At the end of a long day of work, many people would want to kick back and curl up with a good book to wind down. Jack Edwards leaves his job in the publishing industry to go home to read for YouTube, and he absolutely loves it.
The popular YouTuber is an avid book lover, currently residing in London. He creates witty and thoughtful literary videos where he provides commentary and recommendations to his increasingly growing audience.
We spoke with Jack about his experience documenting his time at university, how he shifted niches and how he manages his YouTube channel with a full-time job in the literary industry.
From books written by celebrities to books sold solely for aesthetic purposes, Jack reads, reviews and recommends books with wit, honesty and charm.
“.. people have referred to me as YouTube’s resident librarian. And I really love that as a title.”
“(The focus of my channel is to) make videos about literature and about books, but within the context of pop culture,” Jack said. “And to hopefully help people find a way into reading… taking down that barrier of intellectual snobbery by bringing that whole pop-culture element to it.”
Since 2016 Jack, has grown his audience to over 400,000 subscribers.
“A book club is very wholesome, (with) usually 10 people in it,” Jack said. “Whereas I have 400,000 in mine, which is just so lovely.”
University: A New Chapter
Jack began posting on YouTube in 2016 to document leaving home to head off to Durham University to study English literature.
“(I have) always been really academic. I think it was the only thing I was good at,” Jack said. “When you’re not very good at sports or singing or dancing or anything like that, it’s a process of elimination.”
The challenge for him, though, was knowing how to navigate this new world of higher education. Jack was the first person in his family to attend university and he was admittedly terrified. As much as he researched, he couldn’t find any place with accessible advice. He was hoping to find somewhere where people were explaining the higher education system from the perspective of a current student.
So Jack began to document his experience going to university and shared it on his YouTube channel. His channel served as means to share a current university experience for someone in his shoes.
“for me, it was this really confusing, mystical world of, what even is university? It was just very abstract as a concept. I always wanted to go, but I didn’t actually know what it meant to be at university (as) a student.”
“I just started filming the whole thing, and just tried to break down that barrier of accessibility to demystify university and higher education and getting a degree,” Jack said.
For the following four years Jack shared the ups and downs of his university experience. From giving tips on how to revise to falling out of love with his major, Jack shared it all.
Throughout his university experience, Jack began to grow a massive following. Students from all over were also trying to navigate their way through higher education, and Jack was telling them about it in real-time.
“I didn’t really think (my videos) would appeal to that many people anyway,” Jack said. “So I never expected even those first videos to do as well as they have.”
Though he wasn’t seeking to create a massive online audience, Jack wanted to help other people in his shoes.
“It was really important to me that other people…(would) watch my videos and feel like there’s someone they recognize at university,” Jack said. “(That) there’s a place for them at university. And so they can feel more confident in applying and going there…”
THE UNI-VERSE (Book)
Through out his time in university, Jack developed a wealth of information about the university experience.
“People (would) ask me questions… and I would make videos hoping to break down more of those things,” Jack said. “The book distilled all of that content that was available on my channel into one specific handbook and survival guide.”
Jack’s book, “The Ultimate University Survival Guide: The Uni-Verse”, shares much of the content that he shared online. As well as diving in deeper on topics, Jack touched on subjects that otherwise wouldn’t make very interesting YouTube videos (though still important).
“(Topics like) laundry symbols, and how to iron your clothing. That doesn’t really make for that interesting (of a video),” Jack said. “I don’t think people would make it past the five seconds after you can skip, do you know what I mean?”
Additionally, the book serves as the guide that Jack wishes he had at the start of his university experience; a modern and up-to-date manual on how to navigate university life for the first time.
Jack said he hopes the book “is a guide that could see you through your whole time at university, from someone who was writing it while they were actually living that experience. Rather than a professor who graduated 30 years ago.”
Post Grad Life: Turning the page
Jack spent four years growing a channel about navigating university through his own experiences. Upon graduation, Jack was faced with a dilemma of where to take the direction of his channel.
“I started posting (my university) content, people started enjoying it and requesting more,” Jack said. “So (after) I filmed my whole time at university, I thought I’d hit my peak with my YouTube channel whilst I was there.”
Jack enjoyed capturing his university experience, but it still took a lot of work. He shares that after you’ve been in the YouTube game for four years, you can lose the love for it; and can forget that it is just a hobby at the end of the day. The next direction he would take his channel would need to be something that he could carry on and enjoy doing.
After much contemplation, Jack decided that the best direction to take his channel was to follow the same thing that brought him to university in the first place, literature.
“Books is what I know and what I love and what I would want to watch content about,” Jack said.
His channel went from focusing on the university experience to focusing on literature, a genre on YouTube more commonly referred to as “BookTube.”
“’BookTube’ is quite an established medium and community, and there’s the standard set up where you, at the beginning of the month, you say what you’re going to read; at the end of the month, you do a wrap up,” Jack said. “And I love that content. I adore it. It’s what I consume every single day….I just felt I didn’t have anything to add to that space that wasn’t already being done in that regard.”
What Jack found particularly interesting to him was taking an academic approach to the ‘BookTube’ genre and offering his own editorial version. His goal is to take the concept of talking about books online and come up with brand new concepts that he hopes have never been done before.
“I think what I have been setting out to do is to rewrite the rules of ‘BookTube’, which sounds quite pretentious. But that’s the goal.”
Since reinventing his channel at the beginning of 2021, his channel has grown the same amount in the last five months as it did in his first five years on YouTube.
“That tells me that the rebrand did something right,” Jack said.
