Video for Authors

by | Nov 12, 2014

By Jason Matthews

What have you done with video to assist your writing projects?

I posed this question in two active Facebook author groups. Hardly anyone responded, which led me to three possibilities:

  1. People don’t like me so much.
  2. They didn’t comment because they think it’s a lame idea.
  3. They haven’t done much with video that supports them as writers.

I’m gunning for C) because I want to be liked and don’t think video is a lame idea. It’s my opinion that many authors can benefit with video though it’s still a developing resource.

Now I’ll be the first to admit my videos haven’t received the kind of fanfare I had hoped for. Some barely get watched at all while others get a modest few thousand views on YouTube. I’m no viral sensation, but the results have been encouraging enough to keep going, and in this business that feels closer to swimming than treading water (or sinking).

Should you consider ways to add some video? Maybe, maybe not. If the thought doesn’t cause you to wince, here are the usual suspects for enabling video to bolster your author platform.

Book Trailers

I posted a nomination board for Best Indie Book Trailers at my blog and received a ton of response. Unfortunately I saw some the worst videos ever produced, but there were a few gems plus a lot to discuss on the subject. My blog received way more traffic and comments than usual. In fact, this topic would make a good little how-to book, and a quick peek at Amazon just confirmed I’m not the first to think of it.

I also saw videos that looked promising for their mission: to bring more readers to the book. Below is an example of an effective book trailer for fiction. It was made by Samantha Chase for her romance novel, Wait for Me, and was an affordable hire-out project done by Animoto. Samantha says she has no data if it assists sales but likes having it on YouTube.

My advice is to make these things as concise as possible, like 90 seconds or less. If you watch hers you’ll notice she also gets a few links and social media mentions in there, a smart thing to do though an active hyperlink could be added to the description below the video. I think she should also add it to her website, JMO.


Probably the most common video idea is conducting an author interview whether it’s for your own book or another author’s. Google Plus hangouts are great for this since they can become YouTube videos with a few mouse clicks. (Google owns YouTube.) I’ve done plenty of these and while I find them interesting, they don’t tend to gather as many views or blog comments as I anticipate. Exceptions include when you have a big name guest, like the interview I did with Hugh Howey, indie super-star.

Hugh Howey video shot

An interview that did even better was with Shoshanna Evers, who writes erotica, does it very well and happens to be quite attractive. That got some views? Yes it did, go figure, and probably sold some books too.

Shoshanna Evers ImageOne tip I learned was to upload custom thumbnail images to YouTube. You normally get to pick from three standard thumbnail images, which is what displays on screen before the video is played. Those YouTube choices come from set times within the video, but those frames often aren’t quality moments, as in a scrunchy face. But you can upload your own image to use as a thumbnail, and it can be a perfect shot of your guest or another image altogether. If you’ve ever watched a YouTube video with a thumbnail that never appeared during playback, now you know why.

Doesn’t Have to be about Writing

Having a video that attracts viewers for other reasons than your book can interest people in learning more about you. I learned about Dr. Lani Leary this way. I watched her TEDx talk on her career in hospice, dealing with people as they experienced their final days. Not once in the talk did she mention her book, but I found her illuminating and wanted to know more about her topic. I did a little research and discovered she had a book, which I bought and read.

Dr Lani Leary image

Even videos that are silly family moments but attract viewers can be wise to share. People may watch your video, find you interesting and start clicking from there. Author platform is about planting seeds for networking. Over time the seeds grow into avenues for people to find your book.

Group Topic Discussion

These are similar to author interviews but I like them more. Topics can be on any subject and help people learn.

My topic interviews usually did better when we discussed items most authors deal with: formatting, blogging, KDP Select or any subject the group could discuss, debate, shed light on, etc. More minds in the room bring out more ideas. Again, Google Plus hangouts that become YouTube videos are well-suited for that. The other nice thing about several authors in a production is that they each have an interest in sharing it. We all could post the results to our website or blog and spread the word better. This one on cover design did pretty well.

Book Cover image


This is especially smart for non-fiction authors who teach anything, and you don’t need a degree in education as I can attest. My tutorial videos consistently perform better with viewers, blog visitors, comments and sharing. People appreciate it if you’ve helped them learn, and video is a powerful teaching device.

This simple example on the choice between matte or gloss covers at CreateSpace has done much better than I expected and continues to.

