Strangely, YouTubers are writing books to enhance their video careers.
A lot of YouTubers are getting book deals now, including many of the big names like Tyler Oakley, PewDiePie, Miranda Sings, and Shane Dawson. It's easy to dismiss these books as money-grabs by publishers desperate to gain new customers or fame-grabs by YouTubers who want another thing to put their faces on. But these books aren't all terrible. YouTubers have produced some interesting stories that are (believe it or not) best told via the written word rather than on video.
How the publishing industry found YouTube
The YouTuber book trend began a couple of years ago. One of the first YouTubers to cross over to the printed page was Hannah Hart from My Drunk Kitchen. In August 2014, she released My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going with Your Gut, a part cookbook-and-cocktail-guide, part personal story book. Quick to follow in her footsteps was Rosanna Pansino; The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook she released is based off her YouTube cooking show where she makes Pokemon Pokeball cake pops, light saber popsicles, and more.
While both Hart and Pansino are arguably two of the most popular YouTubers, with more than eight million subscribers combined, it's refreshing to know that the big guns are not the only ones writing books. The Korean food star Emily Kim, better known as Maangchi, released her first cookbook Maangchi's Real Korean Cooking in 2015. Kim is an interesting case: unlike the teenagers and early-twentysomething YouTuber stars who get all the press, Kim uploaded her first YouTube video as an adult back in 2007. After seeing others try (and fail) to create authentic Korean dishes, she decided to show them how to make the dishes of her country correctly. "Korean food is so new to many people, so we really needed to start from the very first step of explaining what Korean food is, and what it tastes like," Kim told Ars in an e-mail.
Fast forward to today and Maangchi has more than one million subscribers, and most of her videos glean more than 250,000 views. She's made a career for herself on YouTube with her educational cooking videos, but an old-fashioned paper cookbook clearly boosted her career trajectory. While it took years to write the book, Kim explains it was a learning process for her that actually helped her future videos. "I learned a lot about how to write a recipe to make it simple and appealing," she says. "In fact, I think writing out recipes for the book also helped my videos get better, because I could better explain to the audience what the food tastes like."
Maangchi's videos tend to be more than six minutes long (on the lengthy side for many YouTuber videos), and most of that time is spent cooking and explaining the recipe. In the book, Kim had the freedom to insert more of herself into the mix and, of course, she included recipes that have never been filmed. "I wanted to put in a lot of personal stories and background to the recipes, because I don’t usually have time for that in my videos, and I knew they would be interested in it. Kim emphasized how much she enjoys teaching others how to cook. Her videos are one way to do this, and the cookbook is another medium she uses to pass her knowledge on to aspiring home cooks. "The book is a central resource to learn the width and breadth of Korean cooking," she says. "It’s written and organized so that you can pick it up right away and cook and also come back to it months or years later and still learn something new from it."
A more intimate place for all the personal stuff
Some YouTubers take to the page because they want to talk about topics that feel too risky for video. Take Ricky Dillon for instance: with almost three million subscribers, the former O2L personality came out with his first book Follow Me earlier this month. Most of it is autobiographical as he shares stories about his life categorized into emotion- and goal-themed chapters.
The premise is that anyone reading can go to the appropriate chapter when they want to read specific stories that match how they're feeling. The "Ambition" chapter has a bunch of self-empowerment stories; the "Bummed Out" chapter has stories about being distressed and cheering up, and so forth. Also, at the end of each chapter are hashtag-based challenges that readers can complete as they read the book. This is a good way to bridge the gap between print and screen (not only between books and YouTube, but books and social media in general), and it's a way for Dillon's fans to treat the challenges as self-help prompts rather than only pure entertainment.
Source: YouTube—Ricky Dillon.
