In an age of apps and games, of Facebook and Twitter, it seems you’d be more likely to see a teen texting a mate than reading a book. And, in many cases, I fear, you’d be right. I’m a firm believer that there’s a book out there for every reader; it’s just about connecting the right book with the right person. It’s difficult, though, to vie for attention in a world that is becoming increasingly digital. As a blogger, I have often wondered what I can do to encourage teen reading. I was aware that the audience I was targeting wasn’t aware that I existed. So I thought about it repeatedly, trying to work out a way to reach these teenagers and, the simple answer was, I couldn’t, at least not in the way I was thinking. I couldn’t just reach out and expect them to pop to Waterstones the next day and buy a bag load of books or register with their local library.
The best way to build an audience around teen reading was, I decided, to utilise what and who I knew and, with that, think outside the box. The result of this was the #YAtakeover: the first ever, digital book festival to take place across a twenty-four hour period. I contacted a designer and, together, we worked on designing the logo for the event; something that would pop and intrigue. I jotted down my ideas and the themes for the Twitter interviews and reached out to YA authors both in the UK and the US to try and bring the two audiences together and build a global-ish event.
When the event launched on the 8th January, we had a schedule of content that included a diverse range of issues that included representations of LGBT issues, and taboo and mental health in YA literature. It trended once on the 8th January and again on the 9th January consecutively for six hours, drawing attention to our event and reaching the desired audience. It just happened to be a bonus that we made hundreds of new connections with librarians, bloggers, readers and more. Overseeing the event, I realised that it had become something much more than I imagined it to be. The interview on libraries drew attention to their limited budgets and what we, as readers, can do to support our local libraries; how we can get involved and make a change. The interview on mental health transcended the world of fiction and raised real concerns over mental health services for teens and predicted budget cuts to these services this year in the UK.
The event started out as a way of reaching teens and to promote reading. What started out as a digital, YA lit festival, created opportunities to raise awareness of, and support, important causes. The #YAtakeover tweets had 1.8 million impressions collectively for that twenty-four hour period, with readers tweeting from cities as far away as Washington and Sydney, and as close to home as London and Dublin. I have learned so much from this event but, even more so, I have discovered new ways to reach teens and, hopefully, encourage those readers to pick up a book and enjoy reading as much as I do.
Christopher Moore is the creator of the #YAtakeover and a blogger (@YAfictionados). He completed an MA in Publishing and Creative Writing in 2014 and has previously worked for HarperCollins Publishers UK and Egmont Publishing UK.