“When people ask me about creating a channel – how do I go viral, or anything like that – I always say, find your niche, use your area of expertise to your advantage,” Jack said. “The pop culture stuff, so talking about Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, Kendall Jenner, these people, they are interesting subjects in their own right. But to be able to then put my area of expertise, which is literature, on top of that, that’s what creates that viral moment.”
Standing out in the world of “BookTube” takes a great deal of work. For Jack, that means focusing in on a concept that matches his interest as well as his audiences.
“There’s so much stuff out there, and you never know what can end up being your favorite book …sometimes you need someone to give you that word of mouth recommendation,” Jack said. “So I feel like I do the bit where I read a bunch of stuff and then I can come with confident recommendations that other people may enjoy and they may be able to find their new favorite read.”
From reading books that a particular celebrity has recommended to reading books that are sold for aesthetic purposes, Jack deep dives into book collections and uses his literary area of expertise to offer context to those books.
“It’s all about the concept, and it being a solid title that you would want to click on,” Jack said, “and that you’ll actually come away having learned something or taken away some recommendations.”
When asked where he comes up with his concepts, Jack admits that most of his ideas come to him late at night.
“You know when you get into bed and your brain starts whizzing?” Jack said. “I feel like that’s when I come up with most of my daft concepts.”
Like any academic, Jack writes down all his ideas down and spends a great deal of time researching and reading before he begins filming. Fortunately for Jack, this process is all too familiar to him.
“I guess through doing an English degree where I had to read all these books quite quickly,” Jack said, “I definitely gained skills from doing a degree in it that I now use (as a creator).”
From there, Jack scripts out his notes and ideas for the video. Because he is often reading collections of books, he condenses his thoughts on each book down to around two minutes so his viewers can walk away with a concise recommendation.
Jack’s production process is happening mostly all at once. He shares that he edits as he films.
“I think then it’s easier to visualize what needs to come next. What themes, if I’ve made certain jokes at parts in the video, I try to return to them, just to give that nice arc,” Jack said. “And I think it just makes the video flow quite nicely.”
He’s also researching as he edits to make sure his is giving the most accurate information he can.
“A lot of people have said to me, oh, you should get an editor. And it’s a huge undertaking alongside working a full-time job,” Jack said. “It takes its toll sometimes, doing it all on my own. But equally, I love the storytelling element of it.
“I love doing the editing and turning this concept into a piece of entertaining content. So to me, I couldn’t give up the editing process.”
The whole process comes together when Jack presses upload and the video is out for all to watch.
“It is a huge undertaking. It’s a huge task to try and read all that stuff,” Jack said. “But then when people are like, ‘thank you so much for doing this’ or ‘I’m going to buy that book because you recommended it’, it makes the whole thing worth it.”
“I think being able to share art with people is so great. And I get it in two ways because I get to share other people’s art with my viewers. But I also get to create my own and share that with them in the same process. So it’s a really cool opportunity and experience for me.”
Engagement is an important part of Jack’s creative process as well. His own recommendations sparks recommendations from his viewer creating a symbiosis with Jack and the followers.
“They’ll watch a video. And they’re like, oh, do this person next, or read these books next or I’ve always wanted to know more about this genre… it really feels like a community,” Jack said.
Managing Work and YouTube
In addition to being a one-man researcher, writer, producer, and video editor; Jack also has a full-time job as a research assistant.
“For me, it’s all about the environment that I’m in,” Jack said. “And I have to separate my creative space, which is my room and my computer at home, and when I’m at work.
“I use a coworking space and I go and sit somewhere to do my research job in the publishing industry. So, it’s cool because they do benefit each other. In the sense of I enjoy the process of research, and both (YouTube and my job) are working with books, which is cool.”
The key to managing the responsibilities of YouTube and work is mostly environmental for Jack.
“I was sitting at my desk in my room and working 9 to 5 in my publishing job, and then 5 (p.m.) till 2 a.m. on YouTube stuff. And it was impossible. My back hurt the whole time,” Jack said. “I felt like I was just spending all my time sitting at one space, looking at the same screen. And it wasn’t a pleasant existence.”
That separation gives Jack not only clearly defined lines, but an ecosystem of creativity that feeds both of his work needs.
“When I finish my research job for the day, I can go into YouTube. And when I finished YouTube for the evening, the next morning I do my job,” Jack said. “I’ve never been so creative and I’ve never created so much content and seen so much success on YouTube as well. So I think if anything, it weirdly did the opposite of what it should have done.”
Jack recommends using what works best for you, including free resources like free libraries or other study spaces that you can use or just moving around within your house.
Advice for Creators
Jack’s growth on his channel has not been a predictable one. He has managed to have massive success in one niche and transition to another niche with even more success.
“YouTube is so oversaturated with creators now, I think in order to succeed now you’ve got to be doing something unique,” Jack said. “Use your area of expertise. The thing that you know so much about.
“Right now, the best content on YouTube is being produced by the people who are making more niche, specific content that you can dive into their channel and explore a whole new world of their expertise. If you are enthusiastic and passionate about something, it will radiate from you and it’s infectious.”
“I love seeing people being really genuinely excited to explore their passion and see where it can take them in a creative way.”
Additionally, Jack advises having a library of content. If people discover your content and want more, you need to be able to supply them with just that.
“You need to have an archive of other content so that people, (who) not only enjoy that one video that goes big, also click the subscribe button (so they can) keep watching you and become a viewer of your channel,” Jack said.
Jack’s YouTube journey is still being written. What he’s learned so far is to bring what only he can bring, and that’s his expertise and his own interests. Much like writing a book, having a YouTube channel is a collection of events and moments. There are different chapters and pages that all work together to create one whole experience. Once the author fully surrenders to the story, someone is always there to turn the page.