Overall, there's a healthy amount of skepticism from the online community about these types of books, and rightly so. The biggest question raised by audiences is what these books reveal that hasn't already been discussed in a video. On a Reddit thread about the topic, u/Mattophobia wrote, "YouTuber books are pointless and overdone. None of them do anything that can't be done through video, or add anything compared to video." Dillon disagrees. He told Ars that there's an allure to having a tangible account of his life thus far. "It's a hand-held, physical milestone of your life I think," Dillon said. "Video are like that, too, but you can't hold them, so I think it's cool to be able to put everything I've done so far in my life into a book. In 50 years, I can give my grandkids my book, which is really cool."
Dillon also feels like some parts of the book just wouldn't fit into any of his main channel videos. "In my channel, I'm usually more comedic and light-hearted," Dillon said. "In my book, there are definitely a lot of happy parts, but there are also a lot of emotional parts and things that are more serious. I think fans will be surprised at how much I open up." Follow Me is a safe space for Dillon to share things that go deeper than what he posts on his YouTube channel. Like many other YouTubers, Dillon has spent years cultivating a following with his comedic banter and music videos. He never posts videos on his main channel dedicated to dishing personal details of his life. However, in his book, he writes sentimentally about many things, including the close relationship he has with his sister. It's fair to say that, in the highly volatile world of YouTube fans and commenters, some loyal viewers who watch Dillion strictly for his comedy might be turned off if he had posted a video about his sibling.
This is also one of the reasons why many YouTubers have separate channels where they post more personal videos including "follow me around" style vlogs. When you've built a platform to showcase your talent or passion, it's a good idea to separate that from your personal life. After Gabrielle Hanna got her start on Vine, she created her channel The Gabbie Show on YouTube for challenges, comedy, and "story time" videos; later she launched The Gabbie Vlogs channel to feature more personal, day-to-day vlogs.
But a book is more than just another YouTube channel. A lot of YouTubers put things they've never talked about on their YouTube channels into their books, partly because it's a more controlled environment. As the writer, the YouTuber will have a good amount of control over what gets into the book, how it's presented, and how they explain the circumstances around those details. While they do have control over their videos through the filming and editing process, books can feel more intimate and more official because they're talking to a subset of fans who will actually pay money to read their stories for hours. Anyone can find Ricky Dillon's channel on YouTube and binge-watch every video until they think they know every part of Dillon's personality. However, not all of those fans will go out and buy Dillon's book—as much as the book is a milestone and an heirloom for him, it's a tell-all for his fans who are truly invested in him as an Internet personality and a regular person.
When books come first
One of the most interesting books to come from a YouTuber is about death. Host of the channel Ask a Mortician, Caitlin Doughty is a part-time YouTuber who wrote the book Smoke Gets In Your Eyes after she was discovered by a literary agent through her YouTube channel. A mortician by trade, her channel explores quirky topics surrounding death (everything from hair and nail growth after death to human taxidermy) while the book delves deeper into "death acceptance" and the history of our feelings about death in America. "I had been thinking about and working on the book long before I started YouTube," Doughty told Ars in an e-mail. "I likely wouldn't have the platform I have to write books and travel and speak if not for my initial exposure on YouTube."
Source: YouTube—Ask a Mortician.
Since Doughty only uploads videos a couple of times a month, she draws a clear line between what her YouTube channel covers and what her book covers. "My videos are intentionally kitschy, fun, short bursts of the morbid," she explains. "The book is completely different experience, diving into bigger questions about our broken relationship with mortality and the history of death in America. I'm very lucky to be able to have viewers and readers who are totally comfortable with me swinging from lighthearted to deadly serious (pun intended), and willing to go along where ever the ride takes them."
Being such a heavy and taboo topic, death may seem like a strange thing to make videos about—especially on a platform where videos about gaming, beauty, and cats reign supreme. However, Doughty keeps her channel lighthearted and fun, even when she's talking about serious issues. Having watched many of her videos, I can say that you can really hear her voice while reading her book, making it a natural extension of her channel and just another way to get her message about death across to others. "As an advocate, it's crucial that people trust me and be open to absorbing what I'm saying," Doughty says. "Videos are amazing, in that the viewers can see me and know that I'm a real, well-intentioned person. Books are amazing because it's an immersive experience that lets the reader get to know me and my views on a far deeper level than videos can reach." The pen is mightier than the webcam?
