Video can be a great way to stand out in a crowded book market. In today’s show, Michael La Ronn explains how to use YouTube effectively.
I’ve been posting YouTube videos since 2009, but I learned a lot from this interview and am switching up my channel in the coming month. You can check out the videos at YouTube.com/thecreativepenn
In the intro, I talk about my experience and some lessons learned from the Smarter Artist Summit in Austin, Texas. I mention Society6.com for merchandise, the Sell More Books Show episode where I heckled Jim Kukral, The One Thing book by Gary Keller, the Indie Author Fringe live online summit this week (amazing lineup!), and an update on Destroyer of Worlds (available for pre-order)
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
- Why YouTube is important for entrepreneurs, including the information one can glean about viewers.
- YouTube as a social media platform.
- Tips on making the most of a YouTube channel, including plug-ins.
- How and why fiction authors can use YouTube.
- Why authenticity matters in video.
- Tips on creating better quality videos, including tips on background, on-camera clothes and makeup.
- Suggestions for tools and apps to help you make good videos.
- On book trailers and video Facebook ads.
- The purpose behind video for both fiction and non-fiction authors.
- The optimum length for videos and effective calls to action.
- Structuring videos and why video is a very different format than audio.
- On monetizing YouTube videos; what works and what doesn’t.
Here’s Michael’s Video Setup
Transcript of interview with Michael La Ronn
Joanna: Hi, everyone. I’m Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com, and today I’m here with Michael La Ronn. Hi, Michael.
Michael: Hi, Joanna.
Joanna: It’s lovely to have you on the show. Just a little introduction, Michael is a best-selling science fiction and fantasy author, and he’s also a YouTuber at the Author Level Up channel, which is awesome.
Michael, just start by telling us a bit more about you and your writing background.
Michael: Sure. Well, first off, thanks for having me on the show. It’s amazing to be here. I’ve been a listener of your show every week for four years, so it’s awesome to be here.
Joanna: It’s great to have you.
Michael: I’ve always been a writer. It’s kind of a cliché answer, but my writing career, as I know it, actually started in 2012. My wife and I were out for a nice dinner, and I fell ill that night with what I thought was food poisoning, and I went to the hospital. It turns out I was there for a month, and while I was there, the doctors found a really rare infection that actually was killing people. In retrospect, I actually could have died.
When you’re in a hospital bed, when you are staring at the wall and on painkillers for an entire month, you really start to rethink your life.
I swore at that moment on that hospital bed that I would become a writer, that I would learn whatever it was I needed to learn to do it. I would talk to whoever I needed to talk to, to learn it. I just made an effort to do it. When I got out of the hospital, right around that time, is when I found The Creative Penn.
Joanna: I’m thrilled.
Michael: No, seriously. You completely opened my eyes to self-publishing, and it showed me a really clear path for what I needed to do. I published my first book in 2014. Fast forward to today, I have over 20 books to my name.
And I have a YouTube channel called Author Level Up, as you mentioned in your intro, where I do business videos every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that teach authors the advice that I wish that I had when I first started off.
Joanna: I’m sure people are now wondering, “First book in 2014 and you’ve got 20 books. How did you do that?”
Michael: I write really fast. I learned dictation as well. I dictate a lot of my books now. I am on the dictation bandwagon. I’ve done some videos on that. Really, I’ve kind of cut everything else out of my life. Writing and reading is really the only thing that I do. I’m just really hyper focused. I just love to write books.
Joanna: That’s fantastic. I know that the Author Level Up and that side of your business is just starting, really, but the fiction side is fantastic. But I know as someone who has split my business into two, as you’re doing, it is difficult. When you don’t focus on one thing, you’re inevitably going to slide on the other. Given that you have 20 fiction books, right?
Michael: It’s a mix between fiction and non-fiction, but it’s mostly fiction.
Joanna: That’s amazing. Well, fantastic. Okay, so today we’re going to talk more about YouTube. I was just saying before we started, for everyone else’s benefit, I asked Michael if he’s a Millennial. Which you are, right?
Joanna: Because I’m in my 40s. Those of us who are basically not as digital native…I mean I consider myself pretty digital native these days. I think I’m a closet Millennial, really. I think YouTube in particular to me is a platform that’s come of age to that generation, your generation, essentially.
First of all, why YouTube? What is so important about YouTube?
Michael: YouTube is fantastic. What I love about YouTube, and what a lot of people forget about YouTube, is that it is a social media network, and it’s the only social media network that is also a search engine, just by virtue of being owned by Google.
It’s the second largest search engine in the world.
Everyone knows YouTube. Everyone probably has watched a YouTube video within the last week. So it’s the instant name recognition. There are tons of people on there who are looking for great content, and tons of people that you can bring on to the platform who are already familiar with it. YouTube is also interesting because it gives you some really interesting analytics about your viewers.
In fact, I actually know more about my viewers than I know about my readers, which is kind of funny. YouTube just tells you everything, and you really get a good sense of who the people are who are watching your video, what their needs are, and what potential solutions you can come up to help them. That’s what makes it very unique.
