young film students, of course. I was very impressed by this trailer for Chasing the Dark by Sam Osman aka Sam Hepburn.

Sam says: "When my publisher sent me the design for my new book Chasing the Dark I was amazed to see that the boy on the cover photo looked exactly like my son from behind. Quite a coincidence but it prompted him and his friends to make a trailer for the book."

The director is fifteen year old George O'Regan who is studying film at the Brits school in Croydon. George is available to make more book trailers, contact him via Sam, quick before he's deep into his GCSEs!

YouTube is the thing of the moment - we've all become used to the crackly, handheld, blurry look. Yes. You can get away with DIY if you pretend it's intentional.

In fact, YouTube has plenty of inspiration for the prospective book trailer maker - check out this great trailer for Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, using the YouTube idiom of timelapse to come to its shocking payoff:

Wise thought that occurred to me after posting: Endings are so important to any kind of work. When you finish a reading book or watching a movie or even listening to a talk, it's the ending that you come away with - that amazing twist, that surprise, that inspiring message. In the compressed format of a book trailer, that final message is even more important. The final message should not be 'Buy this book' ... the message is 'Love this story/character/idea so much you want to know MORE'.

It could be of course that you have an Amazing Friend with the skills to make you a mind-blowing trailer.

I recently spotted this book trailer for Phoenix the new book of SF Said (of Varjak Paw fame) made by none other than Amazing Friend Dave McKean (of Coraline and The Graveyard Book fame!). Out of this world!!! (Trying to restraint the exclamation points ... oops ... too late!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

The Phoenix book trailer highlights the importance of a good voice over talent - even if your visuals look like you scanned random magazines, the voice will resonate and grab the viewer by the ears. There is nothing that alienates an audience more quickly than a mediocre vocal performance. Added tidbit: For my first book Tall Story, I auditioned neighbours far and wide (well, I auditioned my  husband and one neighbour) for a good VO. Luckily my neighbour, a barrister, had a brilliant VO voice. And my hubby wasn't at all upset when I rejected him.

(Nepotistic note: My own book trailer for Tall Story was created by my Amazing Baby Brother Armand Quimpo. Top tip: Encourage one's kin to learn skills that will someday be useful to you)

I have this thing about interviewing young children just to hear the unexpected things they say about stuff. I love talking to young people, they just say it like it is. Here are two inadvertent book trailers I made a while back that came out of chats with the children of author friends:

I filmed Rachel (lying on the carpet) talking about her award-winning dad Mark Hudson's new book Titian: The Last Days. At the end she says, 'Well, I think it's BORING but my mum read it and she thought it was interesting.' The video got a mention in the book's Guardian review.

While visiting my friend Juliet Clare Bell, I found myself alone with young Otto, who decided to tell me the story of Clare's debut picture book Don't Panic Annika! The result is adorable.

And the medium can also be the message - sometimes the DIYness is what makes the video. Here's Nicola Morgan's memorable video made on the website Xtranormal ('If you can type, you can make movies') which craftily manages to promote both her thriller Deathwatch and her non-fiction book Blame My Brain.

Spotted any good book trailers recently?

Coming up next: Part Two - the HOW in How to Make a Book Trailer

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