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Reflections of a Professional BookTuber

Danika Ellis

Associate Editor

Danika spends most of her time talking about queer women books at the Lesbrary. Blog: The Lesbrary Twitter: @DanikaEllis

In September 2019, as I was preparing for my teaching practicum—the most stressful time in my life so far—I got a job offer. Book Riot was looking for another BookTuber to do weekly videos. It was a great opportunity, and it would mean instead of working eight hours at the bookstore once a week, I could script, film, and edit a video in three hours and have a little extra time for lesson planning.

I had already been making BookTube videos for years on my personal channel. Book blogging has always come more naturally to me, but I enjoyed making connections with people in the BookTube community. I never got big, maxing out at under 2,000 subscribers, but I had friends there and loved the conversations that I was having in the comments.

It never occurred to me that I could make money as a BookTuber. I definitely never made a dime off my own little BookTube channel, and I filmed sitting by the foot of my bed, in the two feet of space between it and the wall. I began my channel with a point-and-shoot camera that shut off after filming for 10 minutes, resulting in shots that changed dramatically partway through a video. Eventually I graduated to a borrowed DSLR that took me several tries to figure out how to focus.

It was surreal to stumble into the job: while I liked making BookTube videos, I felt like my writing was much stronger. Suddenly I was making money off videos, but not my writing. I was also transplanted on a new channel without those same connections—I felt a little adrift in the new space.

Everyone has their own process for making videos, but here’s mine: first, I make a script with bullet points of what I want to say. Then I film, usually a line or two at a time before looking back at my script, though I don’t usually say them word-for-word. I retake lines that I mess up. The raw video ends up being at least twice as long as the finished product, and I edit out all the flubs and silences (as well as my inhales and any filler words that can be easily cut out).

While I’m used to making new content weekly, it did eventually become a challenge to come up with a new video idea every week. It had to be something I was interested in (it’s painfully obvious in video form if you’re just going through the motions), and it also had to be about ten minutes worth of material. I never quite got the hang of figuring out exactly how long to film that would edit down to the right amount—in my first videos, I had to go back and film more after editing to have it add up to enough time.

It was also a different experience to share a channel with other people—some viewers seemed to only follow one of us, just clicking on their videos. It was strange to be a new face there, trying to convince viewers to give my videos a try! Although I got more views than on my channel, I hadn’t built those connections and that community.

YouTube is also an interesting platform because it is so personal. While I can make a book recommendation list while feeling like garbage, still in my pajamas and laying in bed, videos require a little bit extra. There isn’t that same level of disconnect that there is through writing. It’s both the biggest positive and negative of making videos: you feel like you really get to know people, because you can see their face, and hear their voice, and really see their emotions. But it’s also a vulnerable position to be in. Making videos regularly means that some days you don’t really feel like being in front of the camera, and it’s hard to fake that enthusiasm.

I’m not making videos for the Book Riot channel anymore—it’s being restructured, and my hours are going towards different things now. I still don’t feel like a “real” BookTuber, even if I was technically a professional BookTuber for almost a year. I’m looking forward to getting back to my own cozy channel, with its small view count, but with a community I know in the comments.

What makes a “real” BookTuber, or a “good” BookTube channel? Sometimes it feels like there’s a formula: a thin, attractive, young white woman—usually wearing makeup and nicely dressed—who enthusiastically recommends YA books at an energy level that is unfathomable to me. They have an expensive camera and lighting set up, and there are shelves of brand new hardcovers in the background. Of course, that’s a simplification. BookTube has grown to encompass all kinds of BookTubers, who all have their own styles. And there’s nothing wrong with the BookTubers I just described!

Luckily, there is room for all kinds of BookTube channels and styles. The vast majority of us will never make money doing it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. In recent months, we’ve seen more attention paid to racism in the BookTube world, including brands only partnering with white creators. I hope that we begin to critically examine what kinds of BookTubers get the most views, subscribers, and revenue. If there is room for professional BookTubers, it should be a more level playing field.

If you’re interested in making a BookTube channel, my recommendation is not to go in hoping for a certain number of views or subscribers, and definitely not expecting to make money doing it. Reach out and comment on other BookTubers’ videos, especially ones who are also starting out. Talk to BookTubers on Twitter and build your own community. Be yourself, and talk about what you’re actually interested in—don’t just buy the books you feel like you should be reading. And who knows, you might end up becoming a professional BookTuber after all.