With new literary technology, books have rapidly taken on new forms and ideas. From digital to print to audiobooks, the accessibility of what literature offers—and who specifically it is being offered to—is expanding at an exponential rate. But with that, the influence and role of the author has also changed. The archetypal author of yore was seen as typically introverted and unreachable outside of a P.O. box. Even if an author was idolized or prone to interviews (as, say, Stephen King was in his heyday), there were limited resources for knowing the author beyond the book.
Today, there is an entire world of social media enabling authors to engage with fans, which helps them learn about marketability, understand the reception of their work, and see their audience in a whole new way. We see this popping up particularly among YA authors, who generally have a great appreciation for the loyalty and passion of their young readers. More importantly, it has opened the door for authors to adopt the additional role of a social media influencer, and the results of this new development are delightful and heartwarming, particularly in the YA community.
John Green, a highly popular best-selling YA author, was one of the first noteworthy authors to engage a young audience on a personal level. He and his brother Hank Green (also a YA author) began utilizing the YouTube platform back in 2007, shortly after the release of John’s first novel, Looking For Alaska. Their channel, Vlogbrothers, became quite popular in the early years, and both brothers worked to encourage their growing fan base of millennials to actively engage with the problems they saw in the world they were inheriting. In December 2007, the brothers created the Project for Awesome, a movement turned charity that encouraged their young audience to use their voices for whatever charities they felt passionate about. The project continues to this day, and in the past five years it has annually raised between $1.5 million and $2 million for various causes.
Both brothers write YA fiction that is highly influenced by the characteristics and struggles of their fans, and the content of their books represents this. The main character in John Green’s best-selling novel The Fault in Our Stars is based on Esther Earl, a young fan turned friend of his who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2006. The two met online in 2007 and then met in person at LeakyCon, a Harry Potter conference, in 2009. In 2014, a handful of years after her death, Earl’s personal writings were compiled and published in a book entitled This Star Won’t Go Out, which appeared on the New York Times YA best-seller list that same year. Hank’s 2018 book, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, centers around recent college graduate April May, who is shoved into internet fame after a shocking discovery. Much of the novel questions the novelty of fame and explores the power of telling your story and the failures and growing pains that can accompany the choices you make for yourself.
These authors have been wildly successful, both in book sales and in personal influence on the lives of those who follow their daily thoughts, blogs, and projects. While social media can be a tool for the marketing and sales of a book, it can go much further. At the end of the day, YA authors are creating a space that goes beyond the stories they tell. They are highly caring, empathetic people who have something to give to a younger generation in whom they are putting a lot of hope. The world of social media and YA is one of understanding that allows young readers to feel seen, encouraged, and empathized with by showing them bravery in characters who are like them.