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5 Things to Know About Online Video for Books

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by John Parsons, Writer/Consultant at IntuIdeas —

John Parsons

Below are five points to consider before venturing into online video as a major platform component.

Conventional wisdom holds that an author’s platform—particularly the online, social media bits— are essential to a book’s success. Conventional wisdom also holds that video is, by a large margin, the single most influential online medium. Both of these truisms are in fact true. But neither one informs the overworked self-published author, the under-resourced independent publisher, or the beleaguered agent exactly how to leverage this all-important medium to sell more books.

Thanks to our smart devices, the potential to create video has never been greater. Smartphone cameras are used to create the majority of online videos. They are used, increasingly, to create independent documentaries and even feature films. The problem is that more megapixels and functionality in a smartphone camera does not automatically come with video expertise. It certainly does not add extra hours to an author or publisher’s day.

Traditional videography does lower your time commitment, but at a cost that most cannot afford. So, here are five points to consider before venturing into online video as a major platform component.

1. Self-Preparation Is Key

For many authors and publishers, video is unfamiliar territory. If you are the introverted, thoughtful type, thinking about being on camera can make you feel uncomfortable, especially when you don’t have a video editor to make you look your best. For those who love public speaking or lively conversations, the extroverted traits that make you stand out in these situations don’t always translate well to video.

There are many great sources for helping first-timers adapt themselves to video. Here are just a few:

Always remember, however, that the goal is to appear natural and conversational—not to become a polished broadcaster. Think of your video as a conversation, not a performance.

2. Plan for the Long Haul

For all its effectiveness, video is not a one-and-done effort. Subscribers to your video channel, like any other group of followers, have agreed to spend time with your ideas and inspirations. If you go too long without contributing to the conversation, they will move on. (They’re also not keen on hearing pitches for the book. If the conversation is genuine, a sales pitch is superfluous.)

This means planning ahead and coming up with new ideas and things to talk about, and new ways to say them. If your book is inspirational, find new or tangential inspirations. If it’s practical, find the down-to-earth examples that didn’t make it into the book. Fictional characters—your own or those that inspire you—can be stories in and of themselves. Your readers themselves are a source, whether their reactions are positive or not. Coming up with topics is taxing to be sure, but it can also be a source of inspiration for another book.

In a pinch, even your past, recorded appearances—at book signings, media events, or public presentations— can yield new video material. Just be sure someone is there to record it with sufficient quality, and be sure to have the rights before someone starts editing old footage.

Also remember that being on camera is only one of many video formats to choose from. Simple motion graphics, explainer videos, or even a collage of gently moving images with narration (think Ken Burns) should factor into your long-term plans.

3. Platform Selection Matters

When first getting into video, most authors and publishers reflexively create their own channel on YouTube, which is ostensibly free. They can subsequently embed their videos on websites and elsewhere. Some manage to create enough videos on their channel to attract a subscriber following, adding SEO keywords and phrases to increase traffic. This is not a bad strategy, but it comes with caveats.

First, hosting your video on YouTube is free because it allows advertisers to attach content to popular videos, or those that match their ideal customer profile. Authors and publishers have no control over this since it is at the heart of the YouTube-Google revenue model. Second, once you upload to YouTube, your video is subject to intellectual property scrutiny. While not a bad thing in itself, for those of us who wouldn’t think of “borrowing” copyrighted footage or music, it does expose you to unwarranted or malicious takedown requests.

To avoid ads and other distractions, Vimeo is a fine, low-cost alternative for video hosting and embedding, although it is less effective when it comes to search and audience building. There are also many other video platforms to choose from, varying in price and typically providing specialized features for marketing, education, and other applications. Publishers may choose a specialized platform for their author’s content if it offers things like social sharing and video interactivity.

4. Social Media Platforms: Pick Just One

Even if you host your book-related videos on YouTube or Vimeo, it’s also a good idea to pick a separate social media venue for your video content. The challenge is which one to choose. While it’s tempting to select multiple platforms, through a fear of missing out, doing so will likely result in emotional and financial burnout.

Which social platform you choose will depend greatly on the nature of your book and your intended audience. For example, LinkedIn is considered good for most businessoriented books, while Facebook and Instagram are generally friendlier to fiction and popular culture-themed works. Other video-friendly social platforms have unique demographic profiles that can inform your decision.

TikTok has become a surprisingly good social media platform for some authors, as Ashleigh Renard noted in her blog “I’m Selling Books on TikTok, No Dancing (or Crying) Required” on JaneFriedman.com. There are several, platform-specific requirements to master, in addition to TikTok’s vertical video preference. If those are followed, however, the venue can be a substantial “plank” in one’s platform.

5. Production Values Make the Difference

Online video has two unique distinctions. If produced well, it has an extremely high engagement potential. People just like to watch video, and they tend to remember it longer and share it more often than text. However, if the first few moments do not engage the viewer, online video is far more likely to be “swiped aside.” (For some platforms, notably TikTok, that interval opportunity is literally one second!) Basics like sound quality, lighting, and visual composition can also make or break an author’s video.

This does not always mean hiring an expensive videographer or high-end studio. It does mean, however, that just buying a ring light for your phone is probably not enough. Authors and their publishers should always develop a network of affordable freelancers and smaller firms with the technical skills needed for video capture (remote or in-person), editing, titles, and occasional motion graphics.

As with every aspect of platform building, online video does require a time commitment from an already-busy author. But if the goal is to sell books, not just write them, video is the most cost-effective medium for expanding your circle of readers.

John Parsons is an independent, nonfiction ghostwriter (iparsons.com) and the chief marketing officer of IntuIdeas, a Seattle-area video production company.

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