Sunday, 14 August 2016

Engaging with On and Offline Reading Communities by Alexia Casale

The landscape of YA publishing is ever-changing – and changing so rapidly it’s hard even for those who live and breath it to keep up. But that’s one of the things that make it so exciting. Our community and world isn’t a fixed, static thing but constantly being created and recreated so there’s always space for new people and new ideas. It’s like the ideal high school, where everyone is welcome and the weirder you are the more you’ll fit in. The best metaphor must be the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – only with half the teapots full of prosecco.

One of the reasons it moves so quickly is social media. The UKYA and UKMG world comes together for events – launches, festival, author events, UKYAX – but usually it’s only a small part of the community apart from two key dates: YALC and YA Shot. In between, our community lives online: we dip in and out of hashtags, Twitter conversations, scheduled chats and on-line events like the #YAtakeover, touching base with each other often multiple times a day. Twitter is very much the UKYA/UKMG office ‘water cooler’: it hosts a lot of what happens in our community, providing continuity to relationships between opportunities to meet in person.

Before becoming an author, I was really worried about Twitter. I thought it was a space where strangers told each other random, meaningless facts about the minutiae of their lives then never spoke again. The online book world isn’t at all like that. Many of my author friends are people I first met on Twitter. I still remember going to Edinburgh Book Festival when The Bone Dragon was only just out and lovely Cat Clarke coming up to hug me and launching back into a conversation we’d been having a few days earlier on Twitter. For the first time, I felt like I was at a party where I knew people and had something to say.

Twitter has continued to be crucial to my feeling of belonging, to my personal and professional relationships, and to my happiness. It’s amazing to have a space filled with wonderful book-loving, liberal-minded people to retreat to when the world is awful.

Twitter is also a great equaliser for the publishing industry and I love that. It’s much easier to join a conversation online – and often surprising people will respond if you’re legitimately joining in rather than trying to force an opportunity to make a person engage with you. Twitter means that everyone’s invited to the party and no one has to stand in the corner alone if they don’t want to. This replicates itself, though to a lesser degree, at events. Yes, authors are onstage and then behind signing tables, but the closeness of the online community breaks down some of the formality and barriers that would otherwise exist. It’s why the atmosphere at events like YALC and YA Shot is so friendly – so happy. It helps us create an ‘all of us’ feeling about UKYA/UKMG spaces so that authors and readers and publishing people know they can mix freely and talk to anyone they want to.

The fact that the UKYA/UKMG world is so bound up with the Twittersphere means that rich but free opportunities are available to publicise events and to reach out to all sorts of people to say ‘you are welcome, everyone is welcome’. This makes a huge impact in YA Shot’s ability to put its ethos of inclusivity and generosity into practice. An obvious way is the YA Shot Blog/Vlog Tour, which involves most of our authors and around 60 bloggers and vloggers each year. But there’s also our Internship Programme, which I am incredibly proud of. Although we do reach out specifically to local universities, particularly Brunel, social media means that we can get the word out quickly and easily to a far wider range of people. Yes, only those on social media, but let’s face it… most young people who want to work in the UKYA/UKMG fields are on there – or should be! – as it’s such a huge part of the job and the world of publishing nowadays.

YA Shot is an organisation built on transparency and equality above all else: we explain what we’re doing whenever anyone asks and we say why. Social media makes that not only possible but an on-going conversation, as it should be. Above all, it helps us reach out as widely as possible so everyone knows they’re welcome. It’s why our Internship Programme is full of diversity. We don’t select authors or interns based on personal characteristics: instead, we make sure we throw our net so wide that we can choose the best people each year and find that translates (as it should) to a diverse pool of authors and interns, bloggers and visitors. If the playing field is level, then there will be equality and, quite naturally, there will be diversity. Social media and the online world helps us turn that ethos into reality.

A related way that social media shapes the UKYA/UKMG world is that it gives people who want to listen to different voices the opportunity to do so. Yes, some people misuse the opportunity. And, yes, some lack nuance and/or the ability to articulate their perspective. And, yes, it isn’t always fair who gets the most ‘air time’. But everyone can speak and that’s a start.

So come and say hi! Join us on the #YAShot and #YAShot2016 hashtags. Join us at YA Shot itself! Let us know if you want to steward in exchange for a ticket! From August 1st, join us for over 60 stops on our Blog and Vlog Tour! We’ll see you at YALC too… and of course on #UKYAchat and #YATakeover, always with a cup of tea… though a teapot of prosecco may well be the way forwards now our Mad Hatter Tea-Party metaphor has put the idea in our heads.

About Alexia:

A British-American citizen of Italian heritage, Alexia is an author (The Bone Dragon and The House of Windows), editor and writing consultant. She also teaches English Literature and Writing. She is the visionary behind #YAShot and she will be taking part in the "Growing up and Moving out" author panel alongside Keris Stainton for the #YAtakeover on the 21st August.

Follow Alexia on Twitter (@AlexiaCasale)

Buy House of Windows on Foyles and Waterstones.

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