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BookTube Lessons for Writers

Confession: I spend a lot of time watching YouTube. A lot. I have it on in the background while I’m cooking or cleaning. It’s my go-to when I can’t sleep in the middle of the night. I even watch while I’m working on mindless tasks for my day job (don’t tell my boss). My current work in progress actually has a big YouTube element.

My YouTube interests vary widely and change over time. Currently, I’m obsessed with drama videos (especially beauty guru drama…pass the popcorn!), Disney World videos (Tim Tracker and AllEars.net are my current favorites), The Try Guys, Kitboga, and many more.

Of course, I also enjoy BookTube. Recently, as I was watching a BookTuber recommend their favorite reads of 2021 so far, I stopped watching as a reader looking to grow my to-read list and started watching as a writer. I paid less attention to the specific books the BookTuber was talking about and more attention to the adjectives and phrases used to describe why they liked the books.

Suspecting that I could learn from this shift in perspective, I clicked over to several different BookTubers’ channels. I started taking notes. While readers’ preferences obviously differ, there were several common threads no matter who the BookTuber was or which books they were talking about.

Based on these commonalities, here are the top 10 lessons writers can learn from BookTube, starting with the least common (2 to 4 BookTubers) to the most common (5+ BookTubers).

  1. Make your words beautiful. Polish those words and sentences and pages until they shine. The beautiful writing is worth the effort.
  2. Write something with a solid message or theme. While a solid plot can be fun to read, the BookTubers I watched also wanted the novel to have a greater meaning.
  3. Write something unlike anything the reader has ever read. Many readers want something new and different, whether that is a unique plot or an interesting format (one BookTuber mentioned a mixed media novel that sounded interesting).
  4. Write relatable, authentic characters. Readers want to see themselves within the pages of the book. Several videos mentioned #ownvoices at least once.
  5. Write well-developed characters with a lot of depth. Develop characters well enough that they can step right off the page and into the real world.
  6. Whenever possible, include twists and turns that take the reader by surprise. Since BookTubers read so many books, they often see the twists and turns coming. When they don’t see them coming? That seems to push the book pretty high up on their recommendation lists.
  7. Word-of-mouth is gold. “Someone recommended it on Twitter” or “a friend recommended it to me” are very common phrases in BookTube land. Create some buzz around your book and around the books of other authors you love!
  8. Get rid of anything that slows the pace. Readers want something they can’t put down. Find the places in your book where they can put it down and get rid of those sections or scenes or chapters.
  9. Don’t shy away from tough topics. The BookTubers I watched appreciated when authors tackled tough topics such as mental health, gender identity, religion, etc. Proceed with care, but don’t be afraid to tackle serious topics.
  10. Write with comps in mind. We all know the importance of having comps ready for agents and editors. Through this exercise I learned that we writers should have those comps in mind even before and during writing. Yes, we need our stories to be different, but I heard things like “It reminded me of…” or “The mood was similar to…” or “It was Book X meets Book Y” in almost every single video I watched. Basically, know who you’re writing for, and then write your heart out for them in your own unique story in your own unique way.

So even though I was watching these videos through the lens of being a writer, how much did my to-be-read list grow while watching BookTube videos? Let’s not talk about it. I guess I better get off YouTube and get to more reading…and writing!

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