We welcome Garrett Robinson to the blog today, with his post on transparency in art, and his new vlog novel series.
With the Internet the way it is these days, consumers want more, more, more, all the time. As an artist gains an audience, whether indie or mainstream, a portion of that audience become Superfans. Superfans want all access, all the time, and the Internet can give it to them.
That’s why so many artists get into social media, and that’s why artists with large social media presences are often more successful.
If you’re a Belieber, of COURSE you want to hear every insipid word from the Bieb’s tongue.
If your favorite fantasy novel of the last decade is The Name of the Wind, you want to watch Patrick Rothfuss every time he appears on YouTube (which is surprisingly often—get off the camera and write the third book, damnit!).
But artists can only provide so much content. No one person can entertain twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
But today, we can come closer than we ever have before.
Peter Jackson had the right idea with the Hobbit films. His weekly production vlogs were an inspiration. I’m a Superfan of his work, and I watched every one the moment it posted (often several times in a row). This was more than “hanging out” with fans at Comic Con. Jackson brought his fans into the production of his films.
More recently, anyone in self-publishing will have heard of the Fiction Unboxed project, where Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt (along with David Wright) from the Self Publishing Podcast wrote a book in 30 days, inviting Kickstarter contributors to participate in the book’s creation.
This was an incredibly valuable resource for writers—who, let’s not forget, ARE the audience of the Self-Publishing Podcast.
But AS writers, what can we do to entertain our audiences beyond our books?
We can blog and participate in social media, of course. These are the oft-recommended routes to “reader engagement.” They can be valuable if done well. But everyone has a blog, and everyone is on Twitter.
Vlogging is another choice. And since most authors are somewhat (or completely) introverted and lacking in A/V skills, an author who can crack vlogging can do very well. It worked for John Green (author of The Fault in Our Stars, which as you may remember bought a condo at the top of the NY Times Bestseller list for a year).
I started a daily vlog in 2014, when my channel had just under 100 subscribers. Now it’s more than 750. That’s very nearly 100 new subscribers a month, with some videos gaining views in the thousands. Many readers have reached out to me on the channel. There’s nothing as personal as your actual, moving face and voice.
Two weeks ago, I decided to take it a step further.
Inspired by Fiction Unboxed, I asked myself: “Why not let them see everything?” It would be simple, too. All I had to do was write my next book, turn on my webcam, and broadcast the thing live. The extra work was virtually nil. And who knew what could happen?
I began with my the first episode in my new fantasy serial, Nightblade: Episode One. I outlined the entire first season live on YouTube streaming video. Then I designed the cover. I wrote the first draft. I edited it, read the audiobook narration, formatted it and published it. All of it live, all of it watched by an audience. Not a big audience, but an audience. Then I did it again the next week, and the audience grew.
I thought one of two things would happen when I began the VlogaNovel project:
- No one would care about it at all, and after the first week I would retire the idea as “cool, but not appealing,” or—
- Some people would care, but only other authors who were interested in writing process.
I was wrong on both counts. People did watch, not just live, but afterward as well. Each video is averaging between 50-100 views. People are watching the whole thing—not just the first few seconds until they realize what’s going on and bailing.
And yes, other writers watch the show, but so do readers. They want behind the scenes. They want DVD extras. They want to know the thought that goes into the characters and why certain things happen the way they do. They want to know more about the world of Nightblade.
Since its publication two weeks ago and going permafree three days ago, Nightblade: Episode One has had over 2,000 downloads. Only time will tell how the series will grow over the next several weeks, but by the time the first eight-episode volume comes out I would not be surprised if the Nightblade series eclipses my other book income.
I’m not inviting comparison except on principle here, but think about this: if there existed tapes of every moment Tolkien spent writing Lord of the Rings, would you not watch the everloving shit out of them? I know I would. Even if I left them on in the background and only tuned back in when he said something. What an incredible treasure trove that would be.
As I said, no comparison. I’m not him and never could be. But I wanted to think that some readers would like my books enough to want to watch me write them—and that has been borne out in the response to VlogaNovel.
What’s next? I want to increase viewer engagement. I’ll let viewers name characters and I let them vote on two story choices in one episode. But I want to make that more and more. I want my diehard, dedicated fans to feel personally involved. The only trick is finding a way to do that without compromising my own art, but I’ll get there.
But what’s probably next, is you.
I have had this idea (borrowed off of someone else’s idea). You’re next. How could you do it better? What would you do different? What do you like about the idea, and what do you think sucks that you would do better?
Simon Cantan has already begun the show and created one great improvement: he re-edits his videos after recording them, cutting out all the bits where he’s not talking. So you can always watch the whole thing, or just the version where it’s speaking only.
If VlogaNovel is ever anything more than a curiosity, it will be because other people take the idea and run with it. What could you turn it into?
I want to thank Garrett for sharing this post with the SPRT community.
He is a guy that is out there trying new things, working hard, and trying to make his way in the self publishing world.
I recommend you check out his YouTube channel, as he has done some really entertaining vlogs over there.