Youtube and Online Video Questions
Q. You’re on YouTube?
A. Yeah, this surprises a lot of people who visit my web site, because they think of me as a writer. But yes, I am on youtube. My brother Hank and I have had a collaborative video channel since January of 2007; we’ve made more than 950 videos, which have been viewed more than 235 million times.
Q. What kind of camera do you use?
A. I use a Canon Vixia camcorder and edit my videos with Final Cut Express.
Q. The Nerdfighter fanbase is huge, how do you feel about having this many people following something that you helped create?
A. Well, I don’t really think of nerdfighters as a fanbase. (I think of myself as a nerdfighter, for instance.) It’s just one identity among many. In some ways the Nerdfighter community is huge–I mean, you could fill up the Rose Bowl every day with people who watch our videos, and that’s a little weird to contemplate. But it’s actually quite tight-knit in other ways: I read thousands of emails and tweets and youtube comments every day, and so I feel like I know the people we’re doing stuff with. And unlike most fan communities, the nerdfighters aren’t just watching something or reading something. They’re doing things with us. So it’s not just about watching videos; it’s also about coming together to build pond sand filters for people in Bangladesh who don’t have access to clean water.
Q. What do you enjoy most about vlogging?
A. Immediate gratification. It takes me half a day to make a video, and that video can be watched a few hours after I finish making it. It takes me years to write a book, and another year after I finish it before it actually gets published.
Q. How have YouTube and other social networking sites changed your life?
A. If it weren’t for youtube, I wouldn’t be best friends with my brother. I wouldn’t have the words “New York Times bestselling author” associated with my name. I wouldn’t have a way to join forces with other people and pool our resources to build huge water filters for villages in Bangladesh, and I wouldn’t be able to meet those villagers over video and come to know and care about them as people and not just two-dimensional images of poverty.
Q: How did you discover YouTube?
A. I saw a few viral videos early in YouTube’s history, but I didn’t get interested in the site and all its potential until the early Lonelygirl15 videos. There was a very active community of people trying to figure out whether Lonelygirl15 was a production and if so who was producing it; I was a member of that community.
Q: Why did you decide to embark on the B2.0 project and what were the main goals for the project?
A. We started because we liked what we were seeing of online video. I particularly liked the vlogger Ze Frank, who basically invented the style of vlogging that is now ubiquitous on youtube. The goal was really just for my brother and me to make videos that would make each other laugh and that would encourage us to be in better touch. But we knew from the first video that people were watching—we both felt like the fact of people watching would encourage us to keep going.
Q: What surprised you most about your readership when you became more exposed to them through social media?
A. I actually don’t think I was that surprised. I’ve always thought that teenagers are smart, and when I read their comments and watch their video responses, that suspicion is only confirmed.
Q: How do you think your YouTube success has affected your career as an author?
A. Well, it has definitely brought my books a wider readership, and allowed me to talk with readers about my work in a way that was never possible before the days of vlogging. So now after a book comes out, they can ask me questions about it and I can answer them in a very interactive way, so that hopefully it feels to readers as if they personally know the author. (I don’t think that it’s helpful to feel a personal connection to the author of every book you read, but I do think there’s something enriching about knowing the author of a few books you read; it reminds you, if nothing else, that books are written by flawed and broken and damaged people.) I think that having the YouTube audience has also been very helpful w/r/t the critical discourse about my books.
Q. Can you do a clip for a collab video?
A. Thanks very much for considering us for your collab video. Unfortunately, Hank and I don’t have time right now to participate in collabs. We feel bad about this, because 1. We’ve greatly enjoyed the few collab videos we’ve done in the past, and 2. We know how much people enjoy collab videos. But we’re barely able to meet our own video deadlines at the moment. Sorry.
Q: If you could change anything about your YouTube experience, what would it be?
A. It’s hard to think of anything I’d change. I guess I’d grow the audience a little bit, but only if the new people could be as awesome as the current crop of nerdfighters.
Q. Any basic tips for aspiring vloggers?
A. 1. Learn how to edit. When Hank and I started making videos in 2007, YouTube was a much less crowded place, and we were blessed to be able to learn how to edit as we went. These days, you need at least a passing familiarity with some editing program (I use Final Cut Express, but any of them will work), because videos need to look and sound reasonably good or they quickly become hard to watch.
2. Allow yourself to make some bad videos on the road to making good ones. (This is also true of writing or any other form of expression: You are not born good at talking, nor do you pick up a violin for the first time and expect to play Carnegie Hall the next day.)
3. Whatever you do–whether it’s videos about quantum mechanics or celebrity plastic surgery or animated stories from your life or whatever–make sure you genuinely enjoy it. Because if somehow you do build an audience, you are going to have to continue making that stuff, and if you don’t enjoy it, you’re going to be miserable. Ze Frank gave me this advice, and it’s proved very useful to me.
4. Grow your community by reaching out to communities with similar values. Many of the early nerdfighters came from the Harry Potter fandom, and from fans of Neil Gaiman. We reached out to those people and found that they liked the same stuff we liked and were interested in the same kinds of projects we found interesting.
5. Keep trying to get better. Hank and I made more than 100 videos before we got our 200th YouTube subscriber.
More questions about my videos? Leave them in comments!