If you’re on book Twitter or bookstagram, you may have noticed a particular conversation that’s recently come up. Despite the fact that YA books are labeled specifically for “Young Adults,” it’s quite surprising how few young adults there actually are in our community. And those that are here, are not necessarily the more influential or strongest voices.
I debated writing this post for quite a while, mostly because I didn’t think my thoughts on this topic were unique or interesting enough. A few months ago, when this whole discussion started, they weren’t really worth reading. Now, as I started paying more attention and experienced certain things because of the fact I’m a teen, I think I finally have a post worth writing.
As a teen that’s been a part of bookstagram and book Twitter for almost two years, and the blogosphere for almost one, I’m pretty satisfied with my social presence. I have a decent amount of followers and made some really amazing friends, I feel like I belong somewhere! That feeling, however, has started waning recently.
But before I dive in on my experience, let me make something clear. For years, people have fought to make YA a legitimate and fully-accepted genre within the publishing industry. There have always been critics that ridiculously think YA lit is somehow lesser than adult literature. And along that same vein of thinking, some people believe that adults shouldn’t read YA because they’re “kids books” and too childish for the mature adult. Of course, none of that is true! All books are legitimate and important, and as a person of any age, you should read what makes you happy. Plus, we all know that YA books are tons of fun and full of adventure, why wouldn’t you want to read them?
So when people argue for teens to be allowed a greater space within the online YA book community, they aren’t arguing that adults should leave in any way. YA will always be open to everyone, as it should be! And adult voices are appreciated in some cases.
But – YA books are written about teens. They are written for teens. So, just by using common sense, a community surrounding YA literature should predominantly involve teens! Unfortunately, this really isn’t the case. Take a second and think about who you follow, on Twitter and Instagram. Who are the biggest, most influential names that first come to mind? Who are the people you interact with on a daily basis? Are they older than 18? 19?
From what I’ve noticed, bookstagram’s most prominent members are mainly white women between the ages of 25-35 (I’m just guesstimating off the top of my head, don’t quote these as actual statistics). Is there a problem with this? Well, I suppose that depends on your perspective. But let me paint a picture for you from my perspective.
My bookstagram (@pensandparchment) is a lot of fun to run, but only has around 1640 followers. For some, this is a lot of followers! To others, it’s probably next to nothing. Now, we all know Instagram’s algorithm is quite a nuisance, but followers matter. I know everyone sings a song of positivity and pretends like they don’t care about their stats, but when it comes to things like rep searches, tour sign-ups, and ARC requests, they are likely the deciding factor.
As a teen, I never have time. I go to school for eight hours a day, usually have at least four hours of homework a night, an hour and a half of dance/theater rehearsal, and not to mention, time for eating, sleeping, and oh yeah, READING. Do the math. Do you think I have time everyday to post a picture or do a photo shoot? Not even close. I can manage my time to the best of my ability and plan ahead, but that only gets me so far.
The other necessary resource for bookstagram that I never seem to have as a teen? Money. I’m very lucky to have parents that are able to support my love of books and encourage my blogging, so I’m better off than others. But, I don’t have free reign of a steady income to buy endless quantities of props, candles, new books, or multiple versions of books for the sake of aesthetic photos. Do I occasionally buy these things? When I get a gift card or do well in school, yes! But it’s not dependable. I use what I can, when I can, to take pictures. And just “getting a job” isn’t a solution. I don’t have near enough time for one and if I did, I’d probably be saving my money for ya know, college.
Now let’s put it all together. In my experience, here are some ways to grow your following: a) post as frequently as possible, multiple times a day even; b) create your own style and recurring theme with pretty props and backdrops; c) interact with others on a daily basis; d) work with businesses or publishers to help promote their products. All of those things require time, and in some cases, money. Think about it this way: the more you post and interact, the more followers you gain. The more followers you gain, the more you’re likely to get rep positions, ARCs/review copies, spots on a tour. The publishers and businesses that run those events may repost your photo, or announce your position, or support your account in other ways so that you gain more followers and continue to get those positions of influence. It turns into a positive feedback loop, where the same people are helping each other out and slowly becoming the biggest names in the community. Of course, there’s room for other people to grow and participate, but it makes it more difficult, particularly when you think about how you’re competing against those accounts for the same rep spots, review copies, etc.
