With endless snippets of content and a clever algorithm in the age of diminishing attention-spans, it’s easy to see how communities have become so tight-knit on TikTok. The community of BookTok in particular is booming.
What’s the origin of BookTok?
At the time of writing, the hashtag #booktok boasts over 109 billion views on TikTok. With the ability to resurrect backlist books, transforming them into New York Times’ Best Sellers with Hollywood adaptations to boot, where did the power of BookTok come from?
BookTok didn’t start with the intention of becoming a power-house for book sales, it was simply a place for readers to share their recent reads and recommendations.
The TikTok app has been around since 2016, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that it really took off, amassing 2 billion downloads by October 2020. With already well-established communities on YouTube (BookTube), Instagram (Bookstagram) and Twitter, it didn’t take long for book lovers to take root on a new platform.
How has BookTok changed the Romance genre?
Much of the romance content dispels the shame historically associated with romance and erotica. Fans talk openly about their reading habits with like-minded people as they search for their next BookTok darling. The majority of the landscape is made up of readers having fun with internet memes, theories, heated debates and reviews.
USA Today bestselling author, and our Write a Romance Novel course leader, Heidi Rice, says “I love the fact that BookTok is a place where book lovers can congregate and share their recommendations, and of course romance readers are at the forefront of that community because they’re so passionate about what they read!”
Alongside the wave of new readers, BookTok has also seen the rise of new jargon. ‘Spice’ – no, not like in Dune – is regularly used to determine the hotness levels of scenes. And ‘TBR’ refers to a ‘to-be-read’ stack of books.
It’s vocabulary like this that can feel alienating to newcomers, however, the community offers a warm welcome to all readers.
BookTok values the importance of reigniting a love of reading, especially for those who haven’t picked up a book in some time.
No matter how many books you’ve read, BookTok is happy to have you.
Just as the language has evolved, a new audience has also seen the creation of new communities and their niche’s. While monster romance is nothing new, there have been plenty of recent releases in this underground sub-genre that have broken into the general domain.
How does Booktok success translate to the real world?
At first, publishing houses were baffled by the roaring success of backlist titles, but it wasn’t long before they were scrambling to reprint formerly obsolete novels. Larger publishing houses set their sights on BookTok investments, targeting the titles amassing new cult-followings, leading bidding-wars for the rights to indie novels such as A Dowry of Blood and (formerly self-published) The Atlas Six.
Take the worldwide commercial success of Taylor Jenkins Reid as a prime example of the power of BookTok. The Californian author, who’s 2019 novel Daisy Jones and this Six has recently been adapted into a TV show by HBO, garnered phenomenal levels of popularity during the pandemic.
Her 2017 novel The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo sat on the New York Times Best Sellers list for 72 weeks following its resurgence on BookTok in 2021. Jenkins’ works have since been listed as some of the most-read by Goodreads users for three years in a row (2021, 2022 and 2023).
Why have her books been so popular, you ask? Because what did readers want more while in the midst of lockdown restrictions, than the chance to escape? Jenkins offered readers a moment to revel in the human connection they were feeling so deprived of, and with no way of discussing it in person, fans turned to TikTok to talk about that plot twist.
Such BookTok-backed surges saw American Romance author, Colleen Hoover, dominate The New York Times Best Sellers list with a novel six years after its original release (and it’s own star-studded adaptation in the works).
The statistics are truly mind-boggling – leaving no room to question why publishers and authors alike are now flocking to the app to promote their own projects.
So what do you do if you’re a writer looking to promote yourself or your publication on TikTok?
How do you promote your book on BookTok?
Much of the success on BookTok has been organic, with users actively protesting its commercialisation by companies.
The heart of BookTok, like all reader-centric entities, is authenticity.
Recent scandals on TikTok often boil down to users feeling misled by the creators they trust, reinforcing the idea that all users really want are honest opinions.
Generally, readers gravitate towards organic content from fellow readers, with a penchant for specific tropes such as enemies to lovers, one-bed scenarios and morally grey characters. A hard-sell can be tricky to navigate, but it’s not impossible.
What books have dominated the charts thanks to BookTok?
- The Ice Planet Barbarians (series) by Ruby Dixon
- Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
- A Court of Thorns and Roses (series) by Sarah J Maas
- Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
- The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas
- Twisted Love (series) by Ana Huang
- The Score (series) by Elle Kennedy
- Icebreaker by Hannah Grace
- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
- Beach Read by Emily Henry
- It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover
- It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey
- Neon Gods by Katee Robert
- Gild (series) by Raven Kennedy
- The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
- The Atlas Six (series) by Olivie Blake
Is BookTok negatively affecting the industry?
Plenty of romance novels are labelled as ‘chick-lit’ or ‘seedy’ and BookTok-famous books are not immune to backlash, with people calling some of the most popular books poorly written or problematic. There’s also plenty of discussion over whether it’s fair to support authors such as Colleen Hoover who already have so much privilege in the industry.
Should BookTok be doing more to support underrepresented writers? The majority of its fans certainly think so.
Calling BookTok-famous books ‘bad’ is a slippery slope into literary elitism, something that the romance genre itself has long been battling.
Romance novels may not all be the pinnacle of literature but if they’re providing a reprieve from the daily norms, a chance to not take life (and literature) so seriously, does it matter? They’re not claiming to be anything but entertaining – and that’s what BookTok can be so brilliant at highlighting: reading for shameless enjoyment above all else.
TikTok itself is all too often brushed aside as a silly dance app – but its users know it’s much more than that. It’s a place where people go to learn new things, get support and words of advice, make friends, make each other laugh and ultimately share parts of their lives.
If you’re looking to craft your own love story, look no further than our 14-week intensive Write a Romance Novel course. With guidance from a USA Today bestselling author, Heidi Rice, you’ll have a future BookTok sensation written in no time.