Monday, June 5, 2017

Why I’m vlogging my books on YouTube

The other day another writer dropped by my virtual home here to ask why I’m reading so much of my fiction on my YouTube channel. 

Just in case you don’t know: This is a project that I began in earnest last September, when I began reading my supernatural thriller, ELEVEN MILES OF NIGHT on the video sharing site. 

Since then, I’ve done readings for a number of my previously published novels, novellas, and short stories. I’m currently reading an in-process project, THE EAVESDROPPER. My plan henceforth is to serialize my novels on YouTube first, and then publish them in print and Amazon Kindle. 

I’ve decided to make video the basis of my author “platform”. Below are some thoughts behind the decision. 

Some of the following points will be immediately relevant to you as a reader (or prospective reader). Some points (I will warn you in advance) will be of interest only (or mostly) to authors.

1.) YouTube is a perfect venue for authors, but few authors use it, or use it effectively.  

YouTube is a place where you can read one of your stories, or a chapter from your latest novel, and then upload it to the Internet for all the world to hear. Every fiction writer on the planet should have a YouTube channel!

Sadly, this isn't the case. 

There are a handful of fiction writers on YouTube, but almost none of them use YouTube as a venue for storytelling, or providing samples of their books.

Most authors who are on YouTube use their channels to dispense writing and self-publishing advice. 

Now, before I go further: I’ve benefited tremendously from some of the writers who have also become expert curators of writing/publishing/book marketing information. (A special shoutout here to Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson, Chris Fox, The Sell More Books Show, The Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast, and The Self-Publishing Podcast. All of you are great, and very helpful.) 

But the above “how-to” content is targeted at writers, not readers. This is a crucial distinction. 

While there is some overlap between writers and readers, they are basically different groups. 

For example: I’m a fan of both hockey and rock music. I will never be a participant in either of these fields. (I can’t even stand up on skates, and any attempt I’ve ever made at music has caused humans to laugh, and dogs to howl.)

As a fan, I might be interested in watching a video that gives me an overview of Mike Sullivan’s strategy for leading the Pittsburgh Penguins to a Stanley Cup victory. I’d definitely watch a video detailing the story behind Rush’s latest album. 

I have no desire, however, to watch videos that teach me how to ice skate, or to play the bass guitar. 

So…feel free to become a curator of “how-to” writing/publishing information, if that is your calling. But understand that the audience you’ll attract will be mostly other writers—not readers. 

And if that isn't your calling (it definitely isn't for me), that’s perfectly okay. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that just because you’re a writer and you have a YouTube channel, you must turn your YouTube channel into a writing/book marketing seminar.

2.) YouTube is the platform that authors need in a crowded market. Every writer is looking for the “killer ad platform”, whether that’s Facebook advertising, or advertising via Amazon Marketing Services (AMS). 

As a result, most of these ad venues are now oversubscribed. 

I’m not anti-advertising, mind you. Yes, as an author, you need to buy ad space. But you also need to give readers a chance to sample your work, just like rock bands have long allowed music listeners to sample their music. 

YouTube is a perfect way to introduce readers to your stories, to allow them to sample. 

Back to the concept of the crowded market, and the sometimes controversial question of whether or not writers are really “in competition” with each other.

Yes and no. A reader who is looking for the latest teen vampire romance is probably not going to be interested in one of my hard-edged thrillers, at least at that moment. Nor is a fan of ELEVEN MILES OF NIGHT likely to seek out a book written “in the tradition of Twilight”.

So we aren’t really competing, in that sense. 

But we are competing in the sense of “Hey, look at all these books on Amazon!”

(On the subject of romance: Romance is a category that tends to bleed into other categories in Amazon search results. I recently did a query for “historical fiction” on Amazon, expecting titles by James Michener and Edward Rutherfurd. What I got instead were titles like Romanced by the Earl, and Seduced by the Scottish Highlander with the Rippling Pectoral Muscles. Romance fiction is the crab crass of Amazon, but that’s another topic for another day.)

To the book-buyer, Amazon is a stadium filled with carnival hawkers, sidewalk peddlers, and door-to-door salesmen. Lots and lots of people competing for attention in the same screen space, all at the same time. 

