Sunday, January 15, 2017

Board Game Design - Really?

You've got to be kidding me. Board games?

Okay, okay. I get it. This is a book trailer design site. More about book trailers later. (buzzer) Yeah, sort of because it's really all about marketing and promotions so anything goes.

Here's the thing. The focus here is book trailers, as long as that market holds up. Notice I haven't been here for a while and my last article was about a book, not a trailer.

Once demand winds down for reasons beyond my control, I latch on to something else. Whatever comes my way or hits my fancy.

Besides, it so happens that package design is my first passion and one of my favorite things to do. Well, it's more than package design because it's about game design right now. For me this is a challenge because I'm not really a board game geek but I do enjoy a good game once in a while and so in an effort to make board games that I'd really enjoy playing, I decided to design one myself.

The problem with most board games for me is that they're not very engaging. They seem technical and take a long time to learn to play. Some of these rule books are more like manuals. Confusing manuals at that.

"The problem with most board games
for me is that they're not very engaging."

My goal is to design a board game that's fun to play and easy to learn. And that's where Millennium comes in. But like book trailers, novels, movies, or anything else for that matter, it's all about the concept and themes. In this case, the Apocalypse, End of Days, a dark future, take your pick. The themes are timeless so I can't go wrong with that.

Beyond concept and themes, there is story of course and besides that you've got a bit of magic you must add to the equation among other things. Yes, just as they say about relationships, it's complicated. Always is and nothing worth pursuing is ever that easy.

I'm only about half way done with Millennium and it's been about six months so all together it's about a year invested when all is said and done. Not for the faint of heart and quitting is easy to contemplate but the show must go on if you want to reap the rewards down the line if you're lucky enough.

Millennium Game Board in Development
I don't work with a team. I am the team. A one-man band and that's the way I like it. You know what they say about too many cooks.

This is a challenge but so far I've started designing 5 games and almost finished with three of them, including this one. Finishing is sometimes the hardest and longest part because that's where all the changes and refinements come into play. So it can feel like you're stuck at times but you press on towards the finish line.

My master plan is to have Millennium on the market for this coming Christmas season. (laugh track here). I think it's more like 2018 but sometimes you have to set impossible goals to get momentum going.

If you'd like to learn more about Starship Games TM and FunSpot Games TM, two gaming brands I'm developing, see more here:
Board Game News.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Book Cover Design


This is my latest book cover design for a dear friend who has stuck with me and has turned out to be one of my best clients and a repeat customer. I haven't read this book because I don't think it's out yet. But here's another book (below) from this author that I like (Cruel Harvest) and added to my collection of hardcover books.

Click on the cover to learn more.

Monday, July 27, 2015

WOLF WINTER by Cecilia Ekback - Great Story, Awesome Book Trailer


Sometimes you come across a book and a trailer that seduces you. This happens to be one of those books and one of those trailers. Everything about this trailer, the book cover, its title, its color, is quite effective and eye-catching. 

Turns out this is a debut novel and a good one at that. My main purpose for posting it here is to show how a simple video can help promote your book when done at this level. Whether it was intentional or not, I don't know, but all that white space helps this trailer stand out among the sea of dark trailers.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Your Book Trailer's Opening Scene - Which Way To Go

Outline Your Book Trailer with this Hollywood Trick:

Once upon a time, I was an aspiring screenwriter. (still am, but who cares) In fact, screenwriting was how I got started writing novels, so I've learned a trick or two from the pros on how to pitch your screenplay to Hollywood.

Novelists can use this same technique to fine-tune their book trailers.

Traditionally, screenwriters pitch a logline of their script, which is a brief sentence or two, or a short paragraph outline for the movie.

Titanic Logline:
A seventeen-year-old aristocrat, expecting to be married to a rich claimant by her mother, falls in love with a kind but poor artist aboard the luxurious, ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.

This logline is all about the love story and along with  loglines, screenwriters also mock-up sample posters. The reasoning is, if you can't envision the poster, the movie won't work.

Think about this idea. A logline and a poster do one very important thing for your story: they help you define the core story question. In other words, Titanic is really about a love story between an aristocrat and a poor, starving artist. On a broader scale, it's also about social classes and its disparities when it comes to true love. But that only covers the genre: A love story.

You can write hundreds of love stories, but what sets them apart? It's always, boy meets girl, girl hates boy, and in the end, they fall in love and live happily ever after. Right, but what makes these stories unique? That's where your story question, the driving force behind your story, comes into play. In Titanic, the main conflict is all about The Heart of the Ocean jewel, a rare, blue diamond, and its whereabouts. Who owns it? Was it stolen, or is it lost on the bottom of the ocean floor?

