An Ode to Booktubers

 

This week as part of my intern work I did some more social media exploring. I looked at booktubers, the youtubers whose channels focus solely on discussing books. As I mentioned in my previous post, the way I normally engage with books tends to be fairly old-fashioned and I hadn’t really looked into booktubers. The closest I had come was when I got really invested in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a blog-style adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (if you haven’t watched the blog it’s amazing but also very addictive, proceed with caution –https://www.youtube.com/user/LizzieBennet)

Much like my social media stalking/research, yet again I was shocked and impressed by what I found. These channels are massive, some booktubers, such as Sasha Alsbery, who created her channel ABookTopia, have over 300K followers. She’s a woman in her 20s who has 300 thousand people listening to her talk about books, that’s impressive. Moreover, there’s a whole culture around booktubing with its own slang and customs. For example most of the booktubers I looked at would promote their “book hauls”, “TBRs” (to be reads), “wrap ups”, “tags” and of course “reviews”. All these practices are geared towards making talking about books all the more interesting, engaging and entertaining. They create these massive followings through creating videos that are so damn watchable. You watch one short video and bam, you’re stuck in a Youtube spiral, it’s The Lizzie Bennet Diaries all over again.

The booktubers that I have become most besotted with so far are: Jessethereader – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDPo9-NZFNi2Gwe8LnlvAUQ

and Mercy’sbookishmusings – https://www.youtube.com/user/MercysBookishMusings

Jesse is enthusiastic, funny, conversational and so endearing. He reads a lot of young adult and fantasy fiction, and the way he talks about the books he reads imbues them with such excitement and enjoyment that you’re immediately convinced that you need to read them; he’s a publisher’s dream! Also he cuts his videos in to spoiler-free and spoiler-full sections so you avoid the bits you need to. I’m really interested in the ways young adults receive and review YA fiction and I’m going to be researching it for my PhD thesis, so I can’t wait to explore more of his videos.

My other new favourite booktuber, Mercy, looks at a range of genres including literary fiction, magical realism and even non-fiction. I was drawn to her reviews of literary fiction and impressed by the range of books she takes on. She’s also really engaging, but comes off a little more serious and thoughtful than Jesse. Another thing that I really like is that Mercy states boldly in her information section that she doesn’t “have a degree in English literature” and that she’ll “never write a novel”, but that she still has her own opinion. I love that she’s so unapologetic about her lack of university knowledge, and so confident in the importance of varied opinions and analyses. As she suggests there is never one way to read, understand or appreciate a book. So what I’m coming to discover, and really value, about the booktuber community is that predominantly it’s not exclusive, elite or pretentious. Instead it’s inclusive, positive and compelling.

These booktubers are creating their own cyber book clubs, where anyone, from anywhere, at any time of day can connect with other people about the literature that inspires them. I joined a book club a few months ago (mostly because they were going to talk about my idol Thomas Hardy) and I went to one meeting, just the one, and never another one since. Even though I loved it and I met great people, it was so hard to make schedules align. What booktubers offer is a massive, exciting, anytime, kind of book club.

I believe the most important thing a book can do is change the way you think about the world, and when you get one of those rare, incredible, thought-changing books you absolutely NEED someone to talk to about it, and booktubers create the perfect platform for that conversation.

Even more wonderfully, pretty much everything they do promotes literature.  I was talking to a friend recently about booktubers, and he commented that it’s ironic to think that an industry so threatened by the internet could now come to rely on it. But I don’t think it’s ironic at all, it’s ingenious. In an era that prescribes the demise of the book, the publishing industry and literary community is using the very technology that threatened it as the launching pad into a new world of communication. So go you good booktubers!

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Social Stalking: An Investigation into the Social Media of the Author

First of all I want to introduce myself. I’m Kate, one of the new interns with Odyssey. I am about to start my PhD in creative writing and I really, really like books. Nice to meet you.

I’m excited to contribute my first blog post, so thank you for indulging me with your readership. One of the first things that sprung to mind when I was deciding what to write about was a topic we discussed during my interview. I was asked about social media and if I knew much about how authors use their social media accounts. My answer was basically no… I was completely, pitifully naive to how social media is used by authors and how central it has become to modern marketing strategies. For much of my undergrad degree and all of my Honours thesis I studied mostly Victorian authors for whom the internet and social media would seem about as conceivable as teleporting to Mars. But I had always been interested in how the social image of an author impacts the way their work is received. During Honours I read diary entries about Thomas Hardy’s conversations at dinner parties, so I figure that’s the 19th Century alternative to stalking his twitter; I’m already in the right frame of mind, I just have to update my tactics.

