The Last Thing You Need to Read About Book TikTok
All the questions you feel too old to ask, answered by someone under 25
Writers and book lovers have made spaces for themselves on every social media platform that gets popular. And although Bookstagram and Twitter have dominated the scene in recent years, the literary section of TikTok is the newest and fastest-growing of these spheres. It’s called BookTok, and you’ve probably heard about it.
If you feel too old to investigate it yourself, though—and almost everyone over 25 does—that’s fine; BookTok’s whole thing is valuing authenticity, which means they don’t want you hanging around just because you feel like you have to learn about the latest book marketing space. Instead, here’s everything you need to know, so you can stop feeling like you need to learn more things.
BookTok Is for Feelings
Where Bookstagram values appearances, book covers, a cohesive aesthetic, and short snappy reviews, BookTok leans heavily into “relatable” content—which is to say, less curated and more emotional. Here, feelings run rampant, with short recommendations about books that’ll make you cry, believe in love, or ruin your week. The primarily young women who are pushing BookTok videos make inside jokes about popular characters, share their favorite quotes, or simply record themselves reading pivotal scenes.
Although some older generations feel that TikTok is tricking underdeveloped brains into sales, I believe the power and success of this platform is coming from a more genuine place. (I’m 24, though, so perhaps I’m just biased towards the unfinished-prefrontal-cortex crowd.) BookTok is proving to be not only a lucrative marketing tool in a digital age where making content that feels authentic and casual is praised, but a source of valuable insight into what the upcoming generation of readers and writers value. Short version: they value authentic emotional responses, and they don’t really care about literary or publishing “legitimacy.”
TikTok: A Refresher
At this point, I’m confident you’ve heard of TikTok if you aren’t on it already. TikTok is a video app similar to the now-defunct Vine. However, unlike Vine’s strict six-second length restriction, TikTok videos can be as long as a minute (though the average video on TikTok is around 15 seconds). TikTok also uses viral audios—songs, snippets from interviews, etc.—that users record over or build on to make jokes, share thirst traps, or start dance trends.
While you can follow people on TikTok, the majority of the app is spent on your For You Page or FYP. Here, “The Algorithm” shows you videos based on your specific interests, viewing patterns, and demographics. After my two years on the app, my FYP knows that I’m a lesbian in my mid-twenties who likes books, cows, and Phoebe Bridgers. I didn’t have to consciously seek out these subgenres; they were gifted by The Algorithm, which in the mythos of TikTok takes on an omniscient God-like role.
What is BookTok?
If The Algorithm detects an interest in reading, you may find yourself inundated with videos from creators who are loosely categorized as book TikTok—or BookTok. The BookTok hashtag currently boasts 5.9 billion views, most of the videos being young women and teens recommending their favorite books. As Alicia Lansom said in her Refinery29 article last month, this corner of the internet is relatively free of controversy and discourse, and values community over trends or competition.
BookTok is the overarching title for any literary content on TikTok. Some accounts dive into recommendations, others feature authors giving writing tips, and some accounts host virtual book clubs, often congregating on specific hashtags. BookTok is like the literary and fanfiction side of Tumblr, but with faces and voices (and songs) attached. Here fans can meet under specific hashtags to share their fan art, link to their playlists, and answer questions. But there’s also the added bonus of the FYP handing you videos about new books and series—or a chance to connect about your old favorites.
Accounts to Know
The typical BookToker is a teen girl, young woman, and/or queer person with a passion for literature. Though the most popular content focuses on YA, romance, and fantasy, creators and fans share a deep love for poetics, diversity, and books guaranteed to bring on the tears.
If you scroll through #BookTok you will see endless accounts dedicated to sharing literature with the masses, and like Bookstagram (literary Instagram), it’s hard to give any sort of definitive listing of the biggest or most influential accounts. So here are a few popular accounts at the moment.
Cameron, or @chamberofsecretbooks, doesn’t rely on creating recommendation guides, though she does recommend plenty of enemies-to-lovers or angsty-demon smut. In her most popular videos, which have gained her 4.6 million likes, she crafts a one-minute glimpse into her own unpublished writing or ideas for stories, with over 220,000 followers cheering for more.
According to a recent New York Times profile, @alifeofliterature (boasting 206,00 followers and over 4 million likes) excels in “convincing the viewer to buy a book based on its perceived aesthetic.” The two teenage sisters started posting videos at the start of 2021 and have found massive success in combining YA best sellers with popular audios and mood boards.
Cross-platform @caitsbooks has almost 50,000 Instagram followers, and on TikTok, 178,000 followers and over 6.2 million likes. Using their home library as a backdrop, Cait recommends books based on genre or theme, as well as creating more humorous videos about being a bookworm. They also run a “BookTok Book Club” with other popular creators @sixofhoes and @entangledteen.
Authors on BookTok
With the buzz around TikTok and BookTok, many writers are wondering if they need to jump onto this new platform to sell their books. There are certainly plenty (and perhaps an increasing number) of writers on the app—though in my experience as a writer and TikTok user, most authors aren’t fluent in TikTok, and end up creating “cringey” or inauthentic content, which viewers are quick to sniff out and criticize. In fact, if your content is out of touch or too calculated, you’re most likely going to become a meme, or even disliked. BookTokers don’t care about your accolades if your content reeks of corporate, millennial marketing.
