Engaging with others online was a significant focus of the 2020 Bookseller Children’s conference. This was highlighted by speakers like Rob Biddulph, who found success during lockdown with a YouTube series, and by actress Carrie Hope Fletcher who asserted that ‘social media isn’t just for influencers’ like her (2020). This is true. Social media lets authors engage with their audience, disseminate content, and expand their following. This is especially important now as physical interactions are limited.
Publishers are acutely aware of this. I spoke with twenty bestselling children’s authors, and sixteen told me that they had been encouraged or advised to join Twitter by their publisher. None of these authors were given structured advice on how to use social media to promote their work. Running a one-man marketing campaign without a clear strategy is problematic. Additionally, the rise in social media has inaugurated a change in labour relations for writers. Writers are now partly responsible for promoting their work online. This work can extend beyond the realms of normal working day and is not monitored by an employer.
This can involve uncompensated ’emotional labour’ (Williams, Bryant, Carvell 2019). This means ‘induc[ing] or suppress[ing] feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others’ (Hochschild 1983, p. 7). Putting on a brave face to keep an audience engaged has meant that writers have portrayed their craft as something fun and communal, hiding the fact that it can be isolating and ’emotionally taxing’ (Williams, Bryant, Carvell 2019). However, there is a larger problem.
Diversity is a key issue in contemporary publishing. Voices from marginalised communities must be heard both within the industry and amongst published authors. A Book Trust report covering 2007-2017 stated that 5.6% of published UK children’s authors are from a black and minority ethnic (BAME) background (Ramdershand-Bold 2018). Melanie Ramdershand-Bold – an Associate Professor at UCL who spoke at the conference – explained that between 2006 and 2019 only 2.24% of YA authors were British people of colour (Ramdershand-Bold 2019). As children’s authors are sent online to promote themselves, I fear that diversity is not being considered.
Social media can be fraught with problems for people of colour. It has been argued that social media is a ‘racialised space’, meaning that sites like Twitter can be a microcosm of racist behaviour (Williams, Bryant, Carver 2019). This has been the case for BAME children’s authors. Bestselling author Sharna Jackson was heavily trolled the day her 2019 book High Rise Mystery was released for simply promoting diversity in an online interview. For people of colour on social media, this strain can often lead to ‘racial battle fatigue’; a literal exhaustion from online combat relating to one’s racial or ethnic identity (Williams, Bryant, Carver 2019). Encouraging children’s authors to go online should be accompanied by marketing strategies that value the wellbeing of an author, ensuring a consistent output of great content that will generate print sales.
To return to Fletcher’s assertion; of course, social media gives everyone access to a platform to promote themselves, but it does not provide a level playing field for all. With online abuse increasing in in the UK during lockdown, now more than ever, publishers need to protect their human resources by providing comprehensive marketing strategies online (End Violence Against Women 2020).
End Violence Against Women 2020, The ripple effect: COVID-19 and the epidemic of online abuse, Glitch, viewed 22 October 2020 < https://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Glitch-and-EVAW-The-Ripple-Effect-Online-abuse-during-COVID-19-Sept-2020.pdf >.
Fletcher, CH 2020, ‘Why social media isn’t just for influencers’ presented to The Bookseller Children’s Conference, 28 September – 1 October, viewed Wednesday 30 September 2020, < https://www.thebookseller.com/childrens-conference/wednesday-morning-session-video >.
Hochschild, A 1983, The managed heart: commercialization of human feeling, University of California Press, California.
Ramdershand-Bold, M 2020 ‘Representation: A deep-dive into ‘diversity’ in YA publishing’ presented to The Bookseller Children’s Conference, 28 September – 1 October, viewed Wednesday 28 September 2020, < https://www.thebookseller.com/childrens-conference/monday-morning-session-video >.
Ramdershand-Bold, M 201, Representation of people of colour amongst children’s book authors and illustrators, BookTrust, viewed 22 October 2020 < https://www.booktrust.org.uk/globalassets/resources/represents/booktrust-represents-diversity-childrens-authors-illustrators-report.pdf >.
Williams, AA, Bryant, Z, Carvell, C 2019, ‘Uncompensated emotional labor, racial battle fatigue, and (in)civility in digital spaces’, Sociology Compass, 13.2, 1-12, viewed 22 October 2020, < https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy.napier.ac.uk/doi/epdf/10.1111/soc4.12658 >.