An interview with Joel Rochester by Neus Forner
It’s unimaginable how big the online book community has become. Bookstagrammers, BookTubers, book bloggers… The love for books has reached almost every type of content. As book influencers, they have become essential in the book market, many turning their love for books into their dream job. In order to understand what really goes inside the book blogger world, we had the pleasure of interviewing Joel Rochester, a welsh book blogger with a grand following, for an insight of the online book world.
Let’s break this interview with an easy question, what are you currently reading?
The first book I’m currently reading is The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite and then the second book that I’m currently reading is To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Palani.
Let’s start from the beginning, when did you first learn about the online book world and when did you realise you wanted to be part of it? I saw your BookTube newbie tag and you mentioned starting your Instagram account and your blog in 2015, tell me more about how you started and how is it different from the content you’re creating today?
I first joined the book community in 2013, which now seems like a long time ago. I had previous accounts early on, but 2013 was when I fully decided I wanted to get into the book community. My friends and I were avid readers and I wanted to see what other people thought of the books I was reading. Then I discovered Goodreads and Tumblr, people book blogging, and I realised I wanted to be part of that. I started posting my thoughts and I made a few friends, and that’s how I started.
In terms of my content, it’s vastly different because when I initially joined, I didn’t really know much about diverse readings. So the only reading I did was what everyone else was reading, like Throne of Glass or A Court of Thorns and Roses, mainly a bunch of white majority books. Then I joined book Twitter and when I started following the right people who talked about diverse books, I realised there are books written by people who are like me starring characters who are also like me. My content has definitely evolved from one that has been pervading and talking about mostly white people books, to now sometimes talking about white people books but mostly more diverse reading and advocating for more diverse reading because I think that that’s what’s majorly important. That is what my brand identity stands for, I guess.
What advice would you give to book lovers who are starting in the online book community?
Make friends!! I think it’s nice when you’re posting content by yourself, but it’s so much better when you have friends to interact with. The validation from your friends is amazing, especially when you’re starting. It’s really easy to make friends in the community as well. Comment on a few of their posts, maybe give them a cheeky DM, just keep interacting with them in order to build that organic friendship with them over time. It’s also really nice to see, especially during lockdown, how the bookish community came closer together because of their love for reading. The way the book community has evolved over the last few years has been amazing to see and experience. 2016 was not a good time for the community, but now in 2020, we’ve all matured a lot more and it’s definitely a nicer place to be in.
If you could describe your online experience in the book community with three words, what would those be?
Encouraging, fulfilling and supporting.
Not only a Bookstagram, but you also have a blog and a youtube channel. That seems like a lot of work and responsibility, how have you been able to keep up whilst undergoing a university degree?
There’s an organizational app called Notion, which I have recently gotten into in my youtube channel, and it is the best way for me to organize. I definitely think that it’s a lot and I will have to spread my different platforms across the week. For example, for this day I’ll write five blog posts and then spread them out over the next five weeks. Similarly, for Bookstagram, I’ll do a photoshoot session and then I’ll edit them and then I will pre-write the captions and the hashtags and then flash them out later on. I’m still trying to figure how to efficiently do BookTube because at the moment it’s kind of like, oh, I will film this video the day of or the day before the upload.
But along with the university this year, since I’m doing my dissertation, I’m only in two days a week for this semester. It’s nice having that gap between what I’m doing for uni and then what I’m doing for everything else.
How do you see your blog and youtube channel in the future? Will it be made into your career? Or are you seeking a different path?
The blog is definitely going to evolve into something more like a repository for diverse books and recommendation posts, video games and TV shows. I also think that it would be interesting if I get other bloggers to join me on the blog.
In terms of my BookTube channel, I think I want to start incorporating study and organisational aspects, reacting to certain book adaptations… Still keeping the core of books there, but evolving outwards into something more.
I have been thinking a lot about whether I would make BookTube my career or my full-time job. But I think I wouldn’t want to because YouTube, in general, is not a stable form of income, as it varies per month. So I’d rather have a stable job and then do put youtube on the side. Eventually I would want to go into publishing as both a writer and also someone who wants to work within the industry. I think marketing and publicity, particularly over the past few weeks, have definitely spoken to me. I’m also writing a novel , so hopefully next year, once I finish my draft and polish it , I can start querying agents and hopefully getting one and hopefully getting a book deal.