BEST OF YOUTUBER BOOKS
Here's a short list of the YouTuber books you may want to pick up.
- Binge by Tyler Oakley—equal parts raw and NSFW, Oakley dives further into his Midwest upbringing, his coming-out journey, and all the shenanigans that ensued along the way
- The Amazing Book is Not on Fire by Dan Howell & Phil Lester—the boisterous gaming duo explain how they created their own space on the Internet (and got super famous from it) and how to draw the perfect cat whiskers
- You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day—while she made a name for herself as an actress (The Guild, Supernatural), Day is an active YouTuber, and in her memoir she talks about how embracing her own "weirdness" helped her personally and professionally
- Username: Evie by Joe Sugg—unique in that it's illustrated (and not an autobiography), Sugg's graphic novel explores the trials of Evie, a lonely teenager coping with the death of her father and the mysteries he left behind
So what do YouTubers get out of writing books? The most obvious answer is money: some reports suggest YouTubers have been offered six-figure book advances when signing a deal. While royalties from sales in the beginning won't amount to nearly as much as a big advance will, royalties could come later if the books hit bestseller charts—and some of them have. Tyler Oakley's Binge made it to the bestseller charts a few weeks after it debuted in October 2015 and since then has sold more than 155,000 print copies. Miranda Sings' book Selp-Helf has sold more than 190,000 print copies since its release, and Shane Dawson's first book I Hate MySelfie sold more than 101,000 print copies, and he's set to release another book, It Gets Worse, this summer.
Readers could also become new subscribers. Take Oakley's Binge, which now has a five-star rating on Amazon from 981 customer reviews: user Bookworm496 wrote, "I must admit, the only time I ever watched Tyler Oakley videos before reading this book were when he was collaborating with YouTubers I watch... I honestly only bought the book because it wouldn't stop showing up on my recommendations (and I thought that he was kind of funny). About five minutes into the book, I was hysterically laughing..."
But new subscribers are likely outnumbered by the existing subscribers who purchase these books to feel closer to an Internet creator they love. Particularly for YouTubers like Oakley, who is an advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, opening up about being gay means more to fans than, say, having a bunch of giveaways on his channel. Amazon user Evelin explains it best in a review of Binge:
First of all, let me say that when I bought this book I was expecting lots of funny stories and juicy gossip. Never, ever, did I expect the journey and vulnerability that Tyler showed us. His entire career as a web personality and over sharing the viewer thinks of him as a best friend.... The viewer sees all that he's doing and his likes/dislikes, so they have a sense of knowing all there is about him. Now, this book completely changed that. This closes in that gap of TRULY knowing a person; when you know how they were at their darkest of times.... Thank you for taking the risk and jumping head first into your darkest times, its truly brave of you. Knowing your audience and the impact you have just know that your book can help so many people.
That connection is twofold. Fans want to have a deeper connection to the personalities they love (this goes for any celebrity, not just YouTubers). For most YouTubers, that connection increases their authenticity in the eyes of their fans, which is crucial to longevity and success. That's also why a book deal must be thoughtful and authentic to truly work in the YouTube fan space. For people like Tyler Oakley and Ricky Dillon, writing autobiographies makes sense since a big chunk of their careers is based on sharing their lives with others. For Caitlin Doughty, a book explaining mortality acceptance and exploring death taboos makes sense since death is, essentially, her life.
These books are just as much for the creators themselves as they are for their fanbases. Book deals are strategic career choices as well as exciting opportunities for YouTube personalities. So with smaller YouTubers like Doughty and Emily Kim from Maangchi getting recognized now for their unique perspectives, there's no doubt that the next wave of YouTuber book deals will be more diverse than the first. And as a reader, it's comforting to know that even as video continues to dominate, influential online creators won't let the charm of physical books get lost in the shuffle.
[ By: Valentina Palladino ] [ Arts Technica ] [ Read More ]