The Next Literary Frontier: The Rise of BookTok


For many people, the once-extensive process of searching the bookstore for novels and scrolling through Goodreads reviews has been revolutionized by the TikTok algorithm and a new wave of content on the app known as BookTok.

On BookTok, the creators of TikTok publish reviews of books of all genres, but in particular, recommendations for contemporary romance and young adult fantasy have taken off. Novels like “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” by Taylor Jenkins Reid, “November 9” by Colleen Hoover and “Six of Crows” by Leigh Bardugo have gained incredible popularity on the app, and the creators of BookTok have been responsible for pushing many of these titles to the New York Times bestseller list, even though they were all published between 2015 and 2017.

According to Laynie Rizer, a local bookseller at East City Bookshop, BookTok has surprisingly revived the popularity of many older novels, known as backlist titles.

“These are books that have been out for a while, a few years or so. Editors often do a great job of highlighting new releases through their own social media and through their influencer programs, but the backlist books are the ones that get the almost surprising true love on TikTok, ”Rizer said in a post. email interview with The Hoya.

For example, “The Song of Achilles”, published in 2012 by Madeline Miller, find selling itself nine times its original copy per week in 2021 because of viral BookTok videos featuring creators tears on the end. Additionally, the title made it into the New York Times’ top three best-selling pocket fiction in March, likely due to over 80 million views on the. #songofachilles tag on TikTok.

Books gone viral

Books that are gaining notoriety on the Internet can seem somewhat counterintuitive. With the rise of BookTok, the web has created an increased enthusiasm for the written word, rather than a loss of interest. The rise of BookTok has had a notable impact on book sales, especially on independent booksellers who pay close attention to what their customers are looking for.

“We have absolutely noticed that when a book becomes popular on BookTok, our customers know it. I can’t tell you how many times I will hear a conversation from customers in the store saying “Oh, I saw this book on BookTok! “About one thing or another,” Rizer said.

The accessibility aspect of BookTok is key to increasing the virality of certain titles, according to BookToker and Georgetown University student Allison DeRose (COL ’23). DeRose reviews books on her TikTok account, where she has 114,000 subscribers and nearly 10 million likes.

Amazon | Books like “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller, published many years ago, have grown in popularity thanks to BookTok.

“BookTok offers easy access. You see a cover, you see a short description and you want to buy it, ”DeRose said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya.

These quick book reviews have created noticeable changes in the interest of bookstores large and small. James Case, managing director of Kramers at Dupont Circle, has seen an increase in sales of some titles as BookTok has grown.

“Romance and Young Adult both seem to be popular with TikTok – Colleen Hoover has seen a surge in popularity because of it. It’s actually a pandemic theme, because I think a lot of people want to enjoy light and happy reads, real life being so serious most of the time, ”Case said in an email interview with The Hoya.

At East City Bookshop, booksellers are even adapting their sections to accommodate this new wave of reader interest. According to Rizer, customers typically head to specific headlines they’ve heard about on the internet.

“We currently have a ‘These books are Tiktok approved!’ show up in our Young Adults section, but most people who pick up a BookTok book already know what they’re looking for, ”said Rizer.

Changing the way people read

A major concern among consumers about the future of reading is the interaction of literature with the digital space: what does BookTok mean for the literary space as we know it?

The move to virtual platforms for book reviews raises the question of whether more readers will migrate to digital copies of books that go viral on BookTok. Case acknowledged that while there are certainly consumers who prefer to read completely paperless, the appeal of real books is going nowhere.

“I sincerely believe that most people prefer to read a real book – there is something enjoyable about the whole ritual of turning the pages and holding the real object that I think book lovers cherish. I myself love collecting books and finding fun editions. Plus, being able to browse a full shelf of books is a lot more fun than flipping through screenshots, ”said Case.

Likewise, Rizer does not feel the need to change East City Bookshop’s marketing in response to BookTok. She feels that the reading community is only growing with the rise of internet reviews.

“We’re not really doing anything different with our marketing, to combat the rise of eBooks,” Rizer said. “Because even as the world changes and technology develops, people still like to hold physical books in their hands, I don’t think that will change anytime soon, and that’s our target audience with the store, people who love books as much as we do. to do!”

For those who actually publish on BookTok, the practice of publishing has changed their approach to reading. Katie McDougall, a TikToker whose profile has over 4 million likes, has been posting videos on BookTok for over a year. She notes that BookTok got her to read more closely, not least thanks to the annotation.

“I never used to tab or annotate my books, which is sort of a thing on BookTok right now. I started doing this and I really like it, ”McDougall said. “I think it’s a really cool way to connect with what you’re reading, and when you share that with other people it can be something special.”

Representation between covers

Courtesy of Katie McDougall | Katie McDougall, a popular BookToker, changed the way she read as it went viral for book reviews.

Beyond changing the way people literally read, BookTok has the power to change the stories readers consume by highlighting a wide range of authors and characters who may not be so easy to discover via a simple Google search or a bookstore reading. DeRose strongly encourages offering more diverse book recommendations in order to create a more inclusive environment for the BookTok community. She noted that she particularly liked books featuring protagonists who break the stereotypical and heteronormative racial mold.

“The romantic genre is saturated with white heterosexual stories, so I think it’s crucial to find and nurture these novels that aren’t just two white straight guys falling in love,” DeRose said. “Some of the romance novels I’ve liked the most don’t fit into this categorization because they seem so much more real, and it’s so much better to read something that you are passionate about because you feel like it is real rather than so contrived. “

For readers looking for books with a better portrayal of BIPOC protagonists, McDougall recommends “Cemetery Boys” by Aiden Thomas, “Get A Life, Chloe Brown” by Talia Hibbert and “Les Filles de Nri” by Reni Amayo.

As a bookseller, Rizer feels that BookTok has pushed its customers to look to more represented titles. She points out that BookTok’s strengths lie in its ability to provide readers with basic information about titles that are relevant to their identity.

“I would also say that another achievement of BookTok as a whole highlights authors of color and their stories, as well as LGBT authors and stories. Sometimes it can be difficult to find information on books that reflect your own identity, and Google isn’t always as helpful as we would like, ”said Rizer. “But on BookTok, you can easily find content creators you trust who promote books in which they feel represented, create that great sense of community, and educate those who may not have them. – not to be seen before. “

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