Not surprisingly, the video education field has grown in leaps and bounds. Sites like Lynda and Udemy attract millions of users. Another bonus when making how-to videos compared to how-to books is that videos can be made in a matter of weeks while books take much longer and cost more.

My Udemy courses helped me realize the amount of time and money invested compared to the return was not only better for my videos than books, but far better. If you visit the Udemy site, you’ll find thousands of courses for sale and some for free, which might give you ideas for what you could offer.

Udemy image

Again, I don’t claim to be a Spielberg. If people get value from your words or frames then you’ve got something. Many teaching authors use Camtasia for screen capture recording, but I use Screencast-o-matic. It’s powerful, user-friendly and the pro version is super low cost (thank you, Corina Koch MacLeod, for the recommendation). There are other programs of course.

Get Creative

As you may have guessed, I’ve tried quite a few things to build author platform and sell books. Call it entrepreneurial, resourceful, you can even call it desperate because all of those are probably fitting.

The results have shown time and time again that promoting my own stuff directly is less effective than sharing something else, like information that can help others. Having my own stuff nearby in the background, or the sidebar or waiting for a YouTube search helps immensely.

We enjoy good videos, probably because we get a sense of who people are quicker when seeing them in action that just by reading their words. That should be reason alone to get some authors considering more video, especially if they’re charismatic.

Remember also that video search is becoming more common on Google. Add strong keywords to video titles, and you might do better with SEO in video than for a similar effort with a text post.

Your Thoughts?

I’d like to hear your ideas and experiences for video uses for authors. Or if you think it’s a complete waste of time, I’d like to hear that too.

Jason MatthewsJason-Matthews- of eBook Success 4 Free is Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He is also a novelist, blogger and self-publishing coach. He works with writers around the world through every phase of book creation and marketing.

You can learn more about Jason here.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. dorrabuji

    Great article! it contains very useful information and innovative ideas too. you have demonstrated many videos which show editing was nice.the the second video which you showed is very useful for me

  2. JJ Bach

    I guess the older I get the more I think in terms of quotes. John Wanamaker is credited with saying something along the lines of “…I know I’m wasting half my ad dollars, I just don’t know which half…”

    Teddy Roosevelt has another one that I think fits as well. He gets credit for “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

    So while you negative nannies laugh at other people’s efforts and do nothing but point out how wrong everything is, I hope there are some reading this thread that will observe, study, plan and budget, and then get out there and make their own best marketing effort whether it be video, blog or something else.

    You can never really be sure of the when, where, how, or the ROI, but doing nothing is more expensive than making a mistake.

  3. Eugene Adams

    I’m currently working on turning my books into videos. But my author platform is children’s picture books. I think pictures books can works well as video but haven’t seen it used much…

    My own kids would choose Youtube over books if given the choice (surprise!) Then we came across these Nook Storytime videos that I thought were nicely done. The videos are made up of images from the book that fade and zoom, with a soundtrack and narration:

    Some of these videos get played repeatedly in our house! Through these we discovered a few more kid’s favorites authors and bought more of their print books.

  4. Laura Williams

    Jason- I think that video is one of the most powerful yet underused tools that are available to writers. Whether it building a book trailer, video taping a book signing and reader testimonials, offering writing advice. holding a writing group or doing a live reading through an online live broadcast, such as Google +’s Hangouts or using video tools to collaborate and hold meetings with your book publishing team it can help you in your writing business.
    I have an online live show on Wednesdays called, The Writing Biz, and it helps writers manage and grow their writing business. You can learn more about it here.
    Video editing tools have become much easier to use. The ones that YouTube offers are OK but because of my graphic design background I use Adobe programs. I will say that if I am in a hurry the Windows Movie Maker is a great one.
    Thanks for a great article, I do believe that writers are missing out by not using video. I hope your post helps them see how great it can be!

    • Jason Matthews

      Cheers, Laura. Great suggestions for video uses and software too!

  5. Frances Caballo

    This is an important topic, Jason. When done well, videos can be persuasive and boost book sales. If you’re a nonfiction writer, videos can also bring more clients to your business. There’s power in this visual mode of communications and sadly I haven’t created any videos yet but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in them. I do believe in them and I plan to create videos in the future. Thank you for raising this issue on Joel’s blog. I always look forward to reading your new posts!