Joanna: That’s really interesting. I’ve had a YouTube channel for five years now, and I’ve just been putting videos up. I barely do anything else with it, so I have a few follow up questions on that. One, what their needs are…anyway, I agree on the demographics.
You can tell a lot more about YouTube than you can about your readers, but you said you can tell what their needs are. How do you get that information out?
Michael: Sure. Well, YouTube can tell you what people are searching for. One of the analytic data points is the people that are coming on to your videos and what search terms they are using. That’s really unique because I don’t know of any other place where you can do that, where you can look at what someone searched for, “How to dictate your book”, and YouTube will tell me that my video popped up and that video is bringing 20% of the traffic to my channel. It’s a really good way to do that.
There’s a plug-in called TubeBuddy for YouTube that basically…it does a lot of things. One of the things it does really well is you can put in keywords to YouTube, and it will tell you how it thinks they’re going to perform in real-time. It’s a great way to discover what people are searching for, and you can make videos that will pop up in search.
Joanna: That’s fantastic. Of course, if people don’t know, YouTube is owned by Google.
Joanna: Which means the whole SEO thing is a big deal.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. You’re going to get much, much better results with SEO and video optimization on YouTube than you would in another network.
Joanna: Fantastic. And then you also mentioned that it’s both social media as well as search engine. So, I…and again, I don’t massively use YouTube. I’m not a very video person. I’m more a podcast person or a reader.
Joanna: But the social media side of it is what I find so difficult as someone who has a channel. So you’re talking there about the comments. Now, it used to be that there were a lot of comment issues.
What’s the situation at the moment with comments on YouTube, and how should we be using them?
Michael: The way I use the comments is when people reply to the videos, I use those to start conversations. I do get a fair amount of comments on my videos, and that’s just a great way to know that people are watching your video and are engaged.
There were some problems a couple years ago when YouTube kind of became Google+ and Google+ became YouTube and that was a big uproar, but most of that is gone now. Comments are just a great way, just like on a blog post. People respond to the video and how much they like it. The great part is that people actually start to have conversations with the comments, and you can join in on that and monitor that.
Joanna: I’m useless about monitoring or joining in.
Michael: Oh, you have a huge audience, so it’s a matter of time for you.
Joanna: It’s funny, and I think it’s also where you choose to interact, anyway. I like interacting on Twitter, and we can’t all do everything, right? You mentioned TubeBuddy there.
Do you have any other tips for add-ons to YouTube or things that will help people kind of make the most of it?
Michael: TubeBuddy is a great extension and it’s free. There are features that are paid that you can purchase, but another good tool is called SocialBlade.
That really is like a YouTube report card. You put your YouTube channel in, or you can put someone else’s YouTube channel in, and SocialBlade has all these different analytics that connects with Google, and it will give you a score of how it thinks your channel’s performing and give you some tips on what it thinks you can do to improve your channel. It will tell you how many subscribers it thinks you’re going to pick up at your current pace. It’s a good tool that gives you more data than YouTube gives you, as well. That’s another one I would recommend for those people who have YouTube channels or who are thinking about starting one.
Joanna: That’s fantastic. Okay, let’s talk about the channel because I have one channel. So The Creative Penn is my channel, and basically, I’ve split my logo into two. I do stuff that is The Creative Penn stuff, like you’re doing on Author Level Up. This video will be on YouTube. I also put things like my book trailers and my fiction interviews with other thriller authors on when I’m JF Penn. So they’re on the same channel.
Is this fundamentally a mistake? Should a channel be really focused?
Michael: Well, it depends. I think you probably do want to have two separate channels for JF Penn and Joanna Penn simply because the audiences are so different.
There is the ability on YouTube to create sub channels, so that’s something that you can do as well, but in general, yeah, I have a Michael La Ronn channel that’s for my fiction, and then I have an Author Level Up channel as well. I divide them up, but it’s just a matter of preference. It does take you more time though with maintenance and upkeep.
Joanna: Exactly. And I have thought about it, but to be honest, I guess I have fewer ideas for fiction.
How would an author use YouTube for fiction versus non-fiction?
Michael: That’s a great question. For fiction, it’s fun because it’s kind of The Wild West right now. Very few people are using YouTube or video in general for fiction. My advice for people…and I can talk about what I’m doing and my advice would be to use fiction as a way to distinguish yourself in the marketplace. For example, if I asked someone today, “Do you know a fiction author that does video?” The answer would probably be no unless they knew you, Joanna.
Joanna: John Green, he’s the person I point to.
Michael: John Green, right. And he’s a well-known author even though he doesn’t do the video. Well, with fiction…I talk about this on Author Level Up. There’s a spectrum of reader behavior that I talk about. Basically, when people stumble upon your Amazon page, assuming they’ve never heard of you before, they’re looking at your book description or looking at your cover. It’s all about the product. They care about you as an author, but they’re really more interested in the story and if that’s going to appeal to them. They buy the book. They read the book. They fall in love with the characters. They fall in love with the world.