But, the plot thickens, and that leads to a love affair, a feud for the lost diamond, and then a sinking ship, among several other subplots thrown in for good measure. Wow, what a powder keg this story sits on!  So how do you sort it all out and what opening do you choose for your trailer?

Let's see, James Cameron chose to frame this story within the context of this core story question. What happened to the Heart of the Ocean diamond? It's a fictitious tale, book-ended to frame the true history of the Titanic's demise. Why? Because without this "literary" device, the real story of Titanic is nothing more than a documentary. And that's not as exciting as a 3 hour movie with a complex structure and a myriad of intriguing subplots.

The poster, however, mentions nothing about the diamond. The poster focuses entirely on their love affair. Notice the imagery. A young couple in love, and a ship seemingly splitting them apart. Then the tag line: Nothing on earth could come between them. Really?  Not quite, because that's exactly what happens. That tagline does a tremendous job launching the main theme of the story: True love conquers all. That's really what this Titanic movie is all about. Everything else is context, subtext, and icing on the proverbial cake. And what a multi-layered cake it is.

So how does all this relate to your book trailer? Simple, you need a hook to launch your book trailer, a logline, of sorts, that says: here's the essence of this book. This is what this book is really all about.  And you need to show it with vibrant images, sound, and voiceovers if necessary. You need to pose a story question that sets the tone for the book and the trailer, from frame one. Think theme and think genre.

The official Titanic movie trailer runs long at 4:09 minutes. That's about twice the length of most trailers, however, this is a long movie with a rather complex plotline, but those digital shots of the Titanic are breathtaking and interesting to watch, so it all holds up.

Look at this way, the marketing folks chose to saturate their marketing with different points of view. Very smart because, why would you want to repeat the same message in the poster and in the movie trailer? That's redundant and a waste of marketing dollars. Instead, they chose to angle the poster as a love story, (after all, you must keep its message simple) and showcase the trailer with a historical POV, focusing on the rare diamond, the feud over its disappearance, and the race against time to save themselves aboard a sinking ship. Hence, a four minute trailer.

Whew! This is exhausting just writing about it. It's no wonder the budget for Titanic was about 200 million. Ridiculous, but most likely, necessary.

The bottom line here is that when you outline your book trailer, think about the story theme and the story genre. Because that's where most of the images and music comes from. Musical scores are all about genre. Images are also about genre, but they can be specific to scenes too, so you have to decide early which way to go. What's your focus? Is it theme, or is it a specific scene in the book? A scene that covers the main theme, or the opening scene, or hook. Your choice.

Once you pinpoint your short synopsis (logline) and envision a (movie) book poster for your book, you're on your way to finding the best way (which scene or images to use) to open your book trailer. Starting a trailer is a lot like staring at a blank canvas, or an empty screen with a blinking cursor. Where do you begin? What launches the story? What are the circumstances that set it off?

What will engage the viewer and hold their interest for the next 90 seconds or several minutes? And how will those images, those questions, inspire viewers to keep searching for more answers?
Realize this:
 Your book trailer is an open-ended question, a curiosity that leads viewers 
on a quest for final answers, and consequently, closure.

Without this mindset, all your efforts, all your hard work will lead to nothing more than a slideshow of something that vaguely resembles your story. Apply these principles and techniques to your writing, to all your marketing, and to your book trailers, and see the amazing difference it can make in how readers perceive your book, its story, and ultimately, your book sales.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

STARSHIP BOOK VIDEOS - The Future of Your Book is Here


Book marketing is author marketing for the most part. Just the mention of some authors, Harper Lee, of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, in this case, and you instantly relate to her one and only novel, or so we thought, since her "new" novel, Go Set a Watchman is scheduled to be released this July, we'll soon have two books we can attribute to her.

Watchman, as you may already know, was the original Mockingbird, which her editor at the time, Tay Hohoff, suggested Lee skew in another direction, thus, TKM was born. This is interesting because the new book, was actually written before Mockingbird, and will now stand as a sequel to it.

Praise for clever editors, I suppose, although the big question remains; how much, if any part of this new book has Harper Lee re-written under the advice of her new editor(s) at HarperCollins? Some of it, or perhaps, none of it is safe to say based on Lee's mental health and rumors circulating in Monroeville. To a great extent that is irrelevant at this point. 

Based on Lee's comments regarding her publishing another book, we can assume she had little to do with polishing this version of her original Mockingbird manuscript. Lee has said that she didn't want any attention or publicity about a new book at this point in her life. Who's to say what's what? Except for Harper Lee, who thought the original manuscript was forever lost and has suddenly surfaced.

