Wednesday, 21 June 2017

How to Feel More Included in the Blogosphere

Being a new blogger can be hard. It's like that first day of school where everyone else seems to have their friendship groups sorted and you're not sure where, or if, you'll fit in. And like school, the blogosphere is full of unspoken rules. It's a hard one to navigate, that's for sure, and seeing as I've been kicking about for a while in this glittery community of greatness, I thought I'd put together a list of ways you can feel more included.

The first thing you can do is forget your shyness. Jump right in and talk to people! It can be a bit awkward just tweeting someone out of the blue and saying hello, which is one of the reasons Twitter chats are so great. Take #teenbloggerschat for example, which is over at @TeenBloggersGR every Sunday at 7pm UK time. I help to run it. Each week has a theme - past topics include exam stress, books, and politics - and for the next hour from our main account we ask questions relating to that topic, which everyone then answers using the hashtag. It makes socialising that little bit less awkward, because loads of people are in the same place, talking about the same things, and there's so many of us you're more than likely to have something in common with people. I've made lots of new blogging friends through this! Other chats you can get involved in are #SundayYA and #BlogosphereChat.

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It also helps to comment on other blogs. Even if you don't get replies, after a few comments the blogger is sure to start recognising your name and may eventually search out your own blog. Actually, this is the same on all social media - interacting doesn't have to be by talking (though that is best!) Simply following, liking and retweeting regularly does exactly the same thing, and we're a friendly bunch. If you're a book blogger, following publishers and publicists isn't a bad idea, either - they always have fun book news to share!

Another idea might be to host a giveaway. Not everyone can, and I completely understand that - I haven't done a giveaway in ages. If you can, though, it can certainly help to get you some new followers... and if they stick around, you may well make some new friends, too.

Furthermore - and this is something I didn't realise until I'd already been blogging for seven years because I'm SO observant - is that there are so many bloggers in the world that you probably share a town with one, or at least a county! I know a handful of bloggers and vloggers who live around here and even though some of us have still never met, it's nice to know that not everything happens in London... because it sure feels like it, sometimes.

Along with that - book events! These are great places not only to meet fellow bloggers but also authors you admire. YALC is a big one, and ordinary bookshop events are great too - after all, you're in a room full of like-minded people!

Oldies - what tips do you have for becoming included in the blogosphere? Newbies - drop your links in the comments, I'd love to see your blogs!

Friday, 16 June 2017

Teens in the YA Community

The YA book blogging community is, funnily enough, very focused on teenagers. Why shouldn't it be? YA literally stands for Young Adult, and it makes sense that this is what the community would centre around. Having said that, for a community and industry focused on teenagers (and profiting from them) there are a lot of issues.

These are issues that I've never really spoken about, and to be honest, I don't think I've been massively affected by them. Yes, I've been publicly slagged off by adults who should know better multiple times, but others have had worse. I was still in single digits when I started book blogging, and by the time I was officially a Teenager™, I'd been in the community for so long that I don't think I ever felt inferior or excluded. Maybe I was and I was just blissfully unaware.

Now I'm eighteen, which puts me in the position of legally being an adult, but still in the 'teen' bracket, meaning I can consider myself a teenage blogger. (Good thing, too, seeing as I'm on the Teen Bloggers team.)

But what are these 'issues', Amber? Let me explain.

First up, I think we need to understand the difference between who YA is written for, who it is marketed at, and who actually consumes it. It's my belief - and, from what I've seen, a common one - that YA is for teenagers but that it can be read by anyone. By that, I mean that if you're 40, it's perfectly understandable if you don't relate to a particular YA novel, because it's not for you in the first place. As I've said, though, that doesn't mean you can't read it - you absolutely can, and I've written about that here. I encourage it! If you have a way of consuming literature, whether that's with your eyes or your ears or fingers on braille, you can read whatever you like. But YA is for young adults and that's never going to change. The author is aiming it at young adults. The book deals with relevant teenage issues, no matter when it is set. The cover is designed to appeal to a teenage market. Teams of people decide how else to market it to teenagers and young adults, with window displays, book club submissions, adverts which are purposefully placed in teenage spaces... my YouTube channel, for a start. You should definitely subscribe. Just saying.

