Interview with Kalanadi

I posted two weeks ago about science fiction and fantasy Youtubers and Booktubers and also suggested some channels to investigate. I will be including some Youtubers in my ongoing series of interviews with SFF genre people. Today I’m talking to Rachel, a Youtuber who runs a mostly-SFF Booktube channel called Kalanadi

SCy-Fy: How do you prepare for a show, Rachel?

K: Number one, read good books! Get those books read!

I prepare in different ways based on the type of video I’m planning to make. I love watching book review videos and weekly or monthly wrap-ups on Booktube, so those are the two types of videos I do the most on my own channel. I also do the occasional “tag” video, if they tease out books or other interests I’ve never had a chance to talk about before on my channel.

SCy-Fy: Let’s talk about book review videos first.

K: When I’m preparing for a book review video, I script everything. When I realize I’m reading a book that I want to do a full review on, I’ll take notes while reading – key plot points that aren’t spoilers, themes I notice, reactions to characters, thoughts on the writing, mostly.

Once I’m finished reading, I spend upwards of two hours total writing, editing, and practicing a fully-written script. I come from a written communication background, so editing is very important to me in the scripting process. I like to do a first draft and come back 24 hours later to viciously edit it. Having that finished script makes the filming and editing process faster; it also means I won’t forget important points or fail to find the right words on camera!

Tag videos are the only other videos I really prepare for, but I don’t do a full script: they’re often meant to be fun and on the fly! But since they are almost always in question/answer format, I jot down notes for some answers so I’m not scrambling to remember an old book title or an author’s name! But there are definitely some tag videos I’m getting ready to do for which I’ll have to do research into my list of read books and ratings on Goodreads in order to come up with good, interesting answers.

SCy-Fy: What about wrap ups?

K: I never script my weekly wrap-ups; I do almost no preparation for them other than mentally reviewing the list of what I read in the past week. For my channel, weekly wrap-ups are the “decompression” days when I don’t have to be as focused. I’m just chatting at the camera and with my viewers and friends. But it’s usually early hours on a Sunday morning, so brewing a cup of tea always comes first!

SCy-Fy: I’m glad to hear it! What about technical preparation?

K: On the technical side, getting ready to actually film a video is pretty easy. My camera setup is mostly permanent, so when I have decent natural lighting, I drag my chair into view and snap my camera onto my tripod. I check I’m on my mark to be in focus (and then pray, because I move around a lot sometimes), and hit record. Like many Booktubers, I film using my smartphone camera. I’m not cutting-edge either, I still have a Galaxy S3!

SCy-Fy: What are your future initiatives?

K: My channel is very young, so I have a lot of options for expanding! I’ve recently discovered the lack of science fiction Booktubers in the SFF niche in the community. #booktubesff is predominantly fantasy, with a pinch of science fiction. There also aren’t many Booktubers that I know of reviewing or discussing non-fiction science books. I plan to spend more time making in-depth reviews of books for both those categories, as that’s a gap I would love to help fill in. I would also like to do more discussion videos about SFF, the Booktube community, and the reading experience, and that will come in time as I gain my own experience and knowledge.

Booktube also has a significant presence on Goodreads and Twitter, and I would love to become more involved on both those platforms. The Booktube Reading Buddies group on Goodreads is highly active and a wonderful counterpart to the Youtube side.

SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major challenges for the SFF Youtube community in the future?

K: There’s a lot of pressure to make content aimed at getting subscribers and likes. That kind of content is sometimes repetitive or not the most mentally engaging—therefore, losing people’s attention can be a major challenge. And the bigger Booktube grows, the more channels the average viewer is watching, the more engaging you have to be with your videos to keep them coming back to you. That’s just logical, I think.

In terms of repetitive content, I’ve heard comments that people view tag videos as a content creation “crutch” or simply lazy. They’re easy videos to do, but unless it’s a fresh or unique tag, the answers to questions become routine, people mention the same books and authors over and over again, and viewers start tuning out. If you’re a commenter, which you probably are if you’re also a Booktuber, it becomes more difficult to say anything meaningful beyond, “Oh, yes, I want to read that book too!”

Videos can become very one-directional, a one-way presentation that doesn’t invite participation, conversation, and interaction. As with any communication medium, I think Booktubers will need to remember that videos are the tool for communication, not the communication itself: what you have to say and how you say it is most important. Thinking critically and inviting others to think critically reaps rewards for Booktubers who go into the experience wanting to have immersive conversations with people about the books they read.

