For the past several months, I’ve been spending some of my evenings–and some of my mornings before I start work–watching a handful of BookTubers review novels on YouTube. To my surprise, this activity has yielded an unexpected ancillary benefit to me as a writer and as an editor, so I thought I would share it with you.
Why didn’t I stumble upon BookTube sooner?
I always knew BookTube was a thing, but despite the fact that I am a hardcore and devout YouTube junkie, it never occurred to me that I might gain something from all those channels that devote themselves to the thing I love most, the thing that has given me a career: books books books.
But recently I decided on a whim to search for reviews of a handful of recent bestsellers like The Silent Patient, The Vanishing Half, and Where the Crawdads Sing, and I found myself going down a BookTube rabbit hole for hours. I emerged having subscribed to a handful of channels, some with a couple hundred followers, some with hundreds of thousands of followers. Since then I’ve been watching the new videos that appear in my subscription feed, which might amount to a combined hour or two of content per week.
Turns out it’s not much of a time commitment. I can save all the new BookTuber videos for Sunday afternoon and catch up all at once in the time it takes to watch a movie. Not all BookTubers post new content daily or even weekly. Some only upload once a month, reviewing three or four books at a time.
So what value have I, as a writer and editor, derived from watching reviewers talk about a bunch of books I haven’t read?
BookTubers offer a healthy, consistent dose of what readers like about books and what readers don’t like about books.
Watch enough book reviews and you’ll start to see common complaints and common praises from the perspective of a reader. This, of course, is intrinsically valuable information for a writer. If you’re a thriller author, for example, you should take note that many, many reviewers often complain about reading well-crafted, expertly plotted books with genuinely shocking and satisfying twists that neglect to offer properly developed characters.
It’s not uncommon that a thriller writer can be so hyper-focused on plot that character development emerges as their shortcoming. Listening to reviewers will make this abundantly clear, and the beauty of knowing your shortcomings is that you can plow ahead and work on them.
Now, I’m no proponent of the write to your audience maxim (except in the case of hard genre fiction like romance which can have reliable trends and subgenres). Generally speaking, I believe a writer should sit in solitude, plunge into the unknown of their subconscious, and allow pure, selfish, self-obsessed passion to pour out onto the page without regard for the ideal reader or the world at large.
For the first draft, at least. Editing and revision are when you let your conscious mind have a turn or three, and it’s at this stage that you might be wise to take the perspectives of readers into account. That’s what you do when you enlist a beta reader or hire me to provide you with a detailed manuscript critique.
In my opinion, it’s also useful to listen to readers of other books–especially other books in your genre–because it’s highly likely that you’ve made some of the mistakes readers will point out in even the bestselling books in your genre, be it a tired trope or a too-predictable type of plot twist.
If I haven’t sold you on following BookTubers yet, maybe this second reason will inspire you to drink the Kool-Aid.
BookTubers offer us an ongoing look at the latest publishing trends.
As writers, I’m sure we would all love to truly understand the book market. It’s probably why my most popular post on this blog, the one that gets by far the most Google search traffic, is “2021 Market Trends in Book Publishing | My Unqualified Speculation”.
If you pick out and subscribe to a handful of BookTubers who read and review books in your genre, and if you actually commit the time to watching the reviews every week, you’ll soon start to gain a clearer understanding of that genre’s trends.
You’ll see not only what themes, settings, characters, and plots are getting published but which ones are topping bestseller lists.
You’ll get a sense of what I like to think of as the publishing industry’s mood.
You’ll find that a decade’s worth of post-Gone Girl fascination with domestic and psychological thrillers has actually evolved into a coming resurgence of–dare I say it?–the horror genre.
BookTubers can be your little once-a-week window into the publishing world. It won’t take up much of your time–hell, it’s certainly more efficient than actually reading all those books, and I constantly see writers profess that their aggressive pursuit of a career as an author leaves little time these days to read.
Need comp titles for that novel you’re querying? BookTubers can steer you in the right direction. (I do encourage you to actually read any book you use as a comp title. I’m merely suggesting that you can save a lot of time by relying on reviewers to show you which books to read.)
There are many ways consuming reader feedback can help you as a writer, but above all else you’ll find yourself steeped in the community of books, and there’s nowhere else a writer ought to be.
BookTube recommendations, and a warning about what not to do.
I have no idea if writers will take interest in this post, but I thought I’d share links to some of the reviewers I’ve been following as an easy first foray into the world of BookTube.
However, I feel compelled to warn those of you who are inclined to look for an edge to NOT go on a crusade of soliciting reviews for your self-published books. That’s not what this post is about, and it would be not only missing the point but also quite annoying to reviewers who don’t explicitly state that they’re open to self-recommendations or recommendations at all. There are plenty of proper avenues for submitting your books for review.
That said, here are some of the BookTubers I’ve been following. I encourage you to check them out but also to dig deeper and find a handful of reviewers you like and who read the kinds of books you want to hear about. I also encourage you to choose a diverse mix of readers not only in terms of things like age, race, nationality, and background but also in the current popularity of their channel. I’ve found that my favorite channels are often ones with very little reach.
BookTubers I follow:
My final bookish thoughts.
I think it’s a good idea for writers to immerse themselves in the world of books and publishing, from BookTube channels to writing podcasts to reading Publisher’s Weekly to taking the time to read books in your chosen genre. The more dedicated you are to your pursuits, the more likely you are to succeed, so why not spend as much time listening to readers as you do watching the newest episode of your favorite Netflix series?
Seems like a no-brainer. I only wish I’d thought of it sooner. Hey, maybe one day BookTubers will be talking about your latest release.