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!

What’s in a Career? Fear, Excitement…

Returning once more to the intern side of things, I’ve been thinking about my future career a bit lately. What’s the future for jobs in our economy? There are estimates that nearly 40% of jobs currently done now will be gone in the next decade or so. It’s the computers, they are coming for our jobs. It’s like I, Robot but friendlier and with more unemployment payments.

While I know that there will always be a need for human writers, editors, publishers and designers, I do hesitate to think about what all of this means for my future. I sit in a very precarious position at the start of my career. It’s precarious because I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I’m sure if I knew where I was going though, I would get lost. I’m happy to go with the flow, but it does worry me from time to time.

As one job comes to an end, I’m wondering how much longer I’ll be doing temporary contracts. Or if I’ll become a slashie, a term for someone who crafts full-time hours out of multiple jobs which tend to be in entirely different careers, i.e. “I’m a such-and-such/this-or-that/third-career-or-job”.

I wouldn’t mind having that sort of career trajectory as my main goal at this stage is do something interesting or meaningful, preferably both.

I think there is also a definite need for people willing to do many different things, sometimes all at once. In 2013, I attended the Independent Publishing Conference hosted by the Small Press Network in Melbourne. It was a fantastic experience for me then, as a student, and one of the key things I took away from those three days was that it’s quite common for people in the publishing industry to have a range of different roles that don’t necessarily correspond with one another. To be someone who “wears many hats”.

These storied careers are fascinating, and show a side of the business which I think is both wonderful and scary. It’s wonderful because I find the prospect of those changes to be inviting. The idea that while your career is on a path, that path is always turning. It’s not a straight ladder.

The scary part of that is the unpredictability or insecurity of it. Just like temporary contracts, you never really know when or where or how things will end.

The publishing industry is a tremendously exciting place with a range of different roles to fill and I think in the future it’s going to be more and more important to be able to fill many of those roles, to be an all-rounder. That excites me, but it does also concern me. I worry that we’ll lose specialists. Many roles have already been taken out of the house and made into freelancer positions. I don’t know if this translates to less people becoming that kind of specialist, or if it means more. I think it’s probably less.

That’s one of the weird effects of digital disruption in a way too. Digital opens up the toolkit of publishing to anyone. So while some jobs may fade away or diminish because of this, other freelancers will be sought by more customers than previously. This adds to the career excitement and the fear, and I think it’s a balancing act that a lot of people at the start of their careers feel. It’s an important one too, I think.

In this blog, I haven’t answered the question that spurred me to write. But I have come to a better way to ask the question:

How can I balance the excitement and the fear, to have an interesting career?

 

Futuristic Books

Editing and the Way Forward
by Jenna O’Connell

Nobody reads books anymore. Anyone can self- publish these days, why would we need to be signed? Publishing is dead.

These are all sentiments that have been punted back and forth, usually by your average person on the internet. As we enter an increasingly technological age, debates on the future of the book, particularly the print book, are becoming increasingly common. I won’t lie, as an intern, a student, and a young editor; the potentially tenuous future of the publishing industry has frightened me at times. Is there a point trying to crack into a notoriously competitive industry when many out there are predicting its downfall? I’m sure I’m not the only young publishing hopeful who has considered this question.

However, my feelings have been largely assuaged, thanks to my attendance at the Australian Publishing Association’s recent seminar: Editing Futures: How Commerce, Culture and Technology Are Changing Editing. As I took advantage of yet another opportunity to tag along to an event with our publisher, I was largely unsure of what to expect. What was the future for publishing in an increasingly dense media world? Apart from all the things I actually learnt, which I’ll get to in a moment, it was enriching to hear so many individuals discussing the future of editing. Among the casual discussions to be had on the day were comments on the rise of small press, increased focus on social media, and opportunities for distribution. Whatever else you say about the nature of publishing in the present time, from my experience, you can’t accuse them of not looking towards the future.

We began with a focus on acquisition and commissioning. Sue Hines, Group Publishing Director at Allen & Unwin, stressed the importance of knowing how to put books into the market. In a society with access to a greater volume of books than we have ever had before, this struck me as particularly important. An increasing variety of categories and sub-categories allows us to more easily position books in relation to their most likely consumers, something which I believe allows us to more accurately assess how well a book will do. But, as Sue ruefully noted, it’s not always as easy as that.

The importance of trends to the publishing industry was highlighted, and the difficulty of attempting to be ahead of the curve duly noted by all with a sigh. It was a sentiment further reinforced by publisher Robert Watkins, of Hachette Australia. Robert began by noting the challenges of a highly competitive book market, something we’ve all felt across the industry. The pressure to innovate and provide new talent is ever looming, and Robert’s advice was to be as across media and popular culture as you can. This was something I hadn’t much considered before, but his point that these are the areas from which trends most often emerge was spot on. I’ll certainly be keeping closer tabs on culture, news and social media from now on. And hey, if I can justify a sneaky movie as ‘cultural research’, you can bet I’ll be jumping right on board!

However, it was the second part of the seminar where things got really futuristic. Editorial Consultant Sarah JH Fletcher and Sydney University Press’ publishing manager Agata Mrva-Montoya took us through the technology that is best assisting publishers in innovating, from writing and reading, all the way through to the production of the final product. An important area, that print-centric little me had barely considered, was eBooks. Many publishers still tack on their eBook as an afterthought, but in this day and age, the role of eBooks as an important and separate form of media was stressed. What I hadn’t realised was how much cool tech was out there to make creating eBooks a happy little dream.

The most useful and interesting bit of tech to come from this was the idea of a content management system. This is a platform in which the content (i.e. the text of the book) is created, managed, and then exported into a variety of formats. After a particularly disastrous experience with a content management system earlier this year, I was initially reluctant to consider one again. However, with a realisation that increasingly, adaptable book formats are becoming key, I became resigned to giving the frustrating, intimidating technology another go.

I could blither on for pages about the insights I gained from attending this seminar, but I worry I’d scare you off! Suffice to say, the most important thing to come out of the presentations and discussions of the day was this: there IS a future for publishing, and it has the ability to be a dynamic and vibrant one. With a willingness to innovate, and to embrace the inevitable progressions of society’s demands, books, in all formats and iterations, will thrive long into the future.