Mastering BookTok: How Publishers Can Win on TikTok

BookTok: it’s the place to be for publishers, readers, and authors alike. Here’s why the online community is launching book sales, and how to get involved.
Fanbytes | BookTok

In 30 seconds:

  • Gen Z is reinvigorating book sales – and it’s all thanks to TikTok.
  • An active and vocal online community of readers are sharing book recommendations, reviews and more all under the #BookTok hashtag.
  • Behind several books’ rise to the top of bestseller lists, harnessing the power of BookTok is key for any publisher looking to attract Gen Z readers. Here’s all you need to know.

Word of mouth has always been hugely influential for book sales. After all, who hasn’t picked up a book based on a friend’s assurance that it’s ‘really good’? Or, on the flip side, recommended a read to a friend so you can talk to them about it?

Enter BookTok, the TikTok community of voracious readers who are shaking up the publishing industry. 

Why is it so exciting? Well, one big reason is that it directly translates to sales. NPR recently published an article stating that BookTok was ‘driving book sales’, and is just one of many news sites making the same claim. It certainly seems the concern that the internet would kill off books wasn’t true. 

But what is BookTok, and how can publishers harness its power to pick up more readers and increase sales? We’ve got everything you need to know, plus examples of past successes. 

What is “BookTok”?

One of many TikTok micro-communities, ‘BookTok’ is the term used to talk about the many TikTokers using the platform to post short videos about their favourite books, authors, and anything else book-related. 

Search a BookTok Goodreads list, and you’ll find that the most frequently recommended genre is young adult fiction. But BookTokers do have a varied taste. Scrolling BookTok, users can easily pass from a video picking apart a well-known novel, to one hyping up a tiny publisher’s latest exciting output. 

Gen Zers love TikTok because it creates an online community, allowing them to discuss their interests with likeminded people. In fact, 59% of TikTok users say they feel a sense of community on the platform. 

Something that’s important to keep in mind is that, unlike other social media platforms such as Instagram or Facebook, TikTok users aren’t going on the app principally to connect with their real-life friends. They’re there to explore their interests first and foremost, and they’ll discover people, influencers and community groups through these.  

That lends itself very well to book clubs.

BookTok functions as a kind of online book club. Users encourage one another to pick up certain titles or explore authors so that they can join a wider discussion. It’s turning the act of reading from an individual experience of consuming written content, to a shared one where people create their own video content response. 

This kind of “content around the content” is where book publishers can really excite young audiences, and spur trends and discussions that can send books viral.

BookTok Books: 7 That Went Viral

How effective is BookTok as a book marketing platform? Short answer: very. The longer answer comes from asking any of the publishers of the following books, each of which went viral on BookTok and soon topped bestseller lists worldwide.

1. They Both Die at the End

Adam Silvera’s queer love story between two doomed teens set the BookTok world alight. 

Published by HarperTeen, the novel focuses on two teenage boys, Mateo and Rufus, who discover that they only have one day left to live. It was initially released in 2017, but rose to Bestseller lists in April 2020 on the back of a surge of interest from TikTok

Users began featuring They Both Die at the End in video reading lists of tearjerkers, and sharing their experiences reading it – with comments full of people playfully announcing they’d been convinced to purchase by the book review. A prequel is set to be released in October 2022 – and BookTokers are readying to get reading and creating content about it.P

@henripurnell super sad ending my unemotional a$$ felt something #foryou #booktok ♬ she knows - favsoundds

2. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

This 2017 novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid details the long life of the titular character, as dictated to a young woman hired to be her biographer. But it was TikTok bookworms’ discovery of her book in 2021 that turned it into a bestseller. In fact, it became the number 3 most-read book on Goodreads last year.

Young book lovers adored The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo for its gripping twists and turns, its LGBTQ+ romance and representation, its old-school Hollywood setting, and Taylor Jenkins Reid’s immersive writing style. And they used TikTok to share their opinions and illustrate their thoughts.

@thebooksiveloved not me crying on video 🤧🥺 ahskagfkag send help—I’m not okay after this book (pt2) #thesevenhusbandsofevelynhugo#booktok#bookish#books#lovestory ♬ original sound - pauline ☀️🌙

3. A Court of Thorns and Roses

Perhaps not one for younger readers, Sarah J. MaasA Court of Thorns and Roses (affectionately known as ACOTAR on TikTok) is both the name of the first novel and Maas’ book series. Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, these popular books are some of the most talked about BookTok reads, and they inspire the most fan art. 