Then at the end, when they’re reading that Call-to-Action page, that’s that one moment, those couple seconds when they’re on that page, when they want to know more about you as an author, if they loved your book, and video’s a great way to do that.
When they click over to the landing page on your site, why not use a video? A one 30 seconds to a minute video that says who you are, thank them for reading, why you wrote the book, and what they can do next, which is join your list to get a free book, or some kind of a great lead magnet.
It’s not so much about the video. It’s about making that connection with the reader, because how many people are doing that?
So you stand out by definition of making a video and taking the time to thank readers for reading your book, and they’re going to remember that.
When they join your list and you send them an e-mail announcing your next book launch, they’re going to remember your face.
They’re going to remember what you look like, and they’re going to be more likely to buy because people buy from people that they know and trust, and it’s a lot easier to trust someone and know who they are if you do a video. That’s a great way fiction writers can use video on their landing pages.
Joanna: Have you got evidence therefore of people buying fiction based on video? You know, as a reader.
I wouldn’t know what most of the authors I read even look like because, as you say, people don’t do videos. I don’t go looking for them. Is that just because I’m 41?
Michael: I’m still experimenting with video. I’ve actually recently done a video audit. So I’ve looked at every area of my business to see where I can put videos in.
The verdict’s still out on the landing pages, but I do know, in general, that landing pages that have videos tend to convert a lot better than landing pages that do not. The data’s still out on that, but I will tell you as well that I have sold books via my Author Level Up channel just by virtue of people saying, “I kind of like what he’s saying. I’ll go check out his books.” I definitely do have evidence that people are buying my books, and my book sales have increased since I started Author Level Up.
Joanna: It’s so interesting, because if people go back and look at my first video on YouTube it’s very low-key and everything. You’re a low-key guy as well, actually, aren’t you? You know, you’ve got this lovely manner, and I’ve watched a number of your videos.
People don’t need to fake things, do they? They can just be themselves. Is that the number one rule?
Michael: Oh, absolutely. Authenticity is key. What I’ve found is that, yeah, I am a very quiet person. I’ve found that whoever you are in real life translates on video.
The moment that you try to start being someone that you’re not, people are going to know about it and they’re not going to watch your channel. Yeah, just be yourself.
It doesn’t have to be an expensive, high-end production that you do for video for fiction writers, or even for non-fiction writers.
Just be yourself. Get on camera. Make sure that you’re making eye contact with the camera and make sure that people can see your eyes, because if they can see your eyes, then that’s really the only thing that matters.
Joanna: If people go and watch your professional videos on your channel, they’ll see that…I mean, for both of us, we’re on a Skype call. It’s not production values, but go check out Michael’s other videos, which are much more pro.
The “I don’t like my face, I don’t like my voice” fear, that’s probably the number one issue, isn’t it? How do you get over that?
Michael: Sure. I still have problems with that, to be honest with you.
Joanna: Oh, we all do.
Michael: Oh, absolutely, but there is a number of things that you can do to get yourself more comfortable with video. I’ve got a little checklist that I can go through here. The first thing that you can do is just take the leap, but if you make your background look better, by definition, you look better as well. Lighting is really important. So I imagine most people listening to the show are recording in a room that has a window.
Daylight always trumps any kind of other light. If you can get daylight in your room…as long as you don’t look like a ghost, you don’t wash your face out, it’s going to look much better than the lighting above your head. That’s one thing you can do, and it’s a trick called three-point lighting, as well, if you don’t have that. I can talk about that in a second.
Make sure your background looks good. Your background right now, Joanna, looks awesome. You’ve got a bookcase and some interesting books behind you. That’s another thing you can do. Make your background minimal and spare. Plants always look good in a background. Bookcases always look good. A thing I’ve seen people do is they’ve got string lights where they’ll hang lights on a bed or across a shelf. That always looks good and gives you some extra lighting. Those are the first few things that I would do to make your background look good.
Once you’ve got your background looking good, that’s when you can start focusing on your person. The first thing you can control are your clothes.
I recommend plain clothes that aren’t any crazy colors. What I’ve found on the camera is that you have a shirt that can look really good in person, but just doesn’t look so good on camera. The camera tends to make…at least smartphone cameras tend to make the bright videos really bright and the dark colors really dark. Stick to something plain solid colors for the gentlemen. Ladies, wear your favorite blouse. Just make sure you test it on the video so it doesn’t look weird, so you don’t have any weird surprises.
Joanna: Just before you go on…
Michael: Sure, I gave you a lot there.
Joanna: I interviewed a guy who wore a striped shirt or something. When we were talking I didn’t even notice, and then the video just makes me feel sick. It’s like it almost moves. The stripes almost move in the video, and it was like, “Seriously? That is terrible.”
Michael: And you would never know.
Joanna: You’d never know. So even though people might think, “That’s a bit prescriptive,” it’s true; very important. Yeah, carry on with your checklist.
Michael: I like to wear ties in my videos, but I have to be careful because they look great in person, but some of my ties just are like psychedelic shows when the camera starts rolling.