SCy-Fy: What advice would you give anyone presenting?

K: Prepare what you think you need to prepare in advance, be honest (but respectful) with what you say and how you say it, and be yourself! When it comes to editing your videos, you get to choose what stays in and what gets cut out. You get to shape your persona through acting and editing, but if that personality isn’t really you, how long will you want to keep it up?

And I don’t think this can be stressed enough, even if it sounds hard: don’t simply say you disliked/liked/loved a book, explain why. Star ratings and constant superlative adjectives do get tiresome. Yes, oftentimes you’re at a loss for words, but put in what you want to get out.

Also, a little filming and editing knowledge goes a long away with making first impressions on potential subscribers. I struggle with this myself, especially with lighting – you’re at the mercy of the weather and natural lighting if your camera doesn’t play nice with indoor lamps. So really, be aware of simple, easy rules like not placing windows or lamps behind yourself. Be conscious of how you behave on camera when you’re getting started, like looking at the camera for a beat before you start talking and after you stop talking.

And don’t be afraid of scripting! Scripting is your friend if you think you ramble too much or if you want to cut down the length of your videos.

SCy-Fy: Just between us – your secret list of useful resources?

K: The best Booktube investment I’ve made so far is a 1 TB USB external hard drive! That’s not a very secret resource, but it’s portable and I can flip between using multiple computers to work on my video projects. It makes life so much easier!

I film with my smartphone camera on a borrowed tripod and I have a backup webcam that was gifted to me. I’m teaching myself how to use VideoPad for editing, but have no shame in admitting I often still use Windows Movie Maker!

Probably my most invaluable resource is my list of read books. Having a written record of most of my reading life has become an immensely useful resource since I started Booktubing. I know for certain what I’ve read (and when) and what I haven’t. I refer to that list a lot!

SCy-Fy: Points to watch out for with Booktubing?

K:  You can very quickly get sucked into obsessing about your channel’s growth, even if you think you are mentally shielded against it. When I started, it was about the same time people began talking about the pressures of Booktubing and the (un)importance of the numbers and statistics. Comparing your stats to a huge channel’s stats is fruitless. Obsessing about your like and dislike numbers is also fruitless. Worrying about not reading as many books as other people is an easy trap to fall into.

Also, in Booktube, you don’t need to read what everyone else is reading. The book hype machine is real and it’s a monster. You don’t need to get on all the popular book bandwagons unless you want to. Read the books you want to read, talk about the issues you want to talk about, and like-minded people will discover you. I get a thrill every time I say “I’m pretty sure no one else has ever read this…” and someone pops up to say “I have!” Then you get to bond!

SCy-Fy: Things that have kept you going in hard times?

K: The friendships I’ve formed are the most rewarding part of Booktubing and that’s what’s going to keep me going. People are incredibly kind and understanding on Booktube. Getting nice comments from people always, always helps.

SCy-Fy: Any controversy so far?

K: Nope, not for me at least! Negative comments happen, of course, because this is the Internet, but on the whole I’ve not personally experienced controversy.

SCy-Fy: The most popular show you’ve presented?

K: Oh, the most popular video I’ve made is a strange one! I did a review of The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse and it has the most views of all my videos so far—I’m not sure why! I think comments are more indicative of a successful video, and for me that would be my first discussion video, Making & Unmaking Lists, about keeping lists of read books.

SCy-Fy: Your personal favourite?

K: My personal favorite is my review of Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold. Not only was the book fantastic and thought-provoking, but I didn’t script the video beforehand (I didn’t have time). I was very happy with how I managed to express myself! It was a personal achievement. I’m not sure if it’s the best video I’ve made—but I’m proud of it!

SCy-Fy: What have been the best books, films and TV shows you have read or seen recently?

K: So far this year, my favorite books that stand out are Mirror Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold (that book just took the Vorkosigan Saga to a new level! I can’t wait to finish the series) and The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (Maia was a beautiful character choice).

SCy-Fy: Which forthcoming books are you most looking forward to reading?

K: There are so many book releases I’m eagerly anticipating! Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie is at the top of my list. I also want to read Ken Liu’s novel debut The Grace of Kings, N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, Madeline Ashby’s Company Town, and the English translation of Angélica Gorodischer’s Prodigies.

SCy-Fy: Thank you, Rachel, and keep up the good work!

K: Thank you for inviting me!

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