The fantasy setting and impressive world building make it a great prompt for BookTok’s creativity to run wild – and the fact it’s a little spicy in its content certainly doesn’t hurt. In fact, “SpicyTok” is its own community which often overlaps with #BookTok – so much so that Barnes & Noble have dedicated a page for #SpicyTok reads to attract intrigued readers… 

4. The Song of Achilles

Proof that a book doesn’t need to be a new release to benefit from TikTok marketing, Madeline Miller’s 2011 novel, published by Bloomsbury Publishing, started popping up all over BookTok book lists in 2021. The lists included ‘must-read romances with queer representation’, and ‘romance books that will break your heart’. 

The Song of Achilles is based on Homer’s Iliad, and is both beautiful and devastating. Greek hero Achilles’ romance with Patroclus does not have a happy ending – and TikTok users shared their tearful reactions with the BookTok community. It wasn’t long before the book was trending, and it began selling over 10,000 copies a week in the US alone – 9 times more than during its initial peak, when it won the Orange Prize for Fiction. 

5. It Ends with Us

The hashtag associated with Colleen Hoover’s novel It Ends with Us, published by Simon & Schuster’s Atria Books, has amassed over 833.7 million views. Yes, million. 

The book itself came out in 2016. For years, the book’s weekly sales rarely broke double digits. But then BookTok discovered it. Young TikTokers love the novel for its romantic, tragic storyline: it began surfacing in recommendations and inspired a wave of content from aesthetic posts, to roleplaying the characters.

Atria first noticed a sales bump in November 2020, and by summer of 2021, the bump had become a surge. Atria has gone back to press over 20 times to keep up with demand. The novel has sold well over 300,000 copies since the start of 2021 alone. 

6. The Love Hypothesis

Ali Hazelwood’s debut novel, The Love Hypothesis was published by Berkley Books in September 2021, and is proof of how new books can crack BookTok in a short space of time: the read has garnered thousands of reviews and recommendations on TikTok from users who love its fun “opposites attract” tropes and academic setting.

This novel is funny and relatable – but as its heroine is also a woman in tertiary education in STEM, it also taps into other subjects Gen Z loves. ‘Dark academia’ is an incredibly popular collegiate aesthetic amongst young people, while “STEMinists” hit the right note for Gen Zers looking to end the gender gap. It makes the novel aspirational – and TikTokers are enjoying embodying the characters.

7. The Invisible Life of Addie Larue

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V. E. Schwab, published by Tor Books in 2020, didn’t take long to go viral on TikTok. It all started when BookTok influencer Aymans Books (@aymansbooks) posted a video summary and review of the novel that had bookworms hooked. The novel went flying off the shelves, with many unable to get hold of it due to the surge in demand.

This goes to show the power of a great influencer. Tor Books doubled down on this organic first-time review, and got in touch with Ayman to send her more books that she’d love as well as a signed copy of her favourite novel. The reaction to her excited video response is incredibly positive, and shows how incorporating BookTok influencers into your marketing strategy can boost sales and sentiment.

@aymansbooks (yes i’m posting this again bc tiktok took down the sound.) #theinvisiblelifeofaddielarue #bookrecommendations #booktok #bookrec ♬ original sound - Ayman

How to market on BookTok: tips for publishers

It’s clear that harnessing the power of BookTok can lead to a massive uptick in sales and interest around your book list. But how can you tap into the network of readers creating bookish content on the social media platform? Here are 5 tips for publishers ready to engage with BookTok

1. Use influencers

Just like influencers in any other content niche, BookTok influencers are respected for their opinions, and their followers trust in their recommendations. Working with the right influencer will ensure that you not only reach a wider audience of engaged viewers, but it will also add credibility to your posts. 

Even within a niche community such as BookTok, there are influencers specialising in all kinds of genres. Zai (@zai_rambles) specialises in books with Black leads and authors, and you’ll find all kinds of LGBTQ book recs on Simply Sapphic Books (@simplysapphicbooks)’s page, for example. 

Targeting your book launch via a relevant and respected voice such as these will help to make sure you reach the right audience for your books. 