Once you’ve got your clothes, then that’s when you can focus on your skin.
For me, I have a set of unique problems being a person of color, in that my skin is naturally very oily. That was always a really big concern that stopped me from doing video for a long time. One of the things that I do…and I’ll make a confession on The Creative Penn. I’ve kind of alluded to it on my videos a little bit, but I wear makeup. That gives me a very even skin tone. It makes my skin a little bit warmer that replaces a lot of the warmth that the camera might take away. It gives my face a very matted look so you don’t see the sweat. I’m actually wearing makeup right now, and it’s just a good thing to be able to do. It’s quick to put on and it just makes you look more professional, as well. You’d be surprised what a huge difference that makes combined with your background, combined with the lighting, combined with tasteful clothes choices. You’ll look great.
The last thing that I always talk about is just make sure your eyes look good.
Make sure the camera is level with your eyes. Make sure you’re looking directly into the camera so that the viewers feel that you’re looking directly at them. That builds rapport. If they can see your eyes, then everything’s good.
Joanna: That’s really good. I’m glad you mentioned the makeup for men as well, because…
Joanna: At the beginning, I never was much of a person who wore makeup in general until I started doing YouTube. Then I realized…because it doesn’t bother me just out doing stuff, but when I saw what I looked like on video without some makeup…it’s amazing how it does amplify any issues. I wondered where the men had this. I mean, obviously, you’re not wearing as much makeup as I am, but some kind of matte, something on your face. That’s really interesting. Then I have a more practical question.
If men are looking for the kind of makeup that they would wear, is there a special place where men shop for makeup, or is it online? How did you do that? Or did you just go to a shop and brazen it out?
Michael: I relied on my wonderful wife. We went to the store and she helped me pick everything out. I totally would not have been able to do it without her. Gentlemen out there, talk to your wives, your significant others…
Joanna: Your sister.
Michael: …or your mom. Or your aunt, or someone who knows the makeup. I was amazed at how easy it is to put on and how easy it is to select. The key is just really picking the right product and finding the right skin tone. After that, it’s really just a matter of putting it on.
Joanna: That’s brilliant. I love this. You didn’t expect to be talking so much about that, did you?
Michael: Exactly. That’s probably a first on The Creative Penn, talking about makeup, right?
Joanna: With a guy, or in general, yes. I think what’s interesting about that as well is you have to learn to adapt to the medium you’re using, don’t you? For example, we’re both using microphones rather than just a headset. Sometimes I interview people and they don’t have any kind of audio set up.
What is the technology that you use to create and edit your videos? Of course, if you have a more basic version for people getting started, that would be great, too.
Michael: My setup is actually very basic. I shoot all of my videos on my iPhone.
That is probably already in most people’s pockets who are listening to this, if you have a smartphone. I use an app that…I don’t use the main iPhone app because it just doesn’t have a lot of functionality, but there are a lot of apps out there that give you control over your focus, control over your white balance, and control over the exposure. You can play with those and those will help you create more professional apps.
I use the Pro Camera Plus app, just if you’re interested, for the iPhone. It’s like $2.
They’re a dime a dozen. You can find them anywhere. I use a tripod. I have a tripod that’s specifically designed for smartphones, and that was about $20; really easy to find on Amazon. It has a level on it, so that’s pretty helpful.
For my videos, I kind of had the Apple commercial look. I’ve got a white background behind me. Not everyone has to do that, but if you’re interested in that, you can buy a lighting kit. That comes with a background. It comes with a couple of different screens, and it comes with studio lights, which is what I use. I have about five or six lights that shine on me while I’m doing the videos.
I have a bunch of storage bins, and I put my laptop on top of that, and I use that as a teleprompter. It’s a poor man’s teleprompter.
For sound quality…this is another big, big takeaway is that your phone sound quality is not going to be very good. If you’re using a camera, you probably don’t want to use the defaults on there.
What I use is a lapel mic, and you can get those on Amazon. The one I use you can get for under $100. I recommend the Rode smartLav+.
Joanna: That’s what I’ve got.
Michael: It’s a fantastic mic, and it’s under $100. It goes right on your shirt and it picks up what you’re saying. It gives you much, much better sound quality than what you would get on your smartphone’s microphone, or your standard microphone on a camera.
Joanna: Do you plug the lav mic into your phone, or do you record the sound separately and edit it together?
Michael: It goes directly into my phone. When I import it into my computer, everything’s right there together, which is really helpful so you don’t have to sync them all together.
Joanna: What do you edit on?
Michael: I use ScreenFlow, and that’s another very cost effective program. It’s under $100. I use it on the Mac. If you’re on Windows, then I would recommend Camtasia. That seems to be the go-to product that Windows users use.
ScreenFlow is very basic software. It lets you bring in video. It lets you edit everything, cut everything together. You can put music under your videos. You can do color correction, so you can change your skin tone, if you need to do that. It has the benefit of being a screen capture software as well.