And who do you think has the greatest ability to interact frequently and secure those privileges? The older bookstagrammers that can spend hours at home each day, taking pictures and reading review copies and promoting each other. As a result, this creates an effect where the teen voice and presence is diminished. We now have a situation where the majority of YA ARCs and review copies are not, in fact, being read by their target audience. The rep spots for candle and bookmark companies that create products based on YA stories and characters are not held by teens. Blog tours and release day blitzes don’t consist of teens. This community is not run by teens. It’s run by adults, with the occasional influential teen.
If you’re an adult and feel like you fit this description, please don’t take offense. This isn’t the work of one individual! Your creativity and spot in this community is valued. The lack of teen influence and presence is the result of a system based on statistics that are bolstered by opportunities that teens rarely get.
And since the ages of 20-30 are now considered the norm across the community, I’ve noticed the development of a concerning social stigma. People don’t want to follow teens (especially younger teens, 13-15) on bookstagram or Twitter simply because of their age. There’s that mentality of “Omg they’re a kid I don’t wanna follow them!” On a baseline level, I get it. An adult interacting with a minor through the Internet is not always a smart choice, and can result in negative situations (though I will point out, these situations are always to the detriment of the teen). I would understand this perspective more, however, if this weren’t occurring in a community built around a form of media meant for teens. If you choose to join the YA book community as an adult, realize that you’re supporting an industry and a community meant for teens. You are entering our space, not the other way around. You’re welcome, of course! But as of right now, I feel like the exception in my love for books about kids my own age. And it shouldn’t be that way.
I know there are plenty of adults that follow me despite the fact I’m a teen, or ones that even speak out for teens in the community. But, like any other social issue today, we can’t operate on the assumption of the exception. If this is a problem for the majority, it can’t be solved by constantly pointing out who isn’t part of that majority.
So, to end on a more positive note, here are some ways to help give teens a boost!
- Actively seek out teens in the community, and follow/like/retweet them. It’s pretty simple!
- If you like their blog, take a few seconds out of your day and share their latest post. Or give them a shout-out on your Instagram story. Use your influence to support someone else. You’d be surprised how far the little things go. But if you’re an adult, be sure not to smother teen thoughts with your own, even if they are in support of us.
- If you’re a business, seriously consider some teens for your rep spots. If you love their photos and their account, don’t get hung up on follower count and choose the person that already has 10 other rep spots. Chances are, the person with fewer followers and no other/fewer rep spots will be more excited to devote their time and energy to promoting your business! Not to mention, a teenager’s opinion on your product based on a teen story is worth a lot. You can tap into a whole new market of teens that want your stuff for their favorite book, not just the same market of 20-30 year olds.
- Same thing goes for publishers. As you send out ARCs of a new release or promo boxes, make sure to send them to teenagers! It’s beyond me why you wouldn’t want to target your main audience. In general, I like to hear what another teen thought of a book before a 30 year old. After all, their age likely influences their thoughts about the characters or plot, since they’re at a different stage of life. In this case, the teen perspective matters much more than simple follower count.
- Teens – we must stick together! As cheesy and seemingly useless as that saying is, it’s really the only way to help make our voices louder. Retweet each other, add your thoughts to the conversation! They are always important and always valid. It’s our community, after all.
Wow, I definitely didn’t mean for that to be quite so long. But this is a topic I’ve recently become very passionate about, so I hope you all enjoyed reading my thoughts. And again, these are my opinions and observations. You may not agree with everything, and that’s okay! That’s just life.
Here are links to some other posts by teens regarding the YA community and age:
A Widening Age Gap Between YA and Middle Grade – Elise @ Roaming Reader
The Role of Age in the YA Community – Jordyn @ Jordz the Bibliophile
A Teen’s Opinion on Feeling Safe/Unsafe in the YA Community – @bookdeviant on Twitter
Why Are Teens Kicked Out of Their Own Community? – Trish @ A Kinder Galaxy
Other posts featuring some teens’ opinions:
Book Recommendations from Teens – Erika @ Books with Cats
Jo Talks Books: On Actual YAs in the YA Community – Jo @ Book Lovers Blog