The real curiosity here is not only all the buzz surrounding Lee's reclusive life throughout the years, but we're all eager to know what her original intent for Mockingbird was, aside from what we already know. Lee says that her original story was about an older woman, named Scout who visited her hometown family and wanted to find out about her father's views about the world. Many of the same characters populate both novels in the fictional Alabama town of Maycomb.

HarperCollins will print 2 million copies of the new book and advance orders on have already pushed Watchman to number one bestseller status. Publicity is everything. Although, I'll admit that Lee's original story sounds interesting enough on its own. As its publisher, the president of HarperCollins,  Mr. Morrison asserts, "I've read the book twice, and it's fantastic," he said. 

Hopefully, millions of readers will agree.

However, book marketing doesn't always lead with the author as in Lee's example. If a story is of topical interest or controversial, it certainly has legs of its own to run on. Take JFK's assassination for instance. Enough said. How about a fictional tale such as, The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins was virtually unknown at the time of this book's publication, but the controversial story helped push it to bestseller status almost instantly, and then of course the movie did wonders for it thereafter.

Back in the 60's, Harper Lee's somewhat autobiographical story was not only topical, born right out of the Civil Rights Movement, but controversial as well, plus the movie, starring Gregory peck, was also a huge push. Never mind legs, this book had centipede legs right out of the gate.

Unknown authors take heart. There is hope if your amazing story has legs. Note the adjective. Yes folks, ordinary stories need not apply. Ordinary stories are the amputees of the literary world. They have no legs to run on. No fuel for the fire. No spark to ignite a fire for that matter. 

Stories need a catalyst. They need a strong hook and it helps if they are current and controversial all at once. All these factors create buzz, which leads to movie deals and consequently, more book sales. And let's not forget that if your story happens to be of social importance at the time of its publication, well, then you get to be featured in public schools and your story can live, and sell, forever.

Not a bad deal if you can write one. It is possible to conjure up such a story if you consider all these factors and if all the stars and moons align for you at the most opportune moment in time.

What about a book trailer you ask? Oh, right. That's what this article was all about to begin with. Yeah, you'll need one of those as part of your marketing mix these days. Book trailers are like a badge of honor. They give readers a glimpse, a taste of what your amazing story is about in 90 seconds or less. 

And when done right, book trailers arouse curiosity, help build author branding, and motivate readers to look into your story for answers to the profound questions raised in your book trailer.

Profound or profoundly amusing because nothing else will do.  Literature is not for the faint of heart or faint of spirit for that matter. 

Popular stories hinge on relevant concepts that ask profound questions, which in turn, demand provocative answers. We are curious creatures by nature and nothing arouses our curiosity more than images that awaken our deepest desires.
That being said, all stories are subject to individual interpretation on the page as well as on screen. And that's the beauty of literature and art alike, it is always in the eyes of the beholder.

Amen to that. Enjoy the Starship Trailer.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014



You've no doubt heard of Tarantino's next project, The Hateful Eight. There's been a lot of talk about the leaking of the script last year and Tarantino's tirade over that. Not sure whom among the actors leaked the script, but it's rumored to be either ... Read all about it here:

As a huge Tarantino fan, I'd love to see this movie but as it stands, right now, he might just publish the screenplay and not make the movie as planned this coming winter. At any rate, my focus here is the trailer itself. Another leak, QT is most likely pissed about, but hey, it's out. If anything, I think all the publicity is a good thing for buzzing this film, but let's get into deconstructing this trailer.
Quentin Tarantino - He's pissed!
It is said that Tarantino films are the most studied movies in film schools and universities, and for good reason. Tarantino breaks many rules and gets away with it in high style. If nothing else, Tarantino films are a great study in film making, and his movie trailers are certainly a great study in making book teasers.

As I've said before, there's not much difference between a movie trailer and a book trailer. They both aim to get viewers or readers interested and engaged in the movie or book, sometimes both. It's just that simple. The mechanics are the same, the marketing is virtually the same, and the main difference is that most book trailers use photo stills to tell the story, the sales pitch, that is, unless you go for one of those expensive cinematic book trailers, that look and sound like movie trailers. Not bad, but they also make you want to see the movie of the book, (if there is one) and not read the book itself. Not exactly the desired effect.

Let's never forget, it's a sales pitch, nonetheless. How we finesse that pitch, how we present it, is the secret to any successful trailer. And what you leave out of it, as you'll see in this Hateful Eight Trailer, is more important than what you put in.