I do a lot of product demonstration videos. I’ll show you how a program works, or how an app works, and it will capture your screen and give you high definition video as well. I have my Blue Yeti microphone that I use for podcasting that I’ll use for those product demonstration videos as well. It’s a very basic setup, and all of those things you can grab on Amazon for prices that might surprise you.
Joanna: I think even if you’re just starting out…like, again, if people go and have a look at my early videos…in fact, the first podcast I did, I’ve mentioned it before, but I basically phoned someone up on a landline, put it on speakerphone, and then held a recorder next to the phone. So you can start anyhow.
Joanna: If you hold your phone close enough, it will pick up the sound enough to get started.
Joanna: Where you are is a little bit further ahead of a lot of people. For people listening, don’t let that put you off.
You can just get started with just hold your phone up. Can’t you really?
Michael: Oh, absolutely. I give an example of my setup because I hadn’t really talked about it. I’m sure people are curious. You don’t need all the stuff that I mentioned. I mean you can just use your smartphone and see how that goes if you want to start a YouTube channel.
As you scale, you can start to add on different products. It doesn’t have to be an expensive venture to get started with video. Anyone can do it, and you can start today.
Joanna: That’s fantastic. I use ScreenFlow as well. I use it for all my kind of tutorial videos, as you do. You can record keynotes and I’ve used it for editing. It’s actually really simple. You just need an “I” for an in, and then an “O” for an out. That’s pretty much all I use. Again, if people are feeling a bit technophobic, it’s really not hard.
You can also get apps, can’t you? For the frame, you can do really simple editing on your phone if people don’t even want to do too much.
Michael: Right, and YouTube actually has a video editor on their app that you can use, at least on the iPhone version, that you can edit your videos right there from the phone.
Joanna: That’s a good point, and you can actually record directly from YouTube, can’t you?
You can go onto YouTube now and just press record. You don’t have to use any other software.
Michael: Exactly, so it has never been easier to get an app to use video.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the free solutions as well. On Windows, there’s Windows Movie Maker. It’s very simple, but it gets the job done. On Apple, there’s iMovie as well. All of those can help you put together videos that look professional.
Joanna: That’s a really good point. Let’s just get back to what type of videos, because for fiction, a lot of people assume that a book trailer is a good idea. Now, I have made my own book trailers. I’ve paid for professional book trailers. I love them. I think they look great, but I really don’t know whether they’re actually useful, and they can be expensive.
What is your thought on book trailers?
Michael: I’ll say this about book trailers. I think they look awesome, too. I think most people, when they think of book trailers, they have that classical image of actors acting out scenes from a novel, or really fancy, high production. Really, I think the most effective examples I have seen of book trailers are those that are tied to a paid marketing campaign.
Mark Dawson is the first person that comes to mind who does this fantastically with his fiction series. He has got a Facebook video where it has graphics that his designer used, a really nice background that kind of matches the background of his novel, some text that kind of teases your interest in the book, and some more text that teases the interest in your book. Boom, there’s the cover, and then, boom, there’s the Call-to-Action that tells you where to go get it next.
I think that is probably the most effective way you can think about doing the book trailer because you can monetize it and you can get a return. If you can at least get those people onto your list, then it has a benefit rather than just putting it up on YouTube. That is how I would use a book trailer if I were thinking about doing it, and it’s also a lot more cost effective as well, to do something like that.
Joanna: I think you’re right, because the types of books I write, and Facebook’s hardcore content guidelines, my books are under the disturbing images, and I can’t actually use them on Facebook. How do people hire people to do video? Do you have any sites that you’d recommend?
If people go, “I want a video like that,” where would you go to hire someone?
Michael: You can go the same place you would go hire an editor or a cover designer. A place I would probably recommend would be UpWork, formerly known as Elance and oDesk. That’s a good place to potentially find some good video talent. There is PeoplePerHour. That’s another site that I’ve heard people talk about. All you really have to do is look on a site where there are freelancers, and it’s usually not that hard to find a video editor. You can usually find them at pretty reasonable rates as well.
Joanna: The other thing I was thinking about when you were saying before about doing some kind of fiction call to action, I hired a professional photographer who met me in Oxford where I set some of my books.
Presumably, one could hire a student who’s doing film to come and actually film you in person, especially if you have good backgrounds to do with your books. Would you recommend that, too?
Michael: Yeah, that would be a great way to do it. You’re kind of doing two things at the same time. You’re getting professional photography for yourself, which is something that I always recommend that you do at least every couple of years. It’s just another charge to have them shoot some video of you with background. I think that’s a great idea.
Joanna: I’m really thinking about that, especially because it’s actually very easy to do video for non-fiction. Like you say, you just figure out your key words, which anyone can pretty much do. If you’re useful, it’s very easy to come up with a ton of questions you can just answer on video, but for fiction it’s very difficult, especially when you’re so close to your own book to do that. What I was going to ask you is about research videos.
I have done some research videos about the research behind my books. Do you think that’s something useful for fiction or are people just not looking for that kind of thing?
Michael: I think if they’re already in your gravitational field, I would think about using video as a way to augment what they’ve already read. I think that’s a great idea, doing the research videos.
