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Everyone’s Getting Into Video. Should You?

video for writers

Unless you’ve been garreted away working on the Great American Novel—and maybe you have!—you’ve probably noticed that video is becoming a big deal. There’s high market demand for it, and we’re all spending more and more time watching video online, which means more advertising money is moving to video. Trend reports [1] indicate that video advertising is now growing faster than social media advertising.

As a result, Facebook is now paying big bucks to celebrities and others to produce high-quality video, in addition to rolling out Live Video functionality to all users.


As a writer, should you care? And if you’re interested, what’s next?

Here’s the big problem—for everyone, not just writers: All video starts off wanting to be crap, even more so than a NaNoWriMo first draft. It’s no small thing to shoot, edit, and produce video that people want to watch, even if it’s just a minute’s worth.

Now, you may be blessed with a really entertaining pet (preferably a cute kitten, bunny, or panda), but as the owner of a pretty cute cat myself, I can tell you it hasn’t been easy trying to turn her into a viral sensation. (But allow me to try here.)

Zelda face plant

In the interest of interacting with readers, and being open to new ways of marketing our work, what should a responsible author do, aside from shoot cat videos? Let’s start with what you shouldn’t do.

1. Forget about book trailers.

Most book trailers are terrible and will not sell a single additional copy of your book. If you have a large production budget and can hire James Franco [3], then yes, you should create one. But creating a trailer as a teaser or book advertisement rarely works and can be a colossal waste of your time, unless you have some skills in screenwriting or humor—and preferably both.

2. Don’t talk at length in a static shot.

There are some exceptions to this rule, but generally, the worst author video in the world is the kind that features a talking head, and nothing else, with no cuts or camera changes. There are people who can pull this off with cuts (John Green [4]), but you need some serious charisma or super useful information to compel people to watch. And, again, probably some screenwriting skills.

3. Don’t post unedited video that’s longer than a minute or so.

I’ll refer back to my earlier point: all video wants to be crap. It’s near impossible to create a compelling video using an iPhone or tablet unless you break out the editing software (even if it’s just iMovie) once you’re beyond 30-60 seconds.

Now that you know what to avoid, here are a few things to consider.

As you think about your own video experiments, keep in mind that most successful online video by amateurs (that’s you and me) is somewhere around one to three minutes. The video has to be pretty outstanding (or by someone you really know and like) to keep people’s attention beyond that timeframe.

1. Post video to Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat when you go somewhere unique.

You can get people instantly interested in your video if you can show them someone or someplace that’s unfamiliar, strange, or famous. When you shoot video of a place, always ask yourself, “What thing am I focusing on, and why is it interesting?” Try to avoid the type of shot (or video) that just pans from side to side without any kind of focal point.

2. Interview interesting people (preferably on a theme) using Google Hangouts, Facebook Video, or Skype.

This is basically like doing a podcast, only you’re doing video in addition to audio recording. For this to be the most effective use of your time, you should also have the interview transcribed (Rev.com [5] is a good service for this) so that people can browse the interview if they don’t want to listen or watch. It also helps having the full transcript posted on your site because it will more likely result in search traffic.

3. When you attend an event, do one-question interviews with many different people, then edit the answers together into something interesting.

This can get dangerously close to “talking head” territory, but as long as you keep the clips short, about 10 seconds or less, then the video will remain snappy and dynamic.

Here’s one I did a few years ago on the topic of writing and money.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBf7YqxKB94]

4. Goof around on Snapchat or Instagram.

These social media sites are low-pressure environments to get comfortable shooting video if you have little or no experience. Try trading video stories with friends and family to practice what works. With video, it helps to think in terms of a story you want to tell when you hit the “record” button. Who’s the protagonist of this video? What’s creating tension? Why do we want to watch until the end?

I don’t think creating video content is necessary or mandatory for an author’s platform or marketing plan. While there’s a lot of excitement surrounding video right now, you can still do many (many!) other things that incorporate multimedia without having to produce your own video. On the other hand, if you’ve got a phone in your hand, and a cat doing something super-cute in front of you, why not hit the record button and see what happens?

What experiments have you tried with video? What authors do you notice doing interesting things with video—whether on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or somewhere else?

About Jane Friedman [6]

Jane Friedman [7] has more than 20 years in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She's the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet [8], the essential industry newsletter for authors. You can find out more about her consulting services and online classes at her website, JaneFriedman.com [7].