Targeting YA Readers via YouTube

Every launch for a new novel needs an exciting and buzzworthy marketing campaign. A targeted social media push is a must to reach your audience and, hopefully, spur sales; but reaching a young adult audience can be tricky. You can target parents, educators, and librarians who are perhaps the primary buyers. However, to create demand from the bottom up, you must reach young readers where they live which is, ironically, on YouTube.

When it comes to social media use, young adults are the largest subset of users. According to the Pew Research Center from their 2019 survey, some 88 percent of eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds use any form of social media, and of those young adults 94 percent use YouTube. To reach this audience and boost demand for your author and new novel, YouTube must be a part of your marketing plan. To start your campaign, focus on BookTube, a growing community on YouTube that features creative videos of people reviewing and discussing literature, particularly in the YA genre. One such BookTuber, Christine Riccio, has become a major influencer with more than 410,000 subscribers to her YouTube channel, PolandBananasBooks. Her videos display a goofy and contagious love of reading presented in a funny and engaging way. Of interest to publishers are Riccio’s “Book Talks,” “Stories I Ate This Month,” and “Binge Book Buying” videos where she talks about how and why she chooses books and gives quick reviews. A positive review from an influencer like Riccio can help drive demand directly from the target audience.

In today’s crowded social media spaces, YouTube has emerged as a reliable, easy-to-access platform for publishers and their authors to grow revenue and traffic. The YouTube channel Epic Reads, produced by HarperCollins Publishers, is a great example. It has more than 163,000 subscribers and funny, youthful videos like “Book Nerd Problems” and “Book Hauls.” HarperCollins has also struck a deal with another BookTube influencer, Jesse George, whose channel jessethereader is immensely popular. On Epic Reads he leads a series called Epic Adaptations in which he reports on all the YA book-to-movie and book-to-television adaptations that are in the works. This popular series helps stimulate demand for books that have been on the market for some time. And of course, publishers can use YouTube to connect authors directly to their audience by posting book trailers, events, and live readings of excerpts.

YouTube is also fertile ground for publishers looking to cash in on the popularity of young influencers. One of the most recent success stories is The Try Guys. Originally part of BuzzFeed but now independent, The Try Guys includes four filmmakers: Keith Habersberger, Ned Fulmer, Zach Kornfeld, and Eugene Lee Yang. With an audience of 7.29 million subscribers, they create original comedy videos that appeal to a young audience, like “Keith Eats Everything at Taco Bell” and “The Try Guys Switch Pets for a Day.” Publisher Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, capitalized on the The Try Guys’ popularity by publishing their book The Hidden Power of F*cking Up. Part self-help book, part memoir, it reached number one on the New York Times Best Seller list the week after it was released in June 2019.

No one has been more successful at harnessing the power and reach of YouTube, however, than YA author John Green. His extraordinary success as an author is boosted by his extremely popular YouTube channel, the vlogbrothers, which he co-hosts with his brother Hank Green. Their videos run the gamut from jokes to history lessons to science experiments, but they also use the platform to promote their creative fiction. And with 3.3 million subscribers on YouTube, they have far greater reach than even the largest US publishers like Penguin Random House. Other authors can learn from his example by connecting directly with YA readers on YouTube. For publishers and authors alike, YouTube is a key component of any social media strategy targeting a young adult audience.

Are Mini Books the Future?

A quiet evolution has been occurring in the world of book publishing during this last decade. A hybrid species is emerging—one that has taken until just last year to jump the Atlantic and become available to American literary consumers. There may not seem to be much room to improve upon our current forms of bookish technology, as the basic formats are pretty simple: hardcover, paperback, ebook. But even if you are firmly in either the print or electronic camp, you may be pleasantly surprised by a type of happy medium that is ideally giving readers the best of both worlds.

