Guest Post: Chris Fox on YouTube

Writers on YouTube

Most of us are familiar with YouTube, where we can consume infinite amounts of cat videosinternet memes, and international music trends. What a lot of people are only just recently realizing is that YouTube is much more than just a way to share silly videos with the world. In actuality, it's a unique social network in its own right. And any smart-minded entrepreneur knows that a social network is ripe as a platform to connect with people. The question then becomes: Is there a space for us writerly types on YouTube?

The answer is unequivocally yes, and building a subscriber base on YouTube is an incredibly rewarding experience. But how we get there is a little trickier, and how we begin cultivating our Youtube pages is going to be decided mostly by what we want to say through our videos, and how we want to say it.

Getting started on YouTube should be pretty easy. All you need is to create a new account for free; since YouTube is owned by Google, you technically already have an account to YouTube just waiting to be claimed if you have a Gmail or Blogger account, and that account can later be linked directly to your Google+ account through your current name. From here, the sky is limit, although there are some caveats.

Before you toss up a random video onto your profile, think about how you want to present yourself. Like a Facebook or Twitter, a YouTube page is essentially an extension of yourself. Unlike these other sites, however, YouTube is designed to be consumed in large spoonfuls. Videos - whether they're short or long - tend to be packed with a lot of information. As someone making a video, you have to be aware of how you want to package that information, and how to make that packaging look interesting.

For myself, I have a deep desire to teach others about writing. What interests me most are the aesthetics of writing: why writers do the things we do in our stories and our fiction. I see a lot of great content on the internet about the aesthetic of film, or the aesthetic of video games, but for the life of me I could not find any material on the aesthetic of fiction. I sought to rectify that problem by producing videos in my series Writers' Bloc. Along with a companion blog, the idea was to make videos that emulated a creative writing class, except without all the complicated words and stuffy atmosphere of a university classroom.

This means, essentially, I'm creating educational videos. Much like writing an informative article or blog post, I research my topic and write out my findings. From there, I merely record the written script, add some funny pictures that relate to what I'm saying, and presto, I have a video. The ability to present the same material one would normally find in an article with visuals - essentially just a fast paced slideshow - presents a useful lecture format that lets people learn. The snappiness and silly pictures are my way of entertaining my viewers as they learn, because - let's face it - most of the time, learning can be really dry.

Lecture videos, however, can take on any style you want them to be. If you literally want to make a powerpoint and stream it, simply record your voice, and boom, instant lecture-styled video. If you want to go the next step, take a camera (your iPhone will do!), turn it on, and start talking. Ta da, an instantly watchable video, with your pretty face all over it!

Maybe you don't have a lot of prior knowledge, don't like researching, or lectures bore you to tears. If you have some writer friends and a Google+ account, you can all team up to do a live discussion "On Air," which can be posted directly to your YouTube page. These roundtables are very popular, and quite handy. They can be used for nearly anything, including critique, discussion on a topic, or Q&A interviews with other authors.

Maybe what is most important to you is plugging your latest release, and building up hype for an upcoming book. Book teasers/trailers tend to be popular with some. If you have the knowledge on how to edit videos - or know somebody who does - you can craft an intriguing preview of your book. Since video offers is instantly engaging to our senses, a trailer can quickly catch eyes and build up excitement, and readers can share the video around social networks to help you build up that hype.

Maybe you don't want to give lecture, but also don't want to do a roundable discussion, and don't know how to make fancy trailers. As long as you have a camera, you'll be accepted on YouTube. Vlogging - blogging in the form of a video - is a popular way to connect with people. In this method, you can talk about anything you choose, just as you would on your blog. For those of you who are not familiar with John Green (author of The Fault in Our Stars, Looking For Alaska, among others), he has become an internet celebrity over the past 5+ years by merely vlogging to his viewers (and his brother) about whatever he fancies, including how he plans on writing his next novel while walking on a treadmill (you read that correctly). In your own vlogs, you can talk about the progress you made in your writing, frustrations/successes in your writing career, or merely allow your readers to glimpse into your personal life. The options are limitless.

But all these examples bring us back to our initial point: What do you want to say? Knowing this ahead of time can save you a lot of hardship. Just as with writing, you need to have a gameplan before you launch into constructing your video. Hank Green - the other half of John Green's vlogging channel - gives the best explanation. "The way that I imagine it is that I am on a gigantic stage, and there is one person in the audience. And I am talking to that one person. But I can't just talk to that person like a normal person because I'm on a gigantic stage!" Planning out what you want to say, and how you want to say it, will help you craft more accessible videos that anyone can enjoy.

The beauty of YouTube is that you can post anything you want, making it anything that you want it to be. So now that you've potentially started thinking about some things you could actually do with YouTube, let's take a quick run down of some basic tips for your first video.

Script It
I get it, you have this great idea for a discussion about dragons. And I'm sure it sounds perfect in your head. But very often, people are not as good at speaking as we think we are. If you try to stream-of-consciousness your vlogs, even when you have a solid topic, you can easily get sidetracked, or babble off-topic, or get bogged down with needless umm's and uhh's. These things make your video seem amateurish, like you didn't really know what you wanted to do, and can turn some viewers off. Remember, your video is one mouse-click away from being closed. Don't waste your viewers' time. While I would recommend scripting most of your videos, DON'T READ FROM YOUR SCRIPT. You will sound silly. Like an actor, read your own script, think about it, and then speak!

Edit if You Can
If you have editing software on your computer (Movie Maker on Windows and iMovie on Apple are both free!), you can go back to your video, and edit them together. This is time consuming, but definitely adds a polish to your video by cutting out less-than-interesting parts of your conversations with your camera. You can also add background music or film multiple times and put them together into a full video, making your videos even more interesting and malleable. Again, this is optional, and takes some practice. But it will improve the quality of your videos.

Silence is Golden
Quiet in a video is your villain. You know those awkward silences at the dinner table when nobody knows what to say, but it feels like something should be said? That's how your viewers will feel if you stay quiet for too long. You can edit these out if you use editing. But even if your method of filming is turning on the camera and talking, having a note card off to the side with one or two words to keep you on track with your mental script can help prevent awkward silences.

Look at the Camera
That little lens on your webcam, your camera, or your phone is not just some glass. That represents your viewers eyes. If you look at the screen in front of you, so you can see your own image, it's the same thing as looking at your viewers feet. There's nothing wrong with it, per se, but it looks quite odd. When speaking, pretend the lens of your camera is your viewers face. Look there. It'll feel weird at first, but will give the right perspective to your viewers, and you'll get used to it with time.

Don't Ramble.
Nobody wants to hear about how you've never filmed a video before, or how you've tried to film this thing 6 times and got it wrong, or what you did at the grocery store. BORING. Instead, say hello, give your viewers a two or three sentence summary of what you're about to talk about, and jump right in.

Making videos for YouTube may not be for everyone. It takes a charismatic and patient personality, or at least someone with a lot of heart. It does take a bit to get good at, and if you don't have the patience or time for the subtleties, you may not get the content that you envision in your head. But the rewards for doing well are fantastic. I've had the joy of connecting with hundreds of people through YouTube, and having almost 40,000 people view my videos. That's 40k people who may want to learn about me as an author. If you have the creativity or ingenuity in you, you can find your own way of creating a space for yourself with some intriguing video content.

Chris Fox is an author of the episodic space opera series, Star Sailor, which is free for download here. He also runs the YouTube video series Writers' Bloc, which teaches writers about the aesthetics and mechanics of fiction writing. You can see all the episodes here