We've got that, then. YA can be read by everyone but it is specifically for teens and young adults. Pretty simple idea. Quorn food might not taste like meat to people who eat meat, but that's irrelevant, because even though Quorn can be eaten by meat-eaters, it's not for them, y'know? Vegetarians don't necessarily notice or even care about that. They just want the delicious meat-free sausage roll.

Despite the fact that YA is for teenagers, most book bloggers are in fact adults. I know some excellent ones, and in my experience, most are the loveliest people you could ever meet. Actual teenagers who blog about YA however are less frequent, and whether this is because many lack the time or because reading is commonly seen as lame at that age, I don't know. But I'd be willing to bet that I know of most teenage book bloggers in this country. Due to the unbalance, a lot of teenage book bloggers have spoken out about how they don't always feel comfortable in the community: they feel unsafe, under-valued, not taken seriously, pushed aside in an industry that relies on them for money.

Even I feel like this sometimes. Like I said earlier, I don't think I've been negatively affected as much as some people, and definitely not in all of the ways I've listed above, but there have been three or four times where I have genuinely felt unsafe in our community, and I definitely don't feel like teenagers are at the forefront of discussion as much as perhaps they should be.

Take YALC, for example, always the highlight of my year. I love it. I can hardly fault it. But, for a convention for and about young people, it's quite sales-y. And, having been in attendance every year except the first one, I've personally never seen a panel or workshop consisting solely of the teenagers the event is so focused on. (I was actually invited to be on a panel once but declined because of my anxiety. I could probably manage it now, if anyone wants to, um, reinstate that offer. Just throwing that out there.) It's a shame because I bet some really cool stuff could come of this, and it would be a great experience for anyone involved.

I have nothing against YALC, rather I was using it as a well-known example, and like I said, it's the highlight of my year. You can easily criticise other panel events and workshops for the same thing. For example, I did a couple of author events in a bookshop at the start of 2017; one with Sara Barnard, and the other with Perdita and Honor Cargill. One of the responses I got afterwards was that it was refreshing to go to a teenage event hosted by an actual teenager, because so often panel events are discussing fundamentally teenage topics, and yet actual teenagers are nowhere to be seen on the stage. It's odd, although the former Media Studies student in me is whispering caaaapitalisssmm...

In addition to that, I recently saw a teenage book blogger note that their most important tweets or blog posts don't really gain traction until they're shared or interacted with by at least one adult book blogger. They mentioned that teenage book bloggers need boosting by adult book bloggers, or else they float around cyberspace with no one taking them seriously. It seems to be true in most cases... I've noticed that way more adult book bloggers, and adults in general, look at my stuff when another one has interacted with it or shared it first. For some reason, this is especially true for my book reviews.

Next up, we're getting personal. You wouldn't believe the amount of times I've had compliments from older people online or at events, quickly followed by "I hope that wasn't patronising!" It usually isn't patronising, and I'm quick to tell them that. I really, really appreciate this. However, I have had a lot of patronising comments thrown my way. I'm going to ask a question to the adult book bloggers of the world, here: has anyone in the industry who isn't a close friend ever commented on your looks? Has anyone told you that you look really old? No, I didn't think so. And yet on multiple occasions I've been told in professional settings that I look really young, or that I'm so little, or cute, or adorable. Honestly, it's kind of weird, and it wouldn't happen if I was thirty or even in my mid-twenties. As young(er) people, we're just not consistently taken seriously. Yes, there are some exceptions to this - the vast, vast majority of people I meet at events or whatever are WONDERFUL and I cannot stress this enough!! But the people who feel the need to comment on how young we look... why do you feel comfortable saying this? Why don't you say it to anyone else? Let me answer that for you: because you know it's weird, and you know you wouldn't get away with it with anyone your own age. If I'm at a party, or a presentation, or a meeting, or a press day, or I'm hosting an event myself, I'm there to do my job, just like you. Interestingly, this doesn't just go for the book industry - in fact, I've had comments like this at job interviews and at work parties, none of which have been anything to do with publishing. It just seems to be a thing. I once turned up to a job interview, dressed professionally and full of smiles and politeness, only to go to shake the interviewer's hand and instead be met with confusion. "You look far too young to be here about a job," she said. "You look like a little girl!"


"You're just so tiny!"

I'm eighteen now, and I was eighteen then. An adult. For context.