    • Jason Matthews

      Frances, you could definitely benefit with video because you teach really well.

  6. Michael N. Marcus

    The best trailer in the world is useless if potential book buyers don’t see it. If a trailer is absolutely amazing, spectacular, etc. there is a chance it may go viral and a chance that it may be seen by book buyers.

    It’s safer to assume that won’t happen. Therefore you’ll have to push people to visit your tiny island in the YouTube Ocean, along with your blogs, websites, social media pages, book review sites, bookseller sites, etc.

    I can’t help thinking that the people who make the most money with book trailers are those who charge money to make them.

    Some of the worst:

    Use your time and money wisely.

  7. Michael W. Perry

    Thanks for the first video. It reminded me just how unrealistic and ultimately unhealthy much romantic literature is.

    The very fact that men don’t want to read the stuff demonstrates that the sorts of relationships they describe are exceedingly unlikely. Good romantic literature should deal with men as they are, not as bored and lonely women might want them to be.


    Forget the ‘screwed up guy fixed by the right woman’ mystique. The screwed up guy is far more likely to become chronically unemployed, drunk, and abusive than to stay madly in love, with his life transformed. If you want helpless dependency, have a baby. Don’t romance or marry it.
    Forget the ‘one weekend changed my life forever’ bit too. That flash-in-the-pan will begin to fade in weeks and be gone in a couple of years. Don’t wreck your life in pursuit of that mirage.

    And yes, a lot of the tales that men read are equally absurd. The stupidities about male macho you see in many movies are as absurd and ridiculous as the vain imaginings of women about romance.

    I once told a class of third-grade boys enraptured by one such movie that in real life with all those bullets flying around, they’d end up maimed or dead.

    Life is a long grind. Get used to it and do it well.

    As far as these videos go, I’d love to see some talented video pros enter this market and come up with ways to produce quality quickly and inexpensively. With everything else they need to do, authors don’t have the time to master the relevant skills. A pro can create a better video and do it far faster than they.

    That gets into one of my major themes. To succeed, independent authors need to earn enough in royalties to subcontract work that traditional publishers do in-house. They can’t get good at everything.

    For that Amazon, not so subtly intent on reducing author royalties from current 70% to the 35-50% range, is Enemy #1. Supporting Amazon will doom independent author-publishing to perpetual second-class status.

    Which is no doubt what Amazon intends.

  8. Alex Hurst

    I’ve used video quite a bit.

    Book Trailers, excerpts, and tutorials are my favorite things to do, though a fellow author and I had a brief stint as radio vloggers for a bit (we decided to stop, since the indie authors booking our time kept canceling).

    I love the idea of video for excerpts, especially, as you can read your work at the tone and pace you desire. You don’t even have to be in front of the camera. You can have promotional images scrolling by. And they’ve certainly been the most popular amongst readers, imo.

    The tutorials have helped me network with other authors, which is nice. :)

    • Jason Matthews

      Alex, thank you for that reminder for not being in front of the camera when reading from your book. So much better to have some kind of imagery so the reader can absorb the words without focusing on what the author looks like.

  9. Carrie Aulenbacher

    I have been talking with some who are trying to give good tips on trailers, and I tried my hand at something on my own recently for November. After much tweaking, a fellow professional touted that it was much more direct in speaking to the buyer. I would love to know what you think:

    Also, making videos not directly related to the book is interesting. What do you find are your strongest #hashtags when posting videos? What are your twitter analytics showing?

    • Jason Matthews

      Carrie, I choose hashtags related to the subject that are also being used frequently, so a few Twitter searches helps with that. I think there are some good elements to your video. I like your voice and the natural environment. Not sure panning across the tree to your book on a stand is the best way to accomplish product presentation but that’s just my two cents. Also I’d recommend getting an active link to your book or website at the very top of the YouTube description. Active links start with http and are clickable–links that start with www are not active.

      • Carrie Aulenbacher

        OMG, I appreciate the feedback! I had thought I had linked to the OTHER video that I liked much better:

        That eleminated the panning across the tree, LOL. SO sorry I posted the wrong one! I will DEFINITELY look into getting more links up on that; thank you so much!! happy dance

        What means a lot is that my voice was complementary. [I am looking into audio books since my publisher currently doesn’t create them, and everywhere I look, I’m told to hire an actor. Well, who better to narrate my own book and my own characters but me? I hope to give away from free sample audio chapters at my website to get more feedback before I go further into production. Hopefully, enough find my voice likeable so that I can feel confident in doing such a thing on my own!]