Way back in 2009, when Americans were mostly focused on Obama starting his first term as president of the United States, the War on Terror had not yet faded into the background, and the death of Michael Jackson was briefly disrupting the lives of pop music fans everywhere, Dutch publisher Royal Jongbloed was introducing the dwarsligger (and if you are like me and can’t pronounce that, it is also being called a flipback book or a mini book). These small volumes are putting some of the most popular books quite literally into the palm of the reader’s hand. Meant to be read using only one hand—with the thumb flipping the pages—this new design can simulate the experience of scrolling on your phone to read (but with no social media notifications to distract you). The new format provides an unabridged story in a lightweight container small enough to fit in your back pocket. Over ten million copies of flipback books have already been sold in Europe since their launch, and now they are in the United States.

We have Dutton Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin, to thank for bringing this new option to the States. Toward the end of 2018, Dutton launched their first set of tester flipback books in the form of four of best-selling YA novelist John Green’s most popular novels: Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars. They come in an adorable box set (if you are interested in that sort of thing), but they are also being sold separately. If you are curious enough to want a flipback book but aren’t particularly interested in any of these first four, there are more to come. By the end of 2019 you will be able to find classic titles like Anne of Green Gables, The Little Princess, and The Outsiders, as well as newer titles like Marie Lu’s Legend and Ally Condie’s Matched. At least initially, it seems Dutton will be focusing its project on YA novels to build its fan base.

Will this new form of reading technology catch on? Will we see this evolution turn into a revolution? Who knows? But it is great to see how as the way we read and take in information changes, the physical form of the books we love is changing too.

When YA Book Fandom Creates Active & Influential Communities

Teenagers—and the things that teenagers love—are often underestimated, allowing people to dismiss the truly remarkable impact today’s teens can have on the world. People love to mock the fashion, hobbies, social media habits, music, selfie culture, and language patterns of teenagers. Take for instance Teen Vogue; despite having offered consistent, thorough coverage of social and political issues this past year, it has been derided as simply an irrelevant publication for teen girls.

The same general principle of doubt and disdain carries across to how young adult literature is often treated. Adult fiction is considered literary and refined, while YA is somehow less valuable. I offer a counter argument not based on what YA books are but on the impact they can have.

Fandoms surrounding the favorite books of teenagers have been a prominent part of culture since the Harry Potter books. Now, most well-loved series have some kind of derivative fandom surrounding them, but the Harry Potter fandom is by far the most expansive example of this. Years ago, Harry Potter fans pushed past the creation of art, parody musicals, and actual sports, and they went a step further by channeling their love for the books into the creation of an activist group.

In 2005, fans formed the Harry Potter Alliance, a real-life social justice group inspired by Dumbledore’s Army from the books. The most noteworthy part, to me at least, is that the Harry Potter Alliance is more than just a name because the choice of which issues to fight over ties directly into the spirit of the series. For example, the HPA has fought against the use of child slavery in the production of Harry Potter chocolate products (i.e., Not in Harry’s Name, a campaign that received support from J. K. Rowling and resulted in an agreement with Warner Bros.). The HPA has, among other things, provided training in youth leadership as well as tool kits for the informed discussion of inequality in its various forms—it has donated hundreds of thousands of books to kids in need across the world. The Harry Potter Alliance is a group started by fans who loved the series growing up, took its messages, and put them into action.

Another fan community—eventually known as Nerdfighteria—sprang up around the Vlogbrothers YouTube channel by John and Hank Green in 2007. The group was born from John Green’s YA readership and Harry Potter fans (due to Hank’s early Harry Potter–themed videos). In addition to their successful annual charity called Project for Awesome, the Vlogbrothers also support This Star Won’t Go Out, a charity founded in memory of Esther Earl, the teenage girl who inspired John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Teenagers make up the vast majority of this audience and are the driving force behind the group’s charity work. (Around 75 percent of Nerdfighteria is under twenty-one.)

My point is not just that books can be a call to action. More than that, young adult readers want to be called to action and effect major change.

