The phenomenon of #BookTok

TikTok describes their hashtag ‘BookTok’ as ‘a platform for book lovers to share their favourite books and discover new ones.’ But the 29.3M videos made with this hashtag show that BookTok is more than just a place to get book recommendations. Viral videos with millions of views and likes have resulted in sales of trending books to skyrocket, with some making it to bestseller lists. Traditional marketing strategies for selling books like written reviews and advertising have fallen to the backburner. Now, going viral on TikTok – as is the case with songs, films, and businesses – is one of the most sure-fire ways of ensuring a book’s success.

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One of the first authors that comes to mind when thinking about BookTok is probably Colleen Hoover. Even though her romance novels such as Slammed and Hopeless had made it onto the New York Times Best Seller list long before the launch of TikTok in 2016, this was only the beginning of Hoover’s career as a writer. When It Ends with Us was published in 2016, it sold 21,000 copies in the first month after its release, yet nearly three million copies had been sold by the end of 2022. This is because Hoover’s novel, which is about a woman who experiences domestic violence, went viral on TikTok in 2021 as people filmed themselves crying while they read the end of the book. In 2021, Hoover’s print unit sales were 693 percent higher than in 2020, and to this day, It Ends with Us is No. 11 on the New York Times Best Seller List, having been there for 146 weeks already. Hoover’s success with It Ends with Us and many more of her books shows the power of BookTok to magnify sales. Hoover is also far from the only author to have benefitted from BookTok. Many other authors have seen their books go viral on the platform, including Hannah Grace’s skating romance Icebreaker, which is currently at No. 3 on the New York Times Best Seller list.

But you do not already have to be a successful author in order to do well on BookTok. This is seen in the case of Lloyd Devereux Richards, who spent fourteen years writing his thriller The Stone Maidens, eventually publishing it in 2012. However, the book did not generate many sales until years later in 2023 when his daughter Marguerite posted a TikTok about it. In the video, Marguerite expresses how she would like the book to get some sales because her dad had worked so hard on it. TikTok delivered; the video gained 40 million views in under a week while The Stone Maidens reached No. 1 on Amazon’s Best Sellers list. Richards has since written a sequel, The Maidens of the Cave, and his new thriller The Runner will be released on the 23rd May this year. Richards’s heartwarming story proves how books no longer need traditional marketing campaigns from publishers in order to be successful. Thanks to TikTok, a 15-second video will now do the trick.

While BookTok has inspired the next generation of readers to pick up thriller, romance, and fantasy novels, there has also been a revival of interest in timeless classics. Many TikTok users have made videos recommending classics to people based on contemporary novels they like. Dostoyevsky has been a particular favourite, while Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice gained popularity when TikTok noted that it essentially followed the ‘enemies to lovers’ trope which is rampant in modern-day romance novels. Now that BookTok has an established community, TikTok has created the TikTok UK and Ireland Book Awards where users can vote for ‘the community’s favourite authors, books and creators, through categories inspired by the BookTok ecosystem.’ One of these unique categories includes ‘Best BookTok Revival,’ which Pride and Prejudice won in 2023, with One Day, Never Let Me Go, and 1984 on the shortlist.

Image: Elaine Howlin via Unsplash

TikTok is generally known for its short videos which are appealing to people living in the digital age, where we can access a wealth of information within a matter of seconds. Despite the app’s tendencies to make things extremely popular but only for a very short length of time, I think BookTok is here to stay. Although people are spending more time than ever on their phones, the global community of BookTok now means many of them are now spending more time than ever reading books.

Featured image: Daria Obymaha via Pexels

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