        By the way, Michael Perry commented above on the animoto video in your article – but I want to say that I LOVE animoto! My first trailer was done using it and got great pop because it was professionally handled and brought the characters to life!

  10. Tricia Ballad

    I want video to be worth the time and effort – I really do. It’s an interesting medium to work with. I can see the value for nonfiction authors, but I haven’t been able to figure out a way to make it worthwhile for a novelist. As you mentioned, trailers are either cringe-worthy, or hugely expensive, and I suspect readers don’t really watch them anyway. Any suggestions for using video to reach readers for a fiction author?

    • Jason Matthews

      It’s not easy for fiction and I feel the same way, Tricia. I think Alex’s suggestion of just the author’s voice with the right visual can be done well and can be affordable. Throw in a little theme music and you could have something.

      • Alex Hurst

        Thanks Jason.

        It’s actually quite easy to make videos yourself at no cost. I’ll link a few that my group has worked on together. They’re not ‘professional grade’ by any stretch of the imagination, but they worked really well. In some cases, the authors just used their promotional Facebook banners as the media bit.

        All of my excerpt videos were created using iMovie. Nothing fancy. I used my iPhone to record my own voice for Lady Koi (because the memo mic is actually quite good. You just have to be careful to try and get it all in one take (something I failed to do), or at the very least, keep the phone and your distance from it consistent.

        Personal excerpt (iPhone, iMovie, Photoshop for image, public domain photos):

        Group Excerpts example just using FB banners:

        Book Trailers created with very amateur knowledge of Adobe Premiere and FinalCut Pro (all done by me, with free images and .99 music from

        Book Trailer made with only an iMovie template and Photoshopped, free images for a small press:

        Just as a few examples I’ve done in the last year. :)

        As far as tutorials, you can check out my channel if you want, but the most popular has been “setting up a pre-order on Amazon”.

        Basically, I don’t think they need to be fancy…. I think trailers need to avoid looking like a Powerpoint presentation, and having too much reading involved (it’s a visual presentation, so use visuals and sound).

        As others have mentioned, getting people to see those trailers is the hardest part, and there is no one-stop solution.

    • Jason Kong

      I can think of two questions worth considering:

      1) What’s the hook that will cause a potential reader to be interested? Not as easy as it sounds, because you’re using one kind of medium to communicate something compelling that will be consumed in a different medium. Unlike a movie trailer, it’s not just a matter of splicing a bunch of intriguing scenes together.

      2) How will you get the right people to see your video? Creating a book trailer and uploading it to YouTube is no guarantee that your intended readers (or any) will see it.

      • Jason Matthews

        One thing that helps with a book trailer video views is having it in the sidebar of a blog. It’s no guarantee it will get views or lead to sales, but what it is guaranteed? As I’m sure you know, a lot of what authors do is experiment with ideas.

  11. Michael N. Marcus

    I’m an author. I’m a publisher. But, even more, I’m a reader of 100 or more books per year. I watch three or four YouTube videos per day. I am a media junkie — and I have never searched for a video to help me decide whether to buy a book.

    In fact, the only times I’ve watched book trailers has been when I heard of some really dreadful trailers that I wanted to investigate and laugh at.

    I paid for a trailer for one of my books. It turned out OK, but I have no reason to assume it helped sales.

    Would I get a trailer for another book I’m publishing? The answer is a definite maybe. Videos are so low on my priority list that I’d have to come up with a great idea to motivate me, rather than merely think a video is a necessity.

    • Jason Matthews

      Your insight, experience and wit is always appreciated, Michael.

  12. Ernie Zelinski

    Jason, first, this is a great article. It is much better than anything that I could write on the subject or any other subject for that matter.

    You say,

    “Or if you think it’s a complete waste of time, I’d like to hear that too.”

    I don’t think videos are a complete waste of time. In fact, using videos for promoting books can be extremely lucrative as it has been for Brendon Burchard in promoting his book “The Charge” and his more recent book “The Motivation Manifesto.” It has to be done right, however, and can take a lot of time, energy, and money to get the results that Brendon gets.

