14 Nov 2016
As you may or may not know, I’ve been writing these posts out of order, so they are a bit jumbled. This is why you’ll need to buy the book!
This section follows the post on Blogging. There, we talked about the types of posts you could write and what type of audiences you could draw with them.
This time, we plunge into more complicated areas, such as the long-form essay, podcasts, and videos.
Are essays different from blog posts? They can be, but not necessarily.
Essays are better-written blog posts that occupy a permanent, easily accessible place on your website. They are meant to be evergreen, readable at any time, and contain useful information or emotions that promote your persona and your books.
On my website, the Wimsey Annotations can be considered essays on steroids. These pages, devoted to explaining the cultural and historical references in the mysteries of Dorothy L. Sayers, draw a lot of traffic to my web site. Some turn around and buy “The Complete, Annotated Whose Body?”
It should be possible to come up with a mini-website inside your main site devoted to aspects of your books.
If you’re a historical writer, you can create essays drawn from your research that build your reputation as a qualified writer of that period. If you’re a genre writer, anything that draws on your knowledge of the genre, optimized for search engines could draw fans who are happy to discover a previously unknown writer.
This is not something you’d want to spent a lot of time on. You’re not building a comprehensive website on your favorite subject; let Wikipedia do that. You want however many pages you can generate on your topic so that people searching for “Victorian medicine,” “NASA space shuttle,” or “Raymond Chandler” will have a shot at finding you.
c. Host Podcasts and Videos
Part of creating a persona is figuring out ways to exhibit yourself to your readers in a way that is time- and cost-effective.
I think creating a podcast or video series can be an incredible effective way of standing out. Few people do it, and if done right it is a permanent draw.
But … there is a big downside to this strategy. I can consume a lot of time and energy. There can be a steep learning curve. And you may find you have a face for podcasts, or a voice for miming.
Trust me. When I started publishing in 2010, I created YouTube videos based on “Writers Gone Wild.” I bought a camera, microphone, and expensive software to shoot and edit my videos. I started a podcast based on WGW and a proposed sequel “Hollywood Gone Wild.”
They didn’t do well. I was doing it all myself and the production values showed. I was writing complicated scripts that required a lot of time editing and cutting. On some of the podcasts, my mouth was too close to the microphone, and my unprocessed audio is painful to listen to.
Despite all that, I can see that it can be done well and profitably. Look at the people who do it well on YouTube. And it can also be great fun. Depending on the type of show you do, you can meet interesting people, and you can grow a higher profile that may profit you in unexpected ways.
Even when I was flailing around, I was still having a good time. I just didn’t make sure the people consuming my stuff were as well.
Hearing another person’s voice breathing in your ear is probably the most intimate feeling you can get and still keep your clothes on. There’s something about the human voice — whether breathy, sensible, earnest, comical or imitative — that can get past our guards and deeply move us.
Best of all, a podcast can do that with minimal cost. Like indie books, podcasts can be on any subject, at any length, with no restrictions on content or speech. Anyone can do it.
Naturally, those who succeed at it learn quickly that it helps to have a consistent publishing schedule, to remain consistent on language and content, and to remain focused on the podcast’s primary subject.
The beauty of podcasting compared to videos is that you might already have all the equipment you need.
* Microphone: Possibly the only thing you’ll need to buy. I started with a cheap small model that I could clip to my shirt, before graduating to my children’s microphone from “Rock Band.” A top-quality mic would be the Shure 87 that is used by studio musicians and costs a couple hundred bucks.
* Pop filter: A good microphone picks up your voice, along with sounds you wouldn’t expect to hear. Such as your breathing, or the sharp puff of air when you say words that begin with a hard “k” (kite or kitten) or “c” (can or coconut). These sounds like explosions on an unprotected microphone.
A pop filter can be bought online or created using a stocking stretched over a hoop (such as one used in needlepoint). A piece of foam dropped on top of the microphone also serves the same function; I created one by carving slots into a block of foam.
* Audacity software: A free open-source audio recorder and editor. It’s easy to use and there are instructions available from the website. Using the various filters available to add effects or clean up the sound may be a little tricky, but it’s possible to learn while doing it, or hire someone online to take care of this for you.
* Computer: You have one, don’t you? Used to record the show and it edit the content.
As for the subject matter and recording, we’ll leave that up to you. We urge you to download and listen to a few podcasts to get an idea of the possibilities.
Here are a few types:
Two or more people having a conversation. It can be a combination of a Q-and-A with a general free-ranging conversation. It can also be held face to face, over the phone, or recorded through Skype. Examples: “The Nerdist,” Marc Maron’s “WTF,” and “Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast.”
