For anyone who’s self-published a book, or even had one put out by a traditional publisher, you know that selling your book can prove challenging. Many would-be indie authors might even put off self-publishing to begin with due to not knowing how to successfully market their work.
If you’re an author who’s struggled with this problem, then Booktok might be your solution.
What is Booktok? It’s a very popular, very active, very trendy, and evidently very influential book-loving community within the massive ecosystem that is TikTok.
Booktokers post reviews and reactions to all kinds of books, ranging in length from a few seconds to several minutes.
According to Dr. Brenda K. Wiederhold, who writes in the journal Cybersychology, Behavior, and Networking in her editorial, “Booktok Made Me Do It: The Evolution of Reading,” what makes Booktok particularly unique, as opposed to what you might find on Goodreads or YouTube (BookTube):
BookTok posts usually highlight the reader’s emotional reactions to the plot and characters, often featuring evocative imagery and dramatic soundtracks.
These types of micro reviews might at first appear superficial, silly, or inconsequential, especially to those outside the Gen-Z cohort. As an older Millennial/late Gen-Xer myself, I’ll admit I’ve kept TikTok off my radar until very recently. But as I explored BookTok after reading Wiederhold’s editorial, I found it was better to think of this particular social media not as a some refined mosaic of individualized editorial content, but more as a fluid, on-going conversation. Whereas YouTube rewards more structured and formalized mini-TED Talk-ish type content, Booktok is messier, unfiltered, but also more authentic and conversational.
In a way, with its widely accessible, authentic, and entertaining content, TikTok in general — and BookTok in particular — brings storytelling full circle, back to its oral roots.
Okay, so people have found a new social media hangout to discuss their passion for reading, and they’re putting out all sorts of creative, funny videos.
Now for the big question:
Is the Booktok trend actually leading to higher sales?
Uh, yeah. Some publishers, like Bloomsbury, have seen a 220% rise in profits, which they report is due to BookTok. Many publishers also observed that many books on their bestsellers lists were not necessarily new releases, but older books experiencing renewed interests on TikTok’s virtual book club. This is a fascinating trend, as more often than not, a book tends to have its best success right at initial release, then generally fades away into obscurity barring something like a big shot movie deal or an uptick in ad spending.
Unsurprisingly, many of the books that have been elevated on BookTok are in the young adult and contemporary fiction categories. But the BookTok phenomenon has caused many publishers to rethink their marketing and promotional strategies for all kinds of genres.
For indie authors, BookTok could be a possible solution to generate organic interest in a new release, or maybe an old one that’s been sitting there collecting dust with a big ol’ goose egg sales count number that you’re trying to figure out how to put into reader’s hands. But it’s important to keep in mind that Booktok’s main currency is authenticity, not mindless shilling.
As Wiederhold says:
TikTok users tend to upvote honest, personal experiences.
And these experiences tend to be short and to the point. Whereas YouTube reviews usually require a lengthy time committment, BookTok is more like a good friend telling you about a cool thing they just read that you should go check out. TikTok’s overall algorithmic aesthetic seems designed to grease the skids of word-of-mouth advertising rather than the sit-down-and-consume model YouTube and other places seem to have.
So, what is the BookTok community like? I went to go check it out for myself, and actually signed up for a TikTok account for the first time ever. I’m also a fledgling indie author who’s struggled with the vexing problem of how to market my books, so this subject hit close to home.
Here’s a few cool accounts I found, and some of he things I learned about in my brief BookTok experience:
“abbys_library3,” 21-year old woman who works at a publisher, has almost 90,000 followers, and has been posting regularly since just July of last year. She’s posted reviews of all sorts of books, particularly in the romance and thriller genres. One thing I learned checking out her videos is the variety of different titles. It isn’t just all Harry Potter and Twilight fans on Booktok. Some of her videos also feature theme music that matches the genre being discussed. For instance, her video “NEW BOOK ALERT: When You Are Mine” has suspense music overlaid with the review.
“charlielovesbooks” is a pretty new channel just started last November by a man based out of NYC. He’s done videos on popular fiction like The Godfather by Mario Puzo, memoirs like The Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger, and other non-fiction like Bitcoin Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. Barely five months old, charlielovesbooks has over 4,000 followers, and most of the reviews are under two minutes long. His videos, some of which extend beyond just book reviews, have engagement, also. In his last upload, “My biggest pet peeve when reading,” has 148 comments since March 1st.
If you’re looking for an experience that’s more traditionally “Tiktokky,” check out “booktokbenny” who incorporates a lot of music and enthusiasm into his book reviews. He talks a lot about the adult high fantasy series A Court of Thorns and Roses, and has built up a following of 10,500 in just one month.
Overall, my Booktok plunge showed me that sometimes the places that can provide the best marketing opportunities are counter-intuitive. I never would have thought TikTok of all places would be thriving with book lovers. As an avenue for indie authors, it appears a worthwhile one to explore, that unlike much of Twitter and YouTube, hasn’t been swamped out yet with ruthless and spammy opportunists. It’s still the Wild West, in many ways. Just try to keep it real on there.