I thought that I should take a look at the social media accounts of a modern author to gain a basic understanding of how they are used. I’m particularly interested in young adult fantasy fiction and its authors, which is a convenient place to start given the suitability of social media for this demographic. So I decided I should investigate an author of that genre who is well known, successful and savvy, and I settled on J.K. Rowling. The two social media sites I looked to were Facebook and Twitter. Facebook I chose because it’s arguably the most widely used site, especially for young adults, and Twitter because it’s particularly apt for authors due to its focus on text and writing, rather than say Intagram which deals in images.

These are the things that struck me most from exploring J.K. Rowling’s official Facebook page:

  1. J.K. Rowling has A LOT of followers, which really shouldn’t be surprising, but right now it’s 5,386,803. Just by posting one status, or sharing one interview, or plugging one publication 5 million people are probably going to see it. That’s some pretty damn effective advertising.
  1. The main things shared are, as you would expect, to do with publications, current projects, interviews, and information about the charity she established, Lumos.
  1. Importantly the interaction Facebook enables is very much a two way street. While the author is using this platform to share things with fans, what’s really important is that the fans can share things back. Being able to not just like, but also comment on posts, means fans are able to engage in a direct dialogue with the author. For example on Rowling’s page a Brazilian fan has commented on a post, addressing it to the author directly, and remarking how grateful he is that her books have encouraged Brazilian children into reading and engaging with literature. This comment has been liked by hundreds of other users, and a stream of comments follows it discussing the benefits of children’s literacy.
  1. So this is a space for authors to share things with their fans, but also for fans to share things with each other. Often Rowling will share a post that begins a dialogue, which is then taken up entirely by the fans. This is the epitome of networking and marketing, when the author can contribute to a discussion about their work that then continues and flourishes even without them. What Facebook creates on Rowling’s page is a keen and engaged community of fans.
  1. Facebook is complicit in this process. The page tells the user when they come across it which of their friends has already liked it. Facebook shows the user that they already have links to the community. It says “be a part of this community, these friends of yours already are, you don’t want to be left out do you?”
  1. Lastly, there is a “Shop Now” button at the very top of the page giving users immediate and convenient access to purchase her novels. While Facebook offers a platform for the author and her fans to simply interact, it doesn’t forget the opportunities that could stem from that.

Next I looked at her Twitter page, and this is what I noticed most:

  1. She has even more followers on Twitter, 8.98 million! Merlin’s beard!
  2. Much like Facebook she uses Twitter as a platform to share promotional articles and videos, giving them more scope.
  1. Twitter’s cap on the characters means Rowling’s posts are shorter than on Facebook, or sometimes in instalments. They’re also often quite jovial and much more conversational. She speaks to her followers as if she knows them, and you are convinced that she does.
  1. Finally, in comparison to Facebook, Rowling’s Twitter certainly seems more personal. She tweets and retweets about a plethora of different things. While she often references Harry Potter and promotes new releases etc., she also writes passionately about social justice issues, the writing process itself, and even her social life and New Years Eve plans. It’s social, political, literary and personal. It’s not just her books and how to purchase, but instead her everyday thoughts, those valuable thoughts that have made her one of the most successful authors of the century. By looking at J.K. Rowling’s Twitter you can feel like you’re actually getting to communicate with her; she becomes very real.

So what struck me most when investigating these two different social media sites is that despite often sharing similar material, Rowling takes quiet a different approach to each. Facebook seems to serve as the more professional platform, with links to interviews and a “Shop Now” button, while Twitter is much more conversational, where the fans can really get to know the author and read tweets about her hanging out with her cat. Nonetheless both sites offer to Rowling’s fans a means of staying in touch with the author, her projects and the wider community of her readers. Social media is changing the way we communicate with the authors that inspire us, it puts them right in our back pocket, where we can interact with them on a daily basis.

Unlike the networking antics of Harry Potter’s Gilderoy Lockhart, modern authors need not employ tactics such as smarmy charm, bleached white toothy grins or the shameless and even forceful circulation of autographed photos. Instead through social media they can consistently connect with their readers on a more substantial level, whether it’s through starting important discussions, or simply saying Merry Christmas. Significantly for me, despite being unable to read diary entries about Rowling’s conversations at dinner parties, I feel equally happy with the stalking levels achieved via her Twitter feed.

 

Is A Picture, a Blog, A Tweet, worth a 1000 word Resume?: Interning in the age of Social Media

There’s no longer any doubt that this is the age of social media. It seems like barely a year goes by without someone telling me something about a new way to broadcast myself, my life or my thoughts about cats all over the internet. Social media has become a major way through which we connect with people, events, and pop culture. It’s becoming rarer and rarer to find an individual of my generation who isn’t engaged with at least one social media platform, usually several.