2. Create a trend

We all know that TikTokers love a trend. From viral dances to spicy noodle challenges, trends are all over TikTok – and BookTokers are no different. 

We worked with Penguin Books UK to launch The Upper World by Femi Fadugba. We engaged influencers to launch a TikTok trend that encouraged users to talk to their past selves – just like in the premise of the book. 

@amyepohl #ad #POV imagine being able to go back in time and change your future… #TheUpperWorld ♬ Dark Matter - femifadugba101

The POV (point of view)-style videos integrated with the app’s native content, used TikTok slang and encouraged TikTokers to try the trend and apply it to their own life story. This worked to boost awareness of the novel and encourage UGC and organic interest in the title. 

The campaign successfully launched The Upper World into the realm of BookTok, with videos like the one by Husnain Asif having been viewed over 633 thousand times. 

3. Highlight a unique selling point

Some of the most popular BookTok content are lists of recommendations – as you might expect. 

What you might be surprised to hear, however, is the subject of each of these lists. Instead of lists based on the New York Times bestseller list, or book sales figures, on BookTok you’re more likely to find Top 10 rundowns of ‘Books that left me heartbroken and shattered for days’ or ‘Books that changed my perspective on life’.

@.journeybookclub some of my favorite (and easiest) reads that changed my perspective on life! follow @journeybookclub on instagram for more recs like this! xx #booktok #book #bookclub #bookworm #bookrecommendations #bookrecs #booktoker ♬ yelena belova needs a hug - eliza! 🎧

Highlighting an unusual aspect of your book is a surefire way to pique readers’ interests – especially if you situate it within a wider list of already-popular titles. In particular, romance and heartbreak are popular (as E.Lockhart and Casey McQuiston have found) as is fantasy (just ask Leigh Bardugo or Olivie Blake).

4. Get Creative

Not every BookTok video is an outright recommendation. In fact, many of the videos posted to this popular hashtag are extra creative: comedy skits, cosplay (dressing up) outfits, books according to zodiac signs… even videos poking fun at readers’ habits and not naming specific book titles at all. 

So, have fun with it. Dress up as characters, rank your books by how likely they are to make you cry, put together an aesthetic post based on the books’ vibes… The possibilities are endless. 

5. Showcase Diversity

Gen Z cares a lot about diversity and inclusion. They’re the most racially diverse generation in history, and the most LGBTQ+, too. They consider consumption to be a matter of ethical concern, preferring to support brands who speak out on causes that matter to them.  

One of the reasons TikTok has proven so popular amongst Gen Z audiences is its ability to bring communities together to celebrate their unique identities – and it has sparked several movements amongst Gen Z activists too. 

On BookTok, this ethical focus is visible mostly in the kinds of books that make it big: they feature diverse characters, and the content creators who talk about them always stress when a book does a good job of representation – or when it doesn’t. 

Gen Z readers are bored of having to search for content that reflects their own experiences. BookTok, in that sense, functions as a filter for readers to easily find books that speak to them. That’s why so many of the viral novels have a queer focus. 

By showcasing the diversity of your publication list, you’ll not only show Gen Z that you’re a brand they’d like to support, but you’ll also increase brand sentiment amongst this younger generation. 

Gen Z on TikTok: A new generation of readers?

As one NY Times article put it, “no other social media platform seems to move copies the way TikTok does.” 

The power of BookTok to influence sales of books both new and old is unparalleled across social media. So much so that it’s influencing the set up of physical bookstores, too, who have started displays of “BookTok books” to help Gen Z shoppers locate the latest viral read. 

The success of past viral hits has proven that for a book to capture the interest of Gen Z readers, it needs to hit on a few of the elements they enjoy posting about on TikTok the most. That is: it should be diverse, emotional, and interesting to engage with or discuss amongst peers. 

For publishers, this is all good news. It means that by being active on TikTok, and by exploring BookTok communities, you can attract readers from all over the world – and potentially catapult a novel onto the bestseller lists… no matter when it was originally released. 

If you want to get started marketing your next viral BookTok success, get in touch with us. We’d love to talk you through how we’ll make your novel come alive for Gen Z on their favourite social media platform.

Marketing on TikTok is hugely beneficial for all kinds of industries and brands. If you’re looking for more tips on making the platform work for you, check out our guides below:

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