To Vlog or Not To Vlog
by Alethea Kontis
When I was a kid, writing was my escape. If I didn’t have my nose in a book I was hunched over a notebook–preferably a legal pad, because Cool Kids used legal pads–scribbling until my fingers bled. (You know, that bump on the finger that writers got back in the olden days of pencils? That can actually bleed.) I loved school and worked hard every day at it. As soon as I was old enough to have a job, I worked fifty hours a week. I was also in every dramatic production produced by my high school. Almost every waking hour was accounted for, and yet still I found time to write. It was my saving grace, my therapy, my love, my heart and soul…and then it became my job.
Suddenly, I found myself needing an escape from writing. Quite the sad state of affairs.
Luckily, there are many other outlets for writers to alternately channel their particular brand of creativity: Blogging, podcasting, memes, fan fiction…in this day and age, the possibilities are endless.
And then there’s vlogging. Ah, the elusive mistress that is YouTube. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do–especially with that drama background. Thing was, I didn’t actually really know anything about vlogging beyond John Green (DFTBA). Sure, I could turn my computer webcam on and figure out iMovie given time, but what did I talk about?
I remember having this same conversation with myself when I started a blog back in 2004, and I essentially just jumped in and learned by doing. Why did it seem like vlogging was so much more difficult? I don’t play the ukulele, I don’t have Final Cut Pro, and I didn’t want to have to write and act out a bunch of scripts when–let’s face it–I should really be writing.
Last year, my teenage cousin invited me to accompany her to Vidcon in Anaheim, a singular experience. Alexandra sent me homework to prepare for the convention in the form of two web series of which she was a fan: Job Hunters and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Armed with this experience–and Alexandra as my guide–I jumped in. Here’s what I found:
The YouTube demographic is young. I’d guess the average age at Vidcon was maybe 15. As an author of YA, this definitely appealed. Trouble is, you can’t just say, “I’m going to make a successful vlog now” and then do it. There is NO WAY to predict what’s going to be popular, and there were many panels and comments made throughout the convention to this effect.
The key to vlogging is consistency and content. Content, content, content. Once upon a time, Tobias Buckell put together an interesting statistic about blogging: you needed to post once a week, three times a week, once a day, or three times a day. These were the peaks in the chart. It’s the same with vlogging: if you put up a video every Monday (Mondays and Tuesdays are a very popular time for new videos), there’s a good chance you’ll get a decent amount of traffic, even if you don’t get a ton of dedicated subscribers. Also, the more videos you have, the better the chance of someone stumbling across it and sharing it.
You don’t need all sorts of fancy equipment. I use the camera on my Powerbook, and I use iMovie to edit. I don’t have a special microphone–as it is, I’m so used to projecting that I often need to adjust the audio level down before editing. When one acts in front of a camera, one does not need all that vocal training, and it’s a tough thing to unlearn.
Would I like a separate camera? Yes, actually. It’s tough to find a place to perch the laptop at times, trying to get that perfect angle. It’s also more susceptible to being joggled, and I don’t recommend the YouTube auto-stabilizer. (I tried it on one of my Fairy Tale Rants, and I still get a little seasick watching that tree on the wall in the background hop around in and out of focus.) I’d love something simple like a Flip (which I’m not sure they make anymore), and definitely a tripod.
I’ve used my iPhone to record video–it has great sound, but the aspect ratio of the picture is pretty small (cropping helps). I’ve used my iPad to record video, and I’m happier with that outcome…but the sound stinks. (You can get a decently inexpensive external mic for the iPad, which is what I did.)
But what about the content? You want to say something you’re passionate about, because your enthusiasm is necessary. It should go without saying, but the more animated you are in your video, the more fun it is to watch. Try to keep it around five minutes. The YouTube demographic has an extremely short attention span…but they’ll also burn through an entire day clicking on five-minute videos.
I asked myself what I was passionate about. The answer came almost immediately: Fairy tales, of course! Kids these days don’t know the original Grimm and Andersen and Lang fairy tales. They don’t know there were hundreds of tales. They don’t know that the tales originated in Italy or India or France or Scandinavia. If John Green could educate his fans in history and politics, I could definitely teach the class on Fairy Tales!
Plus, there was a bonus to this topic: research. Sure, I read a ton of these fairy tales as a kid–certainly enough to base my books on–but I haven’t read them all, and I could use a refresher. Goodness knows I was rereading enough of them anyway and taking notes…why not put all that work to good use?
Thus, Princess Alethea’s Fairy Tale Rants was born.
Now–just like writing–don’t go into vlogging if you’re doing it the money. Or the exposure. Neither can be guaranteed. Eventually you will reach a level at which you will be allowed to monetize your videos, but you only get a check once you reach $100. (I’ve been posting videos for years, and have just topped $60.) You may also reach a plateau–I have about 35 Fairy Tale Rants posted (I post every Monday. Lately each has only been getting about 40-50 views apiece. My earlier posts have well over 100 views…but they’ve also been online for longer.
It’s frustrating…but I think about how kids faces light up when I tell them I have a YouTube channel. Teachers have taught my Fairy Tale Rants in their classes. I even have a young reader who reached out to tell me that she watched all the fairy tale rants and then went back to read Enchanted, and it was a whole new experience for her. THAT was cool.
On the money front, there’s also a new venue for creators called Patreon, where patrons of the arts can support whatever you’re doing–I have the Fairy Tale Rants listed there as well in an effort to earn some cash to get that tripod. To date, I have one patron pledging $1 per video. You know what, I’m excessively proud of that one patron! Everyone has to start somewhere, and as long as I never stop learning, I call that a win.
New York Times bestselling author Alethea Kontis is a princess, a goddess, a force of nature, and a mess. She is the co-author of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark-Hunter Companion, and penned the AlphaOops series of picture books. Her short fiction, essays, and poetry have appeared in a myriad of anthologies and magazines. Her YA fairy tale novel, Enchanted, won the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award in 2012, was nominated for the Audie Award in 2013, and was selected for World Book Night in 2014. Both Enchanted and its sequel, Hero, were nominated for the Andre Norton Award. Her latest novel in the Woodcutter Sisters series, Dearest, will be released on February 3rd, 2015.