By Marc Turner
Do you have any idea how many epic fantasy books are going to be published this year? No, neither do I, but I’m guessing it’s a lot. It’s hard as a new author to stand out from the crowd. People don’t like to think of writers competing with one another, but in some sense they do. No-one can possibly read every fantasy book, so how do you ensure yours is the one that makes it onto someone’s to-be-read list? I mean, there’s a book coming out later this year that features knights and dinosaurs. Knights and dinosaurs! Hey wait, where are you going? Come back!
You see the problem.
A while ago I came up with the idea of making a video trailer for my book. I’d just seen a teaser trailer for Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart that I thought was very effective. It features a woman walking up to the White House and summoning a ball of magical energy in her hand before throwing it at the building. That’s all. Nothing about the characters, nothing about the plot. But it certainly made me want to find out more.
The simplicity highlighted for me what I saw as a drawback in a lot of the video trailers for books that I’d seen previously: they tried to convey too much information about the story. That’s understandable, perhaps, but it’s difficult to summarise the plot of many fantasy books without making them sound silly. Try it with The Lord of the Rings. “So, there are these little people with hairy feet, and one of them has to throw a magic ring into a volcano to kill a Dark Lord . . .” Knowing nothing more, is that a book you’d rush out to buy? Of course, I’m not doing the book justice (who could?), but I’d argue it’s impossible to do it justice in the space you have available in a trailer.
The second problem with trying to convey too much story is that unless you’re using a voice actor you end up with lots of words on screen. But this is supposed to be a video, right? If someone wanted to read what the book is about, they’d look at the blurb. A trailer has to do something different. The best ones I’ve seen use images and music to create a mood, and tell you just enough about the book to spark your interest.
Unfortunately, finding the right images and music can be a challenge, particularly on a budget – and particularly for a fantasy book. My debut, When the Heavens Fall, tells the story of a man who steals an artefact that gives him power over the dead, then uses it to resurrect an ancient civilisation in order to challenge the Lord of the Dead for control of the underworld. That’s not the sort of subject matter most people are looking for when they go to a stock photo website. Put “undead army” into the website’s search box, and you won’t be inundated with options. No really, it’s true.
What about finding an image for your characters, though? That should be simple enough. Except you can never quite find a photograph that corresponds exactly to how you see the characters or (more importantly) to the detail in the book. Or the person in the picture is wearing the wrong sort of clothes, or standing in front of something that might just appear out of place in a medieval fantasy setting. Like a helicopter. Having looked through hundreds of images for my “main” character, Luker, I was forced to fall back on a photo of a man in a hood. But, hey, this is epic fantasy. It wouldn’t feel the same without a hooded man in there somewhere.
So, having robbed the process of all of its mystery, it’s time to invite you to sit back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the video trailer for When the Heavens Fall.
It’s best viewed with the lights turned down and the music turned up . . .
Marc Turner was born in Canada, but grew up in England. His first novel, When the Heavens Fall, is published in May this year from Tor in the US and Titan in the UK. A short story set in the world of the novel is coming soon at Tor.com. The story will also be available as a free audio file. Marc can be found on Twitter at @MarcJTurner and at www.marcturner.net.