It’s not just individuals who are joining the social media revolution either. Businesses are increasingly taking up the mantle, and choosing to advertise to or engage with their target market through the computer screen, as well as the many other screens advertising has always dominated. The publishing industry is no different. You would be hard pressed to find a publishing house that doesn’t have a Facebook page, but it is really Twitter reveals the increased engagement of publishing with social media. Not only do most publishing houses have very active engagement on Twitter (seriously, I’ve found so many new books since joining, just because they appear on my Twitter feed) but social media interns are now a recognised position, as are full time employee positions to cope with the overwhelming demands of continuous engagement with social media.

However, with social media becoming a defining feature of our generation, engagement with sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Reddit – to name just a few – is becoming more than just a part of an intern’s leisure time. It’s now often necessary part of employment.

The internship market is a competitive one. Now more than ever, you have to make yourself stand out, and appear as appealing as possible. Many young individuals are turning to their social media to do this. Since we started this blog, I’ve been told plenty of times how beneficial it is to be able to link potential employers to it, to show what I can do. It’s not why I do this, but I guess I can see the benefits of that. As I move closer to the end of my degree, and begin eyeing the job market increasingly warily, a variety of people have offered several gems of social media wisdom:

‘Keep your Facebook clean, your employers don’t want to see you stumbling around drunkenly’

‘Without a LinkedIn profile, your chances of networking and getting a good job are way less’

‘Be up on as many social media platforms as possible, that’s where employers are looking these days.’

Now none of these things are necessarily bad advice. They’re probably all true. But, at least for me, they also reveal a worrying shift in the focus of employers from what you can do for their company, to what your social media – often your private social media – says about who you are, and maybe, and only maybe, your ability to be a competent employee.

This puts the more private, the more reserved, and the less blatantly sociable interns at a distinct disadvantage. Not on Twitter and willing to retweet all your employer’s promotional tweets? You can guarantee there are 100 other interns who are. Spend most of your nights chilling with friends and don’t feel the need to photograph everything, resulting in a dry and barren Facebook page? You must not be digitally engaged, and as the power of social media continues its meteoric rise, an intern’s ability to be digitally engaged and digitally aware is becoming a necessity.

Social media allows us to digitally document parts of our lives, and showcase them for others to see. Some people share all of it (maybe too much) and some people share very little. But at what point should the amount of your life you choose to share with an often-undetermined amount of people, be a consideration in your employment?

Fostering Beginner’s Luck: Branding Debut and Midlist Authors

As I mentioned in Monday’s blog, one of biggest problems ahead for the publishing industry is the closing of opportunities for debut and midlist authors. There is an unfortunate reduction in paths to publication through a traditional publishing house for both debut authors and for those who are steady but not spectacular on the midlist. There are a variety of factors contributing to this reduction including digital disruption, margin-squeezing and cultural homogenisation, but I won’t go into them in this blog. There are also some fantastic and brave people out there actively working to boost the opportunities for debut and midlist authors. This blog isn’t about them either. Today I want to cover how that shrinking window of opportunity can be combatted at a small press, by both the publisher and the authors.

In my opinion, I think a small press is probably best suited to work with debut and some midlist authors. It might not be the dream scenario for many authors, but it’s the most workable. Small presses, by neccessity, have to help grow new talent or nurture midlist talent as it’s the bread-and-butter of the small press industry. Small presses have both the ability and the motive to get out there and find new voices and take risks on them. Further, many small presses are less constrained by structures which can limit the bigger houses and hence can be more nimble and diverse in their publishing efforts.

One of the most important things a small press can contribute to helping debut and midlist authors to succeed is help with development of the author brand (as well as their writing craft). An author’s brand is an essential tool in the digital world, potentially more so than before Amazon and ebooks. An online presence is a necessity for community engagement. While this may not lead to direct sales, if an author’s brand is properly managed it will lead to a broadening of the base to which authors can hawk their books. It means reaching more new readers more often.

In 2013, bestselling author Neil Gaiman teamed up with a smartphone company to unleash a campaign where he could collaborate with his fans on a series of short stories. The response to the campaign was overwhelmingly positive and highly engaging. Fans submitted story ideas corresponding to themes that Gaiman then turned into short stories. Fans then submitted artworks inspired by the stories. This was a modern, technology-enabled creative conversation between an author and his audience. It worked brilliantly.

Here, Gaiman used his author brand to create momentum for a campaign that wasn’t aimed directly at selling books. Instead, he engaged his readers in a venture that allowed them inside his creative process. The cynical benefits were that Gaiman’s brand and the smartphone company’s brand both got a boost from this campaign. The more idealistic benefit is that Gaiman expanded on an excellent connection with his readers and further developed their passion for him as an author.

