I’ve just delivered and had my latest project signed off, a book trailer for a lovely lady called Michelle. It’s the best feeling when the client is happy with the work I’ve done, especially when I’ve enjoyed working on it so much. She is launching her first book this September, a young adult fiction about a boy with ADHD who finds a puppy while holidaying with his family. (I love a heartwarming dog story.) Michelle and I sat down (virtually) to discuss creating her trailer to promote the release and engage with readers.
A trailer for a book? But there are no moving pictures. How can you make a trailer without any visual content?
I’m a freelance artist. Specialising in animation and illustration, I love to tell a story, and I’ve learned to tell my stories digitally. When I was younger, I used to make silly Flash cartoons (now Adobe Animate) with my best friend, which only we found funny. If we could have got them onto Albino Black Sheep, which was a thing before YouTube, I’m sure we could have been internet sensations with our niche humour. They were the best days as we tried to figure out who we were and where to take our creativity. I still speak with Megan today and confide in her for advice when coming up with ideas.
In college, after my teacher asked me what the hell I had been doing all year, I presented her with a CD full of my cartoon shorts. So at uni, I studied animation and explored using language on screen by creating characters, practising storyboarding, and learning to use editing and effects software to make animated films. I’ve learned that if the story is strong but the drawing, not so much, the audience will love your ugly film for its personality.
Some time later, I worked in kids TV as a prep and layout artist and then character design. I had colleagues who had published their own comics or books. Another outlet for storytelling? (I’ll come back to this later.)
But in 2017, I suffered a miscarriage and struggled with my mental health, and I couldn’t cope with the long commutes to work. My partner and I desperately wanted to be parents, and we were going to try again, but while I recovered, I worked from home. During this time, I took Betsy, the labrador, for a walk in our local woods to clear my head, The bluebells were in full bloom, and the forest looked enchanted, like a fairy tale! I felt a whoosh of energy, and that’s when BluebellAnimation.com was born, and shortly after, so was my first daughter.
So I was now a freelance animator/character designer, illustrator, logo designer, mascot creator, and story artist! If it could be drawn, I’d do it. I needed the money being a new mum! “A jack of all trades and a master of none.” A horrible saying when people can do more than one thing, but we have to, to survive! But did you l know that isn’t the full quote?
“A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”
I thrive on the variety of my work. One month I’m a clean-up artist for a children’s magazine. Next, I could be making promotional animations for businesses. I’ve worked alongside health professionals to make videos to prepare child patients for a procedure. I have to wear all the hats: writer, director, concept, storyboards, animation, compositing—everything.
One day, I met Jude Lennon from TAUK Publishing through a networking club called Bizmums, founded by Michelle Childs and a friend of TP’s, Sue Miller. These fantastic women inspired me to create my own children’s book, and A Shih Tzu was released in 2020, a good year for self-publishing, if not a great one for everything else.
I promise you I’m coming on to book trailers now…
Sue and Jude encouraged me to make as much content as possible for the launch. No problem! I was pregnant at the time with my second child and finished the artwork and document a week shy of my due date so it would be ready for my book launch a few months later. It’s been two years since publication, and I’m only just getting to my second!
“A cobbler’s child never has shoes….”
What does that even mean? Basically, babies take all your time, so don’t realise your dreams just after having them even though it’s when you will have the best ideas and shoes are expensive because they grow out of them in five minutes.
Anyway. I realised I could fit more information into a thirty-second video. I made trailers and short clips about my book and my fundraising for the animal charity, Second Chance.
As one of the TAUK Publishing illustrators, I chatted to Sue about offering a reading sequence video for our authors. Sue had been contacted by a voice-over artist, Charlotte Chiew, around the same time, and after having a chat, TAUK Kids YouTube was born, a channel of video books featuring our children’s authors. Charlotte beautifully narrated the stories, and I would composite the wonderful illustrations together, adding little animations and effects to bring the 2D images to life with music and narration. We also created teaser trailers to be played the week before each episode aired.
But what about if your book doesn’t have pictures? OK, so now I’m going to whoop on about another animator and author you may know. On Instagram, I became the victim of social influence when the singer Adele was raving about a book that ‘would shake my brain’. I frantically googled the book and author Glennon Doyle, and I was met with this trailer.
I found myself running back to Sue. “Hey, I could do this for the authors.” But Sue being realistic, asked if it was affordable—it wasn’t. But I was desperate to make a trailer like this. “So we could animate a scene and read out and play the audio over some suspenseful music to suit; it’ll be really cool, like a teaser trailer!” My head was imagining full-on blockbuster trailers with whooshy cuts and a man with a deep American voice, “Coming soon to a book shop near you… TAUK publishing presents….” Rein it in, Charley! A decent voice-over starts from £350 for about five seconds!
This is where you have to get creative and be smart with your time and resources!. You can make something with good production value on a small scale, so I created the £99.00 package as a starting price. From there, I can composite visuals and graphics to some music with captions to attract readers in less than thirty seconds—that’s all you need! If there’s more in the budget, we can add more. I’m hoping one day someone will commission that fully animated trailer like The Untamed. That would be a dream!
With Michelle’s trailer, her book had no interior illustrations. But after chatting about her story, I found some stock footage to set the scene. This book is dyslexia friendly, so the trailer caption font was important. As there was no voice-over, the visuals had to be strong, and the music had to be emotive and upbeat! The missing piece of the puzzle was finding the right dog from the stock footage I had available. But then I realised the star of the book was Michelle’s pet, so she provided some lovely photos of Poppy, and we both agreed that a video of her would work much better.
I asked Michelle if she could film Poppy for me. My inner-control-director-freak surfaced as I needed a specific kind of shot. I couldn’t articulate what I needed and kept sending ridiculously complicated voice notes until I saw my own dog, Wolfy (soon to be starring in my next book, had to get that in), laying there like a novelty draught excluder. I filmed him while talking through what I needed Michelle to do. “OK, can you like film Poppy laying down like this and then call her name to look at the camera, so like this…WOLFY!” Wolfy didn’t move. His eye lazily rolled up, and then he looked at me before sleepily blinking and giving me a huff of indifference. “Hold on, Wolfy isn’t a very good actor… I’ll get a biscuit.”
I attempted another direction clip, and this time, at the sight of the biscuit, Wolfy released his full arsenal of tricks, spinning, rolling over, sitting, pawing and frantically dancing for his biscuit. He’s only fed three times a day, you know. He’s a starving puppy! Poppy? One take! A professional! She’s the Judi Dench of dogs.
The trailer came together, and I got that happy feeling because the client was pleased with the final product and all those little parts of me, those little hats I wear, got an outlet for creativity.
“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”
– Amy Poehler
Guest Blog written by Charley Wilcock