I need to start out by apologizing. I know writers are weary of being told to build their platforms, to promote their books on social media, to, well, work magic at something most don’t particularly enjoy. I’m one of those voices. And I’m about to tell you to make connections on a platform probably almost no one takes seriously: TikTok. I’m sort of sorry to bring this news to you. But…
Yup, I’m talking about the place where you can watch silly or breathtaking mere-seconds-long videos of people dancing. That’s what I’m talking about. Here’s why: TikTok videos result in books sales. Bar none.
Many social media sites haven’t proven they can result in book. So not true for TikTok.
Here’s the scoop.
TikTok and #BookTok
Readers started to form their own community on TikTok by using the hashtag #BookTok. In 2020, the pandemic drove people to read more than any of them ever imagined. (Publishing’s sales improved by double digits in 2020–in previous years 3-5% growth was the norm. Sales growth continues in 2021–in the teens to twenties–but is showing signs of slowing down.)
Young readers (teens and twenties) talked about their new book loves via #BookTok. Some cried during their video to show how a book moved them; some offered a couple of sentences by way of review. Others created book trailers of several scenes flashing across the screen to capture the essence of the book. All showed the book’s cover.
Surprise Sales from TikTok
Here’s the fascinating part: Publishers didn’t start #BookTok, neither did authors. Most weren’t aware of its power to promote books until titles released years before popped up on best-seller lists in 2020. Everyone in publishing was stymied. Eventually an author would be told by a new fan, “Oh, I found out about your book on BookTok.”
As readers focused their posts on the books they were reading, they amassed startlingly large followings. Their motivations were simply to connect with other readers because so few in their “real” lives enjoyed books. You can read about some of BookTok success stories here (and see samples of videos). Videos with the #BookTok hashtag have been downloaded more than 12 billion times.
Many Barnes & Noble stores, noting how #BookTok drives sales, have a table designated for those readers because customers come in asking for books they saw on Booktok. Here’s a quote from The New York Times article:
“These creators [those who post videos] are unafraid to be open and emotional about the books that make them cry and sob or scream or become so angry they throw it across the room, and it becomes this very emotional 45-second video that people immediately connect with,” said Shannon DeVito, director of books at Barnes & Noble. “We haven’t seen these types of crazy sales — I mean tens of thousands of copies a month — with other social media formats.”
You can also check out the Booktok page on Barnes & Noble’s website to give you an idea of the types of books generating the most energy. Here.
What Do These Social Media Sales Mean for Authors?
Chelsea Apple, a creative strategist and content coordinator, recently wrote an article in Publishers Weekly in which she expounds what fantastic news this is for authors. (You can read her article here.)
The more time I spent on TikTok, the more certain I felt about two things. First, the app created an immensely powerful opportunity for authors to connect immediately with a staggering number of highly engaged readers. And second, the tools for ‘success’ on TikTok differ from those of any other social media platform.
The Pluses and Minuses of BookTok
Publishers have taken note and have vigorously worked to connect with significant BookTokkers. That means those with large followings are being offered payment (some hundreds of dollars, others thousands) to promote specific titles. That’s good news for authors whose publishers are making these investments. That’s bad news for pretty much everyone else.
Nothing like being paid is as likely to blowup the BookTokker’s authentic responses to a book. And since this phenomenon works because of genuine enthusiasm from a mere book lover, what happens when that person is “required” to get emotional about a title?
This also means that #BookTok followers can only read so many books. If BookTok offers too many choices to readers, they could lose interest and move onto some other app to find their books.
Debut Authors Benefit as Well
#BookTok hasn’t just helped to put backlist titles on best-selling lists, nor only those titles by established authors. NBC reports on a debut novelist who strategically built a following on #BookTok before her book released. Here are a few details:
Chloe Gong published her first novel, These Violent Delights, in November, during her senior year at the University of Pennsylvania. A retelling of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ set in 1920s Shanghai, her book made her a New York Times bestseller. But first, Gong amassed a following on TikTok.
Gong gathered a following by offering video reviews of other authors’ books, establishing herself as a reader who contributed to the content available to other book lovers. Eventually she offered behind-the-scenes peeks of her upcoming book, talking about the work of writing and publishing a book, offering writing tips, etc.
She found TikTok users leaving comments about how they were pre-ordering her book. That’s when she saw one of the benefits of BookTok over other platforms: TikTok’s algorithms don’t just show her posts to those who follow her, but also to others whom TikTok notes like reading in Gong’s genre, or plots that are kind of like her story.
You can read about several authors’ experiences with BookTok in this NBC News report.
What about You on TikTok?
I think you’ll find TikTok worthy of exploring if:
- You write fiction. Nonfiction doesn’t have the same traction. (But you could always help to change that!)
- You’re comfortable being authentic, not scripted or sales-pitchy, in your videos.
- The way you present yourself on video is inviting and enthusiastic about books and reading.
- Young adult, sci-fi, fantasy, and middle-grade are the types of books that do the very best. But adult reads can find their audience too. I would think beach reads, romance, historicals with a great hook, all have a chance as well.
Don’t forget that #BookTok is new and, as is true for all things social media, morphing. Play around with it. See if it’s a match for you.
What do you find exciting about TikTok and #BookTok? What turns you off about them?
What social media results in serious book sales? Click to tweet.
Authors: If you’re looking for an effective way to grow your platform and sell copies of your book, check this out. Click to tweet.