The take away for debut and midlist authors is not they can do exactly what Gaiman has done, but that they could replicate it, in part, to create bigger brand awareness and engagement for themselves and their audience. This isn’t a strategy for hard sales of books but more about increasing online presence. The purpose of this is to indirectly or eventually increase sales, but that’s not the direct outcome or immediately tangible reward for the exercise. For authors this is a no-brainer as building a strong brand helps your marketability with publishers and makes them more willing to take a risk on publishing your book.

Another brilliant example of author branding, that is in the physical space rather than digital is Odyssey author Rachel Drummond. This year, Drummond appeared at Supanova with a stall marketing her book The South Forsaken. With distinctive yellow signage and an open and engaging personality for readers, she was a huge success.

These two examples show approaches to branding that should be informative for how authors can push forward both online and at events:

  1. Be Distinctive/Interesting.
  2. Be Open and Engaging.

These seem to be rather generic ideas, but they are fundamentally important for authors when designing and implementing an online presence for their readers to engage with. I haven’t put forth an argument as to whether authors need to do this, because they absolutely do. It’s really non-negotiable unless you’re a bestseller. To get ahead as an author today you need to get out there and engage in whatever way possible.

Disruption Is The Decline of Publi- Shh!

What’s to fear from disruption? More to the point, what is disruption?

Disruption is the use of digital technology to supersede established businesses by newer and leaner competitors. Disruptors are often regarded as “smarter” companies, but the truth is that they are nimble and able to disrupt because they don’t have the existing systems that prevent the established companies from moving quickly (often in ways that hurt their traditional model). Disruption is a creative, yet destructive force.

Publishing companies are among some of the oldest established businesses in the world, and hence stand to lose a lot. Even if they can innovate incrementally, the destructive nature of disruption (literally the removal of parts of their business chain) means that they can never competitively disrupt their own practice to defend against newer and more aggressive competitors.

However, it’s a very big leap to assume that publishing is doomed by disruption. I was reading an article late last week that began with the premise that publishing is in decline. This is a premise that I strongly disagree with. I hope many of you reading this will also disagree. I want to look at this from the perspective of an intern or in a more grandiose (or delusions of grandeur) sense, from the perspective of a young-publisher-to-be.

I can understand the doom and gloom when we get stuck on the Disruption narrative – the Amazon narrative. And boy, what a narrative that was last week! Amazon’s office culture was exposed by the New York Times and then there was a subsequent flood of “surprised” and “concerned” articles that ranged from expressions of disappointment to demands to boycott. I found these particularly bemusing. If you’re expecting a company founded on disruption to be the friendly ideal of the childhood ballpit as opposed to the brutal reality of a childhood ballpit, I cannot understand why.

See what just happened there? I got distracted by the Amazon narrative. This happens very often. It happens to all of us. But books are more than their commodification, as is the publishing industry, despite its critics.

Now, are we in the death throes of this industry? No, no we are not. It’s simply a period of change. Whether that change is ending now, or will drag on for a longer period still remains to be seen. It is clear, however, that the initial panic has faded and things have stabilised. I mean, publishing companies are even hiring bright, young people like me. Or more specifically, slightly brighter, slightly older people kind of like me.

That’s not to say that there are no threats or concerns that arise from disruption by digital technology. But more simply, that the business of publishing books seems to be rolling on, ever on. It’s different now in the details, and probably more competitive, but from a big picture perspective, the game remains largely unchanged.

“Is it a good story? Yes, huzzah, let’s publish it. Will it sell x amount of copies? We’ll hedge a bet, let’s publish it. Is this a book that people need to read? We think so, let’s publish it at a greater risk.”

What can be said is that there are dwindling opportunities for new and midlist authors at the bigger end of town. Conversely, however, there is an abundance of new opportunity at the smaller end of town. The changes we’ve seen in the publishing industry allow small presses to be more competitive and more active than ever before. Digital disruption has increased access to publishing tools and services and transformed self-publishing from a difficult affair into a manageable and potentially profitable model for authors.

It’s the literal meaning of swings-and-roundabouts. Yes, a large corporation is making large inroads in controlling a significant portion of the book trade. Yes, they are disrupting the traditional publishing model, but they aren’t burying it (at least not successfully). None of this is an integral part of the publishing industry: it’s all ephemera. It’s affecting, it squeezes the margins tighter, but at the end of the day they were already pretty tight. As an intern and student, I’ve studied the history of publishing and the industry has survived bind after bind just like this. It’s going to do it again, and I’m going to be there when it does.