In the middle with @booksandquills

In the middle with @booksandquills

Blogs Editor, Mariana Avelino, interviews YouTuber, Sanne Vliegenthart, and asks the burning questions aspiring bloggers and vloggers have always wanted answers to.

The rise of digital media, particularly social media, has transformed how we communicate. With technological advances and the near ubiquity of the Internet, mass communication has arguably become decentralised and more democratic. Anyone with a smartphone nowadays has the potential to reach an audience numbering in the thousands, if not millions, and with that a new profession has emerged: blogging.

This summer, In the Middle caught up with YouTuber Sanne Vliegenthart of Booksandquills to find out what it takes and what it means to be a blogger/ vlogger.

Originally from the Netherlands, Sanne moved to London in 2012, where she made a name for herself as a YouTuber. Her immensely popular channel, Booksandquills, has over 167k followers, and discusses topics ranging from books to travel. As of 2016, she has been producing content for Penguin Platform, a media branch of the publisher Penguin Random House that targets young adult audiences.

In our interview, Sanne shared that she started vlogging in 2008 during her first year of University. Initially, only a spectator, she soon found herself creating videos on all sorts of topics. In her own words, “I wanted to be a part of the [YouTube] community.”

Over the years, Sanne has come to specialise in book vlogs. When asked about the importance of finding a niche, she reflected on the advantages and disadvantages of establishing oneself in an area as a blogger/ vlogger. On the one hand, “you develop a focus and it becomes clear to people what they can expect from you.” She emphasised her pleasure at engaging with likeminded followers who are enthusiastic about the same things she is. On the other hand, she recognised that having a niche can feel restricting.

She was quick to point out, however, that bloggers/ vloggers can, and occasionally do, create content on different topics, or change their niche altogether. “As you develop as a vlogger, you’ll find that some followers leave, but new ones come in. The important thing is to just do what you enjoy, so you keep doing it!”

The importance of motivation was highlighted during the conversation, particularly when Sanne revealed that being a blogger/ vlogger is not always very profitable. According to her, blogging/ vlogging is an ideal Saturday job. Having a popular social media channel is a great way to make extra money, especially through affiliate schemes, but it can be quite a handful to do full-time.

In Sanne’s experience, “it’s especially tricky to do books because publishers are not used to working with YouTube.” Since book vlogs are relatively new to YouTube, in comparison to beauty and fashion ones, ‘BookTubers’ often must convince publishers of their value.

Sanne, for one, appears to have succeeded in finding a happy middle ground. Her job managing Penguin Platform allows her to make a living from discussing books and producing videos. When asked whether she felt Penguin Platform complemented Booksandquills, she elaborated on the different experience that is running the former and the latter. She explained that, on the one hand, the knowledge she has gained from having her own channel helps her run Penguin Platform effectively. On the other hand, working for a brand enables her to treat Booksandquills as a profitable brand.

While recognising the value of shaping one’s personal channel into a brand, she cautioned about walking the fine line between making a living and selling out. “If you promote something out of character, your followers will dislike it.” Sanne shared that when companies approach her about promoting their products, she, as a test, always asks herself whether she would do it for free. Such decisions are not always easy, however, especially for full-time bloggers/ vloggers.

When asked, on behalf of aspiring vloggers, what skills are necessary to start a YouTube channel, Sanne confessed that she kicked off with “zero skills” and very low tech. Reminiscing about the early days, she recalled that she had a digital camera with a tiny screen that could only record 30 seconds of footage at a time! In her eyes, budding vloggers today have an advantage because technology is so advanced and accessible. According to Sanne, all that is needed is a smartphone, because even editing software can be downloaded for free. In fact, fellow BookTuber Jean from Bookish Thoughts used to shoot all her videos using her iPhone instead of a professional camera and no one could tell the difference.

An advocate of learning on your feet, Sanne believes that “you can teach yourself all the skills if you have an experimental nature.” She recommends simply starting to make videos if you are a beginner, even if you have no intention of putting the content online. She also suggests chatting with people on YouTube whose community you want to be a part of. Not only will that motivate you to create your own videos, you’ll make friends with other new vloggers and grow together.

In a closing message to those who are unsure of what they have to contribute to the blogosphere, Sanne said, “I believe that everyone has something which makes them special and engaging: their knowledge, their personality, what they study. For instance, I have my Dutch identity and my love of books […] Just be yourself and make videos you would want to see.”

Check out Booksandquills at

youtube.com/booksandquills, or @booksandquills

Mariana Avelino 

Photo credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVaden00fTc