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Monday, 27 July 2015

Guest Post: #LoveOzYA is Here to Stay

Have you noticed the #LoveOzYA hashtag on Twitter or Facebook recently? We asked Australian author and book blogger Danielle Binks to explain how this initiative to promote Australian YA authors started and what it hopes to achieve.

Back in May, The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) announced lists of the most borrowed books from public libraries across the country. Libraries provided their top ten most-borrowed books in four categories: adult non-fiction, adult fiction, young adult (YA) fiction and children’s books. And in all but one of these categories, Australian writers accounted for half of the most popular books – except in the YA category, which was largely dominated by American authors.

One of only two Australian YA authors to make the most-borrowed listing (the other was Markus Zusak), Ellie Marney coined the hashtag #LoveOzYA to frame a conversation about the poor showing of Australian titles on the YA most-borrowed list.

Coincidentally, the Centre for Youth Literature’s biennial Reading Matters conference was held shortly after, and proved the perfect meeting place for a group of authors, teacher-librarians and industry professionals to talk about #LoveOzYA and brainstorm how to promote Australian youth literature.

What has been borne is a campaign that takes inspiration from ‘Project UK-YA’, which was created by UK blogger Lucy Powrie with similar ambitions of pushing back against the flood of American YA.

For a more concise analysis of how Australian youth literature is being underrated in its own market by global forces, read this article I wrote for Kill Your Darlings. Perhaps the most compelling evidence of this appropriation was expressed at a recent panel discussion held at Readings Bookstore, with this statistic: the Australian YA market is crowded with nine international buy-ins for every one Australian YA book published.

#LoveOzYA is not a campaign trying to police teenagers’ reading habits. The fact remains that teens reading anything is a good thing, even if there happens to be a lot of John Green in their diet. #LoveOzYA has tried to communicate this with the creation of a poster that riffs off the ‘Like, Try, Why,’ series from EpicReads, offering Australian YA readalikes to American YA books – the tagline is “explore your own backyard.”

#LoveOzYA is a grassroots movement trying to help promote Australian books and authors to young readers. It’s a hashtag that’s framing a conversation around visibility – because when there’s so much YA being published, it’s hard to see local content for the international blockbusters.

And in talking about visibility, it makes sense to explore the ways teenagers are finding books. We’re living in a global book market now, and websites like Amazon and Book Depository mean that readers can more easily acquire overseas titles that aren’t even for sale in Australia yet (or have territory rights here).

Lots of teenagers are also turning to social cataloguing websites – like the Amazon-owned Goodreads – for their book recommendations.Not to mention when they’re swayed to purchase by big blockbuster movie adaptations of YA books.

An interview with a group of teen book-clubbers from the 100 Story Building revealed that they’re not even very aware if a book they pick up is written by an Australian or international author – so it’s not about them actively dismissing local content, but rather needing to have conversations with them and promote increased awareness around supporting local authors and Australian publishing generally.

This is one reason why a great aim of #LoveOzYA should be encouraging kids to buy from bricks and mortar bookshops – where there are often children’s book specialists, and (hopefully) shelves dedicated to Aussie YA. Better browsing habits beyond the computer screen would surely help in encouraging them to actively seeking out Australian authors.

We’re also encouraging teachers and librarians especially to reach out to the #LoveOzYA community and invite authors to come and speak to students. Because one strength of reading Aussie YA is the great book community that teenagers are then welcomed into.

The Australian youth literature community is an amazing one, just look at what we’ve already achieved by brainstorming and creating #LoveOzYA – and here are some more organisations that should be commended for their dedication to celebrating Australian youth literature:

And there are so many more initiatives coming out in support of #LoveOzYA. A monthly ‘Aussie Bloggers Book Club’ will be starting in August, and will alternate between international and Aussie YA books. An ‘Aussie Readalikes’ book tag is starting to gain momentum, and Aussie authors like Fiona Wood are taking every opportunity to spread the #LoveOzYA message.

The best thing is that nobody owns the #LoveOzYA hashtag – so however you want to celebrate Aussie youth literature, go for it! That can mean asking your local bookshop to throw a #LoveOzYA event, if you’re a blogger/vlogger – recommending some of your favourite Aussie reads, or if you’re just looking for your next great read – choosing to #LoveOzYA!

Danielle Binks is an emerging Australian YA writer, and book reviewer. You can find her at her website and personal blog Alpha Reader, and chat with her on Twitter (@danielle_binks)

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