Furthermore, my first job - which I'm not going to go into detail about but I will say that it was in the media - was severely underpaying me. It wasn't even minimum wage - and I didn't realise it was just me until I'd been there for over a year. Funnily enough, I was also their youngest employee by far. Stats showed that my work was amongst their most popular, but hey, I was a teenager, so whatever.

Similarly, some of you will have read this post in which I told you about the time I completed a month-long unpaid trial for a publishing house. In that time, I got them national press coverage that weirdly, though now understandably, they'd never managed to get before. At the end of my trial, they finally decided to bother letting me know that the position had never actually existed in the first place, but they were happy to offer me £20 for all the work I'd done. I was 17, so I'd sit back and take it, right? I'd be happy with it? That appears to have been their thought process behind it, yes. I said no to the money and got out of there.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Teen bloggers are now making designated safe spaces. The #teenbloggerschat Twitter chat has been praised for giving us younger bloggers the opportunity to talk about things without feeling judged or anxious. Don't even get me started on patronising articles about youth obsession with YouTube, or think-pieces on why millennials aren't buying diamonds, or the recent viral news that the reason young people can't buy their own homes is because they're spending all their money on avocados. HONESTLY.

I would just like to reiterate that I am so grateful for all of the support I've had from my slightly older blogger buddies. I adore our community and luckily the not-so-nice people are a minority, as are the issues that arise, because mostly it's a hugely diverse and supportive place to be. However, to make sure the YA blogging community continues to be a good place to be, issues need to be pointed out every now and then so that they can be worked on and improved. I'd also like to add, in the interests of reducing anyone's anxiety (because I know that whenever I see anyone talking about something bad, I always feel like it's about me...) that I highly doubt anyone involved in the situations I've rambled through above reads my blog, so if you're reading this... I mean, you might be ageist for all I know, but you're most likely not one of the people involved in the situations specific to me.

Regardless of your age, what is your opinion on this discussion which is so big in the blogosphere right now? And what can we do to create change?

Sunday, 11 June 2017

The Recipe for My Perfect Book

What would you need to see on the cover of a book to make you gasp and immediately buy it? What elements make a book perfect? What's your type? I was thinking about my personal preferences earlier, and I think they'll be fairly obvious to long-term readers of this blog because I rarely venture outside of my comfort zone, but here we go - the recipe for my perfect book...

1 tbsp of faraway places

I'm not talking about a faraway fictional world, because although I've enjoyed the odd one here and there, I'm more into realistic fiction than fantasy. I'm talking about countries I've never visited, but hope to. Books are passports, and a book that can take me somewhere different always piques my interest.

A small town (optional, for garnish)

It depends on the story, okay? Sometimes I'm all about a small town tucked away in the English countryside. The social and political aspects of small-town life are very different to those anywhere else, and it's pretty hard to nail unless you grew up in one. A couple of books that do this really well are Harriet Reuter Hapgood's The Square Root of Summer, and Katy Cannon's And Then We Ran.

A dash of love interest

I've enjoyed plenty of books without love interests but, if well-crafted, a love interest can make everything that bit more... interesting. I mean, 'interest' is literally part of the name, after all.

200ml of sub-plots

I can't deal with a book when it's just one line of thinking. I need more, and I need it to be clever; they don't all need to tie up at the end, but it should be satisfying. I want to be in awe of how the author weaved and balanced them in such a talented way. I loved Simon James Green's Noah Can't Even for many reasons, and this was one of them.

50g of problems

I don't think I'm the only one who wants their favourite characters to have an easy ride yet simultaneously craves drama to get in their way. As the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easy, right? And a happy ending is always more satisfying when the characters have gone against the odds. (No deaths, though. STOP BREAKING MY HEART.)

A pinch of LOLs

But in addition to drama, I need humour. A few witty remarks, a lighthearted moment, some well-placed sarcasm... I'm all over it. 

180g of fast pacing

I love a book that isn't slow, that keeps me reading, that has enough going on to make it really hard to put down. Don't let me get bored because as soon as I put it down, I will find it difficult to ever pick it back up. Soz.

4 tbsps of cover quotes from a favourite author

If one of my favourite authors likes a book, then hopefully I will, too. And quotes given to a book are usually from authors who write similar books, which is a good sign.

What would make your perfect book?