Advantages: Minimal editing involved (deleting dull bits or something the interviewer regretted saying out loud, extraneous noises). Great way to cross-promote with someone more popular than you. Disadvantages: It can be a lot of work coming up with questions and arranging for guests, and just starting out it may be difficult to get the people you want.
One person in front of a microphone telling a story. Examples: Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History,” “The Moth.”
Advantages: You’re always available and willing to talk. Plus, you’ll work cheap. Disadvantages: It takes work coming up with a script. Also you may be more finicky about the editing. Two people talking, you get a natural rhythm going: ups, downs, starts, stops, laughter, etc. A solo show needs to incorporate a rhythm that doesn’t bore the listener.
If you have people on the same wavelength, get them together and talk. You get the camaraderie combined with some comedy (if you’re lucky) and insights into the subject at hand, whether talking about mysteries, politics, or Sherlock Holmes.
Examples: “The Baker Street Babes,” “I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere.”
Advantages: Having someone around to carry the conversational load; you might be surprised what someone else comes up with. Disadvantages: The difficulty of getting people’s schedules aligned. The possibility of subject fatigue.
Let’s put on a show
If you’re a fiction writer, consider creating a show, or adapting your short stories. Examples: “Welcome to Night Vale.”
Advantages: A show with a unique, personal voice has the potential to attract a large audience. A popular show could boost your visibility and profitability. Disadvantages: The amount of work involved could hamper your regular writing.
To have your own television show, you used to need an agent, a manager, a bunch of script writers, a film crew, a director, and a network to pay for it all. Then you needed an audience to bring in enough ad revenue or risk cancellation.
Not anymore. With YouTube acting as your network, you can put on a show of your own. So long as it’s not too obscene or risque or infringe on someone else’s intellectual property, your show will never be canceled. Even if YouTube goes the way of Friendster and BBS services, you still own the rights to your work.
The question is: What do you want to do? And can you do it?
One answer would be to look to YouTube for answers. The style and quality of the shows range from the basic — a person, a desk, and a camera — to elaborate productions with a script, different camera placements, music and sound effects, even acting!
As with everything else in the indie world, it’s up to you.
Since we’re talking about publicity and marketing, keep it simple. Unless you have a format already decided, treat your first video like a blog post. You have something to say that pertains to the book. Write a script. Make it short, punchy, and pungent. You want to be hot, in the Marshall McLuhan way, not attractiveness. You want to be a little hyper, a little over-caffeinated unless your shtick is to be understated; if so, do the full Buster Keaton. Whichever way you go, go big. At least at first; you can always dial it back later.
After watching a couple of videos, you’ll see a few things in common:
* Videos can be as short or as long as they need to be, but the cardinal rule is that there’s no dead air. So stumbling to find your voice, pick up the next line, or stop to silence your cellphone.
* The face can be much closer to the camera than you’d think. A good part of the screen is taken up by your face.
* Note the cutting. Some videos make heavy use of “jump cuts,” which is when you remove film from a single take.
They’re speeding up the pace to add excitement and also to remove those moments when they screw up a word or lose their place.
* Most videos don’t begin or end with credits or theme music. They jump right in.
What about book trailers? When YouTube was launched, one popular type of video was the book trailer. Borrowing from Hollywood, these ads were designed to lure potential readers into the story.
Frankly, I don’t think they work. Taking the elevator-blurb pitch and stretching it into a three-minute piece is Bohr-RING no matter how much drifting text and evocative public-domain art you use.
The only way I could consider creating a book trailer would be if this question could be answered: If you didn’t care about the book or the author, would you still be interested in seeing this video?
d. You’re Internet Famous!
Writers rarely become as recognizable on the same level as the second banana on a cable sitcom. If they do get profiled in “People” magazine, it’s more for something they’re caught up in real life than for what they write. Some writers have played off this, like the commercial John Grisham did for American Express.
But in their time, some have been noticed. Tama Janowitz pushed Apple Computer, Katie Roiphe endorsed Coach, and Lillian Hellman wore a fur coat for Blackglama.
And now, thriller author Brad Meltzer hosts a cable show on mysteries. Anthony Bourdain rose on the popularity of his memoir “Kitchen Confidential” to shows in which he travels the world sampling its culinary delights.
Part of that comes as a result of the expansion of cable and digital channels. With more than 600 channels, all of them needing content, has created an amazing demand for anything to fill the time allocated.
The process of writers becoming famous works in the other direction as well. Internet-famous personalities such as PewDiePie, Grumpy Cat, and Hannah Hart (“My Drunk Kitchen”) have signed book deals.
The chances of this happening are impossible to calculate, depending on intangibles such as the quality of your writing, the video, and your personality. But just like indie writing, indie videos is a low-cost way to try out your skills and explore the opportunities out there in the online world.