You would think that a social media platform made for consuming seconds-long videos one after the other wouldn’t appeal to a bookish crowd. But with the rise of #BookTok – a hashtag on the social media platform TikTok devoted to all things literature – readers are just as likely to be thumbing through these short video clips as they are to be thumbing through a paperback. The influence of #BookTok goes far beyond the screen of a smartphone, though, proving a true force in the publishing industry. According to eBook and audiobook service Scribd, books showcased on BookTok have risen an average of 75% in popularity. And Barnes & Noble has an entire website section (and a table in some brick-and-mortar stores) devoted to titles trending on the platform. Whether you’re looking for Booktok tips as an author looking to gain traction for an upcoming title or simply as a spectating bibliophile, we’ve got answers to all your queries, with some input from the creators and writers who know it best.
What is BookTok, anyway?
#BookTok is more than just a hashtag. It’s a corner of the internet where literature lovers can laugh and cry together, authors can promote their work and share writing tips, and everyone from indie booksellers to big-name publishers can reach their audience in a more personalized, untraditional manner. The niche has the power to launch a new writer’s career or even launch a title published years ago to bestselling stardom. And it’s free to use, too. You don’t have to be a full-blown creator to make an impact. Even if you just make one video, there’s a chance the right folks will find it, thanks to the magic that is the ultra-personalized TikTok algorithm.
Who’s on BookTok?
Given the newness of TikTok itself, which launched in 2016, it’s no surprise that Gen Z has a strong BookTok foothold, but you truly can find all kinds (and all ages) of bibliophiles dwelling there on both the audience side and the creation side. “The BookTok community as a whole is a diverse community of people, reading and talking about the books that they love, even the books they hate,” says Ayman Chaudhary (@aymansbooks), a 21-year-old who holds the title of BookTok’s most popular creator with 901,800 followers. Chaudhary began posting on her account in August of 2020 after she was inspired by finding a video tagged “#BookTok” on the platform earlier that year. She never set out to “influence” others (just to enjoy herself by making a few bookish videos here and there) until one book recommendation video went viral later that year.
@aymansbooks like who taught you these words ?!? #bookishhumor #bookishthoughts ♬ Thx for using my sound – uli
Melissa Blair (@melissas.bookshelf) is an Ontario-based Anishinaabe-kwe writer and book reviewer. She describes the BT crowd as enthusiastic, curious, and hilarious. “Some of the funniest people on the app are BookTokers,” she adds. Blair is known on the platform for her on-point reviews of books that might not get as much traditional publicity, like books by Indigenous and queer authors and nonfiction books focused on Indigenous and feminist issues.
@melissas.bookshelf I use these all the time #books #author #writing #depression #mentalhealth ♬ original sound – Melissa Blair
She’s also known for putting on a full-blown mystery-solving extravaganza for BookTokers in December of 2021 after anonymously self-publishing her debut novel, A Broken Blade. She invited people to solve the question of which prominent BookToker was behind the new release through a clever campaign complete with wax-sealed personal letters and a series of video clues.
What’s on BookTok?
In short, anything you could imagine: Book reviews both short and long, quick-picture slideshows set to music to pay homage to the mood of a book, witty and creative ways to remind us all how great our local library is, mini tours of dreamy bookstores around the world, thematic book roundups, and so much more.
As far as trending content styles for early 2023, Chaudhary has noticed a pattern of BookTokers pulling a powerful quote from a book and showcasing it on screen to catch a viewer’s attention, as well as a more multimedia approach to book recommendations. In one example, the creator plays a video clip on a laptop, then closes the laptop and brings the book on screen to better encapsulate the energy of the story. Blair has noticed a greater emphasis on reviewing short books and novellas on the platform (perhaps BookTokers are looking for a head start on their robust Goodreads 2023 reading goal).
BookTok and Book Sales
Chaudhary’s first viral video – before she became the force she is today on the platform – was 57 seconds long, instructing viewers to: “Stop what you’re doing, shut up, and read this book,” the book being The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab. After her video received thousands of views, the title launched onto the New York Times bestseller list in mere weeks. Blair’s debut novel, Blade, sold nearly 4,000 copies in the first two weeks after its release (presumably enough to cover any funds put toward self-publishing the book). The hashtag #ABrokenBlade has garnered nearly 3 million views. “It was a mix of emotions,” says Blair of her book’s viral moment. “I was shocked by the level of response the book and the launch had online, so it was very exciting but also very overwhelming.”
@aymansbooks thank you V.E. Schwab & every publisher for this book #theinvisiblelifeofaddielarue #veschwab #booktok ♬ Emotional Piano Instrumental In E Minor – Tom Bailey Backing Tracks
Scribd notes that Colleen Hoover’s It Ends With Us enjoyed a 70% jump in readership after reaching BookTok fame, and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller increased its readership by 68%, even though it was published nearly a decade before it made appearances on the bestseller list. Even book giants like Barnes & Noble have acknowledged the power of TikTok to launch titles to viral stardom, with BookTok-themed tables in stores as well as newsletters and webpages to help customers get their hands on those sought-after viral titles quicker.
BookTok Tips: How to Get Started
The best way to get started is to simply get inspired by other writers and readers on BookTok and make content that you love. “Get inspiration from them and see how they promote their own books and how, in return, you can do it on your own,” Chaudhary says. “Authors can make their books go viral on their own the same way readers can and vice versa.”
According to Blair, being a BookToker involves balancing pre-planned videos with of-the-moment creations: “I plan out videos for book reviews and recommendations. But sometimes I have a fun idea for a trending sound and film on the spot.” For Chaudhary, it’s being choosy about what books make the cut to be promoted on her account. “I don’t post about every book that I read, and that’s because I like to post about books that are objectively good, my audience would like, and nothing that’s harmful,” she says. “Post ideas mostly come to me in the moment. I like to incorporate sounds and concepts into my content. When I see stuff on my [TikTok] ‘for you’ page, I think to myself: ‘How can I make this book-related?’”
The Status of TikTok
Books have not gained the same traction on Twitter or Instagram as they have on TikTok. Blair feels that TikTok is the perfect place to catch the attention of newer readers, so to speak, since the short format and high level or personalization can aptly match users with content that interests them but they wouldn’t discover otherwise. “It gets non-readers into the BookTok space in general and can help lifelong readers discover new books and genres,” she says. “Because the videos are so short, I think users are more willing to ‘risk’ their attention on something new in a way that they just aren’t with longer-form content.”
Chaudhary agrees that the bite-sized format of TikTok is a huge factor in reaching a broader readership. “I believe information – whether it’s books or not – transfers better on TikTok, in some cases. Within 10 minutes of scrolling through your ‘for you’ page, you can experience dozens of different emotions and gain new knowledge about so many things you’ve never heard of. I believe one of the reasons why books have become so popular in the past few years is because talking about these books on TikTok makes it much easier and simplistic.”
BookTok Advice for Writers
Blair has this BookTok advice for writers: “Have a clear notion of what you’re trying to accomplish on the app before you post. Also, spend the time necessary to understand the differences between reader and author spaces, and don’t infringe on reader-only discourse.” Also, any author looking to join BookTok should prepare to get personal. “Only join if you’re wanting to post consistently and engage with readers in a much more personal way than ever before,” she says. “I would join to build a genuine community with your readership and not just promote your books – those videos don’t often do well, anyway.”
Chaudhary also recommends writers keep an intimate approach when it comes to making content, like showing behind-the-scenes moments of the writing process to forge a connection.
Cathryn Haight is a writer and editor based in Boston. A former staffer at The Improper Bostonian, she writes about food, art, travel, and (obviously) social media. cathaightwrites.com