BookTok: creating a new generation of readers

The digital age has brought many opportunities for book lovers to come together so they can discuss and celebrate books – from dedicated groups on Facebook and Twitter to the BookTube community, avid readers can find ‘the book corner’ across every social media platform. Surely enough, TikTok has followed suit, and these snappy short videos bring something else to the game.

Whereas other channels offer room for creators to contemplate books in more depth, TikTok’s short form requires provoking, attention-grabbing content that not so much delves into the deeper meaning behind a story, but rather encapsulates the aesthetic or mood of a book.

When BookTok first started it was a way for people to discuss and recommend their favourite books, characters and literature tropes. Periods of lockdown during the pandemic saw many people wanting to explore new ways for creative expression and channels for connecting to people with shared interests. 

BookTok videos, particularly popular for YA, romance and fantasy genres, range from visceral clips of creators crying or screaming over books to displaying one’s hand-written book annotations. Booktok is also an inclusive place where readers go to talk about diverse characters and authors and push for greater, and better, representation for race, gender and sexual identities in the literary world.

Booktok has been much more effective than any other publishing PR activities at boosting sales and bringing books up the charts. In particular, booktok has great power in reviving backlist titles like They Both Die at the End (2017) by Adam Silvera and Song of Achilles (2011) by Madeline Miller.  BookTok is a successful way for books to gain publicity and reach new audiences fast and effectively. BookTok blurbs can target an audience that might not necessarily be interested in literature at all, since algorithms can have anyone accidentally stumble into the BookTok community.

Publishers and writers have welcomed the #BookTok community readily and booksellers such as Barnes and Noble and Waterstones are reaping its benefits through dedicated in-store and online ‘TikTok/BookTok Reads’ sections.

Currently the #BookTok hashtag has over 30 billion views and continues to grow with the different ways people utilize it. It is worth asking oneself, however, if the organic and authentic vibe of BookTok would be able to last with the industry‘s gaze focused on profiting from it, or would it also be overcome by the stylized sponsored sort of content typical for social media, that might avert readers looking for genuine and unprovoked interactions about literature.