I saw that you’re writing a novel, how’s that coming along?
It’s definitely been a love-hate relationship. I think most writers will agree that they have a love-hate relationship with anything they write. You have to read in order to write. And so with all of the books that I’ve been reading lately, I’ve actually been inspired to write a lot more. I was OK with my plot and then I read books and now I’m no longer OK. So I’ve been working on tearing that apart and trying to make it a lot more gripping. I’ve held to that for a little bit because I’m wanting to work on a middle-grade short story at the moment for an anthology that I want to enter. Kwame Mbalia is doing A Call for Joy, a short story submission call for young black male writers, and it’s being published by a big publisher. So I’m working on that one. It’s a middle-grade fantasy about a young boy and a dragon, which I’m excited to get into.
As a QPOC, how has your experience been in this community? What did you wish you saw more of?
I think it’s definitely been a mixed bag. In more recent months, it’s been a lot better since I joined back in late 2014, 2015, There’s always people only advocating for POC books, or only advocating for queer books, but never the intersection of both. We see a lot more now, but I think it’s definitely something we need to focus on a lot more. Plus, when something happens surrounding a Queer POC, there’s only queer POC people or maybe even POC people talking about it. White and white-passing queers don’t talk about it as much. But then when it’s a queer, and coming under fire, they all go for it. It’s disheartening to see because we’re all in the community together. It should just be as important to you than if it was a queer white person.
Obviously, the Black Lives Matter movement. It was interesting to see which members of the community like to advocate for black lives and which just don’t have it whatsoever. It’s been quite a nice social cleanse to get rid of the people that don’t agree. But I just think it’s definitely a weird time it’s made everyone realise that the advocacy needs to extend across every way instead of just only advocating for certain avenues. If you’re advocating for equality, you have to advocate for everyone otherwise you’re not advocating for equality.
What has been your biggest accomplishment since joining the on-line book world?
The first one was when I joined. When I joined BookTube and I blew up really quickly, which I didn’t expect. Just the month before I had one thousand five hundred followers on Twitter, I hadn’t even had joined Bookstagram. And then, in the next three months, I grew astronomically. There’s been a lot of people asking, how have you grown so quickly? How have you done this so quickly? And I have no idea, it’s been a wild ride. I think it has sometimes been because of the YouTube algorithm. I think it’s also been because I’m quite fresh and new, so a lot of people won’t feel the need to binge as much of my content, but it’s also the fact that I had a lot of friends who were wanting to support me in the initial beginning. They also spread the word and that’s how everything caught quite quickly. So, again, a benefit to having friends in the community. Overall, it’s just been quite surreal.
The second thing that blew my mind was when YouTube posted about me on their Instagram page. I had just come home from book shopping, obviously, and then I got a message and they showed me the post that YouTube did about me t because it was like National Bookstore Day. They were recommending my channel for my bookish recommendations. My heart stopped. I even thought, this can’t be by YouTube. I clicked on the account and saw it had four point five million followers, so it was the real deal. I literally just sat there for an hour just processing it.
My third moment was probably starting my book club (@thelatenightbookclub) with Ellias (@elliasreads) and Noelle (@_ngallagher) because they’re both two BookTubers I’ve been looking up towards since starting my channel. The book club has been really fun to start, formulate and plan. We just started it, this being our first month, and it’s amazing seeing everyone read the same book together. So, yeah, I think those are like my top three moments.
That concludes our interview, is there anything you would like to add?
For anyone that’s wanting to start BookTube a blog or a Bookstagram, go ahead and do it! You don’t need anything fancy whatsoever. I record all of my videos on my iPhone and edit them on my laptop. It’s not something you need a lot of money to start. Although that’s the one thing that has been cropping up in the community lately, consumerism and how people like spending money on special editions, or subscriptions. And yes, the book community is one big consumerist thing because people have to sell books, but again, if you do want to start creating bookish content, don’t feel the need to spend money on certain special editions or certain books, because at the end of the day people are going to see you for what you write in your captions, what you talk about in your videos. There are audiences for everything, old books, vintage books, new releases… Find your niche and make it your thing. Mine, for example, is chaos, because I’m a bisexual and it’s the thing I vibe with. Being authentically yourself and just not trying to put on a persona and just enjoying what you’re doing and enjoying what you’re making.