Something I’ve done as well is video commentary. I’ll talk about what inspired the story, why I wrote this, and other things that they may not have picked up on when they were reading the book.
For non-fiction, people are thinking about discoverability. How am I going to get discovered? How am I going to solve a problem? I think fiction writers need to be thinking about it a little bit differently in “How can I further the connection and the relationship that I already have with my audience and make that connection deeper?”
Joanna: That’s a good point, and I’m now thinking, “Well, I could put out a little video as part of my monthly newsletter,” because I always give a personal update, and I’m now sharing personal photos. I’m trying to make it more personal, but I could do a little video.
Like you say, it’s more about people knowing and liking and trusting you, and giving a book a go.
Michael: Exactly, and people listen to you every week. They would love to see a video of you talking about something that’s not on the show. That would be an interesting idea to experiment with. You might be surprised at what happens.
Joanna: It’s a whole to-do list thing, isn’t it really?
Michael: There’s a million things you can do, and a million places you can put video. That’s the beauty of being a writer, but it’s also the burden, too. Right?
Joanna: It is, but I think what interests me about the fiction side with videos is what you said, right at the beginning, which is so few people are doing it. It’s very hard to stand out in a crowded market, but where there’s some white space, where there’s a gap, that could be a place to focus.
It is difficult. I would say to people that certainly, my fiction persona is not something that I’m comfortable with doing videos on, whereas you and I are just being who we are right now. It is very difficult. Anyway, thinking about it. Coming back to the practical side, video length. The original thing was videos should be short, and your videos are generally pretty short. Now, there’s long-form video happening, tutorials and all kinds of things.
What are your thoughts on video length?
Michael: I have a lot of interesting data on that. What I have found — and I think this is true of most YouTubers, and they would probably tell you something similar — is that the optimum length of my videos is between three and five minutes. Anything under that usually does okay, but people tend to skip out. Anything longer than that, I have to work a lot harder to keep people’s attention.
That’s another great thing about YouTube is that if you can master YouTube, you become a master of commanding people’s attention, which is imperative in this digital age. There are tricks you can use to keep people’s attention, but what I’ve found is that most of my videos, and for the most part most of them are between three to five minutes. I’ve got a couple that are a little bit longer, and I’ve done some interviews, but when I’m in the three to five minute mark, when I’ve got good meta data, I’ve got good content, I’ve got good scripting, those videos tend to do very well.
Joanna: Well, that kind of screws us for these long-form interviews that are about 40 minutes. It’s funny, because I have thought I should just go back through my videos and chunk them out, but again, it’s like a to-do list kind of thing. But you’re right. Actually, the interviews, people do tend to drop off after about 11 minutes, so maybe it’s just a function of how long the original video is in general. It’s certainly very interesting to think about.
For fiction, I guess, you really do just want short stuff.
Michael: I would keep the fiction videos pretty short; a minute tops if you’re going to be talking about your book. Fiction writers do have that propensity to talk a little bit more than you probably should, so keep it short, because readers are going to have that short attention span. A minute, maybe two minutes, would be a good length for a video of that kind.
Joanna: It’s super interesting. Now the other thing that’s happened, and I just want to ask your opinion on this: YouTube Red.
Is that YouTube without adverts? It’s like a premium thing?
Michael: Yeah, it’s YouTube without adverts. I think you get access to music as well. You also get access to special content that creators are making specifically for YouTube.
What I’ve found about YouTube Red, and I think it’s interesting. There’s YouTube and then there’s YouTube Red off in a pasture somewhere. You really don’t come into contact with it that much. I think that the creators that are making YouTube Red content have their fans and have their audiences. It’s invite only, so I couldn’t go on and knock on YouTube’s door and make Red content today. I definitely have noticed that when people are watching content, YouTube will have different pay rates based on if someone is a Red subscriber or if they’re coming off of a Red video. I have noticed the payment is a little bit different from that. Long-form content is definitely growing. If you were thinking about starting a YouTube channel though, I would just focus on the tried and true YouTube techniques for now.
Joanna: Another question: Do people…because I have people who consume the podcast just on YouTube, so I presume…I mean they’re not sitting there watching our talking heads. In fact, people who are now listening on YouTube, please add a comment to this video about how you’re actually consuming it. I would assume people are putting it on in the background, or they are actually having it on their phone, and they’re listening. The video’s playing, but they’re just listening anyway. You wouldn’t sit here and watch you and I talk, necessarily. Maybe you just have it on while you’re doing something else.
Do you think people are actually just listening to videos like this?
Michael: I think there’s a mixture of both. I do think for the longer form interviews, I do think people have those on in the background. I think for the shorter videos where…because all my videos are talking heads. I think a lot of people probably watch that. I try to put humor in it. I try to make it interesting on the videos. I think it depends on where you’re watching. Half of my subscribers watch via mobile, which is great. I know that they’re watching on their iPhones, their Windows phones, their Androids, and then the other half are watching on desktops.
