Written by A Guest Author July 20th, 2023

How to Use Reels & Shorts to Grow Your Author Platform

by Syris Valentine

Whether you’re pursuing indie or traditional publishing, practically every author needs their own platform to help market their books. The world of author marketing can be overwhelming at times. Even when you’re only concerned with social media, there’s a lot to decide. Do you choose Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, or any of the countless other options that seem to emerge every year? And once you’ve decided on your platform, what kind of content should you create?

Though these questions can have myriad answers, TikTok’s emergence and rapid rise has answered that question for most authors. Yes, Congress is considering banning TikTok, but that doesn’t change the major shift in direction social media has taken since TikTok began to dominate the attention economy.

The rabid popularity of short-form videos, typically 30 seconds or less, on TikTok made every other platform take notice. Since then, Instagram has shifted its focus from pictures and carousels to videos through its Reels feature. Even YouTube – which, prior to the emergence of TikTok, was shifting towards longer videos – has added Shorts to capitalize on the short-form video trend.

Though there are more social media platforms than ever to choose from, the industry-wide shift to short-form video has made it easier than ever for authors to build their brands.

This is something I have learned and begun to experiment with myself. On the Instagram account for my brand Everyday Writer, I’ve been able to reach an audience far wider than my slowly growing follower count. I have, at the moment, only 130 followers, yet I’ve had videos that have repeatedly reached over 1,000 other users – even as many as 5,000 with one video. And I’m still learning how to create better content that can attract even more views and followers to help me grow my audience on social media.

What makes these short-form videos even more attractive is their ability to be repurposed across social media sites, so you can effectively triple your output with little additional effort.

Before I get that, let’s focus first on the two main kinds of short-form videos you can create to grow your audience on social media. Though each can take multiple forms, the difference comes down to whether you are creating your own original audio or recycling what’s already trending. Each has its positives and negatives.

Original Audio

If you’ve got a lot of creative energy and you’re comfortable being on camera, one of the best things to consider is creating videos with your own original audio. For me, this has meant creating “talking head” videos.

For these videos, I write a short script that’s usually 50 words or less with the goal of providing a quick, actionable tip for my audience or a relatable reflection. I start each video with an attention-grabbing hook – just like you would with start any book or article – then dive into content that is either useful, informative, or entertaining. After that, I wrap it up with a quick call to action, usually encouraging people to follow my account or click the link in my bio.

With these videos, it’s important to include on-screen captions or other text. Not only does this increase the accessibility of your video for users who are hard of hearing, but the TikTok and Instagram algorithms key into on-screen text to help the in-platform SEO.

Because of the need for scripting, recording, (re-recording when I inevitably mess up,) and writing on-screen text, these videos tend to take the longest amount of time: typically, no more than 15 minutes total per video. That said, these build the most authority and the greatest connection with the audience because people can hear my voice and get my unique perspective – in fact, two thirds of my videos that have broken 1,000 views were talking heads.

And that’s without the algorithm boost that videos with trending audio can get.

Trending Audio

If you’ve scrolled through Reels and TikToks, you’ve no doubt heard the same 10 seconds of audio repeated across dozens of videos by different accounts all making slight variations on the same theme.

These videos are probably the easiest to make taking, in some cases, less than 5 minutes depending on the trend, and they tend to get the most reach because Instagram and TikTok both tend to boost these videos. These audio snippets increase the chance that a user will take what they see and make their own content, giving the platforms extra incentive to share those videos with as many people as possible.

To create this kind of content, you have two main options. If a piece of trending audio is a musical track, you can use a video in your camera roll – ideally of you doing something related to your author brand – and then insert text on top of that image.

For an added engagement boost, you can time the text to appear in sync with the beats of the music. And if you have more text on-screen than can be read during the duration of the audio, for instance it takes 15 seconds to read the text and the audio is only 5 seconds long, you can get more views as the video loops while the person reads the text.

The other option, if the audio is a piece of dialogue or a witty comment, you can record yourself lip synching to the voice. One that has been popular on Instagram recently has been a recording of Ron Swanson saying, “I’m not sure I’m interested in that. No. I am sure. I am not interested in that.”

With the video recorded, you can slip in an on-screen caption that’s related to your brand and your audience – for the Ron Swanson quote, it could be something like “When someone says I should outline my plot before I start writing” – add a description to the video, and post.

These trending audios are beneficial for the boosts they receive on the platform they originate, but they are not as easy to repurpose because you may struggle to find the same audio clips on the different platforms.

Repurposing Across Platforms

As I mentioned, a major benefit of creating short-from videos on Instagram, TikTok, or YouTube is their ability to be repurposed. Once you’ve finished creating a video for one platform, you can download it and then almost immediately upload it to both of the other platforms.

If you’re creating on Instagram, this is as simple as tapping the download icon in the top right corner of the screen after you’ve finished editing the video and before you post it. If you’ve created it with original audio, then it’ll be downloaded fully and you’ll be ready to repost it to both TikTok and YouTube Shorts.

If, however, you created it with trending audio, the video will be downloaded without sound, which means you’ll then need to search for a copy of the audio you used on the platform where you hope to repost it.

On TikTok, however, you can only download videos once they’re posted, and when you do, they’ll be downloaded with a TikTok logo stamped on them. If repost videos with a TikTok watermark, the Instagram algorithm will decrease the reach, so you’ll need to use a website like SnapTik to download your video without the watermark before you repost it.

The downside of these websites is that they tend to reduce the video quality, which is why I’ve decided to create all my videos on Instagram. While TikTok’s editor used to be substantially superior, Instagram’s is now comparable to TikTok’s, and it improves regularly. Add in the fact that Instagram makes it easy to add captions to your video and download them for repurposing, and it’s no contest for me.

Though, there are plenty that prefer creating on TikTok, or even the third-party app CapCut. If you’re venturing into the world of short-form video for the first time, it’s best to try each for one of your videos and decide which works best for you.

Wherever you choose to create your videos and whether or not TikTok gets banned, there’s no doubt that short-form videos are a necessity for anyone looking to build an author platform in 2023.

Bio: Syris Valentine is a freelancer, a short story writer, and the founder of Everyday Writer, an online resource for emerging writers who want to own their stories and make their words work.


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