Kobo Writing Life

Making Promotional Videos on the Cheap

Photo by Gabriel Santiago on Unsplash

By Joe Mahoney

I started making videos last July to promote my first novel, A Time and a Place, published October 1st 2017 by Five Rivers Publishing. I chose videos as a primary means of promotion because I believed they could make the biggest impact, and I could distribute them via multiple platforms for free.

With many years of experience in broadcasting, I figured this might be my “edge.” Production and editing don’t scare me. But the truth is, anyone can do this. The learning curve is not that steep and it doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, I was curious to see how much I could accomplish with as little investment as possible.

I discovered that I could get away with just a smartphone, which shoots perfectly acceptable video, a fifteen dollar lavalier microphone, a two hundred dollar pair of lights, and relatively inexpensive editing software.  Early on, I discovered that the sound was actually pretty good without the lavalier microphone, as long as I was close to the phone (I still use the lavalier for distance). I often don’t use the lights, either, favouring natural light. I edit on a program called Cyber PowerDirector, which costs about one hundred dollars, and has all the functionality and dependability I require.

I was initially uncomfortable in front of the camera, but I’ve become a lot more comfortable with practice. From the outset, I was keen to be more than be a talking head. My instinct as a storyteller is to make things as interesting as possible. I try to be funny and imaginative. Funny is subjective, of course, and not everyone gets my humour, but my more imaginative videos, utilizing the magic of editing and simple visual and sound effects, have struck a chord with some viewers.

The videos can take as long as I want to make. I’ve broadcast videos live on Facebook that have taken no more than five minutes from conception to execution. Facebook loves this, and rewards such efforts by distributing live videos widely throughout its feeds. Other videos have taken up to ten hours to craft and post. It all depends on how complicated I choose to make them. A humorous monologue can take an hour or two to set up and shoot. I often craft the dialogue mentally as I go about my life, then write it down, memorize it, and shoot it once I feel I’m ready. Once the video is shot, I transfer it onto my laptop and begin editing. A monologue shot in a single take (after several retakes, mind you) can be edited within half an hour. A more complicated video involving, say, telepathic cats or time travel can take several hours.

It takes yet more time to upload each video to multiple platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. If possible, I upload to each platform separately because each platform’s algorithm favours videos native to that platform. I always try to caption my videos because I’ve observed that eighty percent of viewers watch the videos with the sound turned off. Both YouTube and Facebook generate captions automatically, but they are riddled with errors, and require some time to fix.

Once I have the videos on each platform, I discretely add information about my novel A Time and a Place in the accompanying text, such as a link to a Publisher’s Weekly review, and where best to buy the book. I never make the videos a straight pitch to purchase the book (except tongue-in-cheek). The whole idea is to make the videos worth watching for their own sake, pointing viewers obliquely to the book. Actually, I enjoy subverting the entire marketing and publishing process, poking gentle fun at being an author.

How effective of a marketing tool are my videos? It’s still early days. Social-media pioneer Gary Vaynerchuk says it can take over a year to gain any traction on YouTube, and I’ve only been at this a few months. I frequently get several hundred views on Facebook, though; sometimes well over a thousand. I average about one hundred views on LinkedIn, and pick up a handful of views on other platforms such as Twitter and WordPress. I’m certain they’ve sold at least a few books, and I’m confident that they will sell more in time.

In the meantime, they’re just a whole lot of fun to make, and I’ve enjoyed the feedback I’ve received.


Joe Mahoney’s short fiction has been published in Canada, Australia and Greece. He’s been nominated twice for an Aurora Award, one of Canada’s top awards for science fiction and fantasy, for his work on CBC Radio. A Time and a Place, published by Five Rivers Publishing, is his first novel. Joe lives in Whitby, Ontario, with his wife and two daughters, and their golden retriever and Siberian forest cat. He can be found at assortednonsense.com , or follow him on twitter, instagram or goodreads.