YouTube is interesting because it gives you an interesting data point called the retention rate. That basically is on average how long people are watching your videos. For example, if you have a retention rate of 50%, YouTube is telling you that people are watching your video 50% before they go elsewhere. If they are clicking away from your video, that could affect your retention rate as well. It’s weird. I haven’t really polled my audience to ask them how they’re watching my videos. Maybe I’ll do a video on that. How do you watch videos?
Joanna: It is really interesting. When I was just researching you, and I put some of your videos on, I did have them on when I was looking at your website at the same time. I wasn’t actually watching your video, but there’s your nice voice — you’ve got a lovely voice — the background. It’s very relaxing. I could talk to you forever, because there’s so many things I want to ask for, but I want to ask you three specific things.
One, how important is a schedule, or a schedule, however you Americans say it, and posting things on specific days?
Michael: Very important. You want to train your audience to know when you’re going to create content. I do videos every Thursday, every Friday, and every Saturday. I usually launch my videos very early in the morning, usually right when I wake up or I’ll do it the night before I go to bed. People know when they’re going to have my content. I’ve had people say, “Oh yeah, I know when I wake up on Friday mornings or Saturday mornings that I have one of your videos to rely on.” You definitely want to have a consistent production schedule.
I record my videos kind of like you do your podcasts, out in advance. At any given time, I’m usually two to three weeks ahead of where I’m currently at. Very critical, if you’re not going to be consistent starting a channel, you probably don’t want to do it.
Joanna: I mean you’ll have incredibly slow growth as I have done. Once I moved to a weekly show for the podcast, it made a huge difference. Now, as you said, about a couple of months ago, we now have started posting the YouTube videos on a Thursday. So the podcast viewers on YouTube get the episode on the Thursday before the Monday when the main show goes out. It has made a real difference, so I would echo that, too.
Two more questions. The next one is the Call-To-Action. Now, I’m useless about this.
What is the Call-to-Action on the video and what are some examples?
Michael: A Call-to-Action is just essentially you telling readers or viewers what to do next. I can talk about my general video structure, and I can talk about how my Call-to-Action fits in on that. My videos have a very strict or rigid format. First, I tell you what I’m going to teach you and why it’s important. Then I teach you the content. Then I review the content and why it was important, and then I tell you what to do next. I’ve experimented with my Call-to-Actions, but the ones that people talk about a lot are…I can kind of describe it.
I’m in the top left corner of the screen and I’m saying, “Hey, thanks for watching. I’d love to have you subscribe.” I tell you what to expect on the channel, that I do new videos every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and then below me is a link with a big picture that goes to a landing page on my site that says, “Get your questions answered,” or, “Subscribe to my channel.” It depends on the video.
On the right, I have three video samples that are playing in real-time of videos that I have on my channel that are some of my more popular content. It’s kind of me doing some funny things to kind of catch your attention. You can click right on those videos and then those will take you to the next video so you can keep watching.
Basically, I’m telling you what to do. You can see me tell you what to do, and then you can see the benefit of what you’re going to get when you’re on the channel and you’re a subscriber. It’s kind of hard to describe in audio, but you can watch my video on KDP Select, anyone who’s watching, and that has this particular Call-to-Action at the end of it.
Joanna: Yeah, exactly, and I think it’s the same as when you do your book description and you write, “If you like this type of book, click to sample or buy now,” because you have to tell people to click. You have to tell people to subscribe, or…we’ve just started using the cards. So for people who aren’t on YouTube, you won’t know what they are, but they’re like things that can pop out and can be a link to your website.
I’m trying to drive people to the Author 2.0 blueprint, and in that way, that’s kind of the Call-to-Action. I think that’s something really important that, again, I’ve failed miserably at. I’m trying to get back to that. We all have to learn, don’t we?
Michael: Yeah, and YouTube gives you those tools to help with your audience engagement. There are the YouTube cards. There are annotations you can use. There are all kinds of tricks that you can build in to your scripts even. I know, for example, that my videos…after the one-minute mark, there’s a little bit of a dip, so when I use the humor in my videos it’s ironically around the one-minute mark.
Joanna: One minute.
Michael: It’s around the one-minute mark to keep people watching. Yeah, it’s great. It’s amazing for that.
Joanna: Which is interesting, because if you then take this as a fiction novel, the movement, or the Story Grid, I guess, as Shawn Coyne would call it, that’s actually what we’re doing in a book as well. In a thriller, I have to have rising action and then you have to have a break. Then you have to have rising action and then a break.
Planning the videos in the same way is pretty similar, isn’t it? You kind of have to keep people’s attention over time. It’s quite different to the audio podcast.
I consume a lot of podcasts and I’m always just doing other things. It’s quite a different format, I suppose.
Michael: It is. Yeah, you don’t have to think about it as much when you’re doing audio, but when you’re doing video you really have to be conscious of what people are doing when they’re watching your video, and know that they’re going to have those short attention spans. That’s helpful. That kind of skill translates into other areas of your business. E-mail marketing, for example, social media, and being able to command people’s attention on YouTube is a transferable skill.