The Harry Potter and John Green readerships are some of the largest book fandoms out there, and since the foundation for such action has been built, there is an incredible amount of potential for further teen activism. I’m looking toward books like Nicola Yoon’s best-selling novel, The Sun Is Also a Star, a YA romance about a girl who falls in love the day she and her family are about to be deported. Yoon is a team member of the We Need Diverse Books organization, and the book (out since November 2016) is a National Book Award finalist, with the platform, motivation, and fan base perfectly poised for activism.

Dystopian novels are all the rage right now, and in dystopian novels, it’s always the young adults that rise up and make change. I think this may be true in real life as well.

Twitter Interactions with Famous Authors and How to Deal

Even though social media theoretically closes the distance between an author and their readers, it sometimes seems to me that the opposite is true. Just looking at a particularly famous author’s feed, I’m highly aware of the statistical improbability of actually getting their attention on Twitter. As of early October, J. K. Rowling had 8.44 million followers, an absurd amount of people to compete with for her attention. John Green had 5.19 million, which is better, but still virtually impossible.

Though I generally consider such endeavors fruitless, I have fleeting moments of hope (or the inability to resist tweeting something insanely clever) in which I reply to an author’s tweet.

On June 16, John Green tweeted a picture of his recently reorganized bookshelf. I noticed a familiar-looking purple spine on the shelves and couldn’t help but ask whether he’d recommend John Updike’s Rabbit novels, noting that I’d heard mixed things.

Almost immediately, he replied.

johngreentweet

After freaking out for a little while and drinking some tea to calm down, I went out and bought Rabbit, Run at Powell’s.

A few other authors have previously noticed things I tweeted, including Nicola Yoon, my favorite YA author Sarah J. Maas, and Joyce Carol Oates. Yeah, that Joyce Carol Oates. Actually, she’s retweeted me twice and liked several other tweets. (Of course, this has a lot to do with the fact that she spends an absurd amount of time on Twitter. It’s kind of concerning.)

That interaction with Joyce Carol Oates made me realize that although I’d read some of her short stories, I didn’t actually own any of her books. I went to Powell’s that evening and bought two: Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang and Bellefleur.

June 29, 2016, marked one of my crowning achievements in life: J. K. Rowling liked my tweet defending my Hogwarts house to some muggle who picked a fight with the wrong Hufflepuff. I’m just one out of 8.44 million Twitter followers, so the odds were not, as they say, in my favor. But she did notice me, and I had to check my phone multiple times throughout the day to make sure it was real.

I was embarrassed at how excited I was. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t a big deal. It was hardly significant to J. K. Rowling, so it shouldn’t mean so much to me. I never quite convinced myself of that, and I’m still kind of considering printing a screenshot of the tweet on a mug.

The value of these interactions, even for famous authors, is clear. Authors and readers have developed a community on Twitter and other social media platforms. No, J. K. Rowling is not particularly likely to interact with any given person, but the community she has set up around her makes such interactions possible.

The possibility of engagement is what unites the book community on Twitter. It’s the reason I know that Leigh Bardugo and Sarah J. Maas are friends: I see them interact on Twitter all the time. I love Sarah J. Maas, and once I knew she was friends with Leigh Bardugo, I bought Six of Crows as well. Visible connections on Twitter manifest themselves in real, significant ways, though they may not always be as quantifiable as my purchases.

Admittedly, I’m probably easier to convince to buy a book than most other people, but I think the logic holds true. Authors cannot engage with all their readers, especially when they have millions of followers. But that possibility of a connection with any one of those followers is what makes it so remarkable.

I mean, I bought the Updike books simply because John Green gave a mixed review about it, but he did so directly to me. The Rabbit books are now on the radar of others who saw those tweets, and I’m willing to bet that at least one of those people has bought them. The retweet from Joyce Carol Oates was like she was accepting me into her little community of readers, after which I felt like I had an obligation, as part of this group, to buy her books.

Part of me still feels a little silly for caring so much about these simple little Twitter interactions. But to butcher and repurpose a Dumbledore quote: “Of course it is happening on Twitter, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”