Rupi Kaur, @rupikaur, the 28-year old who epitomized “Instagram Poetry,” made a BookTok account last week. Although her account is still growing, it’s easy to see her lasting effect on social media literature through #poetry or the 32 million views on #milkandhoney. Though her TikTok career is off to a rocky start, Kaur will undoubtedly be influencing the next generation of poets via fifteen-second videos.
Carrie Aarons is a Romance author who self-published over 40 books in the last few years. Although she’s been on Bookstagram, Aarons has amassed almost 90,000 followers and over 2.1 million likes on her TikTok account, @authorcarriea. Her most popular videos, averaging in the hundreds of thousands to millions of views, feature a brief typed synopsis of one of her books and then the reveal of the title.
Michael Bjork isn’t selling his own books on TikTok—instead, he’s giving writing advice. A professional copywriter, @michael.bjork has gained over 111,000 followers and 2.3 million likes through creating a series of videos where he gives his professional opinion and answers questions from aspiring writers. His advice ranges from why it’s a good idea to avoid over detailing characters, what Chekov’s gun means, and how to use first-person plural.
When I first started seeing BookTok videos, I thought to myself, “I know these books from Tumblr.” As Elizabeth A. Harris wrote for the Times, “most of the BookTok favorites are books that sold well when they were first published”—in part because of legions of young fans, much like today’s BookTokers, who talked them up on other social platforms. But since the perfect combination of teenagers on TikTok and the need for a cathartic cry, these books are seeing sales like never before.
Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller was an instant Tumblr classic. A story ripe with violence, gay love, and yearning, it was the perfect fodder for Richard Siken fanedits and a cult following. That following has grown tenfold on BookTok. It’s hard to see any recommendation video without catching a glimpse of the golden helmet of Achilles and the tears of the reader who has finished it.
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (or SJM) is another book that is ubiquitous in videos. Although it started as Beauty and the Beast fanfiction, the fantasy-romance series now spans five books and over 2,500 pages while showing no sign of slowing down. #ACOTAR has close to 700 million views, with countless videos of hundreds of thousands to millions of likes crediting it as their favorite book or series.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Though the television adaptation will appear on Netflix on April 23, Six of Crows began as a fantasy novel by Leigh Bardugo. A part of Bardugo’s “Grishaverse,” this cast of misfit teens redeem themselves by working together to pull off an impossible heist, using their powers and criminal backgrounds. This duology’s hashtag has over 136 million views and it’s @caitsbooks’s favorite series and universe.
Other BookTok picks:
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard (who is on TikTok @victoriaaveyard), Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
So What’s Trendy?
Since the core demographic of TikTok already is teenagers and young adults, BookTok tends to heavily feature YA recommendations. In fact, if you aren’t reaching for YA already, BookTok can feel like it’s not the place for you. Of course, there are also more literary-fiction niches; recently I’ve been seeing a lot of videos for “people in their mid-20s” featuring The Idiot or My Year of Rest and Relaxation.
The most interesting trends I’ve noticed—besides tearjerkers and the full embrace of romance and fantasy—is the amount that BookTok welcomes fanfiction and self-publishing.
It’s not surprising to me that we’re at a point where young people who read fanfiction are okay with that being public—especially in a book scene where many of the biggest series started on fanfiction clearinghouses fanfiction.net, Wattpad, and AO3. I didn’t admit that I had read fanfiction until I was in high school, and even now, I use my childhood obsessed with Ginny X Luna fics as an embarrassing third date anecdote. Meanwhile, BookTok is praising fanfiction writers and tropes the way many of us would only revere “literary establishment figures.”
There are also entire “book clubs” dedicated to reading certain fanfictions, or fan accounts for particularly popular fics—including All The Young Dudes, a 500,000+ word Remus X Sirius alternate-universe story (that is now being bound and sold) that I read in under a week because of BookTok.
But outside of actual fanfiction, audiences crave tropes like enemies to lovers, slow burn, or coffee shop AUs in their published reading. This is why books like Song of Achilles, a slow-burn queer romance based on The Iliad, are proving to be so successful with these young people; they want writing that’s familiar and accessible, while still being brilliant.
Why You Should Care
As someone who grew up learning about literature on Tumblr, BookTok is unequivocally more accessible. On Tumblr, you had to have prior knowledge of who to follow or what books to read. On this platform, as long as you like certain videos, The Algorithm is going to feed you more books, more reviews, more authors. There is a personalized and endless stream of videos telling you what to read next.
Plus, BookTok is one of the only literary scenes where it doesn’t seem like people are criticizing what book you’re picking up. Maybe this is because the core audience of TikTok is teenagers who are the prime demographic for YA and not deterred from genre, but it still feels safe and genuine. These aren’t carefully curated photos of book covers; it’s young people filming themselves upset, elated, or enraptured in their favorite books and series.
BookTook, like TikTok in general, is also overwhelmingly supportive of LGBTQ people and people of color, whereas in the “real literary world” those doors don’t always feel as open. This niche internet hashtag isn’t only driving sales and defining bestseller lists (Song of Achilles, published ten years ago, is now selling better than it did when it first came out), but it’s providing the next generation of readers and writers with a sense of community without judgment.
For BookTok to so openly welcome genre, fanfiction, and self-publishing into the fold make me hopeful for what’s to come to the industry. There is a force of young people who don’t care about accolades or using literature as a moral high ground. They want cliched tropes like enemies-to-lovers, they want queer people in love, and they want to support writers like them or who have backgrounds like them.