Joanna: It is. Hardcore. Good stuff. Now, I’ve got an extra question. I want to ask, first of all, monetization. Google AdSense, which is essentially what you get with YouTube, right? Paid advertising clicks. I can tell people that it’s tiny, tiny, tiny unless you have gazillions of views, so almost that monetization from ads is kind of pointless up to a certain point.
What are the ways that people can monetize YouTube?
Michael: That’s a great question, and for a lot of people it’s a great big question mark. There is AdSense and AdWords that you had mentioned. It is very tiny. I can completely echo that and agree with it. You’re not going to get rich off of YouTube ads. It’s just not going to happen, but there are other things you can do to help you supplement that.
I talk about a lot of products and services in my videos, and they are products and services that I recommend, so I use affiliate links for those. Those can help you supplement your income as well. Combined with that, as your channel starts to grow in scale, you’ll find that your income from both of those will increase. That’s a good way to do it.
Another way to think about YouTube is really as a driver of traffic to your site. You always want to be mentioning your website. You always want to be mentioning what the benefit of joining your list is, because YouTube is really good at that. It’s good at driving channel traffic to your landing pages so that people can get on your list, and that translates into money down the long run. That’s a way I would think about it.
Another way to talk about video monetizing, and this isn’t necessarily a YouTube tip, but it’s a Facebook video tip. You can use video for paid advertising. YouTube does have a paid marketing department or feature, where you can put your video in front of other people’s videos, but it’s quite expensive and not as intuitive as Facebook’s. Facebook is a great way to monetize your videos as well, because you can pay for those. If you do your job right, you can get a return. That’s something that I look to be doing in the near feature.
Joanna: On affiliate links, are you putting those on the screen as a URL or are you including those in your show notes? Are you allowed to use any affiliate links?
Michael: You’re allowed to use affiliate links on YouTube. You have to follow the rules, at least here in the United States. The FTC is kind of strict about some of that, so you just want to make sure that you’re disclosing that it’s an affiliate link and that you get a kickback or commission if someone does buy the product, and thank them for doing that. In the video description when you list the link, what I do as a courtesy is after the link I just put in brackets “affiliate link”. That way you’re clean. I’ve never heard of anyone having any issues with the affiliate links.
Joanna: Okay. I’m going to have to have you back on the show because I have so many questions. What about cross posting? At the moment, I don’t put these videos on the blog. I used to but then the iTunes feed kind of screwed them up. So I don’t put these videos on, but other videos, I would embed the video on my blog at The Creative Penn, and maybe include show notes underneath it. The video could be consumed on YouTube, or the people that have subscribed to the blog will get it in their feed as a blog post.
Do you think that every video should have a page on your blog? Should you be doing that kind of cross posting across other sites? Or, for example, people are saying now that putting native videos within Facebook is better than embedding a YouTube link. So how do you do that sort of cross-platform video?
Michael: Sure. I don’t blog, just because it’s not my personal preference style. If you did have a blog, I would recommend that you cross post, because you’re going to have people who may not want to go to YouTube to watch your videos. They may prefer to read a blog while they’re sitting on the bus, or while they’re at the grocery store. Or they may have other preferences.
I would recommend uploading videos natively to YouTube. I also upload natively to Facebook, just because Facebook is really nice because you can upload it and then you can schedule it, which YouTube doesn’t allow you to do. You can schedule your video to go live whenever you want, and yeah, it will help you with the algorithms.
That’s also true of cross posting it on social media. Wherever you’re active, you want to make sure that you’re having links to your videos and that your posts are appropriate to that social media platform using hash tags or whatever it might be to get people to click through. So it’s a good thing.
Joanna: I agree. Just on the scheduling, I do have scheduling on my YouTube channel. I don’t know whether that’s because I’m now, whatever I am, not a partner, but some kind of next YouTube step. I certainly schedule all my YouTube videos as well.
Michael: Oh, that’s awesome. I’ll have to talk to you about that because that would be a heaven send for me to be able to do that.
Joanna: Oh, it’s great. It’s really good. You know, we’re recording this in advance, and then what I do is I schedule the videos to go out on the Thursday. Sometimes I’ll have five or six videos scheduled in advance, so you can definitely do that on YouTube. Things definitely changed when I moved into this other bracket, and I can’t remember what it’s called. I think there are lots of options, but scheduling in general is so useful.
Okay, right. We’re going to stop there. There will be loads of questions that I’ll have to come back to you on. Where can people find you and your books and your videos and everything online?
Michael: Well, you can find my fiction at www.michaellorann.com. You can find out about all of my books there. For the stuff we’ve talked about on the podcast interview and my videos, you can go to Author Level Up. That’s www.authorlevelup.com. All my videos are synced with the YouTube channel, so you can watch the videos right there on the website, and subscribe there as well on YouTube.
Michael: I’ll include a packet or a PDF that has links to all the stuff that we talked about on the show, because I know I dropped a lot of apps and links and things like that.
Joanna: Yeah, fantastic. Okay then, Michael. That was great. Thanks so much for your time.
Michael: Yeah. Thank you for having me, Joanna. It has been great to be here.