    Let me share this email that I received in the last two days from a guy who had emailed me before about using webinars to promote my books.

    “Hi Ernie,
    I’d love to help you reach more of your audience and boost revenues from your book.
    I have a few ideas I’d like to discuss with you… let me know when you have 10 minutes to chat.
    The business model is quite lucrative, since the author receives 50% of revenue.
    I look forward to your response!
    Tim Robertson
    CEO – AuthorWebinars

    This was part of my response to Tim:


    How are you going to help me?

    I have at least 50 to 100 original creative techniques that I have used over the years to sell over 850,000 copies of my books (mainly self-published). My pretax profits from my books are now over $2.2 million.

    I am very good at marketing. Here is one technique that I recently used:


    As you may know, AARP publishes a lot of retirement books with major publishers such as Wiley. It is one of my biggest competitors. But with my support and inspiration, the AARP posted this article/slide show on their website and newsletter in September:

    “6 Retirement Books You Should Read Now”

    Even though my “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” was in the number 6 position (that’s where I wanted it instead of the number 1 spot), and an AARP book was in the number 1 position, this article increased the pretax profits for “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” by over $30,000 for the months of September and October. It even hit #142 in overall sales on one day in September. It stayed in the top 500 on Amazon for September and in the top 1,000 for the month of October.

    Incidentally, after the initial contact with the AARP, all I had to do for the article/slide show was provide the artwork for the cover of my book.

    So, can you show me proof of how you can increase my pretax profits by over $30,000 in two months without my having to provide any money and no more than half an hour of my time. If not, I have way too many of my unique new marketing techniques that I can use to increase the pretax profits of my books.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 225,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • Jason Matthews

      Well Ernie, I appreciate the first comment but also sense some humor or sarcasm in there. You’re obviously doing a lot of things right and it must start with your books.
      Even though your success is at a level most authors would do despicable things to achieve, maybe there are some opportunities with the webinar (or similar) ideas? Maybe Tim just wasn’t the right person or the platform didn’t suit you. Your audience is a big demographic with income to spend. You don’t need the money or exposure of course, but it could be worthwhile and help others.

      • Ernie Zelinski


        First, I was serious (no sarcasm) at all about the great article. I may be a very successful author but I am not a great writer.

        Regarding Tim and the webinar that he was proposing, he actually responded to my email. Here is a bit of it:

        There are no costs to the author with this model, which is why we do a revenue split.

        Revenue Potential
        If you have a mailing list of 150,000 followers for example, sending out a message about the free webinar on your topic will net 5% – 10% (the industry average) of that group registering for the free webinar.
        At 10%, out of the 15,000 registering, 30% (the industry average) will show up on the free webinar.
        At 30%, of the 4,500 who show up, 10% (industry average is 7% – 12%) will register for your $300 mastermind.
        At 10%, 450 people registering for the $300 Mastermind produces revenue of $135,000.
        We split revenue so your take is $67,500. Further sales are generated by the recorded event.”

        No doubt Tim’s model will work for some people. But Tim says,

        “If you have a mailing list of 150,000 followers . . .”

        I don’t even have a mailing list 1,000 followers. As Michael N. Marcus already said in one of his comments,

        “The best trailer in the world is useless if potential book buyers don’t see it.”

        In the same vein, a webinar is useless of only a few people see it. Having said that, I still wouldn’t discount a webinar if I was looking to increase sales. Even though I don’t have a significant email list, I could use Brendon Buchard’s Partnership model and approach the AARP. The AARP likely has an email list of several million. But the webinar still is a lot of work.

        So if I was going to approach the AARP about a partnership, I would propose that we offer my new book “The Joy of Being Retired: 365 Reasons Why Retirement Rocks (and Work Sucks)” as a PDF for $2 or $3 to all its members. Brendon Burchard did something similar with the human resource company Accenture. Brendon got Accenture to feature his 24-page white paper “The Leadership Guide to Innovation” on its website as a PDF for a price of $3. There were well over 120,000 downloads of the PDF. That’s $360,000 in profits in three or four months. That’s the type of game that I like to play.

        In short, I look for marketing methods that will take the least amount of effort and give me the most profits. Put another way, I like to work smart and not hard.

        • Jason Matthews

          #1, I’m not sure you described my writing very accurately, but thank you! #2, I wish I had half as good ideas for marketing as you do, Ernie.



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