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!"

Silence.

"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?

4 comments:

  1. THANK YOU FOR POSTING THIS AMBER :D Someone needed to say this.

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  2. Another good post Amber - You know that I like your spirit - you have had to fight a lot of things and have to keep fighting and that's why I support you - not because you are small & cute ! ( your description ) - I don't always agree with your comments but I do enjoy reading them - however whilst I agree with your comments in this post I hope you realise that this attitude not only affects teenagers - I have noticed in the last year or two that some people (even some teenagers) have started to comment on my old age as a reason to disparage my comments / feelings etc. So sorry to say Amber but you will always find that some people (who usually do nothing) will always try to run down other people who actually do achieve things whether its a book blog , other creative arts, improve their station in life by work, education etc. So Amber please note that this old man is still fighting in life and hopes and encourages you to keep fighting ! John

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  3. This is a super interesting post! Though I'm a teenager, I'm not specifically a book blogger all the time, and the online spaces I occupy are mostly full of other cool teenage bloggers. However, the main thing that I have noticed is that I'm often the youngest person at book events, or even one of the only teenagers -- considering that these are YA book events, it's kind of weird? I think it's partly due to the fact that they're often in the evening during the week so if you have school the next day it can be a pretty late night, especially with signings. (Though of course adults do have work. I don't know.) Thanks, and again great post! <3

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  4. So sad this 'you look so young' thing hasn't gone away in the decades since I was a young woman. And unpaid internships suck, though I admit I had to work for free to get a foot in the door of journalism. Please keep blogging, keep battling. And if you possibly can, take every opportunity to get out there, though I understand it can be truly tough. Good luck.

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