Would John Green Have Been Such a Successful Author without Vlogbrothers?


This question has poked at me for weeks.

Before any of you get angry (avoiding giant squids at all costs) I liked John Green and his books before I watched, and I mean really watched, his and Hank’s videos (and even more so after the fact). I’m expressing a thought, not bashing someone I admire. Promise. I want to discuss, not at all criticize.

To give a little background, through NaNoWriMo I discovered an aspiring writer who also happened to be a vlogger on YouTube. This would have had to have been in 2008 or maybe 2009 (still in high school, I try to block most of the specifics out). John may have done a video about it and I saw that, too.

Anyway, this vlogger was also something called a “Nerdfighter” and at that point I had no idea what that, or DFTBA, meant. I just liked to follow people who wrote like I wrote, and she followed the Vlogbrothers, so I sort of hopped on the bandwagon. I watched a few videos. They were entertaining. I didn’t really understand whatever this nerd-culture-thing was though.

I mostly stuck to writing as time went on, but my curiosity about John’s books persuaded me enough to buy a few. I fell in love with them, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson ended up being the first new release of his I bought fairly soon after its release date. I continued watching Vlogbrothers videos on and off (mostly off) until a few months ago, when I decided I needed to understand what a Nerdfighter was and why Hank and John were so, well, awesome.

So I did what many have tried and I suppose succeeded to do: watch thousands of Vlogbrothers videos, starting from January 1, 2007, in order, straight through to 2015.

Quite a feat on top of work and school and, you know, maintaining baseline homeostasis and all that. But the thing is, it’s almost like you can’t fully understand the full awesomeness of his books without having seen the videos. It goes the other way, too. That’s why I did it. I love books, but because I’ve wanted to publish my own for so long (still working on it), I have this deep appreciation and curiosity for and about the writers behind the books I love.

This raises yet another question: is it because of John’s books that we also like his videos, or because of his videos that we remember to pick up, read and appreciate his books?

I don’t think there’s a definite answer to that one; I think it goes both ways. I think both of these elements of his literary and virtual character—the writer and the video blogger, though there are more—hold each other up in ways neither could do alone.

John’s books are good (good enough for the world to go crazy about them all over again, now that there are movies sprouting) but at first, and long before his and Hank’s success as YouTubers, he was just another young adult author. There are more YA authors out there than we often know what to do with. I write in that genre and Sarah Dessen is my second favorite behind John, so that’s not a jab at YA at all either.

Yet when TFIOS was announced, Nerdfighteria went so crazy about it that the publisher moved up the release date (basically so all the nerds would shut up and read the freaking book already, but logistically because what publisher would pass up the chance to explode sales earlier than initially anticipated due to a No. 1 spot on bookseller sites even before it came out?).

John didn’t know it at first—after all, he and Hank started vlogging back-and-forth as basically a bet between brothers (it became more than that, obviously)—but he’d figured out a new way to casually promote his authorship before most people even knew how YouTube worked.

The reason it’s so hard not to like him (well, if you don’t, that’s completely up to you and I’m not judging) is that he promotes his work all the time—but not because he has to. He is pretty much a master of virtual communities. He is not afraid to show people who he is or what his life is like, which makes his books so much more heartfelt and meaningful. We see the person behind the words he writes. This is exactly why I try to encourage aspiring writers, like myself, to immerse themselves in their genre’s virtual community even if they haven’t published anything yet.

Why? Because a book becomes more than a book the moment you understand why it was written. Without the author, there would be no book. You can’t ever fully appreciate a book, essentially, unless you know enough about the writer to just ‘get it.’

I do believe, without his consistent online presence, John’s books still would have made impressions on many readers. They are highly relatable, entertaining and well-written. However, I don’t think he could have made it to the level of success he’s at now without it. Where are all the young adults, the most likely to read YA novels? On the Internet. On YouTube. Looking for public figures, or really just people, who understand them and their struggles and speak to them like the intelligent individuals they want the world to know they are.

Where is John Green, when he’s not writing or roaming around Europe with the Paper Towns cast? On the Internet. On YouTube and Twitter and Tumblr, speaking directly to an audience who wants to hear what he has to say, believing in and accepting everyone, giving them a pretty good reason to want to read his books without having to do much of anything extra to push them to read.

As far as fame goes, I think this guy has it all figured out.

But he’s not just famous, really. He’s a real, honest person who just happens to write books and make videos and be awesome. That’s why I appreciate him, because completely on accident, he figured out how to do it all well, and do it right.

Love&hugs, Meg<3

Image courtesy of John Green [Facebook].

A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup.  She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.

8 thoughts on “Would John Green Have Been Such a Successful Author without Vlogbrothers?

      1. I know. Loving it. Have you watched The Show? I’ve started watching that as well and FTL I can see why they love Ze Frank so much.

      2. I haven’t yet – it’s on my list to start though. After exams hopefully! I love a good few videos but unfortunately I’m one of those people who can end up watching for hours at a time and not realize it!

  1. A very interesting idea you have there. One must remember that Looking for Alaska was pre-vlogbrothers, and (from what I can tell) was fairly successful. I reckon John could have been a very successful author without youtube. I do believe that the TFIOS hype was primarily a you tube thing, and the film adaptations I also believe were responsible. It would have sold well, but the initial interest wouldn’t have been as big without Vogbrothers…

    Then again, I consider this hypothesis. John’s books are a bit one now, similar to one steven king. Would people have tired of John Green tropes more easily if he didn’t have the videos? Would the more recent books have been successful. Oh well, all the ‘what if’s’ we can only imagine. I imagine his first 2 books being successful, but as time went on, interest would have likely waned. John did build a YouTube fanbase, so it is likely he’d have been less successful.

    1. I just think it’s interesting to note how so many different people have discovered both (his books, Vlogbros) one because of the other, or through another medium. It highlights how influential social media has become and authors really have to know how to cater to their market, not just with their books but within online communities now as well. It’s becoming such a huge part of the job. (The thing about John is, you know it’s not just a PR person running his Twitter, for example. Though if it was, they’re doing a fine job with him, ha.)

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