Check out this pirated trailer to see if you can figure out what the story is about. This appears to be an early version of the teaser for the film. Notice how this trailer is all about the genre and offers little details about the story. A great teaser!


Another Movie Trailer for The H8ful Eight

This teaser includes the actors and gives a deeper look into the story, but again, it mostly relies on genre, Westerns, in this case, to impart a feeling, or set the tone. So, if you're a western fan, you're all-in either way. No details necessary. You watch because of the genre and the story is incidental. In this case, you also watch because of the writer/director. It's Quentin Tarantino, enough said. You know you're in for a wild ride.

Okay, but your book is not the next QT offering. Boo-hoo, cry me a river, I know the feeling. You're not alone. Forget about it, put away your hankie, pull up your big-boy pants (or big girl panties) and get over it already. The good news is, you don't have to be Tarantino for readers to enjoy your next book. Right. That's what they all say.

But that doesn't mean your book trailers can't be Tarantinoesque. Mind you, you don't really want to go for the full cinematic look for reasons already mentioned. You can do a nice job with some footage and animated stills and still convey a great feeling for the story, leaving readers with a craving for your book, and not a movie that probably doesn't, or will ever exist.

Below is a good example of what I mean by using a combination of footage and animated stills. And when I say animated stills, it means still photos that you can add motion to, as in panning, easing in or out, blurring or focusing, and so on. These are standard effects you can apply with WMM, Vegas Movie Studio, iMovie, or the video production editor of your choice.

This is my most recent book trailer for the Shadows in the Fog book by Greg Messel. He writes Detective Noir crime novels. One of the techniques I use in this trailer is to open with short footage. Slowly revealing the story world. Focusing on the genre. That's important because you don't want to rush into a story no one has ever heard of. You want to take your time an acclimate the viewer to their new surroundings, if you will. Set the stage (establish the genre) and let it all sink in slowly and work your way into the story. This also builds tension as you ratchet up the pace and quicken the shots as you go along.


 Now, you must realize that you have about 90 seconds to work with. So you can only take so much time to introduce the story world. About 5 seconds is enough time to anchor the viewers and acclimate them to this new world. Think of it this way, it's more about pace than length. Ease into it and reveal the story problem, the all-important conflict that opens the story, slowly, without lingering. If there's anything worse than rushing through an introduction, it's holding a shot for too long.

At any rate, that's where your hook comes in. How are you going to engage your audience? What device are you going to use? Remember, that whatever you say or do, it must be intrinsic to the storyline. Your opening hook must be an integral part of your plot, a small part that you reveal upfront, but not entirely. This is where a sense of mystery takes hold and doesn't let go.

Here's where you get to ask the million dollar question and leave it hanging, unanswered until the end of the story. (How cruel can you be?) Without this device, you may as well pack it in. If you don't build curiosity from page one, your story is doomed to fail. It's just that simple.

And I'm referring to debut authors in particular. Authors who can sell books on the strength of their name alone can open their story however they want. New authors don't have that luxury. They have to engage their readers right away and hold their interest until the very end. The writing standards are quite different.

That being said, I don't believe in weak openings, regardless of an author's clout in the industry. Or weak ending for that matter. (See my rant about Stephen King's, Joyland.) Like most readers, I want a good hook that keeps me in suspense, right from the start and holds my interest right to the bitter end. Have you ever picked up a book and started reading and been distracted for whatever reason, and then you've been compelled to pick up the book again and continue searching for something in the story?

Maybe you've tried to quit a movie but were compelled to come back time and again to revisit the story for unknown reasons. That's a good hook at work. It's the story question posed at the beginning of the opening scene or chapter. Now you need closure, and the only way to get it, is to finish seeing the movie or finish reading the book.

Story hooks in movies and in book trailers work the same way. Once you engage your audience, it's difficult for them to let go. They feel compelled to finish watching or reading. And that's what you want, isn't it? Of course you do. That's what we all want as writers. We want to pique our audience's curiosity. We want to tease them and leave them in suspense. That's the name of the game.

That's how we get readers to click for more answers and ultimately have no choice except to buy your book. These techniques are not new, but they are essential if you want to succeed as a writer. That's why I always say, that if your opening is weak, your marketing will be dubious at best.

And speaking of that, in my next Post, I'll show you a trick many screenwriters use to pitch their scripts to Hollywood. What does that have to do with book trailers? Everything! Hey, it's all marketing. It all ties together in many different ways, but the goal is always the same.

How do we sell the story?

Don't miss this eye-opening post. Subscribe to this Blog so you don't miss all the juicy details. You just can't get this kind of insight anywhere else.