Readers face a profusion of choices when they push the Amazon query button. That’s where the “competition”comes in. If we writers make more of our stories available on platforms outside Amazon, we can help cut down on the competitive noise inside Amazon. 

3.) If more authors utilize YouTube, more readers will (eventually) come. 

Go to YouTube right now, and you’ll find mostly adolescent comedy, adolescent prank videos, political rants, and videos in which people record themselves playing video games. 

I won’t mince words here: Around 90% of the content on YouTube today is pure crap, aimed mostly at thirteen-year-olds. 

I’m not so vain as to suggest that my author videos will change the nature of YouTube, lifting YouTube to new, previously unimagined intellectual heights! 

(That would be more than vanity on my part, that would be downright delusional.)

But I will say this: If there were half as many authors on YouTube as there currently are gamers, pranksters, adolescent comedians, and political ranters, the authors, collectively, would change the nature of the site. 

And for the better, in my opinion. YouTube is a platform with tremendous potential, and we’ve left it to fools. 

I also know that at present, people aren't flocking to YouTube in order to find their next book. (Hell, given the level of the content there, I wonder if the average YouTube user can even read.) 

The transformation of YouTube to “a place for writers and readers” will take some time. But the video game people weren't there 10 years ago, either. If more writers come, more readers will come, and vice versa. 

4.) I’m a ham. Some people (especially writers, who are typically introverted) would not feel comfortable sitting in front of a video camera, and reading a story they’d written, for all the world to see and criticize! And maybe say nasty things!!

Hey, what can I say? I used to work in sales, so I’ve got thick skin… and I’ve always loved a stage.

Yes, when you read your stories on YouTube, you will get the occasional unfriendly remarks from drive-by commenters and trolls. (But that’s true for everyone on YouTube. Like I said, there are a lot of knuckleheads on YouTube.) 

If this is really a problem for you, you can disable comments on your uploaded videos. (I think it’s better to leave comments enabled, however, as it’s better to allow a troll-ish comment here and there, versus closing the door to an earnest reader who wants to interact with you.)

5.) Making your work freely available on YouTube will not cannibalize your book sales.  

Not unless your name is Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, or John Grisham, that is. 

And even then, it would be debatable: Due to format and uploading limitations, I usually break my novel-reading videos into chapters. This means that a reader who wants to listen to one of my complete novels has to listen to as many as a hundred videos—or more.  

I’m flattered and happy if someone wants to do that; but most readers, I think, will use the videos for sampling, in order to determine if this is a book they would like to read. 

But that’s not the big reason why I don’t worry at all about cannibalization. 

I’m currently reading my coming-of-age supernatural thriller, 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN on YouTube. I honestly believe that the book is better than 95% of what is currently being published in the horror genre. 

Horror fans who haven't read 12 HOURS OF HALLOWEEN (or ELEVEN MILES OF NIGHT) didn't take a pass on my books because they decided to listen to them on YouTube instead. They’ve taken a pass because they don’t know about my books.

I’m no fan of Internet piracy, or fuzzy-headed digital utopians like Cory Doctorow and Lawrence Lessig. But I do agree with Tim O’Reilly’s observation of about a decade ago: "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.” 

The same can be said of the novels you read and make available on YouTube. 

Yes, a few people will listen to your entire novel for free in lieu of buying it, one video at a time. So what? That person probably didn't know about your book, anyway. 

Unless you’re a household-name author (and there are only a few dozen of those, nowadays), YouTube will bring you far more sales-friendly exposure than cannibalization of your sales.

*       *       *

Well, lo and behold, this post has become more writer-centric than reader-centric, after all.

If you are a writer, get thee to YouTube. And please don’t use your channel to dispense writing and self-publishing advice. Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson, Sean Platt, etc. are already doing a fine job of that. 

You can also spare us political rants—there are already more than enough of those on YouTube, too. Yes, you do/don’t like Donald Trump. Good for you! But unless you’re an author of political tracts, very few of your potential readers care.

Use YouTube to present your stories to potential readers. This is a not-yet-saturated platform for writers. 

And given the shy, introverted personalities of most writers, it is likely to remain unsaturated for quite some time to come.